natural style aquascape

It’s a well-known fact that immersing yourself in nature can have brilliant effects on your mental health and well-being.

However, with more of us having busy lives and less time to spend hours out in the garden tending to plants, what are the alternatives to introducing more nature to your life without too much effort?

One of the best and least time-consuming ways to do this is aquascaping, gardening in a fish tank. This sustainable method of growing plants doesn’t use any toxins and replicates the natural environment of growing plants in the wild.

Here is a basic guide to aquascaping for beginners, as well as 11 of the best plants to choose first.

What is Aquascaping?

Aquascaping is the craft of placing plants and other decorations in an aquarium to create a beautiful landscape or underwater piece of art.

This art allows you to create waterfalls, deserts, jungles, and mountains underwater. It requires a lot of patience and skill, but it can be one of the most rewarding hobbies.

Best Plants to Use

To get you started, here are 11 beautiful aquatic plants that work well for beginning aquascapers.

Background Plants

These plants work best at the back of your tank, providing a backdrop for your aquascape.

Amazon Sword

Amazon sword plant
Image credit: Salvatore Vitale, Wikimedia Commons

The Amazon sword plant can be used either as a background plant or the central focal point in the middle section of the tank. It has lush green leaves that create a forest type look. It’s really simple to care for and great for beginners. It can grow up to 20 inches under the right conditions.

Ludwigia Repens

Ludwigia repens
Image credit: Show_ryu, Wikimedia Commons

This plant is easy to maintain and one of the most beautiful aquarium plants available. It grows up to 20 inches, each stem being around 2 inches wide. The leaves are red, and this plant has really strong roots.

Jungle Vallisneria

Jungle valisneria
Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

This hardy aquarium plant grows up to 6 feet tall and is extremely easy to care for. It is part of the tape grass family. Again, this plant has really strong roots, so it’s great for setups when you want to add more boisterous fish.

Giant Hairgrass

The giant hairgrass plant has long thin leaves that look just like tall blades of grass. They work nicely mixed in with jungle vallisneria and can grow up to 18 inches tall. This plant reproduces easily through runners.

Midground Plants

Use these plants in the middle plane of your tank for an aesthetically pleasing aquascape.

Anubias Nana

Anubias nana (Anubias barteri var. nana)
Image credit: Tsunamicarlos, Wikimedia Commons

This dark green plant has broad leaves and grows up to around 7 inches tall. A plant like this can provide hiding places for your fish. This plant sometimes produces a white flower, especially in paludarium setups.

Java Fern

Java fern
Image credit: ictheostega, Flickr

This classic aquarium plant is quite delicate looking and slow-growing. This makes it easy to maintain and great for beginners. It doesn’t like to be planted in the substrate and instead should be attached to rocks or wood.

Crypt Wendtii

Another really common and widely used aquarium plant, Cryptocoryne wendtii can be used as a focal point in the tank. It doesn’t respond well to changing water conditions so might struggle when you first introduce it to the tank.

Water Wisteria

Water wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)
Image credit: Tsunamicarlos, Wikimedia Commons

Water wisteria is undemanding and can tolerate a wide range of conditions. It can be used as a floating plant, a carpet plant, or just rooted in the substrate as a single plant. The stems of water wisteria can grow up to 20 inches tall and 10 inches wide.

Foreground Plants

These plants work well at the front of your tank, providing the foreground for your aquascape.

Java Moss

Java moss
Image credit: mbalazs2, Flickr

Java moss has lots of different uses. It can soften aquascapes that have lots of sharp-leaved plants and provides a really natural feel. You can use it as a carpet, or attach it to the top of pieces of wood to create tree-like structures under the water.

Staurogyne Repens

Another great beginner plant, Staurogyne repens is vibrant green with stiff stems and densely packed leaves. This plant is great for creating thick carpets, as it reaches only 2 to 4 inches in height.

Dwarf Baby Tears

Dwarf baby tears
Image credit: Carnat Joel, Flickr

Also known as Cuba, this plant is one of the smallest aquatic plants available. It grows to just less than one inch tall but can spread a few inches horizontally, making it another fantastic carpet plant.

Aquascaping Tips

  • Thoroughly plan out your tank before adding any plants.
  • Use a mix of different plants to add different dimensions to your setup. Include large-leaved and fine-leaved plants of varying heights.
  • Keep it simple. An overcrowded tank can look too busy.
  • Avoid symmetry. You rarely see symmetrical things in nature and your tank will look more natural if the central focus is slightly off-center.
  • Create curves rather than blocks of plants. For example, along the back of the tank, create a curve with your tall plants rather than one line of plants of the same height.
  • Split the tank into background, midground, and foreground.
  • Consider using rocks and stones in the midground section and short plants or carpet-like plants at the front of the tank.
  • Always start with the background plants, working your way to the front.
  • Stick with easy-to-grow plants so you don’t need to use additional chemicals and fertilizers, keeping the tank as natural as possible.

About the Author

Robert Woods has been a fish keeping enthusiast ever since his parents bought him his first tank at age four. Since then, he has gone on to keep hundreds of different species and now educates aquarists through his online publication, Fishkeeping World.

Feature image by Duc Viet Bui [CC BY-SA 4.0] via Wikimedia Commons


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