How to build an Aquascape

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By Blake Williams

Even in college, the teacher takes the first day of class to go around the room and have everyone introduce themselves. I think this is somewhat ridiculous because you have to tell something unique about yourself; I’m from a Mormon family, I have lived in 4 countries, owned a business, volunteered for two years of my life and have a scholarship. The only problem is that all of those things apply to almost everyone at BYU! So semester after semester I turn to my fool-proof unique factor; I aquascape!

How to Build an Aquascape Tutorial on Keep Forever Box

This is always a winner because somehow no one else knows what aquascaping is! The short answer is that aquascaping is landscaping the inside of a fish tank. I have just completed my fourth aquascape so I’m going to walk you through the many steps that make up this process.

  1. Caroline and I just got married, so I was planning on going budget friendly and just sticking to my little five gallon tank. However, she requested that we get a bigger tank for the front room and to say the least she did not have to twist my arm too much.
  2. I wanted a very specific size tank to fit the table. I had in mind a 20 gallon ‘long’ which is pretty self explanatory. I thought it would be pretty difficult to find this, but it wasn’t at all! Petco had it for like $35 (Petco never has anything)! Even better was that I already had a light that fit that sized tank.
  3. I MAY have done a lot of research about the type of landscape I was going for. I wanted to go for a very different look than I have done before. Instead of a bushy look, I wanted a more modern simplistic look. I essentially just wanted a grassy hill.

Aquascaping tutorial

There is a brand called ADA that is headquartered in Japan. In my mind they are by far the best aquascapers in the world. It really is an art how they can envision their tank and then make it a reality. I am having difficulty finding a picture of the exact tank that I had in mind, but the following link is a short video of some of their world class tanks:

  1. Now that I knew what I wanted, I researched the four plants that ADA used in their tank. One of the plants (which I really like) is technically a moss. Moss can look awesome and adds a very natural look to the tank, but it can often grow too well. In my experience, moss can easily take over if you aren’t careful. Also, once you have moss in your tank, your not going to be able to get it out. For those reasons I opted out of the moss in this case.

Instead, I ordered two different types of grass and a “foreground” plant. I wanted there to be a couple different textures going on to give it more of a natural look.

  1. While all this was going on, my dad was kind enough to purchase the substrate (Dirt) in Canada. You can purchase really good substrates here in America, but from experience I feel like ADA is on a different level than the substrates I have been able to find here in the states.
  2. ADA substrate uses a layering affect which I will show via pictures. I know the quality of some of these pictures is pretty bad, but this is a picture of the initial layer with some chemicals sprinkled on top.

Aquascape subterate7. The bulk of the Substrate was added next and we spent a few hours shaping the different hills with a paint brush. This part appears a lot easier than it really is because you need to be picturing where all the rocks and plants will be going when it’s all said and done.


8. As a family outing, we went on a short hike and collected rocks for the tank. We had enough rocks to completely fill both sides of our sink. Even though we were not going to end up using about half of those, it is important to get far more than you actually need, that way when you are looking for a specific sized rock, chances are that you will have it. The following two pictures show me cleaning the rocks and then what the scape looks like with the rocks in.
aquascape dirt

9.  This step with the rocks also takes a long time. You place the rocks and then view them from every different angle. What looks good from one chair might look really weird and un-natural from another chair. Up until this point you can move things around with no problem, but I refer to the next step as the “point of no return”, so we usually leave this step the way it is overnight to be certain that everything is laid out the way we want.

How to Build an Aquascape Tutorial on Keep Forever Box

10.  Next is the last layer of substrate, which is really fine dark sand. It is about an inch layer over all the other substrate and serves to blend the rocks in with the dirt so it looks like the rocks are apart of the landscape and not just simply sitting on top of it all.

11.  Now it is time for some of the water! Like everything else this is a slow process because you need to trickle the water in so it doesn’t spread all the sand you just put in. We put just enough water in to fill part of the valley before we started planting. I will let the pictures tell the story with the planting, but it’s also a long process. The plants are shipped in clumps that have grown together. The roots are well established and they are all intertwined, so you need to carefully pull little chunks (4 to 5 blades of grass) off of the main chunk. These little chunks are then planted using my last year’s Christmas present…planting tweezers! I do not have a picture to show this, but these clumps are planted in the formation of the number 5 on a dice.


12. Lastly came the rest of the water! And this is what it looked like!

How to Build an Aquascape Tutorial on Keep Forever Box

13.  The water is a bit murky at first, and I really don’t want to mess around with algae too much, so I decided to get the latest and greatest in filtration. (Gatorade bottle not included). I have never used one of these “canister” filters before, but it sits inside a cabinet under the fish tank and it has two pipes that come behind the tank and into the water.

14.  Caroline and I were so giddy about the tank for the next few weeks, but everyone that stopped by would just say, “Um…where’s the fish?” Obviously these people don’t understand that a tank needs to be set up for a couple weeks before the fish get in (and secretly, I would be totally fine with a tank without the fish, but the social norm is that you need to put fish into your fish tank.)

It has been a month and a half since we set up the tank. A lot of thought went into what fish we were going to get. We ended up getting 7 different types (including 20 shrimp for cleaning and 7 white angel fish). Turns out that angel fish like eating shrimp, so that has been a bit problematic. The grass has been growing like crazy and just last week I had to “mow” it for the first time. The plants that I put in the valley did not work out, but I put in a replacement plant yesterday, so I hope it takes hold, and spreads to look more natural.

Tonight when you’re sitting at the dinner table you will be able to confidently share that you learned something new today!


Author: KFB Staff

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