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How to create a pond style aquascape by Jordan Stirrat


Learn how to create an indoor pond style aquarium with CO2 Artist Jordan Stirrat

Aquariums that utilize areas of tall plants or 'emersed plants' (a terrestrial form of the submerged plant) have become increasingly popular but true pond tanks are a slight deviation from this popular trend. They tend to use marginal plants that you normally find in garden ponds. Pond tanks create a huge impact in person and showcase the beauty of nature from a different angle than he stereotypical planted aquarium may not.

There are aspects of the planning process that go into creating a pond tank that you will not find when deciding to create any other aquascape. It is so important to research the individual plants that you want to use and their requirements. The level of water above the substrate level is of key importance to the success of marginal plants! Some plants require only moist soil, some require a few centimeters of water and other tall plants can grow in deep water. You may also want to consider plants that do not require high humidity if you would rather not mist the plants daily. One huge advantage of a pond tank is that if done right it can require significantly less maintenance than other aquascaping styles. 

Shallow tanks are well suited to growing tall plants above the wateline. I would suggest investing in a quality rimless tank such as the ADA 60f. Tanks with a low profile are aesthetically pleasing and excellent for creating a really high slope or bank for marginal and emersed plants. In my pond tank, the soil nearly reached the rim of the tank which allowed me to use a large range of plants! To avoid wasting large amounts of soil I would recommend using a crushed lava rock base to bulk out the substrate and create stability.

The negative space in a pond tank is very important for aquarium fish, snails, or freshwater shrimps and should be used to your advantage in order to create just as beautiful a layout underwater as it is above. When  Aquascaping this open space, using a mixture of sand and gravel to create a transition between the negative space and the pond embankment is a great way to bring things together. The main structure of the soil embankment itself can be held back by a combination of additional rocks and a wooden structure filled with filter wool to stop aqua soil from spilling into the front portion of the tank. This filter wool can be covered with aquarium plants and moss later in order to hide it. I recommend using nutrient-rich aqua soil in the planting section. 

The growth habits of certain aquarium  plants should also be considered as some plants can grow extremely tall while others may want to creep along the water surface. Some semi-aquatic plants commonly found in the hobby can be also grown above the water line and used as a transition if you choose the right species. A large mixture of plants tends to create a more natural setting in pond tanks so don’t be afraid to get a variety of plants.

Some of my favorite plants to use in the transition between the submerged and emerged section are Oenanthe Javanica and Lobelia Cardinalis "dwarf". Oenanthe Javanica also known as water celery is commonly found in garden ponds and doesn’t grow super tall. This plant can develop a nice pink hue and focal points under strong lighting. Lobelia Cardinalis ‘dwarf’ can be found in the aquarium hobby and has unique round leaves. This plant grows as well above the water just as well as it does below the water line making it a great addition to a pond tank. 

Having a “land area” at the back of the tank where the soil is only moist or has very little water above can be a perfect place for plants that don’t like to grow in deeper water. Plants for this section could include Golden Japanese Sweet Flag, Mentha aquatica, and Japanese Blood Grass. 

The submerged section of the tank shouldn’t be forgotten about! It’s also very important to put just as much effort into the plant choices under the water. Lots of moss can be used to cover the filter wool on the wooden structure as well as plants such as Micrathmum Monte Carlo or Hydrocotyle Tripartita that will cover the hardscape. Epiphyte plants such as Anubias  Bucephalandra or Hygrophila Pinnatifida are great choices to create a bit of diversity on the hardscape. You may want to purposely add brighter green plants or even some red plants to draw the views eye into the tank and create a focal point. 

Equipment-wise, a pond tank is very similar to other aquascapes. A canister filter is always recommended and lighting that can be suspended or that doesn’t get in the way of the plants should be used. CO2 isn’t a requirement unless you are using specific plants under the water that need it as most of the plants in a pond tank are above the water line and have access to the CO2 in the air.

Maintenance is an important part of any healthy aquascape and although a pond tank may be slightly less demanding it still has to be maintained correctly! The marginal pond plants will require trimming and shaping with time so it's best to keep on top of this by doing a small trimming each week instead of letting it get out of control. For all my aquariums in the first month, I perform a one-third water change every day in the first week, every second day in the second week, every third day in the third week, and from then on just once a week. If you need to do a larger water change than one-third that’s perfectly fine too but just remember that if you do a larger water change you are removing more nutrients and may need to add more fertilizer. My weekly aquarium maintenance would include cleaning the glass, hardscape, and maybe vacuuming the sand. Remember to remove any decaying plant leaves and any waste build-up. If you decide to use wood in your hardscape layout you might notice a type of white fungus appear but don’t worry as this is normal and will disappear with time or certain livestock will eat it. To sum up, regular maintenance can be used as a preventative measure instead of waiting for something to go wrong and then having to correct it.

My pond tank was a lovely aquascape to live with! It brought me a lot of happiness and had a sense of nature that I haven’t been able to achieve in other layouts. I always try to create something unique and different with every aquascape, so why not try to create a pond tank for your next project!