The decor chosen for aquascaping an aquarium greatly influences the final appearance of the
tank, and care should be taken in buying materials and planning the tank layout. The decor may
be only for decorative purposes, but will often serve as refuges for fish to make them feel more
secure. Some decor may also influence the water chemistry.
Rocks are a very useful item for decorating the aquarium. They break up the aquascape and can be
used to provide refuges in the form of caves. In some tanks, such as those designed for African
rift lake cichlids, they may constitute the main or only decor. In such tanks, a large wall or pile
of rocks is built to form many caves and niches in the rock to serve as places to hide from aggressive
tank mates, and for use as spawning caves.
A number of different rocks are suitable for aquarium use. Some, such as slate and lava rock, are inert and
should be safe for use in any aquarium. Others, including limestone and the crumbly tufa rock, leach
hardening salts into the water and should only be used in hard-water setups.
Bogwood makes a very attractive addition to the aquascape. Its colour contrasts well with light
green plants. It provides a natural looking refuge for fish. Many suckermouth catfish in
particular, like to rest on bogwood - and some species may even derive nutrition from it.
Before use bogwood should be soaked (preferably for a few weeks) and then rinsed, to allow some
of the colour and organic acids to leach. Although the organic acids and even the colouration released
by bogwood may be desirable in certain setups, e.g. South American 'Amazon' tanks, where the
'blackwater' effect is desired, the leaching may be very heavy at first, if not presoaked.
While not as desirable or attractive as the real thing, plastic plants do perform useful functions in an
aquarium. Firstly, they provide shelter and security for fish. They also serve as an additional
surface for bacterial colonisation. They also have the advantage that they require considerably
less maintenance than real plants! Some of the newer types are quite realistic - silk plants,
for instance, tend to move fairly naturally in the current.
Real plants are the ultimate in aquarium decor, a well planted tank is a stunning sight. They
also contribute to maintaining a balanced water chemistry in the aquarium and oxygenate the water.
There is of course a price to pay for these advantages - a well planted tank does require frequent
maintenance to continue to look its best. It is necessary to provide the correct lighting
conditions, and some more demanding plants may require a nutrient substrate and/or liquid fertilizer to thrive, or
even CO2 injection.
There are, however, a number of fast-growing plants which are not too demanding, and which can add to
the appearance of any tank.