Aquascaping Designs – Jungle Aquariums
Now that you already determined the ideal location and dimensions of your tank, it is time to think about your planted aquarium style. This article will discuss the different aquascaping designs to unleash the inner artist in you, specifically the Jungle Aquariums.
Aquascaping is the art of arranging aquatic plants, driftwood, rocks, stones, and even the substrate in an aesthetically pleasing and natural manner.
You probably searched on the internet and was overwhelmed by tons of aquascaping images and still cannot decide. So in this article: the main characteristics, what tank to use, light, substrate, if you need CO2, what filter, fertilizer, hardscape, what fish and plants will be discussed to help you in your decisions.
Table of Contents
What Tank to Use?
What Light to Use?
Do I Need to Inject CO2?
Do I Need to Dose Fertilizers?
Why is it so important to know the different aquascaping designs?
These are no strict rules, and there is nothing that will hinder you from getting out of a particular design’s theme and combine it with other styles.
However, you’ll probably can create a much more appealing result if you are following a particular style.
So without further ado, here are the most common styles/designs you’ll see in planted aquariums.
This style is characterized by many different assortments of plants and leaf types. Carefully planning and designing a multitude of textures, shapes, and plants’ colors is the main focus. It is much like the terrestrial plants that are displayed in flower gardens. It commonly employs raised layers, or terraces, known as “Dutch streets” that taper towards the rear to convey the perspective of depth.
Aquascaped by Jay-R Huelar Philippines
This style re-creates various terrestrial landscapes like hills, valleys, mountains, rain forests, even a half-submerged ecosystem. This design has limitless potential for beauty and creativity. The Nature aquascape or Ryoboku Style encompasses the same core principles of Japanese gardening techniques.
Aquascaped by Fritz Rabaya Philippines
It is a style that is characterized by its daring stone formations, elegance, simplicity of open space with carpeting plants only, and dedication to conveying a natural and tranquil setting. The style features a series of stones arranged according to the Golden Ratio, or Rule of Thirds. There should always be an odd number of stones to prevent the layout from balancing.
Aquascaped by Monnette Arañas Philippines
The Jungle Style encompasses the wild, untamed look. It is the complete opposite of the Dutch style, more organized and looks like a conventional tulips garden. The Jungle style overlaps with the core elements of the Nature Style except that the Jungle Style has little to no visible hardscape and limited open space due to the overgrown plants. The plants are even allowed to reach the surface and beyond.
Aquascaped by Franco Chester Pongco Philippines
The Hardscape Diorama Style is still a subset of the Nature Style. The only differences are emphasizing using a lot of hardscapes and building complex nature-like structures such as forest, caves, bonsai trees, canyons, or even fantasy worlds. Dynamic skills should be mainly displayed here to create an illusion of depth, scale, and proportions.
Aquascaped by Michael Yap Philippines
A Paludarium is a type of vivarium that contains water and land in the same environment or encasement. The design can simulate natural habitats such as rainforests, jungles, streams, riverbanks, and bogs. In a Paludarium, part of the aquarium is underwater, and part is above water.
Aquascaped by Yuno Cyan Philippines
The Taiwanese Style of Aquascaping combines the elements of Nature, Iwagumi, or Dutch styles, but the most bizarre feature is using figurines, toys, etc. in the tank to create a sense of life. The style isn’t ubiquitous anymore, but there are still many hobbyists quite fascinated by this style.
Aquascaped by Ian Garrido Philippines
The biotope style seeks to perfectly imitate a particular aquatic habitat at a specific geographic location. From the fish to plants, the rocks, substrate, driftwood, water current, and even the water parameters of a certain aquatic habitat must be the basis of trying to recreate the natural environment, and not necessarily convey like a garden-like display.
Aquascaped by Lao Ricci Philippines
The Walstad Method choose to grow plants using very minimum technology as possible. This approach, which is sometimes called “The Natural Planted Tank” and is made popular by Diana Walstad, suggested using soil as a cheap replacement to the aquasoil or aquarium gravel, sometimes with no filtration, no CO2 injection, and limited lighting.
