Yes, now you can recreate the beauty of the underwater world of Amazon inside the confines of your home, all thanks to some aquascaping experts who are painting the city green and blue. An acquired art form, aquascaping allows you to create an underwater landscape inside a fish tank.
Says aquascaping expert Gautam Gupta, “Over the last five years, I’ve seen several people showing a keen interest in planted aquariums. In fact, Indians have also won top prizes in aquascaping contests held at Japan.” Want your own planted aquarium? CT tells you all you need to know…
You can choose between acrylic and clear glass. While the acrylic ones get scratched easily, they are easier to drill and lighter in terms of weight. Pre-drilled tanks are available with most retailers. It’s better to choose a tank with height no more than 18 inches as that height helps the light penetrate till the bottom, which is a must for planted aquariums.
While choosing a place to keep the tank, avoid zones that experience frequent temperature fluctuations and direct sunlight. Avoid windows or kitchen corners. The location should be away from electrical/electronic equipment, too.
Material and equipment
Substrate: The substrate is the soil on which the plants grow. It is spread at the bottom of the tank with a minimum height of 3 inches (may vary according to the kind of plants used). A large variety of readymade substrate are available in the market. Prices range from `50 to `200 per kilo. You can always make your own substrate with garden soil, laterite and sand gravel. Says Gautam, “For beginners, the quality of homemade soil may be inferior to the readymade ones. The first soil I used was typical garden soil and then I moved to laterite.”
Some of the advantages of readymade soil:
Their characteristics and behaviour in aquarium is easy to predict as the compositions are controlled.
If properly maintained (used in soft water with periodic doses of liquid fertilizers), it lasts for long.
You get soils for specific plant types.
Light: You can opt for LED lights, tubelights, PLs or metal halides. The general rule is 3-5 watts per gallon of water. If you have a 30 gallon aquarium, you need a light system of 120 watt (three 40 watt PLs) or more. Whatever light you use, the colour of the bulbs must be within 5,000K and 7,000K. With proper equipment in place, eight to 10 hours of lighting in sufficient for plant growth.
CO2 (Carbon Dioxide): You need a cylinder to inject the gas in the water throughout the time the light is on. The amount of CO2 will vary from tank to tank, depending on plants, nutrition capacity of the soil and the amount of water. Remember, excessive CO2 can also kill the fish.
Fertilizer: There is a range of fertilizers available in the market. Needless to say, it’s absolutely necessary for plant growth.
Filtration: Chemicals from plants and leftover food can pollute the water. To remove these, a canister filter is required. Hang-on or box filters can also be used. Prices varies from `500 to `50,000. As per requirement, chemical filters like activated charcoal can also be used.
Plants: Use plants which can withstand higher temperatures (28 to 30 degree centigrade), such as Elocharis parvula, Echinodorus tenellus, Saggitaria subulata, Micranthemum umbrosum montecarlo and Marselia sp. Glossostigma and Hemainthus cuba are great choices for cooler places. Plants like Hygrophila polysperma, Cryptocoryne Family, Ludwigia family, Didplis diandra, Styurogen Family, Anubias family can be used as midground plants. Several varieties of underwater plants are also available in the city markets, pet shops and online stores.
Decorative items: Generally, driftwood and rocks are used for decoration. But ensure none of the items you use in the tank reacts with the water and releases harmful chemicals. It’s wise to buy decorative items from recognized shops.
Setting it up
Once you have zeroed in on the right spot and gathered the equipment, it’s time to set up the aquarium. Start by spreading the substrate on the tank floor. Decorate the soil and proceed to adding water, but only until it submerges the substrate. Place the plants one by one with the help of tweezers. Now fill the tank without disturbing the base. Setup the filter and lights. Change 80% of water once a week.
Design a layout for your aquarium — it’s not very different from photography composition. You can go for triangular, ‘U’ or island layout. A proper layout not only makes your tank look beautiful but also plays an important role in plant growth.
Fishes are rather essential for plant growth and to ensure a proper ecosystem. Choose from freshwater fishes and shrimps, but do not go for those that dig holes in the ground. Make sure the fishes you choose are compatible with the plants. Neon tetra, Harlequin Rasbora, Rummy Nose Tetra can be good additions. Many algae eaters and shrimps that live happily in the planted tank. The fish cost between `20 to `2,000 a piece.
Pocket pinch and maintainence
Setting up a planted aquarium can cost up to `20,000 for a 36″x18″x18″ tank if you go for branded readymade products. Otherwise, it will cost you around `5,000. Maintenance cost is manageable, as only 30% water needs to be changed and plants trimmed every week. Dry food for fish is available in the market.
Watch out for:
CO2 level must never exceed the required level.
Water temperature must not be higher than 35 degree centigrade.
Direct sunlight, plastic and other chemical contamination must be avoided.
The water must be soft and chlorine free.
Use of light and fertilizer must be proportionate.
Lights should be turned on for at least 7 hours per day.
How would you know you are doing it right:
Plants would be lush green and healthy, without any algae, snails and leech.
Plants would release small oxygen bubbles after the lights remain on for five to six hours.
The fish would roam around the tank and not float near the water surface.
Plants and some fishes would breed inside the tank.
Why you need a planted aquarium:
At schools and public facilities: An effective educational tool to instil a sense of responsibility towards Nature.
At workplaces, business establishments: Reduces stress, enhances motivation and increases efficiency among employees.
At hotels and spas: A healing space will increase footfall.
At medical institutions: Helps reduce pre-treatment anxieties.
At homes: It relaxes and enriches our lives.
Expert hobbyist Abhirup Dasgupta’s DIY planted aquarium:
Collect laterite, sand gravel and garden soil. The elements must be free from chemical impurities. Remove debris, gravel and twigs from the garden soil and leave it in the open for 6 hours for 2-3 days or in an oven for 20 minutes.
The substrate would be made in three or more layers with a minimum depth of 3 inches. The bottom layer would be made of laterite (in granular form). If the laterite is in dust form, 4 mm sand gravel must be mixed in the ratio of 1:2 laterites: gravel. It is recommended not to use sand or laterite dust because with water pressure these can turn rock hard.
The next layer consists of soil mixed with 4 mm sand gravel in the ratio of 1:1. This layer will not be more than 1 inch in height. It is better to add peat along with laterite in the bottom. Peat helps lower the pH level of the water. The top layer ideally should consist of two sub layers. The lower one is ideally made of 1-1.5 inch of plain 4 mm sand gravel. Above that there must be a 0.5-1 inch layer of 2 mm plain sand gravel. The plants should be rooted only in the top layer.
Challenges you might face:
Different types of algae may grow in the tank due to insufficient light, excessive use of fertilizers and because of impure water.
Eggs and larvae of snail and leeches often appear inside the plant and harm other living organisms in the tank.
Both extreme heat and cold are harmful for plants.