Iwagumi Aquascaping Style

by Apr 9, 202012 comments

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 Iwagumi Aquascaping style.

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, hardscapes, what fish and plants will be discussed to help you in your decisions.

Table of Contents

Iwagumi Style
What Tank to Use?
What Light to Use?
What Substrate?
Do I Need to Inject CO2?
Do I Need to Dose Fertilizers?
What Fish?
Plants Selection
Closing Remarks

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.

Dutch Style

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

Nature Style

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

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by Monnette Arañas Philippines

Iwagumi Style - You Are Here

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

Jungle Style

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

Hardscape Diorama Style

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

My Riparium in its Full Glory Before Trimming


A Riparium is a type of Vivarium that typically depicts an environment where water meets land (riverbanks, streambanks, the shoreline of marshes and swamps or lakes), but it does have minimal to no land parts, unlike a Paludarium (which provides significant land parts). In other words, you are replicating the shallow parts of these natural bodies of water.

Taiwanese Style

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 prevalent anymore, but there are still many hobbyists quite fascinated by this style.

Aquascaped by Ian Garrido Philippines

Biotope B3 Class of the Rio Negro Region Aquascaped by Lao Ricci 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

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

Iwagumi Style

The Iwagumi style is a sub-type of the Nature style we discussed earlier that incorporates the same core principles of Japanese gardening techniques. It is derived from the Japanese art of stone appreciation, Suiseki. Where small naturally occurring or shaped rocks are appreciated for their aesthetic and decorative value.

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, but this is not a strict rule, especially when your rock formation approaches the complexity of Diorama Style. It is the layout of the stones that will make or break the naturalness of your rock formations.

Creating symmetry and balance in the layout of a natural setting will typically impart human involvement.

Click Gallery to Enlarge and See the Captions

There should be at least three stones: the largest, main stone, the Oyaishi, is often placed off-center in the tank, the accompanying stone/s, Soeishi, are grouped near the Oyaishi, and the secondary stone/s, Fukuseki, which will be in the subordinate positions. As you read further below, you will realize how we can layout these stones or even expand outside the core elements of an Iwagumi style.

Employing stones as the main focus, limited plants, and colors, the Iwagumi style is considered one of the more difficult styles to maintain. Did I say it is the most underrated style in aquascaping? It looks deceptively simple to set up but keeping it algae free and finding the balance of light intensity, nutrients, and CO2 takes skills and long-arduous monitoring.

Dynamic skill is also essential in this style to convey the illusions of depth, scale, and proportions to make the scape looks larger and farther.

Iwagumi Style Black Seiryu Stones Low-Tech Aquascaped by Edrian Corpuz Espiritu Philippines

Iwagumi Style Black Seiryu Stones Low-Tech Aquascaped by Edrian Corpuz Espiritu Philippines

What Tank to Use?

10, 15, or 20 gallon long tanks provide a wider viewing experience and distinctively convey the sense of being in an open field or valley facing the mountains or hills.

If you want a longer tank, consider the cost of the hardscapes (stones) and substrate to layout your tank that doesn’t look too sparse and lacking in depth and scale. The hardscapes and shipping cost can rapidly increase much more than the tank itself and your equipment combined.

Click Gallery to Enlarge and See the Captions

What Light to Use?

If you choose the standard long tank sizes mentioned above, at least medium to high lighting is required to grow your carpet plants. I still recommend using a dimmer in your lighting choice whenever you can so you can adjust the intensity of your light when you notice unpleasant algae starting to show up in your hardscapes and plants.

Since Iwagumi is mostly an open space design, with no hardscape layout blocking the light, a decent LED light set for planted aquariums or a T5 array can do the job well.

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 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.

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by John Dustin Saints Victorino Philippines

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by John Dustin Saints Victorino Philippines

Please remember that your light is just one part of the equation. You can have the greatest and the most expensive lights available, but if you can’t find the balance, that light is futile.

