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15.4. Types of Planted Tanks

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Author : David Bogert

Published :

Time To Read :
5 minutes
Many of the successful planted aquariums in the world are very simple affairs without carbon dioxide additions and pretty much ANY combination of substrates, plants, aeration and filtration. And as long as they follow one "guideline" they can do well.

This one “guideline” is:

Only have a Few Small Fish in the Planted Aquarium

Adding a sizable number of sizable fish to a planted aquarium is possible, but challenging.

There are several general methods used by hobbyists to give beautiful planted tanks free of algae. We will look at those methods in this article.

Low Tech Planted Aquarium
Low Tech Planted Aquarium

Specialized Planted Aquariums

There are several basic types of specialized planted aquariums as to the technology used. Each of the several types has an infinite number of possibilities, all of which can be made to work well.

“Natural” planted tanks are low tech affairs with little in the way of fertilization and no CO₂ injection. The following chart summarizes those several types of planted aquariums for what are called “natural” Planted Tanks:

Low techWalstadFather fish
PlantsOnly very easyOnly easy onesOnly easy ones
FertilizerFish wasteFish food in excessFish waste
Bottom substrateTypically sand1 inch (2,5cm) nitrogen poor organic soil1 inch (2,5 cm) nitrogen rich organic soil
Capping substrateNone0,5 inch (1,2cm) gravel3 inch (7,5 cm) sand
Carbon dioxideNoneFrom Soil and FoodFrom Soil and Food
LightsModerate 16 off – 8 onModerate 5 on – 4 off – 5 on – 10 offHigh 14 off – 10 on
FilterSmallSmallDeep sand bed sump
AerationAirstonesNoneSome
Water movementSomeVery lightSome
Number of fishLightLightLight to moderate
InoculateNoneSoilPond mud
DifficultyEasyEasyEasy

Then there are the various “High Tech” or “Chemical” methods for running a planted aquarium. These use fertilization and typically some sort of CO₂ generation, The three general methods are:

Hau methodHybridHigh Tech
PlantsAnyAnyAny
FertilizerOnly fish food and root tabsLight fertilizationHeavy fertilization
Bottom substrate3 inch (7,5 cm) gravel1 inch (2,5 cm) wood pellets2 inch (5 cm) commercial planted aquarium soil
Capping substrateNone1 inch (2,5 cm) coarse sandNone
Carbon dioxideLow tech bottlesFrom the pelletsHeavy injection
LightsLight 8 on – 16 offModerate 4-4-4-4-4-4Very High 14 on – 10 off
FilterSmallBigVaries
AerationLittleNoneVaries
Water movementLittleSome low in the tankVaries
Number of fishModerateLightLight
InoculatePlantsPond mudNone
DifficultyEasyModeratelyModerately

We go into each of these several types of specialized planted aquariums in these links:

15.8. Walstad Aquarium

15.9. High-Tech Planted Aquarium

15.10. Hybrid Planted Aquariums

15.11. Many Fish Many Plants

15.13. Hau Aquariums

15.14. Low Tech Planted Aquariums

High Tech Planted Aquarium
High Tech Planted Aquarium

Trimming Plants

There are two basic types of planted aquariums: the wild, untrimmed look and the formal trimmed look. There is a very good analogy that can be used here. With terrestrial front yards that are planted there are two types seen: the informal bushy look and the formal very trimmed look with hedges and poodle plants. Aquarium plants are much like terrestrial plants in that they will stretch out and get leggy if allowed. Trim them and aquatic plants become thick and bushy, just like terrestrial landscaping plants.

So there develops two distinct classes of planted aquariums: the wild untrimmed look and the bushy “formal” look. Which you have just depends on your aesthetic sense.

High Tech Planted Aquarium
High Tech Planted Aquarium

Aquascaping the Planted Aquarium

Another aspect of the planted aquarium is something called “aquascaping”. This is an art form much like gardening. There are all sorts of styles and preferences. There are even competitions at various aquarium shows as to who can do the best aquascape of a new tank. A typical “mixed style”, high tech, untrimmed, planted aquarium aquascape looks like this:

heavily planted aquarium
heavily planted aquarium

Note the small school of harlequin rasboras which are the only fish in the aquarium.

“Dutch” Planted Aquariums

Then there is a school of aquascaping called the “Dutch” method. Linear rows of plants running left to right are referred to as “Dutch streets.” This style was
developed and started in Netherlands in the 1930s.

The Dutch aquarium follows an orderly, often symmetrical arrangement, in which multiple types of plants having diverse leaf color, sizes and textures are displayed in much the same way as terrestrial plants are shown in a flower garden. It displays plants located on terraces of different heights, but these displays often omit rocks and driftwood. There is even a society which crafts standards for these aquariums.

Dutch Style Aquarium
Dutch Style Aquarium
Dutch Style Aquarium
Dutch Style Aquarium

“Japanese” Planted Aquarium Styles

The Japanese make their planted aquariums much like their terrestrial “Japanese” gardens, They emphasize artistic form and rocks over plants. Often they use only one type of plant. Many aspects of religion, namely Zen Buddhism are incorporated into fresh water plant arrangement and placement. For instance, large stones that are used in the aquarium should always be in odd numbers, i.e. 1, 3, 5 and so on. Zen itself draws a lot from nature, so it is no surprise that Zen has an influence on aquascaping.

There are several Japanese aquascaping artists who set up beautiful planted aquariums

Iwagumi Planted Aquarium
Iwagumi Planted Aquarium
Amano Planted Aquarium
Amano Planted Aquarium

Freestyle Aquascaping

Personally I like a more free style aquascaping. Not completely natural but also not closely manicured. Rachel O’Leary (great YouTube channel) visited Melo Salazar’s 500-gallon (1890 liter) aquarium in Mexico. This aquarium is a stunning example of this approach. Rachel has a five-minute video on the aquarium and I’ve watched it five times, drooling more with every view. Rachel is a superb videographer.

Melo Salazar's Planted Aquarium
Melo Salazar’s Planted Aquarium

Again, Mr. Salazar probably had 300 very small fish in this large aquarium, which is very light stocking.

The “Natural” Look

Then finally these is the good old natural look. The objective is to duplicate Mother Nature rather than make a garden. This often uses Diana Walstad’s soiled tank method.

Planted Aquarium 14
Planted Aquarium

Everyone will have a different opinion of each of the these depending on everybody’s aesthetic values.

Here are some examples of planted aquariums. The file may take a while to load:

15.4.1. Planted Aquarium Examples

High Tech Planted Aquarium
High Tech Planted Aquarium

Planted Aquariums in Depth

The following sections will tell you some general guidelines (frequently successfully breached) on how to make a planted aquarium:

15. Planted Aquariums

15.1. Planted Aquariums in Depth

15.2. Fish for Planted Tank

15.3. Fish Limitations

15.5. Fertilizing

15.6. Carbon Dioxide

15.7. Substrates for Planted Aquariums

15.8. Walstad Aquarium

15.9. High-Tech Planted Aquarium

15.10. Hybrid Planted Aquariums

15.11. Many Fish Many Plants

15.13. Hau Aquariums

15.14. Low Tech Planted Aquariums