Setting up an aquarium is hard work, however, it can have enormous benefits. Numerous studies have shown that having an aquarium can provide significant mental health benefits. To me, one of the most important aspects of an aquarium is trying to replicate how your aquarium looks in nature.
In this article, we will discuss 8 tips to beautiful your aquarium. These 8 ways are as follows (we’ll discuss them in more detail later):
- Live Plants
- The Gradient Effect
- Schooling Fish
- Hide The Mechanical Work
- Clean Algae
Driftwood is wood that has washed onto the shore of some body of water. It’s a pretty generic term, that can cover an enormous range of wood. You can often buy driftwood at plenty of aquariums shops, or you can find it on your own and cure it. However, in both scenarios, driftwood is simple thing you can use to beautify your aquarium.
Whether you pickup your driftwood at a local aquarium store, or you pick it up at the beach, the process of preparing it for your aquarium is fairly simple. I recommend doing this process whether or not your local fish store has started it, just because you don’t know how far in the process your local fish store has gone.
Here’s the process:
- Clean the driftwood
- Boil the driftwood (get rid of tannins and other contaminants)
- Cure the driftwood
To start, I recommend brushing off any big pieces or things stuck on the driftwood. Get a brush of some sort, and wipe away any chunks of debris attached to the driftwood. At that point, I recommend boiling the driftwood in a pot of water. Whatever you do at this point, don’t use any soap or chemical cleaners, they will stick in the driftwood and leach into your aquarium.
After boiling the driftwood, look to see tannins leaching out of it. You want to continue boiling it until the salt water and most of the tannins leach out of the wood. I often boil the driftwood 5-6 times, where boiling involves leaving in on the stove in a pot with boiling water until most of the water has evaporated.
At this point, it’s time to cure the driftwood. This means confirming the driftwood won’t float in your aquarium. This involves soaking the driftwood in a large bucket until it sinks it, a process that can generally take 1-2 weeks. After the driftwood has fully sunk, you can now add it to the aquarium.
Similar to driftwood, adding live plants is a simple way to beautify your aquarium. Adding live plants beautifies your aquarium in the same way that adding driftwood to the aquarium does. It helps the aquarium to more resemble the natural environment of the fish, which helps to decrease the stress levels of the fish.
There are plenty of levels to adding live plants to your aquarium, and the different levels vary by the difficulty. I’ll try and split this into three levels, to help explain the equipment required for each level.
These three scenarios are:
- Low Light Plants
- High Light Plants
- High Light Plants and Carbon Dioxide
The first scenario is low light plants. Low light plants don’t require any additional equipment. These are plants like Anubias and Java Moss. I’ve also had good experiences growing Amazon Swords in this sort of environment, however, your mileage might vary.
Low light plants are the easiest to add to your aquarium. You simply put them where you want them. I recommend still looking at dosing Seachem Flourish or something similar. However, your generic aquarium lighting should be enough to support them.
For high light plants, you generally need a specialized lighting fixture. That’s something such as a T5 Fluorescent Light fixture, with 4 bulbs required that are spread across the width of your aquarium. With this amount of lighting, you can grow higher lighting plants like Wisteria, or one of my favorite Dwarf Hairgrass.
With high lighting, you can also grow any other plant you want.
The next and most complicated plant setup after high lighting, is high light plants and carbon dioxide. Adding carbon dioxide to an aquarium involves a carefully researched process, so I recommend doing additional research if you want to do this method.
However, there are fully standalone carbon dioxide systems you can purchase for an aquarium. Either way, any sort of live plants can help beautify your aquarium.
The Gradient Effect
The Gradient Effect is a fairly simple concept in aquarium care. It is designed to make your aquarium look as beautiful as possible to someone looking at it from the front.
The idea behind the gradient effect is you put the largest plants or driftwood pieces in the back, and you put the smallest pieces in the front. Another good way of doing this is making the soil shallower in the front and deeper in the back.
As you can see in the photo above, the soil goes to almost nothing in the front of the aquarium, and then is several inches deep in the back. The taller obstacles, such as rocks are in the back.
The image below shows another example of an aquarium employing the gradient effect:
Then you put smaller plants like Dwarf Hairgrass will be in the front. You can then put larger plants such as Amazon Swords or Wisteria in the back. This gradient effect will help give the aquarium a more natural and interesting look.
Another favorite way of mine to beautify an aquarium is to add in a group of fish that school together. Tetras are often a colorful and great example of this, however, there are plenty of other choices. This method works especially well if you have a larger fish in the aquarium, as it will encourage the schooling fish to clump together.
As you can see above with the clump of schooling fish together, a group of schooling fish can look incredibly good together. Some of my favorites are as follows:
- Cardinal Tetra
- Runny Nose Tetra
- Harlequin Rasbora
- Cherry Barb
For schooling fish, you must need a minimum of 6. However, generally having 8-10 can help to support the schooling. Make sure you have a large enough aquarium though, I generally recommend a 20 gallon minimum for 8-10 of any of the four schooling fish listed above.
