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The event of preparing a new aquarium and building its inner environment is a huge amount of fun for all keepers and enthusiasts. That said, some thought should be given to ensuring the setup is appropriate for the specimens you plan to keep. Of course, it’s important you like the decorative aspect of the aquarium, but it is equally important that it satisfies the needs of the fish species that will spend their lives within it.
Below are some essential tips to help you succeed at creating your dream aquascape with some long-term perspective for the fish you keep.
It’s important to consider the aquarium size and dimensions.
While the popular catchall “Go big or go home” can apply to an aquarium purchase, a desktop or small aquarium is an option if the right type and size of fish are going to be kept. Make sure you understand the needs and behaviors of the fish species that you prefer as your aquarium needs to be big enough to accommodate them.
Pay particular attention to the behavior of the fish. For example, some smaller species are aggressive or territorial, which may allow for only one male to be kept. When it comes to decorating the small aquarium, it is very easy to end up with a cluttered look. Try to create a central feature and complement it with your decor. In this case, less is more.
When planning the actual setup, make sure you follow this sequence to help you avoid some common pitfalls.
First and most importantly, thoroughly rinse gravel, natural decorations and anything else you intend to put in the tank. Create your structural aquascape (the hardscape) and then fill the tank approximately halfway. At this point, you can plant your plants.
Before you start the initial fill with water, remember to place a plate at the very bottom of the aquarium to evenly distribute or otherwise dampen the force of the incoming water to avoid upsetting your creative efforts.
When decorating as mentioned above, it is important to have a clear vision of the fish you plan to keep.
For example, large fish that like to feed on the bottom of the aquarium, such as discus, require an aquascape that is open, not cluttered, and features a fine substrate like sand that allows food to sit on it. Coarse gravel or rock would be inappropriate.
Large fish that like to dig and uproot plants often come from natural habitats that are laden with rocks and wood but contain very little in the way of live plants. Floating plants are best for these types of setups.
Backgrounds, yes or no?
Yes, in most cases. A solid color can help to create a uniform contrast to highlight fish, plants, corals and decor, while providing a more finished look.
When using an aquatic scene-type background, try matching some of the elements in your tank with those present in the background, or seek to extend the actual background scene in your aquarium with the decor. This can provide a very impactful result with the background bringing a three-dimensional element thanks to the illusion of depth.
Plants are the living part of decor. We’ll leave corals out of this discussion for now, as there is much more to consider on the marine side of things.
When choosing plants, you should already have thought of the color combination, contrasting darker green or red with bright green leaves of different forms. For example, a backdrop of dark green to reddish giant Vallisneria and a foreground cover of solid intense green Cryptocoryne, with a mid structural placement of a selected piece of driftwood. The Vallisneria would grow to the surface and provide the diffused lighting that Cryptocoryne does well under.
Use the above as an example to prepare for how your plants will grow and ultimately help you decide their optimal placement in your setup. There is an abundance of information on plants and how tall they grow in addition to their respective light requirements, so make sure you factor this into your choices as well.
Think out of the box. Do not shy away from scanning over images and videos on natural biotopes.
In doing this, you will quickly realize that in nature there is often structure that enters the water from the surface down, as in the case of fallen trees and branches. You can bring natural elements into your decor planning to help you achieve a unique and very fish-friendly setup. Surface cover helps many freshwater fish feel much more comfortable and it even helps to reduce the tendency of some species to jump, so it’s certainly an advantage in the case of open top aquariums.
Where to buy rocks and wood? Don’t chance it, purchase natural decorative materials from your local fish store. Not only is the decor they offer going to be safe (i.e. not exposed to contaminants), but it will also likely be known if it will have any effect on water hardness and pH, as some gravel and rocks can have.
So, there you have it! Keep these tips in mind as you gather ideas for the type of setup you plan on keeping, and take your time and prepare properly. Once the tank is set up, run the system for a week or two before adding fish, and don’t forget to use Aqua Plus Water Conditioner, Cycle Biological Enhancer, and Waste Control Biological Cleaner to guarantee the best environment for your fish. Patience is a virtue here – your fish will thank you for it!
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