Aquascaping: A Newbie’s Guide (Part 1)

I logged onto Facebook the other day and it reminded me that I used to have an aquarium, 4 years ago. Aside from getting me to ask, “where did all the time go?” it also got me reminiscing about my aquarium hobbyist days. Four years ago I had a 6 gallon Fluval Edge that housed some freshwater gobies, an overgrown Madagascar Lace plant, and a unique looking piece of volcanic rock.  I’ve had aquariums since I was in grade school so I’m happy that I can have something again, even if it’s very small.

Pinterest has been giving me all sorts of ideas on how to spruce up my place and an aquarium was one of them. Mind you, I am no expert in aquascaping and I don’t have experience with CO2 fertilizers that serious planted tanks have. I am just trying it out and hopefully, I have some beginners luck!

Found through Pinterest

What do you need?

An appropriate vessel

What will be considered an appropriate vessel depends on what you have planned for your new tank. Will you be putting animals inside? What kinds? What type of plants will you use? What lighting will you have available? 

I found this glass container at Value Village, a thrift store, for only $7!  It has the diameter of a dinner plate and sits nicely on the placemat . It is also about 6 inches tall.


My little aquarium will focus on plants but because I will be using only a LED desk lamp for lighting, the plants need to have low light requirements and not grow very tall.

Aquarium Substrate

If you’re going to have plants, you will need soil! I used Fluval Stratum for plants and shrimp and I bought the 4.4lb bag for about $14.

Make sure to rinse it well, but don’t break the little balls of soil.

I filled the container about 2 inches high with the substrate and ended up having some left over. The packaging recommends 4 inches depth, but that would have taken up half of my container!


Decor and Plants

I bought a piece of driftwood from the pet store. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes so take your time searching for the perfect piece! The piece I chose has a lot of crevices for fish to hide and also for me to anchor moss easily.

I soaked it overnight fully submerged in water to release some of the tannins that cause the water to brown. It is totally safe, and even desirable, to have this coloration. That’s how the water looks in nature! I just didn’t want mine to be too dark.

** I would put a bucket of water aside overnight to let chlorine water dissolve. You may also have to treat the water with chemicals depending on where you are from. Ask your local fish store!**


For the plants, I didn’t have very many options at my local fish store. Due to the snow in Vancouver, shipments of plants and livestock have been put on hold. I did manage to get 1 potted Sagittaria, and a little bit of java moss.


This sagittaria subulata is low maintenance and produces close growing runners to form a compact group. It’s usually used as a foreground plant, but since my aquarium in so small, I am using it in the center and around the driftwood. I am excited for them to grow and make my aquarium much denser!

1 potted plant, but 12 pieces!

You will need to remove the plant from the pot and also (carefully) remove the fibers surrounding the roots. You don’t need to get it off 100%, so don’t worry too much about it. I also separated the runners so that I could cover more area than just putting the entire plant in one spot.

I used fishing line to keep the java moss in place. Eventually, it will just stick to the wood on its own and continue to grow.

Planting your aquarium

You don’t need fancy tools to plant (but they would help). I used a pair of my tweezers to grab a hold of the stem, gently, and insert it into the soil. It might take a few tries to actually get it to stay put and not be uprooted the moment you release.

I found it easier to plant by adding just enough water to cover the substrate. This way, you’ll know if you’ve planted it deep enough to stay put and keep the plants hydrated while you work on planting the rest.

Filling up the tank

This might require a bit of finesse and care so you don’t destroy all the work you put into planting. Pouring in the water too quickly disrupt the substrate, uprooting the plants, and it is much harder to place them when the tank is full. I slowly poured water onto the top of the driftwood so it trickled down the sides. Once it was half full I could pour the water a bit quicker.

I don’t think I rinsed the substrate well enough because the water was very turbid. If this happens to you, don’t worry! I let it stand still overnight and it cleared up by the morning. If yours doesn’t settle, remove half the water and replace it with fresh water! You shouldn’t have to start all over.


The (Almost) Finished Product

I added 2 nerite snails to the aquarium and will just let everything grow for a week or two. I have no idea how quickly the plants will grow, or if everything will survive.

The plan is to add some java fern in the background and perhaps get a few marimo moss balls to fill the barren space in the front of my tank. After the tank cycles and is established, it should be able to support some fish. I won’t need a filtration system since the plants will take of that. Also, I have my snails for backup!

In a few weeks, I’ll hopefully have an update and new things added to my little aquarium!

Have a suggestion for me, or want to share what you’ve done with your nano tank? Let me know in the comments below. 






  1. That is amazing. I have always thought of starting something like this but have no idea what I’m doing. I’m curiuous to see how well yours grows and settles. What kind of fish were you thinking to add?


  2. Just guppies since they are low maintenance and come in a variety of colors! I have put a few in and they gave birth the very first day! I am still waiting for my local fish store to stock more plants so it’ll be a while before the next update =p


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