Personal Aquariums

Hardscape… not too hard to scape!

This is my first real planted aquarium hardscape, but I’ve had plenty of experience creating aquascapes for my saltwater reef tanks. The basic principles are the same, just different materials.

The number one factor when it comes to creating a stunning aquascape is composition. There are “rules” you can follow if you are new to the concept of composition. Mainly, the “rule of thirds”.

Diagram of the rule of thirds

As seen in the diagram above, the rule of thirds says that the most pleasing composition occurs when the main subject of the image lands where the lines intersect. In this case, the apple. And even further, the stem and leaf, which are the more interesting parts of the apple and where your eye will be drawn first.

This doesn’t have to be a die-hard rule, but if you are unsure, you can’t go wrong with the rule of thirds. Sometimes a perfectly centered composition can be very pleasing. In the end, you have to be happy with your aquascape since you are the person who will be looking at it day in and day out. As an artist, I don’t even think about the rules consciously. I just create. Many times I end up with a composition that seems to follow the rule of thirds, sometimes I don’t. So don’t feel like you have to follow this rule. Just know that it is there if you need it. If anything, it’s a good place to start.

A pleasing centered weighted planted aquarium hardscape composition
SifuSeafood’s tank on

The photo above is a great example of a planted aquarium hardscape with a centered composition that just works beautifully. See more of this build here. Symmetry can be very pleasing.

A more planted aquarium hardscape with an asymmetrical composition more closely following the rule of thirds

On the other hand, asymmetry can also be very pleasing. This tank above is closer to following the rule of thirds. See more of this beautiful tank here.

My Hardscape

I already had a pretty solid idea in my head of what I wanted to create. Part of it was due to the placement of the tank in my home. It’s kind of pushed into a corner, and when you walk into the house you are facing the opposite end. So I wanted to plant more heavily on the side that is in the corner, and leave the other end of the tank more open. This was going to be a severely asymmetrical layout.

Part 1

I needed to build up the right side. Instead of using the expensive Ultum soil for all of it, I went to the local big box hardware store and picked up a couple of bags of crushed lava rock. It’s inert and porous, both good things for an aquarium substrate. Not only would this help me use less soil, but it also helps support the main feature of the tank… the river wood branches. And the third and final component is the rock. I used a gray mountain stone.

Large branches set in place, along with lava rock

In the photo above you can see the initial placement. The wood is made up of 3 pieces.

Part 2

completed hardscape with soil and stone

This shows the final placement of the wood, stone, and soil. You can see how high the soil was built up on the right side. The arching branch was cut and then screwed to the other branch using a stainless steel screw. This is six 10 Liter bags of Ultum Controlsoil. The large wood pieces are held together with black cable ties. And the sand on the left side is AquaQuartz. It’s the perfect color. Not too white, not too yellow.

You can see how the rule of thirds was used to grab your attention and start your eye at the right side of the tank. Then the arching branch guides your eye across the tank and down to the front left. The slope of the soil and the direction of the rocks also help draw your eye down towards the left. And then the small group of stones on the left start at the rear left corner and brings your eye towards the front.

Hardscape Complete

This planted aquarium hardscape is now complete and next, we will be adding the plants and finally filling the tank with water. Time to go shopping. Woohoo!

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