Step By Step Guide: How To Create A Forest Style Planted Aquarium
The "forest style" aquascape has become very popular in the last few years. several iterations exist, but I feel as if little information or tutorials are available for the beginner. If you have not seen my complete YouTube video tutorial regarding the setup of this aquarium, here is a detailed guide on how I made it.
Step 1: Picking The Right Aquarium
When building a forest style aquascape, the illusion of depth is extremely important. The goal is to create an aquarium that not only looks bigger than it actually is, but also to make features in the rear look farther away. We do this with a number of techniques discussed later in the article, but it starts with a tank that has dimensions similar to a cube. The Dennerle Shrimp King tank pictured above is 15.5"L x 12.5"W x 11"H Having a decent amount of space from font to back will help create the illusion of depth without much work. If we compare these dimensions to a traditional 10 gallon aquarium (20" x 10" x 12") where the layout is more horizontal than front to back, we can see why it might be more difficult to create a sense of depth. Cube style aquariums with equal dimensions (y" x y" x y") are great for forest aquascapes and the 40 gallon breeder aquarium (36' x 18" x 16") is also a great choice.
Here is an example of a great cube style tank for aquascaping
Step 2: The Materials
Tank - Dennerle Shrimp King Tank
Substrate - Brightwell Aquatics Rio-Cafe XF
LED Light - Dennerle Power-LED 5.0
Filter - Azoo 60 HOB Filter
Wood - Spiderwood Nano Twigs / Manzanita Driftwood
Rock - Dragonstone Nano Pack
Plants - Dwarf Hair Grass, Mini Christmas Moss and Bucephalandra
CO2 - Aquatech Mini CO2 regulator, 24oz painball tank, aquario diffuser
Several different combinations of different materials can be used to create a forest style aquarium aquascape. Every planted aquarium needs a substrate, light fixture, filter etc. but lets talk about the core hardscape materials first.
The main hardscape material in a forest syle tank is the wood used to create the trees. In this example, I used a combination of manzanita driftwood and spider wood. Larger/thicker pieces of manzanita are placed in the front of the aquarium while smaller/thinner pieces of manzanita and spider wood are placed in the rear. This gradient of wood diameter (front to back) is a key factor in creating the illusion of depth. Many pieces of wood are glued together using gel type gorilla super glue (aquarium safe) to create more character and a natural look. The small spider wood nano twigs found on aquariumcoop.com are a great resource for a project like this.
A secondary hardscape feature of the forest aquarium is rock. You are free to use whatever type you want, just make sure its small! Keeping scale in mind, I used broken up chunks of dragonstone and sprinkled them around the bases of the front most trees. A few pieces were used in the mid-ground to support the sloping substrate and add character. Dragon stone, seiru stone, lava rock, etc. are all great choices for a forest aquarium. Dragon stone is one of my favorite aquascaping materials for several reasons, most notably its coloration and uniqueness. No other stone looks quite like it and its sure to grab the attention of anyone who walks by your tank.
Planting your forest aquarium is the last step, but its also one of the most crucial. This is what I would call the "make it or break it" portion of the setup, so here's my advice- Keep it simple. I used only 3 plants for the entire aquarium: Dwarf Hair Grass, Mini Christmas Moss and a few small chunks of Bucephalandra. That's it. Small plants are critical for a forest style aquarium because we are trying to maintain the appearance of a large scene on a small scale. Using plants with big leaves like java fern or plants like Anubia barteri would make the front trees seem small and throw off the scale. To avoid this, we use tiny leafed plants like dwarf hair grass and bucephalandra spp. All mosses are small enough for use and I ultimately used mini x-mass moss because it features a lateral growth pattern perfect for filling out the trees. Keep Reading ⬇️
1 Day After Planting
2 Weeks After Planting
1.5 Months After Planting
The moss was applied by first adding a few drops of gel super glue, then simply pressing the moss onto the twigs. After about an hour of adding moss, hair grass plugs are added throughout the aquascape using tweezers to reach tight spaces. A couple clumps of unknown bucephalandra spp. were added into the gaps of the wood in the foreground to add some flare and break up color. Even though this aquarium does not contain difficult to keep plants, I still have a pressurized CO2 system adding about 1 bubble/3 seconds. This is a relatively small amount of added carbon but does help increase plant growth.
Step 3: Keep It Looking Good!
Livestock and Maintenance-
A forest planted aquarium is the perfect environment for several different freshwater fish and or shrimp. The size of your aquarium will dictate what you end up keeping, but a small tank like this is great for nano fish like chili rasboras and dwarf shrimp like neocaridina "blue dream". I ended up adding some baby kerri tetras that will eventually outgrow this tank but will look awesome for the next few months.
Maintenance on the forest aquarium is pretty straight forward, although if left neglected for even a short period of time, could prove detrimental. I preform a 50% water change once a week (as I do on most my planted aquariums) and 1 pump of Easy Green Fertilizer is added twice a week. This is important for 2 reasons. 1.) 2 of our 3 plants rely on water column nutrients to grow and 2.) To balance our tank we need to make sure our plants have the required nutrients to match the lighting and carbon additions we are providing. I have been lucky to not experience many algae problems with this tank thus far and I owe that to my consistent maintenance. In the beginning, there was a small amount of algae popping up on the driftwood and moss but I dealt with it immediately via manual removal. Letting algae take over is easy to do... We've all been there! Stay consistent and don't let it overwhelm you. With patience and a little bit of work, you too can have a beautiful forest aquarium that you're more than proud of.
Present Day: 3 Months after Planting