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How to Pick Decorations for a Fish Tank

I enjoy decorating aquariums and sharing tips for beautiful, healthy fish tanks.

Get ideas for creating an aquarium that will delight both you and your fish!

Get ideas for creating an aquarium that will delight both you and your fish!

Creating the Right Fish Tank Style

When it's time to pick decorations for a fish tank, what you decide to add should meet two main criteria:

  • For one, the decorations that you add should offer the fish a proper sense of atmosphere, with elements that allow them to hang out in a particular area of the tank that they prefer or to find shelter if needed.
  • The other is that you should make the appearance of the aquarium fit with your style and your home or office so that it is the focal point that you want it to be.
A simple white backdrop really lets the fish stand out.

A simple white backdrop really lets the fish stand out.

The Color of Fish Tank Decorations

One of the first decisions many aquarium enthusiasts make when setting up a new fish tank is what color scheme they are going to use to decorate it. Some like to create a very natural underwater world while others want to go wild with color. Here are some things to consider when deciding what colors will rule in your fish tank.

Natural vs. Wild Aquarium Themes

Without regard to how it makes the fish stand out, the color of accessories and gravel will set the theme of your aquarium. To build a natural-looking habitat for fish, consider natural pea gravel with mostly green plants and subtle rock or other hard structures. If you want to make a bold statement, mix in neon colors or go with a whole theme—like an orange theme or a purple theme—to turn your aquarium into a focal point. A totally black and white theme is also really neat.

The Color of Your Fish: Compliment or Clash?

What type of fish do you plan to raise? This is important to consider before you bring them home and acclimate new fish to your tank since the color of your decorations will either complement or clash with your fish. A tank with many clear or light-colored fish could benefit from dark gravel, like black, to make the fish pop out while colorful fish look super swimming over white gravel.

Plant Options

When it comes to plants, the same contrast rules apply. Some fish like to hang out around plants for safety, making a mix of a few different colors a nice option for them. Also, don't be afraid of just using green plants. If the tank is stocked with bright fish, simple green plants look great.

Natural green plants look excellent with bright fish.

Natural green plants look excellent with bright fish.

Rock, Structure, and Plants in a Fish Tank

When it comes to exactly what to add to your fish tank, consider a mix of soft elements like plants, mixed with some hard elements such as a big rock, coral, or other hard structure. Different types of fish appreciate different structures, so mixing it up will offer something for every fish.

Using Landscape Items in an Aquarium

It's possible that you have found a beautiful rock in the backyard or a neat seashell when you visited the ocean that you'd like to plop into the aquarium. This may be acceptable, but be careful. At the very least it should be washed thoroughly without soap to remove any contaminants. Ocean items may bring excess salt into the tank, so consider that. It will always be a safe bet to get these items from a professional aquarium store.

About Aquarium Structure

When it comes to hard elements, the inclusion of at least one primary focal point that offers nooks and crannies is a good idea. A piece of coral, an interesting driftwood piece, or a ceramic aquarium decoration will do the trick. The key is that there is irregular structure for fish to swim around or even hide in.

Fake vs. Real Aquarium Plants

Many people are tempted to grow living plants in their fish tank since they look natural and are thought to feed off of the by-product of the fish that swim around them. However, be sure to understand that these plants are also living things, and they may not flourish.

Like fish, plants have requirements, and some include the amount of light they need, the temperature, fertilizer, or even the pH level in the water. Real aquarium plants are an excellent idea; just read the details before you buy so you will know how to care for them.

A hard element like a rock structure is a nice, natural choice for your aquarium.

A hard element like a rock structure is a nice, natural choice for your aquarium.

Height and Concentration of Aquarium Plants or Hardscapes

In addition to adding both soft and hard elements to the scene, the height and concentration of these design features is also important.

Proper Height of Aquarium Design Elements

When you plan the elements to include in your aquarium, imagine that the tank is split into three zones: the bottom, middle, and top. Fish tend to prefer one of these areas, so having at least some structure, as well as some room, in each area is important. Make sure you include at least one or two items that rise up rather high and others that are short and only rise an inch or two from the bottom. Fish will feel safer if there is some structure in the zone that they hang out in, so don't leave the middle and top swimmers with nothing but open water.

How Many Plants to Put in a Fish Tank

This is an area in which many new aquarium owners struggle. The tendency is either to include too few or far too many items in the aquarium, both of which will ultimately lead to too many fish-less areas in the tank. A good rule of thumb is to add structure to around 50% of the area in the tank. That means that there should be plenty of open space here and there, but not too much, and ultimately your fish tank size will determine how many items you need. Some fish like open space and some demand structure, so if you want the fish to spread out evenly, space these areas throughout the tank.

Using High Plants to Your Advantage

Since you should include at least one or two tall plants anyway, this is a fantastic way to hide the aquarium heater or other unnatural features. Both the heater, and the tall plant, should be in the back of the aquarium anyway, so consider them to be friends and install them in the same spot.

It's Time to Make an Aquarium Style List

Now that you've considered what to add to your home aquarium, here is a quick review to make sure you get it right.

  1. Color: Pick your overall color scheme and stick to it so everything will gel. Consider the color of the fish you are most likely to buy in your plans.
  2. Soft and Hard Items: Include a mix of soft items like plants and hard items like a rock, coral, or driftwood. Be careful about adding things from around the house.
  3. Vertical Space: Make sure some items reach the top while others remain short to fill vertical space. Use the high items in the back to hide the heater.
  4. Open Space: Include enough decorations to offer plenty of structure while maintaining 50% open space.

Now it's time to make your decision and decorate that fish tank!


taffy on March 11, 2018:

what is the best theme

for a fish tank