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Help with design/layout


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Hi guys. Not gonna lie, i am no good at thinking fishtanks designs/scapes. I am good giving the fish what it needs but it just doesn't look good enough.i hate the videos where the guy just throws stuff in and it looks amazing. Like MD tanks 🙂

I have two tanks now, one may be a temporary one (haha let's laugh about that) and one has temporary fish until the intended come and the one living there passes.

Neither looks good but both suffer from low light, thus the plants suffer 

Let's start with the first one. It is a 50cm long, 25 cm wide and 35 cm high strange combo. The intended fish is a clown killifish that i hope will breed here and for the substrate layer either my rabbit snails (that already live and breed in this ph and hardness that i have) or some bottom dweller that wouldn't affect the killifish breeding (or shrimp if fish won't work but i am not particular to them)

Right now the tank has 30cm long led light for 9hrs a day, sponge filter, no heater and some plants. Anubias, hornwort, pennyworth that is absolutely dying, Cryptocoryne afinis and surface full of frogbit. The tank looks empty though plant wise and not nice.

I will post the other one later once we discuss this one 🙂 what can I do to improve the look


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On 7/9/2023 at 4:52 PM, Pepere said:

And investing in a better light would pay dividends

This is not going to happen for me. I have six tanks and these that i am talking about are the smallest and from what I gather the clown killifish don't like much light, so this one doesn't need the light. This however limits the plants and thus a design. I will think about it, but i already have a river based tank with boulders, i have a large pile of wood tank, i have a sort of blackwater with bamboo tubes (again for the fish, not really for design ) 

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Plant wise, time is you best friend. You hornwort and pennywort should fill in pretty quickly.  But I think you are missing some hardscaping.  if you add a taller piece of driftwood in front of the sponge filter and in the other corner, and some rock in the middle, it will break things up a little and help fill things out.  

here are before and after pictures of my 75.  Hope it helps.  






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Honestly, don't make it too difficult on yourself.  Find a single piece of hardscape that you like or find some variety of rocks that you enjoy and purchase some.  This could be a single lava rock or 2-3.  Just find something you enjoy.  When you add it to the tank, don't overthink it.... just do what seems appealing and adds interest. 

I've had many tanks with just a chunk of mopani and a lava rock and I love the way it looks.  Ultimately, it's your tank and your slice of the hobby to enjoy it.  I promise you, it isn't as difficult as you think to get something that looks "nice". 

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If you don’t want to add hardscape, you can always use low light plants to develop the “structure” feel in the tank.  Big Java ferns growing densely can give a “bulky” feel like hardscape would, or big Anubias can do the same.  Java ferns grow faster than Anubias and you’re a bit more likely to randomly run across big Java ferns.  For epiphytes, you can attach them to smaller pieces of wood or rock and they can be a changeable aquascape for you.

I suspect you’ve seen it before but I’m going to link a couple pics of my 3 gallon shrimp tank just as an example.  I would consider this a low light tank but I do have the lights on 24/7 since this is my bathroom night light and it’s a real pain to use the lights that are on the tank with a timer.  I’m using this tank because it’s an example of a tank that has plants only as the ‘scape other than the very small piece(s) of wood (started with 2, now has 1) under the needle leaf Java fern and the 2 small rocks under the Anubias nana ‘Petite’.  I used the Java fern because it gets quite tall relative to the size of the tank and this Anubias because it’s small and “chunky” in comparison to the fern so there is some contrast.  The first pic is about 10 days after set up, second after 10 weeks growth, the third after I pulled out one wood piece with about half of the Java fern.

My whole point is that your killifish doesn’t care about hardscape as much as it does about hiding places.  A little hardscape is great, but a bunch of plants would be even better.  I would also include a chunky moss for killifish, like Cameroon moss or giant willow moss.  Susswassertang can be a moss substitute (technically it’s an immature stage of a terrestrial fern that is adapted for aquatic growth).  It tolerates low light, too, but it’s a bit more fragile than most mosses with a tendency to break apart and spread.  It also is prone to sometimes melt but will disappear only to pop back up when you least expect it, then it can take over once it’s adapted to your tank.  It isn’t that hard to control, but sometimes grows fast enough to need regular thinning.

Most any Anubias would be good in your tank except the biggest ones.  Anubias barteri bigger background or a large centerpiece for your size tank) or Anubias nana (mid ground or centerpiece) would be great “structural” plants that tolerate your low light, but they grow slow enough you would want to find and buy big plants (often called “mother” plants) at higher cost to get your tank moving towards the look it sounds like you’re wanting.  Or be patient enough to grow them yourself.

There are loads of Java fern varieties, some even show slightly different colors like “Sunrise”, “Gold Sparkle”, or “Fishtail” which are all lighter green than most varieties and can sometimes show some orangish tips, or “Flaming” which is a brighter green overall, or “Black Forest” which is darker green than most varieties.  These all get different sizes with different leaf shapes.  Java “Windelov” has highly divided tips on the fronds and can almost give that bulky moss-like texture visually so it could substitute for the moss.

There are loads of other plant options, but these are all low light plants.  There are crypts that would likely do well in your lighting, but you would want to treat most of them as background or centerpiece plants because lower light makes them “reach” toward the light and grow taller and more vertically.  High light levels will make lots of crypts flatten right out against the substrate.  You could help the crypts and other plants grow better by corralling your floating plants toward one end.  Don’t bother with any pink crypt varieties since they won’t prosper and may not even survive long term with very low light levels.

Put any hardscape at the shaded end and only the lowest light plants on that end with any crypts on the other end.  If you decide to get some of the Java fern varieties that get some orangish tips, put them on the higher light end of the tank for the best chances of seeing that color change.

Hope this gives you some ideas.






Oh, and my 3 G is what I would call a triangular composition.  The Java fern is going to need trimming soon to maintain the “triangle”.

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