You have to balance everything from your water parameters, lighting, co2 injection, dosing fertilizers, frequency and amount of dosing each week, filtration, stocking of faunas, water surface agitation, etc.

Don’t worry. It may seem to look like tall tasks, but we will guide you on this journey every step of the way. For a more in-depth discussion about planted aquarium lighting, go here.

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by Felipe Caballero Jr. Philippines

Iwagumi Style – High Tech – Aquascaped by Felipe Caballero Jr. Philippines

What Substrate?

Carpet plants grow better using quality aqua soils and allow us to dose fertilizers in smaller quantities. However, avoid course-grained aqua soils 3-5 mm as the carpeting plants’ roots are tiny and can easily be uprooted. Some commercially used aqua soils have 1-3 mm grains, or there is a powdered version of aqua soils that is much suitable for growing carpeting plants.

Fine sand can also be used for aesthetic purposes, only simulating pathways, not for planting unless there is a soil layer underneath. Avoid coarse gravels as it may detract from the scale you are trying to convey in your Iwagumi layout.

Local hobbyists even tried to use regular potting soil covered with a thin layer of inert black sand with success.

Do I Need to Inject CO2?

Most of the carpeting plants require CO2 to grow well and fill in the substrate completely. Unless you are just using mosses in rocks to simulate green hills or mountains and barren lands, you can use no CO2 injection. We will not recommend having any CO2 injection and expecting a lush and full-carpeted Iwagumi. It is also important that you learn how to fine-tune the amount of your CO2 injection (bubbles per second) and distribution across the whole tank.

Click Gallery to Enlarge and See the Captions

Iwagumi Style Dragon Stones Aquascaped by Jay-r Huelar Philippines

Iwagumi Style Dragon Stones Aquascaped by Jay-r Huelar Philippines


A proper size filter should provide the needed filtration, water agitation, distribution of the nutrients, and CO2 rich water across the whole tank. We can also deploy mini-submersible pumps to aid with the distribution.

Aim for 5x to 10x the water turnover rate. For example, if you have 15 gallons long tank, you should choose a filter that turns over the water at 75 (x5) to 150 gallons per hour (gph) (x10). The different types of filtration, types of filters that we can use in our planted aquariums, and considerations of what to look for in a planted aquarium filter are all discussed here.

Do I Need to Dose Fertilizers?

Dosing leaner is appropriate for an Iwagumi style, most especially if you are using active substrates like aquasoil, as carpeting plants are undemanding when it comes to water column fertilizers as depicted by their small leaves, tiny roots, and growth habit.

You can insert Osmocote capsules/beads (a slow-release fertilizer) deep into the substrate to fertilize whatever substrate you are using. Most carpeting plants benefit from this to spread faster and get thicker.

Even aqua soils deplete their nutrients over time, and you can insert Osmocote into your substrate every 6 months.


Many kinds of stones/raw rocks can be used in an Iwagumi style aquascaping. As much as possible, try to select rocks that match in color, texture but gradates in sizes.

Though some rocks/stones popularly used in aquascaping can add to your KH (releasing carbonates, thus increasing your pH), it is also imperative that your stones/rocks be inert. KH and GH are discussed in this article; go here.

Among the rocks/stones that do not affect your water parameters at all are Dragon/Ohko stones, Red/Black Lava Rocks, Sansui Stones, Koke Stones, Manten Stones, Petrified Wood, Quartzites, Slate, Shale, and Unzan Stones. 

Now, these are the rocks/stones that may harden your water a bit: Seiryu Stones, Elephant Skin Rocks, Frodo Stones, Black Pagoda Rocks, Mountain Stones, and Texas Holey Rocks.

Whichever you chose, remember that you have to choose your Oyaishi, Soeishi’s, and Fukuseki’s (main, accompanying, and secondary stones). Having many pieces provides you with many choices and kick-start your creativity. Find a compelling Oyaishi and then base your Soeishi and Fukuseki stones’ with your Oyaishi’s texture, color, and shape. Some local stores here even lets you build/layout in their shop.

