3 Types of Planted Aquariums to Inspire your Next Tank Build

3 Types of Planted Aquariums to Inspire Your Next Tank Build Did you know that a planted aquarium can be more than just adding aquatic plants into a fish tank? A variety of layout options …

3 Types of Planted Aquariums to Inspire Your Next Tank Build

Did you know that a planted aquarium can be more than just adding aquatic plants into a fish tank? A variety of layout options and techniques can be used to make a planted aquarium stand out. Each style adds that special touch to the aquarium. Let’s look at three types of aquascapes that are easy to build and can be used as inspiration for your next planted tank.

Iwagumi Style Aquarium

The first style that we will cover is the Iwagumi style of aquascaping. The Japanese term “Iwagumi,” which means “rock formation,” refers to a plant aquarium that has only rocks or stones as the hardscape. Driftwood and other decor are not used in this type of aquarium, which makes it unique and eye-catching.

The main focal point of an Iwagumi style aquarium is not the aquarium plants. A group of stones with varying sizes should be the main focal point of an Iwagumi style aquarium. In an Iwagumi-style aquarium, three stones are usually used. However, it is acceptable to use as many stones as you like to achieve the desired look. Consider following the rule of thirds and using a few different sizes of stones to create an Iwagumi aquascape. Imagine the tank is divided into three parts – place the largest stone towards the left or right “third” and leave the rest more open. Place medium-sized stones around the tank in any way that you find most appealing. A trick many aquascapers use to achieve a dramatic-looking Iwagumi layout is by using a deep substrate bed. By sloping the substrate, it adds height and visual depth, making the stones appear more dramatic as they would in nature.

Iwagumi layouts tend to be planted with shorter, carpeting species of plants. For added interest, taller plants can be placed towards the back of your aquarium. You might consider using plants like dwarf hairgrass, Micranthemum “Monte Carlo”, dwarf baby tears and pearl weed in the aquarium’s front and center. If you want to increase the tank’s height, add dwarf sagittaria or Cryptocorynelucens to the back. A great addition to an Iwagumi aquarium are shrimp and small schoolingfish. Fish that aren’t shy and won’t mind being in open water are a good choice. Rasboras such as harlequin or chili rasboras and many killifish species like lampeye killifish will shoal nicely in large enough numbers, adding to the visual interest of the aquarium.

Nature or Natural Aquarium

It could be the first time you have heard of aquascaping. The term “nature aquarium” is widely used in the community. It even predates the term aquascaping as a household term. The term “nature aquarium” refers to a planted aquarium in which wood, rocks, and other natural materials are combined with plants to create an environment that is similar to nature. This is different than a biotope aquarium (accurate simulation a natural ecosystem), because the purpose of creating a Nature Aquarium is to loosely reproduce natural scenes, both above and beneath water.

A nature aquarium can be created by anyone. It doesn’t have too many specific rules and it’s up to the aquascapers to create their own ideas of a setting in nature that appeals to them. Natural materials are best for creating a nature aquarium. As this will enhance the visual appeal, you might choose stones and driftwood that complement one another in color. You won’t find brightly colored or artificial substrate in a nature aquarium.


You can use any combination of plants to create greenery. So choose your favorite. Placing shorter plants towards the front of the aquarium, medium-height plants in the middle, and tall plants in the back will create a sense of depth. Regular trimming and maintenance is necessary to keep your hardscape looking great. Your stones and wood pieces should be complemented by the plants, but not overshadowed.

A nature aquarium can be enhanced by small schooling fish. This adds movement to the tank and gives it a sense scale. A nature aquarium landscape that is smaller than life looks larger thanks to the presence of smaller fish.

Jungle Style Tank

The principles of the jungle aquarium are similar to those of the nature aquarium. It is fairly easy to make this aquarium. The objective is to create an underwater jungle aesthetic. Much like the nature aquarium, there aren’t very many rules for achieving this type of planted aquarium. It is possible to use any combination of plants. However, the goal is for them to be as dense as possible and still maintain an attractive aquarium. Another goal of jungle aquascaping is for little hardscape to be visible once the aquarium has begun to grow in. The emphasis is on the plants.

Despite how beautiful it might appear, visual appeal can still be maintained by regular maintenance. To keep pace with slower-growing plants, faster growing plants should be cut back. It wouldn’t be ideal to have one species take over the whole tank. This type of aquarium requires both liquid fertilizer and root feeding. You will need sufficient lighting to ensure that your plants grow as densely as possible. Make sure to fertilize your aquarium regularly.

The fun part of creating a jungle aquarium is choosing plants with different textures and colors to complement each other. There are many combinations. Planting vallisneria near water sprite, bacopa, or other leaf textures will create a visual difference. Using a mix of anubias, java fern, and moss in the middle or midground of the tank creates textural contrast as well. You could also have pearl weed next Cryptocoryne fern, which has different colors and textures.

Fish have endless possibilities. This type of aquarium is ideal for fish. The dense plant growth mimics natural vegetation and creates plenty of dark, comfortable areas for fish to hide. A jungle aquarium should have more colorful fish than the rest.

There are so many options for creating a planted tank. So, if you aren’t sure what to do with that empty aquarium, try an Iwagumi, nature or jungle aquarium – or even combine styles to find your own unique design. The best part about creating a planted aquarium? Enjoying the process.

For more information on planted aquariums, check out our library of articles that cover live aquatic plants, fertilizers, algae control, and more.