8 Mistakes To Avoid for Aquascaping Beginners

8 Mistakes To Avoid for Aquascaping Beginners

Aquascaping is a wonderful hobby which can be very rewarding as you create your own natural-looking underwater landscape. However, we can't deny that it is as easy as it seems especially for beginners starting their first aquascape journey. We have encountered many pitfalls and challenges when we first started aquascaping and we would like to share some of the most common mistakes that you can take to avoid so that everything will go more smoothly.

1. Not Performing Enough Water Changes

Water changes are key for maintaining a healthy and balanced aquarium. It is no different from regular fish keeping where water changes helps remove excess nutrients, waste products, toxins and pollutants from the water preventing algae outbreaks, disease outbreaks, and occasional pH swings that can harm your fish and plants. Many algae problems can be quickly resolved by simply increasing the water change frequency.

The recommended water change frequency is at least 30% of the water in a newly set up tank every week, and 30-40% of the water in an established tank every 2 weeks. It is not advisable for a 100% water change as this will alter the water parameters and shock the fish. It is important to note that an aquarium is a closed ecosystem that requires exchange of fresh water to dilute waste and prevent it from harming your inhabitants or causing algae blooms. Simply topping up the water will not be enough even if you have a large sized filter.

2. Not Using Enough Plants During Setup

Plants are the main focus of attraction for any aquascape. Many beginners make the mistake of not using enough plants during setup. This may sound absurd as to why would one spend extra time (and potentially money) heavily planting a new tank when it will just fill in over time anyway. 

While it would be great if things were so simple, it actually takes quite a while for a sparsely planted tank to fill in. Plants need time to establish their roots and adapt to the tank conditions. Algae will be able to benefit from the lack of competition for light and nutrients which can potentially take over. In addition, adding plants later on may not grow as well as the ones already planted. Having enough plants during setup helps create a natural balance in the tank by absorbing excess nutrients and carbon dioxide from the water.

When setting up an aquascape, it is recommended to use at least 70% of the tank space for plants with a mix of fast growing plants and slow growing plants. You can use a variety of plants with different shapes, sizes, colours and textures to create depth and contrast in the aquascape but of course taking into considerations the lighting levels in your setup in order for your plants to thrive.

3. Using Too Little Substrate

Substrate along the front of the glass should typically be around 3-5cm tall with a thicker substrate level at the front if you plan on using carpeting plants to ensure there is sufficient depth for the roots of the plants to hold on to. Often we would think of saving cost on the substrate and go with the least possible need however this is often a mistake beginners make, frustrated with trying to keep the plants from floating. 

4. Overstocking The Tank

We often get over excited about adding fishes and other livestock into the tank. Fishes are an important aspect of aquascape, providing movement, colour and personality to the tank. However keeping too many fishes can put stress on the fish, allowing dangerous quantities of nitrogenous and organic waste to accumulate. In planted aquarium, where fertilizer is also being added is an effective formula for cultivating an algae farm.

You should choose fish that are compatible with your plants, water parameters and tank size. Some fish may nibble on your plants, dig up the substrate or grow too large for your tank.

5. Using Too Much Fertilizer

Plants need some sort of nutrition, usually in the form of fertilizer to improve the health and appearance. This is especially important for demanding species that require high light and CO2 injection. We need to remember that when we are using enriched substrate, nutrients are already available for the plants to use therefore you may require far less fertilizer that you might think. 

When setting up a new tank with fresh substrate, it is recommended to wait a few weeks before adding any fertilizer at all (to keep algae under control). Fertilizer can cause nutrient imbalances in the tank if you use more than what your plants can consume with excess fueling algae growth. 

It is recommended for beginners to just follow instructions on the fertilizer package carefully and adjusting the dosage according to the plant needs and condition. If algae growth is beyond what is normal, scale back the fertilizer. It is better to have one or two yellow leaves than hair algae all over the tank.

6. Planting Stems Too Far Apart and Not Trimming Frequently Enough

Stem plants are popular choices for aquascaping because they create bushy and colourful backdrop of the tank. However, stem plants require proper planting and trimming techniques to look their best.

Many beginners make the mistake of planting stem plants too far apart from each other. This can result in sparse and leggy growth as the plants will grow towards the light and lose their lower leaves. This creates gaps and holes in the aquascape that looks unnatural and unappealing.

The ideal way of planting stem plants is to plant stem plants in a group of 3 stems with about an inch of space between each group. this will allow the plants to grow densely and form a solid mass of foliage. 

Another mistake that beginners make is not trimming the stem plants frequently enough (poor maintenance), with the thought that such a waste to trim them when they have grown tall. Trimming is actually necessary to maintain the shape and size of the stem plants as well as to promote new growth and branching. Without regular trimming, stem plants will grow too tall, blocking light from reaching lower parts of the plants resulting in weak growth and opportunity for algae infestation.

It is recommended to trim stem plants every 2-4 weeks depending on how fast they grow. Using scissors, cut off the top portion of the stems, leaving about 3-4 inches of stem above the substrate. The cuttings can be replanted in the same or different spot to create a bushy effect.

7. Impatient and Overreacting to Issues

Patience is key in aquascaping. Aquascaping beginners often become impatient and overreact when faced with challenges such as algae growth or plant issues. We often make drastic changes such as adding too many fish or plants, or introducing excessive medications or fertilizers in hopes of immediate results. This impulsive reaction can disrupt the tank's balance and potentially harming the inhabitants, leading to further complications.

It is important for beginners to understand that aquascaping requires patience and methodical approach. We need to aim to understand the underlying issues that is causing the algae growth or poor plant growth which are common in the early stages. This can then be addressed with proper troubleshooting, adjustments to lighting, nutrient levels and maintenance routines to find the perfect balance. Rushing to resolve the problems can actually do more harm than good, so it's crucial to take a step back, assess the situation calmly, and make gradual changes based on careful observation and analysis. Give it time to find its natural balance and let it mature and develop naturally over time.

8. Trusting Everything You Read About Aquascaping

With easy access to information from the internet, we can find all sorts of information and inspiration for aquascaping, learning from experts, enthusiast and fellow hobbyist sharing their tips, tricks, experiences and opinions on aquascaping.

However, every tank and its environment is unique. What applies to one tank may not necessarily apply to another. Therefore, trusting everything you read on the internet can be risky for your aquascape which may not apply to your specific situation. This could potential result in spending more money or effort than necessary.

We recommend that you do your own research, judgement and common sense to evaluate what works best for you. Aquascaping is not a destination but a journey to learn and adapting the basic principles of nature into your very own tank. Take your time and avoid jumping to conclusions from what you read on the internet.


These are just some common mistakes made by aquascaping beginners and avoiding them will help you create a successful and thriving aquascape that will bring your joy and satisfaction for years to come. Remember to practice regular maintenance including pruning, exercise patience and avoid overreacting to issues, allowing your tank to develop and mature naturally.
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