Avoid rocks that look unnatural (machined-cut) or hide that side by burying them first in the substrate, or cover them with other rocks (if you have no choice). You can even use a small chisel (much better control and no shrapnel) or even throw them gently into hard surfaces to break a rock into smaller pieces, but before that, use safety gear (gloves and eye protection).

Iwagumi Style Setup by John Paolo Esteban Philippines

Iwagumi Style Setup Black Seiryu Stones by John Paolo Esteban Philippines

Iwagumi Style Black Seiryu Stones Aquascaped by John Paolo Esteban Philippines Two

Same Tank – First Few Weeks – Iwagumi Style Black Seiryu Stones Aquascaped by John Paolo Esteban Philippines

Driftwoods are rarely used in an Iwagumi style aquascape, but there is no stopping you from trying a hybrid or combination of styles. Depending on the scale you are trying to portray, driftwoods, even the smaller branches look untoward with an Iwagumi aquascape. But then, the scape may lean towards a traditional Nature style.

But we are in an Iwagumi style article. But, the Iwagumi style is a subset of the Nature style. No one can stop you from thinking outside the box. The stage is all yours.

Hybrid Iwagumi Style with Diorama Style Bonsai Seiryu Stones Aquacaped by Fritz Rabaya Philippines

Hybrid Iwagumi Style with Diorama Style Bonsai Seiryu Stones Aquacaped by Fritz Rabaya Cebu Philippines

Hybrid Iwagumi with Driftwood Local Stones from Buhisan River Aquascaped by Fritz Rabaya Philippines

Hybrid Iwagumi with Driftwood Local Stones from Buhisan River Aquascaped by Fritz Rabaya Cebu Philippines

What Fish?

Due to the scale of mountains, hills you are trying to portray, we have limited choices. We recommend community schooling fish such as Rummynose, Ember, Neon, or Cardinal Tetras. Aim for only 1 species with 6-12 healthy individuals. Small fishes can simulate birds flying in open air-space in an Iwagumi Aquascape.

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 the rate at which they reproduce is proportional to the amount of food inside the aquarium (so don’t overfeed). Freshwater snails feast on dead organic matter (dead plants 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, then they will probably get eaten eventually.

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by James Francis Conda Philippines

Iwagumi Style – Neon Tetras – Aquascaped by James Francis Conda – Philippines

Iwagumi Style Hybrid with Nature Style Elements Aquascaped by Les Paul Villanueva Philippines

Iwagumi Style Hybrid with Nature Style Elements Aquascaped by Les Paul Villanueva Philippines

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by Ayong Go Philippines

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by Ayong Go Philippines

Plants Selection

Carpeting Plants

Click Gallery to Enlarge and See the Captions

Semi-Aquatic Epiphyte Plants

Click Gallery to Enlarge and See the Captions


You can even experiment with epiphyte plants such as Anubias and Bucephalandras. Just choose the small-leaf types so as not to detract from the scale you are trying to display. You can stick or tie them into the rock crevices.

Mosses can be used as carpet or can be glued or stick them to rock crevices to simulate green/forested mountains, as well as Riccia fluitans. You can use plastic (use in arts and crafts) or stainless mesh (your choice; stainless mesh cost more), so they can cling and spread.

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by Francis Sumido Philippines

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by Francis Sumido Philippines

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by Alfred Repani Estrella

Iwagumi Style Aquascaped by Alfred Repani Estrella Philippines


The Iwagumi style encompasses the Japanese art of stone appreciation and has the same core principles as the Japanese gardening techniques.

The style looks deceivingly simple but actually difficult to maintain due to the limited plant selection (no fast growers here) that we can choose.

Dynamic skill is also crucial in this style to convey the illusions of depth, scale, and proportions to make the scape looks larger and farther away.

Want to Explore More?

