Achieving a professional look easily
without the need for complex aquascape rules is the name of the
game here... a ScapeEasy aquascape is easy to create with the guidance
we can offer. From getting the equipment right to set yourself up
for long term success, to choosing substrates and hardscape, and
laying these out with easy plants to create a natural feel.
There are many different styles of aquascaping from Dutch to iwagumi to diorama. However, nature style aquariums are by far the most popular. The nature landscaping style relies on the use of relatively strict rules to create a natural style; the rule of thirds and the golden ratio being examples of these which try to emulate nature and what scientifically is supposed to look best. It is a complex style to understand yet alone achieve in the home aquarium. This is where jungle style aquascaping comes in... The jungle style harks back to simpler times in the hobby and provides an easy way to create a stunning aquascape without the need for demanding plants and CO2.
Jungle style aquascapes are based around the idea that nature is chaotic rather than ordered (in contrast to nature aquariums) and they focus on larger leaved plants which are naturally easier to grow. They are often crammed full of a range of plants to provide the natural and luscious feel for which they are known and as such they have traditionally not had much decor. This does not have to be the case however, as we now have the benefit of being able to steal inspiration from the more modern and increasingly popular nature aquascaping style and combine the jungle principles with the backbone of a good hardscape to provide a stunning natural setting for all manner of community fish. So lets get down to business and tell you how you can achieve this look yourself.
To really do this style of aquascape justice, you will want a tank which holds at least 80 litres, preferably more than 120 litres. That said the photo below is an example of what our founder Matt achieved in a 65 litre 'off the shelf' aquarium, so anything is possible. We recommend installing a black or frosted background (or even a textured 3D one) to your tank if you have anything other than a plain background behind your tank (when did you last see bold wallpaper patterns in nature!). When installing a background make sure to do so using a plain cooking oil between the glass and the background. This allows you to easily push out any bubbles and will not dry out over time giving a long lasting, professional finish. Black in particular is very effective as it gives a sense of depth to the scape too, as if it continues into depths of the tank which we can't see, here you can also hide equipment...
Aquascaping photos on the internet often show tanks with their equipment removed and whilst this is not practical for everyday, again if you look closely in the photo above you can see the internal filter and heater (with black heater cover) in the top right behind the plants. It is well hidden against the background. Other options include hiding kit with the hardscape or plants you are going to be using. Of course you could also consider buying equipment designed to be kept externally to the aquarium. External filters are now available from major manufacturers which include integrated heaters, which we highly recommend as it means you only have to worry about an inlet and outlet being visible in your tank. Try and choose a filter if you can with a decent flow rate as planted tanks benefit from good flow to distribute nutrients effectively, and moreover plants swaying in the current just looks great! We won't be descriptive with a figure on turnover per hour... it's not our way here at ScapeEasy, just have this as a factor when you make your filter choice.
Last but certainly not least is lighting. Choose a decent lighting unit or consider upgrading your existing unit. Again we won't get scientific with exactly what light you need or specify what type of light. The methods we employ do not require high light of a certain spectrum, just decent amounts of light, most units specifically marketed as being low energy usage are probably not powerful enough so go for the next light up in the range from these types of units. We have previously tripled the number of lights in a cheap tank and not suffered algae problems. Algae grows when plants are not, so make sure there is ample light.
Before we start on hardscape choices, we want to flag the importance of drawing up your plans for your scape... no we've not gone mad... there is no easier way to practise aquascaping than on pen and paper. To the left is one example of the kind of sketch we are referring to by our founder Matt (he apologises for his lack of artistic talent). Here you can see Matt has used different colours, line thicknesses etc to represent the different elements in his vision for the scape, you might also be able to tell where an eraser has come in handy to refine the plan! Of course if you have access to some of the aquascaping materials you intend to use in your scape you should also play around with different options and photograph what you come up with so you can recreate it later. It is often surprising how plans can change when viewed in real life like this.
Most often you will want to go with a mixture of rocks and wood as the hardscape for your tank, but either can work well alone too. The best tip we can give regarding wood is to 'go big'. One aim of the hardscape is to provide height to the aquascape, don't be afraid to have branches sticking out of the water. With rocks, a range of sizes will look more natural than all the same, in nature they are often found graded from small to large and not mixed so consider placing smaller rocks in front of larger to emulate nature. Also think about detail... Rocks need to be natural looking, with detailed textures such as landscape rock (image below), the best wood has thin branches. Again, this provides a sense of scale to the aquascape. Finally to create a sense of depth we recommended sloping the substrate up towards the back of the aquarium which gives the illusion that the floor area is bigger and therefore the tank deeper. The bigger the angle the better!
A note on substrate... wow there are lot of options out there. You may also wish to have multiple types of substrates in your tank, for example to distinguish between planted areas and areas with a more cosmetic substrate such as sand. This isn't to say that plants won't grow in sand, or gravel but if you are able to, choose a substrate for your planted areas that has a high CEC. You'll find this info online and it refers to the ability of the substrate to both absorb and release nutrients and therefore its effectiveness for sustaining plants. Substrates made from volcanic rock or fired clays tend to be best here. If you are starting a new tank you might like to put a nutrient rich base layer in underneath this, or choose one of the more expensive 'aquasoils' which are excellent. For an established aquarium, you should consider roots tabs which can be pushed into the substrate at the base of the plants, especially those which draw their nutrients from their roots (more info on this in the article on easy plants).
As for laying the hardscape out in the tank, ignore the confines of the nature style of aquascaping and make life easy... 3 options for you. Convex, concave or linear. We've included images of what we mean below. These three styles are simplest to get right, and look most natural. If you can stick to symmetrical layouts (nature aquarists are panicking the world over at the use of that word) you will find achieving a natural look far easier. Why? Nature isn't symmetrical, but nature isn't confined to a rectangular tank, the point is that these layouts look right in this context.
Beyond this, we don't want to constrain your creativity... get sketching! Oh, and feel free to submit your scapes or sketches to us via our Gallery page so we or the wider community can offer any thoughts that might help you along. We've a separate article on what plants and how to care for them which is well worth checking out.