by Jason Baliban
Creating a pleasing layout is one of the most challenging aspects of the planted aquarium hobby. Understanding depth and balance is important to any composition and can be studied for a lifetime. As if these two aspects weren’t difficult enough, planted aquarists must also consider that aquarium layouts are living, breathing compositions with aquatic plants acting as the brush strokes. Aquarium plants are affected by many factors, each one altering each plant in a different way. So how does one choose plants for a layout?
One of the most important things to consider when choosing the correct plants for a layout is the relationship between the size of the tank and the size of the plants. This is something that takes a lot of experience to master. The way a plant looks at its initial planting is not always helpful when determining how the plant will look once it is fully-grown. If experience is lacking with a particular plant, ask fellow hobbyists or search the Internet to find as much information as possible. Knowing the full size of a grown plant is important when determining if a plant can be used in the envisioned layout, and where it can be placed.
Creating depth is one of the most important and challenging aspects of a successful planted aquarium layout. The use of plants of proper size and texture can be very effective for creating the illusion of depth. Conversely, selecting inappropriately-sized plants can be detrimental to balance and depth. It should be noted that smaller plants can be used in almost all aquariums effectively, while larger plants cannot and are constrained greatly by the size of the aquarium being used for the layout.
The Java Fern Trident and rock scape in this picture are supported by the finer leaves of the Myriophyllum Pinnatum and Taiwan Moss. Also notice how the illusion of depth is exaggerated by the finer leaves.
Texture is important for creating contrast, focal points and areas of interest. Generally, plants with smaller leaves give the impression of softness, and plants with larger leaves create a bolder look. When considering texture, it is common to let the smaller-leaved plants support the areas of interest, whether it is a rock formation or a grouping of large-leaved plants. Large-leaved plants can also be used to support larger focal points; however, in that case, the focal point must be very bold to achieve the proper balance.
One of the most obvious, and possibly one of the most dangerous, ways to create contrast in an aquarium layout is the use of color. One could use the same methodology when choosing colors as when composing texture. Light-colored plants are seen as soft and dark-colored plants as bold or hard. Again, a general rule is that lighter- or softer-colored plants are used to support those with bolder color.
Red plants are often the most beautiful, but can be the most dangerous in a layout. It is easy to be mesmerized by the lush color of red-leaved plants and over utilize them in a composition. When it comes to catching the eyes’ attention, red-leaved plants are a powerful choice. Take care when choosing and positioning red plants. It is helpful to use them as accents in a layout. Thinner-leaved red plants are easier to incorporate into a layout. Generally it is helpful to avoid using red plants on the far sides and directly in the center of a composition. Conversely, red plants can be used in abundance if properly balanced by a strong hardscape.
These quick tips and general approaches help give a better understanding of how to approach the challenging task of choosing plants for aquarium layouts. Keeping size, texture and color in mind when designing a planted aquarium composition will help lead to a successful and eye-catching design.
For more tips and planted aquarium examples, please visit me at www.projectaquarium.com