George gave a wonderful demonstration of how to set up a successful aquascape at this year’s Aquatic Experience. You can see the 15 minute walk-through above. But if you’re wondering about the specifics of this scape, this article is here to help. Below I’ve outlined everything that went into this setup. Fair warning, if you wanted to build your own version you’d be looking at a price tag of around $2000.
George built the foundation of his scape using Tropica Aquarium Soil. It’s one of several brands of volcanic aquasoils that do wonders for plant growth. The advantage of aquasoil is that it provides a dirt substrate while removing the risk of cloudiness that comes with a dirted tank. The brand I prefer is Fluval Stratum, but that’s mainly because it is easy to find in my area! This can be an unexpectedly pricy part of setting up an aquarium, but the substrate is the foundation of the entire ecosystem you’re creating, so don’t try to get by on less than you need. George used 27 liters for this aquascape.
For hardscape, George used a combination of Spiderwood and Dragonstone. Spiderwood is knotted and tangled wood that can add an imediate focal point to your scape. But the trade named Spiderwood hides it’s true identity, this wood actually just the root structure of the azalea bush.
The rockwork in George’s scape is made of Dragonstone, but that trade name also obscures the identiy of the hardscape. Dragonstone is actually more clay than stone, and it’s unique pockmarks are the result of eons of water erosion.
I wouldn’t recommend ordering hardscape online unless you really have no other choice. Instead, go to your nearest store and pick up a piece or two every time you’re there. These materials are expensive and you’re better off building up a reserve of hardscape slowly than ordering a box of rocks that may not have the character or shape that you want.
The foreground of George’s scape was filled with Lilaeopsis brasiliensis, commonly sold under the name micro sword. It takes a while for it to take off, but it a hearty low-light plant that will eventually create a dense carpet that maxes out between 2-4 inches in height. You can find pots of submerged growth micro sword here.
Next up George planted some crypts. He used a smaller species, Cryptocoryne beckettii 'Petchii'. Like all crypts, this one is native to Asia, and it does well in low light and no CO2. Like all crypts, this one is particularly prone to melting when put into different water conditions. Here is a link to a submersed growth Petchii, but I’d try to find a tissue culture or emersed growth version of this plant if you can.
In the background, George relied on two stem plants. The first is Hygrophila corymbosa 'Siamensis 53B' and the second is Ludwigia repens 'Rubin'.
George finished off the scape with anubias and java fern. Both are epiphytes which don’t require access to substrate. In fact, both have rhizome room systems, if the rhizome potion of the roots is submerged below the substrate the plant will rot away and die.
First up is a good set of aquascaping tools. Super high-end tools can run you $50 a piece, but if you’re just starting out treat yourself to a basic set.