PART 2: How to Aquascape - Hardscaping

Written by George Farmer

In aquascaping we usually prefer to use natural decorating materials such as wood and/or rocks. This is commonly referred to as hardscape and selecting and positioning your hardscape is one of the most essential prerequisites to achieving a beautiful aquascape. If you can create a high-impact and natural-looking hardscape layout then it is so much easier to create a visually stunning aquascape once the plants have been added. Thinking of it in terms of a human being; the hardscape as the skeleton of the aquascape and the plants and water as the muscles, flesh and blood. If you start off with a strong skeleton then it provides the basis to build upon to make a strong overall human. Conversely if you have a weak skeleton then it can be challenging to create a strong human. 


Scaped Nature offer a wide selection of rocks suitable for all aquarium sizes and tastes. In most successful aquascapes you will see just the one type of rock because mixing rock types looks unnatural in most cases. Some rocks may influence the water chemistry because they contain a source of calcium carbonate (limestone). This will boost the pH and hardness levels and may have an adverse impact on your aquarium depending on your water chemistry. Harder water will be influenced less by limestone and softer water will be influenced more. In the Norwich area the water is hard so using rocks with limestone is rarely an issue. We also recommend changing 50% of the aquarium water every week, which will also help negate any influence the rocks have on the aquarium water. Examples of rocks that may influence water chemistry including Mini Landscape Rock. Inert rocks include Dragon Stone.

Selecting Rocks

Selecting rocks in-store is the best option because you can physically see the materials and actually play with them in the Scaped Nature dry scaping area. This helps to ensure that you are entirely happy with your selection and you can always ask the experienced staff for assistance if you wish. When considering your rock choice, no matter the rock type, it’s essential that the rocks provide the right amount of impact. Think about how much of the rock will remain visible once the plants are mature. A common mistake is for beginners to choose rocks that are far too small. Also consider the character of the rock. Try to select rocks that are interesting to look at i.e. they have good textures and colour. If you’re selecting multiple rocks then try to ensure that they all have a similar character in terms of their colour and texture but you may wish to use a broad range of sizes. It’s often a great idea to select one much larger rock to act as the focal point. This is particularly important for rock-only aquascapes, also known as Iwagumi, which is a Japanese translation meaning rock garden. We will cover Iwagumi in more detail in a future blog.

(Image courtesy of Adam Paszczela, ADA Poland)


Positioning Rocks

Once you have selected your rocks it’s vital that they are positioned with care and attention to ensure you get the best visual impact. Our top tip is to start off with the tank dry with just your dry substrate in place. This will ensure a much cleaner experience when compared with scaping in a tank filled with water, which would otherwise result in a huge cloudy mess!

Follow this step-by-step guide to getting the most of your rocks:

  1. Start with the biggest rocks and work your way down in size to the smallest.
  2. Position the biggest rock roughly around one third of the water across the tank (from the left or right). This gives great aesthetic balance. Centrally positioned focal points often look too symmetrical by splitting the tank into two equal halves.
  3. Look at the natural lines in the rocks, known as strata and position them with consideration to how the strata flows. You can position each rock so the strata either flows in the same direction or deliberately against each other (perpendicular). This can help create a sense of flow and harmony, or tension, depending on the look you like.
  4. Experiment with different rock positions until you are 100% happy that you cannot do any better. This process can last a long time and sometimes it is worth having a break and returning later for another rock placing session.
  5. Consider your planting plan when positioning rocks so that the entire aquascape composition is well-balanced. More on planting later…

Selecting Wood

The main principles with selecting rocks can also be applied to wood. Usually we only use one type of wood to maintain a natural appearance. Occasional small twigs from a different source can be added to give details and these may not come from the same source as the larger wood. Your wood should be selected according to size, texture, colour and overall impact i.e. do you want a simple or complex effect? Do bear in mind that most wood will stain the water for a period of time. This is harmless to any livestock but the staining can look unsightly for some tastes and it can also filter out light from hitting the plants. To reduce staining there are a few options.

How to remove staining from wood:

  1. Pre-soak the wood for many weeks/months prior to adding to the aquarium.  Perform water changes so the wood is not sat in its own stained water.
  2. Add the wood right away but perform large frequent water changes to dilute the staining.
  3. Add some chemical filter media to your filtration system i.e. activated carbon and/or Seachem Purigen.
  4. All of the above.

Some wood will develop a natural white fungal growth after a few days in a new setup. This is harmless and can be removed easily with a toothbrush (dedicated to aquarium use!) Once it’s been removed it rarely grows back again. If it does, simply brush it off until it stops growing back.

Positioning Wood

Wood can provide great impact in an aquascape and help the layout to look mature right from the start, especially if used in conjunction with epiphyte plants (plants that attach to hardscape). Considering the angles of the wood and where the main visual weight of the wood lies and position this in accordance with the rule of thirds again, as per the main rock advice. Smaller pieces of wood can be added together, even tied together, to create the illusion that there’s one bigger piece of wood. This is really useful if you’re struggling to find that one special piece to fit your intention. If you have an open top aquarium then wood protruding from the surface can look great and really add a sense of nature to your living space.   Do be aware that wood floats! It’s happened to most of us at one time or another; the wood starts to float as soon as the tank is initially filled, often doing significant damage to our new aquascape. This can be prevented by pre soaking the wood for several weeks, weighing the wood down or attaching to rocks with cable ties or a suitable aquarium safe bonding agent.


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Hi, I’m just thinking about my first aqua terrarium and wondered if anyone produces tanks enclosed on 3 sides with a low front? I want the sound of trickling water to be heard without too high a flow rate.

Jamie Bowman November 18, 2021


I am into the aquascaping hobby for more than 8+ years now. I had ADA setup in India. Recently I have relocated to UK, so all my setups are gone and in India.
Will start again in UK. Started connecting with people in Epsom.

Brotin K Chakraborty October 03, 2021

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