Home· Freshwater Aquarium Blog·3 Types of Planted Aquariums to Inspire Your Next Tank Build

3 Types of Planted Aquariums to Inspire Your Next Tank Build

Did you know that a planted aquarium can be more than just adding aquatic plants into a fish tank? There are even a handful of different layout styles and techniques that can make one planted aquarium really stand out from another. Each style has a uniqueness that might add that extra pop to your aquarium you’ve been looking for. Let’s take a look at three different types of easy-to-build aquascapes to help inspire your next planted tank.

Iwagumi Style Aquarium

The first style that we will cover is the Iwagumi style of aquascaping. "Iwagumi" is a Japanese word that translates as "rock formation," and it refers to a planted aquarium which contains only stones or rocks as hardscape. Driftwood and other decor are not used in this type of aquarium, which makes it unique and eye-catching.

iwagumi aquascape


The main focal point of an Iwagumi style aquarium is not the aquarium plants. The focus should be a group of well-placed stones of varying sizes. Traditionally, only three stones are used in an Iwagumi style aquarium. However, it is acceptable to use as many stones as you like to achieve the desired look. Consider following the rule of thirds and using a few different sizes of stones to create an Iwagumi aquascape. Imagine the tank is divided into three parts — place the largest stone towards the left or right “third” and leave the rest more open. Arrange medium to smaller stones around the tank in whatever way looks most pleasing to you. A trick many aquascapers use to achieve a dramatic-looking Iwagumi layout is by using a deep substrate bed. By sloping the substrate, it adds height and visual depth, making the stones appear more dramatic as they would in nature.

Typically, Iwagumi layouts are planted with short, carpeting plant species. However, taller species may be used towards the back of the aquarium to add interest. Consider using plants such as dwarf hairgrass, Micranthemum ‘Monte Carlo’, dwarf baby tears, pearl weed, dwarf chain sword, micro sword, Cryptocoryne parva, Staurogyne repens, and Hydrocotyle tripartita ‘Japan’ in the front and middle of the aquarium. Add dwarf sagittaria, Cryptocoryne lucens, or even vallisneria in the back if you’re looking to add some height to the tank. Shrimp and small schooling fish are a great addition to an Iwagumi style aquarium. Consider fish that aren’t too shy and don’t mind lots of open water. Rasboras such as harlequin or chili rasboras and many killifish species like lampeye killifish will shoal nicely in large enough numbers, adding to the visual interest of the aquarium.

Nature or Natural Aquarium

nature aquarium 1


If you’ve heard of any aquascaping style at all, it may be a “nature aquarium” that first comes to mind. The term “nature aquarium” is used liberally in the community and even predates the term “aquascaping” as a household word. The style itself refers to a planted aquarium where wood, rocks and other natural materials are used along with plants to create an environment that mimics a setting in nature. This is different from a biotope aquarium (accurate simulation of a natural ecosystem), as the purpose of creating a nature aquarium is to loosely recreate natural sceneries both above and below water.

Anyone can create a nature aquarium. It doesn't have too many specific rules and it’s up to the aquascapers to create their own ideas of a setting in nature that appeals to them. To create a nature aquarium, you’ll want to use natural materials. Consider choosing stones and driftwood that complement each other in color as this can add to visual appeal. The same goes for substrate choice; you won’t find artificial or brightly colored substrate as part of a nature aquarium.

nature aquarium 2


For greenery, any combination of plants may be used, so choose your favorites. Placing shorter plants towards the front of the aquarium, medium-height plants in the middle, and tall plants in the back will create a sense of depth. Trim and maintain your plants regularly so that your hardscape still makes a visual impact. The plants are there to complement your stones and wood pieces, but not overshadow them.

Adding small schooling fish in a nature aquarium can really enhance it even further by adding an element of movement, as well as a sense of scale. Smaller fish make the details of a nature aquarium landscape seem larger than life.

Jungle Style Tank

The jungle style aquarium follows similar principles as the nature aquarium. Creating this type of aquarium is relatively self-explanatory. The objective is to create an underwater jungle aesthetic. Much like the nature aquarium, there aren’t very many rules for achieving this type of planted aquarium. Any combination of plants may be used, and the goal is to grow them as densely as possible while still maintaining an aesthetically pleasing aquarium. Another goal of jungle aquascaping is for little hardscape to be visible once the aquarium has begun to grow in. The focus is on the plants.

jungle style aquascape 1


Contrary to how it may look, regular maintenance is still required to maintain visual appeal. Faster growing plants should be trimmed back to match the growth of slower growing plants. It wouldn’t be ideal to have one species take over the whole tank. Fertilizer, both liquid and root feeding, as well as sufficient lighting are essential for this type of aquarium to achieve the densest plant growth possible. Remember to fertilize regularly.

The fun part of creating a jungle aquarium is choosing plants with different textures and colors to complement each other. The combinations are endless. For example, planting vallisneria next to water sprite or bacopa will create a visual contrast, as their leaf textures are very different. Using a mix of anubias, java fern, and moss in the middle or midground of the tank creates textural contrast as well. Another example would be having pearl weed next to Cryptocoryne wendtii, as they display different colors and textures. 

The possibilities for fish are infinite too. This style of aquarium is very well suited for fish, as dense plant growth mimics nature and creates a lot of dark, comfortable places for fish to seek cover. Consider larger or more colorful fish to stand out in a jungle aquarium.

jungle style aquascape 2


There are many different ways to create a planted aquarium and the possibilities are truly endless — this is what makes it such an enjoyable project. So, if you aren’t sure what to do with that empty aquarium, try an Iwagumi, nature or jungle aquarium — or even combine styles to find your own unique design. The most important part of creating a planted aquarium is to enjoy it, both the process and the final product.

For more information on planted aquariums, check out our library of articles that cover live aquatic plants, fertilizers, algae control, and more.

Recent blog posts