Ideally you’d have a 40 or 55 gallon aquarium. Especially a 55 gallon which is longer, would promote additional schooling fish.
Invertebrates are another great way to beautify your aquarium. In nature, freshwater fish have all sorts of organisms. They have fish in the middle, plants and trees on the outskirts, and invertebrates and low level organisms in the bottom.
I personally believe that the best way to beautify an aquarium is to better mimic its natural habitat.
Invertebrates are a great way to do that. This article on setting up a Red Cherry Shrimp aquarium can provide some additional information on how to add them to your aquarium.
Some of the most common invertebrates are Ghost Shrimp, Red Cherry Shrimp, Nerite Snails, Mystery Snails, Gold Inca Snails. If you end up having too many snails in your aquarium, and want some of them to be eaten, Assassin Snails are also a good choice.
Generally adding these invertebrates to your aquarium is the same as adding an fish. You float the bag in the aquarium, then once the parameters have lined up, you release the invertebrate into the aquarium.
There are two important things to note with having invertebrates in your aquarium. The first is that invertebrates tend to be sensitive to copper. As a result, if you’re ever in a scenario where you need to dose copper-based medication to your aquarium, you’ll want to remove all the invertebrates.
The second is that invertebrates can often live off of regular fish food or waste that sinks to the bottom. However, to keep them healthy, you’ll want to add some sort of food specifically for them. I’m often a fan of algae wafers, but there also exists specific invertebrate food you can purchase.
As we discussed from plants and driftwood, adding anything that helps an aquarium resemble the natural environment provides a lower stress environment for the fish. Adding rocks is less common than adding plants or driftwood, however, I still believe it’s a simple addition that can help beautify your aquarium.
Adding rocks to an aquarium from your local fish store is simple and feasible, however, when you add them from outside you want to be more careful. First, make sure you pick them up from a clean non-polluted area. Second, you want to make sure the type of rock isn’t the type that’ll contaminate the aquarium. Here are some good choices:
- Lava Rock
It’s important to make sure not to add any carbonated rocks or anything that could affect the pH. That means no corals or sea shells you find at the ocean, and no marble, limestone, etc. A simple test for this is add a few drops of white vinegar to the rock and see if it fizzes at all. If it does fizz, then it has carbonate in it.
After this, it’s time to clean the rocks. Cleaning rocks is hard. Because unlike driftwood, simply boiling rocks is dangerous. That’s because notes can have pockets of fluid inside them. These pockets of fluids can then heat up as you boil it, then causing the rock to explode and injuries to occur.
As a result, the goal is to kill the germs without heating up the rock too much. I recommend doing this by pouring boiling water over the rock. You can also try heating up water in a pot to just boiling, and then lower it down so the water is hot but not boiling (i.e. ~170 degrees). At that point, you can add in the rock for a few minutes.
Turn down the heat, and once the water has cooled back down, carefully remove the rock. It is now safe to add to your aquarium.
Hide The Mechanical Work
Another way to beautify your aquarium is to hide the mechanical work in the aquarium. Aquariums will often have filters and heaters, along with their associated wiring, which will mean covering up the wires to beautify your aquarium.
There are a number of ways to do this. One of the simplest ways to do this is to add a background to an aquarium. Plenty of local aquarium stores will sell aquarium backgrounds along with installation guides, I recommend using one of those.
To hide individual wires and the filter intake in the aquarium, I recommend a natural method. I personally like to grow plants in the background that can cover the heater and the different wires. Letting some algae grow on the fixed parts can also help. Placing a block of driftwood against the front can also help.
All of these things together, can help make your aquarium more beautiful.
The last way to beautify your aquarium is to clean up the algae. There are two ways you can go about doing this. The first is the mechanical way and the second is the natural way.
The mechanical way is to use an algae cleaning magnet. You can get them for a few dollars at any aquarium store and put them on the outside of your aquarium. The block on the outside is magnetically connected to the block on the inside.
You can then move the block on the outside around your aquarium, and this will move the block on the inside, cleaning algae from your aquarium.
The non mechanical way is to get a fish that’ll eat the aquarium off the glass walls. Plecos are one of the most popular forms of this, however, there are a number of other ones. A number of snails like Nerite Snails will also eat algae off of your aquarium.
Together, these two methods, can help keep algae off your aquarium and keep it more beautiful.
Many people want a beautiful aquarium, but often the process can seem difficult and daunting. Despite this, there are a number of simple things aquarium owners can do to beautify their aquariums. These decisions help to give their aquariums a more natural and beautiful look.
I look forward to hearing what you guys think in the comments below.