Basic Aquascaping Principles and Technique

Thursday, October 20, 2011
Basic Aquascaping Principles and TechniqueIn recent years the term aquascaping has become better known by aquarists all over the world. The simple gathering of plants, beautiful stones and driftwood is no longer the goal of many aquarists. However, unlike the average freshwater aquarium, an aquascape takes much more time, planning, and research. The finished product is well worth the efforts.

For anyone that missed purchasing the AGA 2004 Convention DVD, or missed the convention itself, The big man from Japan, Takashi Amano had a couple of interesting lectures that are well worth buying the DVD for. The following are some notes on things from the DVD that really hit home for me, as found below. I've tried to separate those comments that I saw as his aquascaping principles, vs. those things that appeared be techniques he uses. It's kind of random, but I think it still may have some useful advice.


  1. Plant all groups in odd numbers.
  2. Fine leaved plants look best in the mid to back center of a tank, with heavier leaved plants toward the edges.
  3. Don't use red in the middle as they have a heavy, dark, feel.
  4. Dark leaves (red or dark green) look best toward back edges, with light colored leaves toward the center.
  5. Arrange plants and hardscape (rocks and wood) to provide good contrast of light and dark areas.
  6. Light colored sand provides good contrast to plants.
  7. When rocks are used, use multiple sizes, mixing large and small rocks, as in nature.
  8. Rock edges should generally be rounded.
  9. Hide your intentions with rocks. Allow plants to obscure them to some extent, maybe completely.
  10. Aquascapes with unplanted sand in front is a good alternative to the traditional “Nature Aquarium” style of all foreground covered with foreground plants.
  11. An attractive layout alternative is a slope up from near the middle up to the two back corners.

Takashi Amano - How is Made Nature Aquarium (1/2)


  1. Use cotton thread to attach Java moss to wood, or lava (pumice?) rocks.
  2. Moss on rocks is great for edge work, blending an open sandy area into a planted area.
  3. Use driftwood with moss, or large moss rocks, as something for background to grow over and cast shadows for good dark/light contrast areas.
  4. Wrap Anubias onto moss covered rocks using a plastic ties, and trim off almost all roots, for “rocked Anubias”.
  5. A rocked Anubias can be set right on sand, or moved around as desired. But initially face it slightly forward to hide roots. Later it will grow upward toward the light.
  6. Plan on putting crypts only in places with deep substrate.
  7. Use stem plants in even lengths with graduated height sets, descending from high to low, as the sets move toward the front or middle of the tank.
  8. Plant stems 2 or 3 at a time, in the same hole.
  9. A new tank should not be trimmed for 3 months.
  10. On first trimming, let stem plants grow to the top, and then trim to halfway point.
  11. Anubias and moss make great foreground plants as they take no trimming.
  12. Putting tubing (and or wires) that come into, or out of, the tank on the side makes it less visible to straight on viewing due to a “mirror” effect from side reflection.
  13. Creating a substrate with separate sand vs. soil areas can be accommodated by placing cardboard in the tanks where you want the boundaries between the two, and slowly filling in both sides until full. After adjusting any slope you might want in the sand or soil, and making sure that both sides are at the same height where they touch either side of the cardboard, the cardboard can be gently removed.
  14. Sloping substrate from front to back works better if something like drift wood is placed in the middle of the slope to keep substrate moving forward. Moss rocks also make a nice barrier serving the same purpose.
  15. If a substrate of separated soil and sand is used, driftwood and/or rocks can placed on the line between the two to cover or hide the separation point.
  16. Light shining up from the back bottom looks great! And will light any ripples on the surface from an angle beneath, highlighting them.
  17. For a really simple landscapes, use mossed pebbles around big central rocks.
  18. A fully mossed group of interwoven driftwood branches looks wonderful when it fills in. It will look almost solid, and if done correctly can give a sloping look from lower front to upper back, possibly also sloping low and toward the middle, and up toward back corners.

Takashi Amano - How is Made Nature Aquarium (2/2)

This principles and techniques are based on the style and ideas of the Nature Aquarium, AGA 2004 Convention DVD. It is allways a question of personal preferences on what type of aquascape you try to achieve. Many people just love those good looking japanese aquascapes, but they don´t feel able to achieve it. It is not a question of experience wether you can do it or not. It is no more difficult to have a beautiful Nature Aquarium than it is to have a normal tank. It is just the careful selection of plants and accessories that makes the difference. So many people just don´t have enough self confidence to try it. The aquascaping principles and technique will give you a very compact guideline. Follow the rules and you will achieve your goal.