Aquascaped by Mark Ivan Suarez Philippines
Many of the hobbyists worldwide refer to the Jungle Style separate from either Nature or Dutch styles of aquascaping. We can even consider the Jungle style a sub-type of the Nature style.
The only difference is the wild, untamed (no trimming here, well, you can if you choose to do so) look. It is the complete opposite of the Dutch style, more organized and looks like a conventional tulips garden.
The Jungle style overlaps with the core elements of the Nature Style except that the Jungle Style has little to no visible hardscape and limited open space due to the overgrown plants. The plants are even allowed to reach the surface and beyond.
It is quite popular in larger tanks, where the full-scale of the design can be effectively conveyed. The goal is self-explanatory, and that is to emulate a jungle.
The style requires less frequent maintenance in general and employs mostly undemanding/hardier plants to lighting, nutrients, and CO2.
Bold, courser leaf-type plants are used in this style, such as Echinodorus species, Cryptocoryne species (crypts), Jungle Vallisneria, Vallisneria Sagittaria, Corkscrew Val, and even tuber-type plants like Nymphaea species. Overgrown leaves can naturally block the light, or you can use floating plants as well.
The combinations of a dark substrate such as aqua soil or regular potting soil top with inert black sand and tall plants growing up to the surface will create a natural jungle canopy to your aquascape.
Unlike the Nature style, there are no small details here. The Jungle Style does not follow fine lines and textures. There are even no focal points as the plants will hide the hardscape (if there is any). The core elements of a Jungle style is to depict a chaotic, unbounded, and wild ecosystem.
It is a style very close to Nature. Nature does not have trimming scissors. She does this naturally. When a plant’s leaf gets old and deteriorates, it detaches from the mother plant and falls in the soil or washed away by the current in submerged ecosystems. It can then serve as fertilizer for the mother plant itself and other plants nearby.
What Tank to Use?
Since you are using large-growing plants, larger tanks are the main game here. From 30 gallons and up, we can effectively portray the scale of the large plants used. But there is no stopping you from using tanks below 30 gallons (like the scape below using a 2.5-gallon tank). Just use hardscapes, plants, and fishes that are proportionally correct with your tank size.
What Light to Use?
The jungle canopy effect – combinations of a dark substrate such as aquasoil or regular potting soil top with inert black sand and tall plants growing up to the surface will block the light shining through and create a mottled lighting effect.
Colors of the plants are limited, and it is not ideal to use higher light intensity demanding plants (colored plants). A decent LED lighting or T5 array can do the job well.
I will still recommend using a dimmer in your lighting whenever you can so you can adjust the intensity of your light lower when you notice algae starting to show up. The only ways you can adjust the intensity of a T5 array are by subtracting or adding tubes or adjusting the height higher or lower.
Besides, plant selection is of the undemanding types, which I mentioned above, so there is no need to get picky with your lighting fixture.
If you know electronics and building skills, you can even DIY/experiment with your light fixture with LED bulbs, high powered LED beads. Some had success with LED floodlights, even 5730, 5630, 5050, and 3528 LED strips. I personally DIYed a 5630 LED strips lighting fixture, with warm white, cool white, red and blue LEDs, and with just a generic 3rd party dimmer.
Whichever route you choose for your planted aquarium lighting, the most important thing is you should be able to control/adjust the intensity (which can be done with 3rd party dimmers for LEDs, or if dimmers are not possible, you should be able to adjust the height of your lighting fixture.
Aquasoil can provide the nutrients for the root-feeders such as the Echinodorus and Cryptocoryne species, which can quietly grow large if given a chance. You can also use regular potting soil top with a thin layer of inert black sand.
Here in the Philippines, some hobbyists even cook/fry the regular garden soil or cook the soil under the sun for several days before using it. This is to ensure that there are no worms, parasites, or eggs that can hitch-hike in our planted aquariums.
Be mindful though of using Echinodorus species (Amazon Swords). Their root systems will eventually span the whole tank under your substrate once they are established. So don’t even try to uproot them. It will be a mess and can even damage your scape and uproot other plants as well, not to mention the gunk and debris that will be disturbed by uprooting.
