Aquascaping a Planted Aquarium

There are many aquascapers, but there are few aquascapers that influence the planted aquarium hobby on a global scale. Oliver Knott does. He does not want to create run of the mill aquariums and always strives to combine nature with his own innate sense for what is right into aquariums of great harmony.  The result, natural tanks that do not follow the ‘Nature Aquarium’ concepts of  Amano slavishly.

Here follows the step by step method he uses, whether he sets up small or large aquariums:

The empty aquarium – 60 cm long / 36 cm high / 30 cm wide


To create a different light background, you can cover the background from outside (!!!) with a “milky” or “frosted” foil. This gives the whole layout a special kind of depth. You could also light the background in different colours.


The bag of soil – a product of Oliver Knott’s making.


Fill the soil directly from the bag into the aquarium. With this particular product never wash the soil before using. For this layout I recommend NatureSoil, Brown, fine size. One 10litre bag is enough for a standard 60 cm aquarium layout. An additional 3 litre is necessary if you want to create higher sections in the layout.


To get the soil in shape, use a brush. In this layout I created some small hills at the left and the right side.


Now I start to decorate the layout. In this layout I am using a kind of lava rock in different sizes.


I have no special rules for creating a rock layout, except for one: Follow your feeling. Try to use different sizes and set the rocks at different heights.


With half the content of a 3 L bag if fill any spaces where needed in the layout.


To finish the layout I lay some small and very tiny stones between the bigger ones and in the front. This gives the whole layout a more natural touch.


The next step is planting. As you can see at this picture, I am planting without water in the aquarium. It is much easier to plant this way and you also avoid the water getting cloudy, as it would if you worked in a filled aquarium. It is best to use tweezers to plant the small pieces of plants in the soil.


The first plant I put in is Hemianthus callitrichoides “Cuba”. I cut one pot of this plant into 8-10 pieces. This allows me to cover about 10cm² of free space in front and in the middle section.


The next plant is Staurogyne spec., a very easy plant for the middle section of the tank. One pot delivers me with 3-4 parts, which I plant in front of the bigger stones behind left and right.


Didiplis diandra is a nice plant to use behind the Staurogyne spec. It is good placed in the middle and sometimes even as a background plant.


The highest aquatic plant in this layout is Rotala rotundifolia. As last plant I place a few stems in the background of the layout.


As special guest, I now decide to use some part of Utricularia graminifolia in the middle background section and also through some of the stones at left.


Now for one of the most important tasks if you set up a planted aquarium without water: Spray the plants with a water sprayer after you finish the layout. If you are setting up a bigger tank, spray often, preferably between each planting ‘session’. This helps you to avoid drying out the plants. It is an aquarium setting-up technique I have used for over 10 years, irrespective of whether the tank was 20 litres or 8.000 litres.


The next step is to cover the whole layout with some newspaper, kitchen towel or some similar water stable soft material. After you covered it spray the paper with water until it is completely soaked.


Next lay a layer of thin plastic over the wet paper. Then you can start to fill the water slowly. Please, please understand the meaning of the word slowly! To have a better idea of how much, or how slowly you should fill, use a small watering can, especially for smaller tanks. Water pressure can destroy your creation. So be patient!


When the aquarium is more or less full, slowly and gently remove the plastic layer


Next, very gently remove the paper.


All that is left is to use a fine net to remove any plant debris that has floated to the top during the filling


The layout is finished! This picture has been taken just 30 minutes after filling the tank with water. Due to my special filling technique, the water is clear right from the beginning! It is time to install your filter and other equipment.

Well, fellow aquarists, did you ever think it would be so easy? All you now need, is to let your plants grow and your aquascape flourish! And that brings us to the one thing all successful planted tanks have in common:


Setting up an aquascape is one thing, but maintaining and enhancing its beauty is completely different. Only regular pruning and water changing, as well as getting the right balance of nutrients, lights and CO2 will allow you to achieve your goal. A word of caution though: To begin with, do not light your tank to its brightest capacity. You would be courting algae if you did! Let your plants settle and gain a foothold. Then slowly heighten the brightness until you reach optimum.

Frequent water changes are extremely important with a freshly  planted aquarium set-up. Start on day 3 after set-up with a 20% water change. Repeat this every 3-4 days for the  next 3-4 weeks. Do not use water that is too warm or too cold. A temperature around 20-22 C is  best for changes in planted aquariums.

Sometimes, once your plants grow in, you may even have to change a group of plants, because they do not look like you imagined they would. But maintenance is an integral part of the aquarium hobby, and it will be infinitely more pleasurable if you just accept this as spending time with your pride and joy, rather than a chore.

Finally to help you along, especially if you are a newbie, watch these two videos produced by the famed company, Tropica. It teaches you how to plant an aquascape and, perhaps even more important,  how to handle and prepare plants that come from a shop or dealer:

for tips and tricks with plants, and


* As for that question asked earlier, here is the answer: Only the tank in the middle was not a Dutch tank.

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