Fresh Water Aquariums - Decorations

Tank Substrate

Most of your decorating is based on choice. You will see as we go into the subject of tank decor, that the theme you want for your tank should influence your choices. The first concern is what to put on the bottom of the tank. For Marine tanks it's crushed coral, but for fresh water you have a myriad of choices. From natural to rainbow, the colors and sand size are many. For most smaller tanks you will want to use relatively small grained gravel. If you want a total natural theme, there are only about a half dozen choices, mostly in shades and size of the natural gravel. If your into a brighter more colorful tanks, your choices are many. Remember the darker the gravel the better your fish will show up in the tank. A general rule to follow is 5 to 10 pounds of gravel for every 5 gallons of tank size. My own choice would be about 15 pounds for every 10 gallons of tank size. This will give you the ability to decorate properly and to weight down things that don't stay on the the bottom. Note: before using the gravel, wash it, when you turn blue in the face, wash it again. All gravel is pre-washed, however from shipment and rubbing it will have some powder that can cloud your water. Careful cleaning will solve this problem. Clean the gravel by first putting it in a pail and running water, stir the gravel over and over again, then drain it after it has become clear. Put the gravel in a colander and run clean water over it until you think its entirely clear.


Tank backgrounds should mirror your general theme. For instance if you plan on a natural looking tank, then you should pick a background that has plants or rocks and wood. This will blend with the rest of your decor. Solid color backgrounds such as black, are always appropriate as they simply cover the back so you don't see the cords and the wall, and yet do not add or detract from your decor in the tank. Backgrounds are affixed to the outside back glass of the tank, so they may be added or changed at anytime.

Rocks and Wood

Rocks of different colors and sizes will add dimension to your tank, or what is called depth of field, inviting you into the tank and it's environment. They also provide a place for your fish to hide or just goof off. Rocks are also favorite breeding sites for many fish. Pick rocks that are appropriate to the decor and to the type of fish that you are keeping. Check with us on that, there are rocks that will alter your water chemistry. Wood pieces or driftwood makes a wonderful addition to your decor. Most wood pieces are really roots of rare types of trees that are in unusual shapes. These pieces have usually been underground for so long that there is nothing left to rot, so they will not decay in your tank. Some pieces may turn your water slightly amber, giving it a more natural appearance. If you find any water discoloration offensive, don't use real wood. Wood of course floats, so you have to water log it so that it will not float to the top. A good way to do this is to boil it until it sinks. This is not practical for most pieces however because they won't fit into a pot. Try weighting them down in a tub of very hot water until they drop. Some wood comes with a slate bottom so you can cover it with gravel to help weight it down. If all this sounds like a pain, there are plastic alternatives.

Time to decorate

Okay, now we have the essentials, and it's time to put it all together so it looks like something. In a natural tank you will want to spread the gravel so it banks from side to side and to the back. So the front center will be the most shallow and the back corners the deepest. Place your rocks in groups or create caves. Associate the plants near the rocks in ascending sizes. This look will create islands of decor, rather than scattering the decor around the tank. Use some small foreground plants that will associate with the other plants you have used. Place them up front to give the total look more depth.

There are many types of ornaments from plastic caves to brightly colored clowns with balloons that give off air bubbles. If this is your choice, add a few and leave room for other choices later.

The natural bubbling of air is also an attraction in the properly decorated aquarium. There are many sizes of air stones or wands and many different effects you can create. Decorating is a lot of fun and gives your fish an environment to live that is bright and attractive for you to view as well. So as not to disturb your decor or gravel, when you add water to the tank, place deflector of some type over the gravel so when you pour the water will be dispersed rather than creating a hole and knocking things you have carefully placed from there desired locations. Please ask questions, we will be happy to assist you in choosing your decor and giving you some ideas on how to decorate.