Do I Need to Inject CO2?
As recommended above, with undemanding plants and jungle-like canopy, no high-lighting, there is no need to use CO2 injection here. However, it will take time for the plants to outgrow your tank and achieve the desired effect.
I experimented with low to medium lighting plus CO2 injection, plus low-light plants (undemanding), and the results are rewarding. We will cover these in-depth under the CO2 Injection article soon.
For large tanks, we will recommend an appropriately sized canister filter. The filter of your choosing, aside from the filtration, should provide the water surface agitation, distribution of the nutrients, and dissolved CO2 enriched water across the whole tank.
You can also deploy mini submersible pumps to aid with the water circulation. Plants swaying with the gentle flow of the water is a sight to behold.
Aim for x5 to x10 water turn-over rate. For example, if you have a 50 gallons tank, you should choose a filter that turns over the water at the rate of 250 gallons per hour (gph x5) to 500 gallons per hour (gph x10).
If your tank is huge and no filter can give you the turn-over rate of x5 to x10 gph, we recommend using two HOBs or two canister filters. You can also use a carefully designed Sump Filter, but we will not recommend this type of filter for a beginner for now.
Do I Need to Dose Fertilizers?
Dosing fertilizers are needed to be able to achieve the overgrown look of a Jungle Style faster. The combination of nutrient-rich substrate, undemanding plants, along with regular water column dosing, no high-light, with CO2 injection, will achieve the Jungle canopy faster.
But if you are not in a hurry, dosing leaner is fine or even not at all, along with subdued lighting and no CO2 injection.
You can insert Osmocote capsules/beads (a slow-release fertilizer) deep into the substrate to fertilize the substrate. Most carpeting plants benefit from this to spread faster and get thicker. This also works on your hungry stem plants by inserting beads of Osmocote near the plants’ roots.
Even aqua soils deplete its nutrients over time, and you can insert Osmocote into your substrate every 6 months.
We can use rocks and driftwood in a jungle style aquascape. Just remember that the plant life may cover them. One tip I can give you is to plant the tall-growing plants at the back and put your hardscape off-center of the tank. Another suggestion is to use a large piece of driftwood, even protruding/hanging outside the tank or water surface.
One large piece of driftwood, though, is costly in the market. You can hunt for driftwood appropriate to your tank size if you are near mountains and forests, lakes, swamps, or rivers. Just remember to clean and treat them first to avoid hitch-hikers.
Arowanas and Pacus, for example, are strong swimmers. One swipe of their muscular tails can damage your hardscape and plants, and can even take damage themselves. They also need a lot of open space for swimming, which a Jungle style cannot give unless you have a massive tank (200 gallons and up).
You can also add invertebrates such as snails and shrimps to the nano fish species mentioned above. Some hobbyists only keep snails and shrimps with no fish at all. For snails, we recommend Nerite and Ramshorn Snails. For Ramshorn snails, though, be mindful that their reproduction rate is proportional to the amount of food inside the aquarium (so don’t overfeed). Freshwater snails feast on organic matter (dead plant leaves, even dead fish, etc.), uneaten fish food, some types of algae. They can even clean your glass but not really efficient.
As for shrimps, we recommend Amano Shrimps, Red Cherry Shrimps (RCS), and other color morphs (Neocaridina sp.) and Caridina sp. (though more sensitive to your water parameters than Neocaridinas). Do not keep shrimps, though, if you have medium to large omnivorous fish. Always follow this rule: If you think the shrimp fits in their mouth, they will probably get eaten eventually.
The Jungle style is a unique, natural, and untamed style of aquascaping.
The combination of less frequent maintenance, low-light plants, low-medium lighting, less fertilization, and no CO2 injection will certainly appeal to most hobbyists.
I hope you enjoyed this article and if ever you have additional questions or want to share your experiences with the Jungle Style Aquariums, please leave a comment below.
Next, we will be discussing the Hardscape Diorama Style.