The Right Material for Aquarium Tanks

Have you ever wondered what types of glass are used in building our Aquariums, or are there any other materials that we can use? In this article, we will be discussing the right material for aquarium tanks.

Filter Maintenance Along With Water Change?

Contrary to popular practice, some hobbyists will say that you cannot perform filter maintenance along with your water change schedule. That you may kill or wash away a significant amount of your beneficial bacteria when doing so. The only way for this to happen is by using chlorinated tap water or drying out your biological media, or your primary filter is just a sponge filter. Those are sure-fire ways to kill or wash away a lot of your good bacteria.

The Fastest Method - How to Cycle a Planted Aquarium

The fastest way of cycling your newly planted aquarium is to use your old filter media, gravel, soil, hardscapes, and even part of the old water from your old aquarium to your newly planted aquarium.

Water Parameters

Nutrients – Planted Aquarium Water Parameters

Our aquarium is very much like a septic tank for our faunas (fish/es, snails, and shrimps). Whenever they excrete, or you are overfeeding, and those organics started to decay, or when dead plant matter decays, Ammonia is produced. When faunas die and decay, they will also produce Ammonia, lots of it actually, until they are removed. This causes ammonia levels in our tank to spike.

Where to Place a Planted Aquarium at Home

Planted aquariums require less work to maintain (once you find the balance of everything) but need more work to set up for the first time. So we need to plan for it properly. Most importantly, we need to consider the ideal location of the tank at our home. So in this article, I will walk you through all the considerations on deciding where to place a planted aquarium at home. After this, we will determine the dimensions of the tank that can fit in your desired location.

Filtration for Planted Aquariums

Nature has its own natural water-filtration processes long before we humans tampered over it. From wetlands, which serve as natural kidneys that remove 20 to 60 % of metals in the water, trap 80 to 90 % of sediments from run-off, and eliminate 70 to 90 % of the water’s nitrogenous waste. It is essential to understand the functions of a good filtration for planted aquariums and our faunas, what it removes and what it retains, and the benefits/pros and cons of each type.

Closing Remarks

I hope you enjoyed this article and if ever you have additional questions or want to share your experiences with the Iwagumi Style Aquascape, please leave a comment below.

Next, we will be discussing the Jungle Style Aquascape.


  1. Harry

    You have two “of’s” in the third line of text. Reading through your text as someone that has no idea about “aquascapping” i found i left with more than i came with and now want one in my house. I have a question regarding the tank, would you have to build the tank depending on fish? or do they not have variuos requirements. 

    • Lemuel Sacop

      The fish chosen should definitely be based on the size of your tank and the style of your scape. For example, don’t put Discus or Flower horn fish in a 10 gallon tank, this is not debatable. Or another example, don’t keep an arowana, even juveniles, in a 50 gallon below nature style tank. It will quickly outgrow the tank and needs to be move to a larger tank 200 gallons and up. Arowanas and other monster fish are strong swimmers though, and can damage your hardscape (even take damage themselves) and plants with just one swipe (this usually happens when eating or they get surprised, they are even known as jumpers) but I’ve seen locals here that kept arowanas in very large nature style tanks with no issues. Their tanks mostly consist of hardscape only, large rocks, and very large plants. With regards to the style of the scape, if you are strictly following the core elements, don’t keep Discus fish in an Iwagumi style layout, as it will detract to the illusion of scale you are trying to portray. They will look like mother alien ships rather than birds flying in the horizon. 

  2. Sipheni

    I have never thought of having a fish tank at home but seeing these various ideas from your post make me want to consider it as an option. Besides, given the lockdown, one can actually start with preparations to overcome boredom. I like the Lwagumi style with dragon stones. I’m glad your article is detailed enough that it covers things like the type of fish, lights, plants to use and the like. It will keep me busy while adding value to my home. Thanks a lot for creating this useful website.

    • Lemuel Sacop

      Hello and thank you that this article made you interested in keeping your first planted aquarium at home. Please watch out for more articles coming soon.

