Aquascaping has become more popular as a hobby in the UK over the past few years. Aquascaping is best thought of as underwater gardening with an artistic eye for how the plants and decorations are arranged. Aquascaping has grown into many different styles around the world. The classic “Dutch Style” is based on layers of plants of different colors. In the 1990s, Takashi Amano made Japanese styles popular. These styles often put the focus on the hardscape, which is the rock or wood used in the aquarium to make a scene that isn’t underwater. Lawns would be made with carpeting plants, and rocks would be used to make mountains. The one thing that all aquascapes have in common, though, is the way aquarium plants are planted and cared for.
What plants should I pick?
When making a new aquascape, it is important to choose the right kinds of aquarium plants. Most aquarium plants can be put into one of these six groups:
- Background: This is the best place for fast-growing, tall plants. Hygrophila, Vallisneria, Echinodorus, Hydrocotyle, Aponogeton, and Ludwigia are all examples of species.
- Midground: Plants in the middle of the ground usually grow to a medium height. These make a good plant between the foreground and the background. Alternanthera, Pogostemon, Rotala, and Cryptocoryne are all examples of species.
- Foreground: These kinds of plants are also called carpeting plants. They tend to stay low to the ground and can be very good at making a “lawn” across the substrate. Glossostigma, Eleocharis, Micranthemum, and Hemianthus are all types of plants that grow in carpets.
- Floating: This category speaks for itself. These plants don’t put their roots down into the soil like most plants do. Instead, their roots hang down into the water from the surface. Their leaves sit on the surface of the water to get the most light. Species include Salvinia, Limnobium and Pistia.
- Epiphytes and Mosses: The epiphytes and rhizomatous plants are another group that doesn’t fit the mold. They also don’t grow roots in the soil like most plants do. Instead, they like to grow and stick to a piece of wood or rock. Most of the time, these will need to be trained on the hardscape at first, either with a special underwater glue or cotton thread. Microsorium, Anubias, and Bolbitis are all examples of species. This is also how Taxiphyllum and Vesicularia, two types of moss, grow.
- Terrestrial – This group is included as a warning. Many places that sell aquatic plants will also sell species that aren’t really aquatic plants. They are often brightly colored or patterned, which is what makes many people want to put them in their tank without knowing it. But they won’t last long if you leave them under water. Fittonia, Hemiographis, and Dracaena are all examples of species. Even though they can be useful in some situations, true aquascapes should not use them.
There are many ways to buy plants for an aquarium. At your local aquatic store, you’ll probably see a glass cascade with a lot of plants in pots or bunches. Rock wool is used to grow plants in pots. Rock wool was once used to insulate buildings, but it has since been shown to work well as a growing medium. It is used in hydroponics because it is inert and doesn’t change the chemistry of the water, making it easy for plant roots to get through. This lets the customer buy a plant that is already well-established and has strong roots before putting it in their aquarium at home. Most of the time, plants in bunches will be cheaper than plants in pots. This is because bunches tend to have younger, less mature plants with less root growth.
A new trend is also for plants grown in a lab to be sold in small, sealed tubs. These are grown in a clean environment, so they are “guaranteed” to be free of pests and algae. These plants grown from tissue cultures are also grown in a way that makes the plant make leaves that stay underwater. Most bunches and potted plants are grown hydroponically, which means that only the pots are in water. So, the plants put out new leaves, which lets more light and carbon dioxide into the air. When a plant is put underwater after it has grown above water, it may lose its leaves and start making new ones that are thinner and better for being underwater. This problem is less of a problem with in-vitro plants, which tend to grow faster once they are put in the aquarium.
Many aquatic plants sold in stores now come with a small label in the pot that should tell you what they need to live. Look at how tall the plant is expected to grow to figure out where it will fit best in the aquascape. Check to see what they need to grow best (CO2, light), since some plants are easier to grow than others. Many labels will make this easier by putting plants into groups like “easy,” “moderate,” and “difficult/advanced.”
How should I put them in my fish tank?
Every aquarium hobbyist has their own way of planting, and it’s hard to say which one is right and which one is wrong. For example, potted plants can be left in the aquarium with their pots and rock wool medium. The extra weight of the pot will help keep the plants from flopping to the surface and being uprooted. But unless the substrate is at least 5 cm deep, the pot will be on the surface and may look bad.
If you’d rather take the plant out of its pot, the best way to do it is to carefully pull the rock wool away from the roots under running water. Try not to hurt the roots too much as you do this. Obviously, this won’t happen with plants that are grouped together, and taking their weights off won’t be as hard.
To get the jelly from the roots of tissue-cultured plants, they need to be taken out of their pots and gently rinsed under running water. The mass of plants can then be broken up into clumps that are ready to be planted.
Most of the time, aquascaping tools are needed to plant “bare” plants. Using a pair of plant tweezers made of stainless steel makes planting easier and causes less damage to the soil. Most of the time, when you try to put plants in the substrate by hand, the plant is already at the surface before your hand is out of the water. This is because the fingers leave a space and then move the substrate. Using a narrow pair of tweezers makes this problem much less likely.
The choice of substrate is also an important part of planting. There has never been a better selection of aquarium substrates on the market, and if you want to take care of plants for a long time, you should give some thought to which substrate you use. In the past, a soil-based substrate was used under a layer of inert gravel or sand to help plants grow well. Plants would be put in the gravel or sand, and their roots would eventually reach the soil at the bottom. This is still used today because it gives people a wider range of substrates to choose from (color, grain size). Many soils say that they can last for 5 years before they need to be replaced. Soils made in the Japanese style are turning out to be a great alternative substrate for aquariums with plants. The granular structure of the soil makes it easy for roots to get into it, and its porous structure lets water move through it well and lets nitrifying bacteria settle in. Many will also make the water a little bit more acidic, which is something that many plants, fish, and shrimps will like. Their average life span, on the other hand, is less than 5 years.
How do I feed and take care of the plants in my aquarium?
Like fish, plants that live in water need food to grow well. Many hobbyists don’t think about this, and when their plants die after a couple of weeks, they just buy new ones.
- Plant fertiliser
- Carbon dioxide
- Plant substrate
- Use the right lighting
Liquid plant food, like NT Labs’ Plant Boost, is easy to use and contains all of the essential trace elements that plants need but lose as they grow. It also has a lot of iron, which is an important nutrient for plants but isn’t found in high amounts in tap water and can’t be replaced by just changing the water.
As part of the process of photosynthesis, which is how all plants make their own food, aquatic plants take in carbon dioxide (CO2). Under water, there is less CO2 than in the air, so plants that live in water often need more CO2 to stay healthy. Pressurized systems can be used to inject CO2, or liquid carbon can be used instead. NT Labs Liquid CO2 Boost is a simple way to increase the amount of dissolved carbon that doesn’t require any extra equipment. This works best when used with Plant Boost. Adding CO2 alone will make plants grow faster, but without the right food, they won’t grow in a healthy way.
Along with the substrates we’ve already talked about, it’s also important to have good lighting. In the past few years, aquarium lighting has come a long way, making it easier than ever to give aquarium plants the right environment. When everything is set up just right, aquarium plants will photosynthesise quickly and release their oxygen into the water. Photosynthesis can happen so quickly that the oxygen the plants make will come out of their leaves as a string of tiny bubbles instead of dissolving into the water. This is called “pearling,” and it shows that your plants are healthy and gives your aquarium a little extra sparkle.