An Introduction to Planted Aquariums

Man has been fascinated with fish for over 4,000-years: the ancient Sumerians were known to keep fish in artificial ponds as far back as 2,500BC and this has continued throughout history to the present day.

It was not until the 18th century that the importation of goldfish from the far east led to a demand for aquariums within Europe and as time has passed, better and more reliable materials have been developed that have seen the modern aquaria turn into a natural representation of the underwater world.

With the advent of electricity the planted tank hobby really took off when the ‘Dutch Style’ aquarium was born in the 1930’s. This heralded a new beginning for aquaria and a totally new look; with living plants incorporated into the aquarium the hobby started to change into more of an art form.

The ‘Nature Aquarium’
In the early 1990’s Mr Takashi Amano pioneered the ‘Nature Aquarium’ style. These aquariums were achieved by supplying them with nutrient rich substrates, high levels of CO2, and lighting that was perfectly suited to plant growth. The Nature Aquarium style pays great attention to layout and plant maintenance, with natural stones and woods being used to enhance this effect.

Further, there is always a sense of scale within the Nature Aquarium and a planted landscape may be created either in miniature or represented as life size. Compositional rules are closely followed and, in smaller tanks, creating the illusion of a large space within a small space can be extremely effective.

This form of aquascaping has progressed so much that it has changed the simple, formal laying out of plants used in the Dutch style, and has developed into a new art form, with the emphasis on representingscenes found in nature.

Different styles
Varying different styles of planting are now developing ranging from the very well maintained and manicured Japanese Garden style, through to the more naturalistic style of planting favoured by our very own Andrew Mack who was the top UK entrant in the International Aquatic Plant Layout Competition 2009, held in Japan (this scape can be seen at, or on our website here).

Additionally, this new wave of ‘Nature Aquarium’ style planting pioneered the use of CO2 within the planted aquaria, which allows us to produce a wider variety of scapes and even more beautiful results.

There have also been great advances in science that have led to changes in the philosophy of plant fertilisation, which has led to the inclusion of both phosphates and nitrates in many of the more superior plant foods that are now available. It was a belief held for many years that excess nitrates and (more commonly) phosphates were the main cause of nuisance algae within the planted tank. In a heavily planted tank, however, these elements are essential for healthy optimal growth; the plants will suffer without both macro and micro elements being present.

A tank with plants that are slower growing or less demanding will, of course, receive less of these additives and we ourselves experiment with the use of two kinds of fertiliser, a simple Tropica plant nutrition formula which has no nitrates or phosphates and a Tropica plant nutrition + which is rich in these elements.

The needs of every tank are unique and by experimenting with varying amounts of each of these fertilisers on a daily basis a satisfactory balance will be found. A good rule of thumb would be that in a tank where there are few plants and many fish, a plain plant nutrition should be used, conversely, in a tank with many plants and few fish a plant nutrition + would be more suited.

Another bonus to the heavily planted tank is that any excess nitrates left over after the filtration process is complete will simply be absorbed by the plants as a food source and will so complete the nitrification process.

Inspiration for your home
Achieving a beautiful planted tank is within the reach of everybody and will create a living work of art within your home. Fish are healthier, (we never need to medicate our planted displays), and are undoubtedly happier if their colouring and natural sheen is anything to go by. In contrast a bare aquarium furnished with plastic plants and an air stone can appear to be no more than a glass prison, lacking in inspiration and aesthetically displeasing.

As I have said, the hobby is once again being rocked by new standards and there are now specialist retailers available who are knowledgeable in this field. These are the people who will be able to help you most in your pursuit of subjective perfection.

Over the coming months we will be covering different topics to help you achieve success, and we hope that the information will be of use to hobbyists of all levels.

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