  3. Steve G

    These are absolutely beautiful.   I didn’t know that there were totally different styles for designing and creating aquariums as centerpieces.    I am of course one of those traditionalists that thought prior to this post all you had to do was to get some colored gravel and plants and there you go. 

    So, you can appreciate my amazement as you opened a whole new world to me.    I have taken the liberty of sharing your website with my social media network.   The simplistic design of the Iwagumi style is very appealing with using stone as the focal point with a moss looking bottom covering.    I do like the colors of the Dutch style a little better, it reminds me of Dutch tulip fields.   You mention C02 injection, how do you accomplish this and not kill any fish?

    • Lemuel Sacop

      Thank you Steve that this article opened your eyes to the different styles in aquascaping. And thank you for sharing, though the list of articles are not yet complete. I am still working on that.

      As for your question about CO2 injection, you can accomplish this by DIY or pressurized tank. There are many DIY kits in the market (baking soda and citric acid) with various degrees of inconsistencies (when it comes to managing the pressure) and ease of setup. There are even DIYs that you can do at home using common ingredients (yeast and sugar). As for Pressurized CO2 tanks, you need to use a quality CO2 regulator and a bubble counter to be able to fine tune the CO2 injection rate to your planted aquarium. You can use drop checkers to measure the amount of dissolved CO2 in your water column, but they are not really accurate and slow to register. You can also use the KH, pH, CO2 chart for accuracy. All these will be covered soon on separate articles, please watch out for that.

  4. Steve

    Normally, when I think of a fish tank, I think of the focus being on the fish. However, I find these aquascaping designs to be incredible and visually appealing! This is so much better than most of what I have seen with regards to home tanks! I feel it allows the owner to be more creative, artistic, and involved in the aesthetic process than most other versions. This is a great idea, so thanks for sharing!

    • Lemuel Sacop

      Hi Steve thank you that you find the article immersing. Please watch out for more articles coming soon!

  5. Jeff

    I have really searched on the internet and ended up confused on which one to stick with. But after reading this I find it easy to understand and helpful the way your it is detailed and pictures alongside each description make it even more amazing. Neon fish is one of my favorite types but I was thinking to mix with other species but fro now I will try just one as you recommended. Thanks for this interesting article.

    • Lemuel Sacop

      Hi Jeff Neon Tetras are amazing specially when they are shoaling/schooling in your planted tank. But I find Cardinal Tetras to be more hardier than neon’s. And thank you that you find my articles very detailed and informative. Please watch out for more articles coming soon.

  6. Martina

    Hello Lemuel, in search to learn about setting my first Iwagumi, I found your artical. I’m slowly getting ready to tackle the project. I wonder, would you cover the top of the aquarium so any fish won’t jump out or does it have any negatives to keeping CO2 in or is there a reasone why I see all tanks with no cover. Or does the lamp light get less effective for plant growth? Anyway, your pictures of Iwagumis tanks are stunning!

  7. Lemuel Sacop

    Hello Martina,

    Thank you that you found my website and this topic about Iwagumi Style. Most of the planted aquariums here have no lids and some are rimless. Known fish that are jumpers are guppies, gold fish, betta, and some swordtails. I kept most of them before except bettas. I experienced this with comet gold fish. Jumping for some fish like bettas is part of their behavior and survival instincts. You want to make sure that your choice of fish are well acclimated to the environment your building for them (so they don’t have any reasons to jump). Covering your tank will prevent air circulation and may raise your water temp. Do not expect a full carpeted Iwagumi without injecting co2. It will take a long time w/o it but it is still possible. Keeping and well distributing co2 should be underwater and is an art too, so the bubbles won’t dissipate in the surface immediately. As for lighting an iwagumi setup, any decent planted aquarium lighting will work. In this article, https://allaboutplantedaquariums.com/lighting-a-planted-aquarium/

    We discussed all about lighting your planted aquarium.


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