An interview with Jeff Senske, April 2004

By: tsunami
November 12th, 2005
8:58 pm

An interview with Jeff Senske, April 2004


Thank you for volunteering your time for our aquascaping forum. Here are the questions I would like to ask you for the interview. You can simply answer the questions and send them to me when you are done by email. Here are the questions:

Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby?How long have you been in the hobby?

JEFF: Aquariums have always been a part of my life. My Grandfather kept aquariums in Germany (which,of course, has always had a strong presence in the aquarium hobby/industry). My Dad owned a tropical fish store while he was in verterinary school and we always had tanks around the house. Saltwater, freshwater- I can't remember a time when we didn't have a "pet" Arowana, for example. All my first jobs were in fish and pet stores and I just really enjoyed it. We started our own retail store from scratch in 1990 and it quickly became a true hobbyist's shop. Unfortunately, as successful as the shop was, Mike and I were young and not very business savvy. As well we were such hard-core hobbyists ourselves, we had a tendency to spend all our profits on new displays and cool rare fish. I ended up moving to California for a few years and my brother decided to sell the store and go into custom aquarium design,installation and service. I moved back to Texas and we worked together for another company for a few years before starting Aquarium Design Group in May of 2000. Around 1997 I saw Amano's Nature Aquarium World books and, like countless others, was completely blown away. I knew instantly that the Nature Aquarium style was what I wanted to do. I spent a good year just studying those books trying to figure out how on earth to create such things. So while I have been in the aquarium hobby all my life, and did keep "tanks with plants in them" before seeing Amano, I really only have been serious about planted tanks and aquascaping for about 7 years.

Carlos: As a professional aquarium designer, what strategies and techniques do you use such as decisions effecting plant choice, technology, and pruning techniques to make sure the aquarium runs smoothly while you are not there?

JEFF: The majority of my layouts must last at least 2 years. While I do have a select few clients with smaller tanks where I can do stemmed-plant compositions, mostly I am dealing with 200 plus gallon systems-often taller than the standard 24" (60cm) Amano and most others work with. So, as for plant choice, I work with a lot of anubias, all the ferns (narrow-leaf Java fern has been perhaps the greatest plant to come along for my needs), Cyperus helferi (great because it really adds a certain elegance or what I like to call "finery" to a layout- especially when using a lot of anubias and thicker-leafed ferns), Crypts, and Echinodorus. I am really into Crypt willisi for a foreground plant in big tanks right now. I like Crypt lucens a lot as well. These thicker-leafed varities seem alot more resilient and less prone to meltdowns or Crypt disease and make really cool, low-maintenance foregrounds that can last and last.

Technology-wise, I am totally into trickle filters/overflow boxes on big tanks now. CO2 reactors are a must over diffusers. I am also totally dedicated to halide lighting now too; especially HQI. It packs such a punch in a small package- you can grow anything under them.

As far as pruning techniques are concerned, it's really an area that I fell I am still constantly learning. I have really had to "learn as I go" and devise my specific methods because so many of my tanks are in settings where they have to be very presentable at all times. So where you might normally really whack a section, I might have to be more careful or trim in a more detailed manner as to really retain the shape or presence of a given section or plant. Thinning out really mature tanks has proven to be an area where I have not had any real reference points or "tips" if you will; unlike with trimming stem plants for example, where at least Amano has provided some direction or reference. It's really just a feel thing and sort of hard to describe in terms of specifics. Suffice it to say my goal is to maintain as much consistency as possible. There is definitely a "pressure" element to it, I can assure you, when the client expects the tank to always look great. I can add here that I do lately emphasize plants that don't necessarily need to be rooted in substrate (again, anubias, ferns, mosses) and this has even come to include many stem plants. I've found a lot of awesome stem plants actually do better and are much easier to manage when the aren't planted/rooted deeply in the substrate. I am either gently attaching them to stones or using a weight to hold them in place. Do keep in mind, though, my use of stem plants is generally pretty limited to only the hardiest species (lots of Hygrophila varieties).

Carlos: I've heard members of the Dallas-Ft Worth club discuss your DIY substrate recipe. Do you still use this substrate mix? If not the ingredients, could you please detail your reasoning behind the recipe? If you have switched to commercial substrates, which one do you use now?

JEFF: My recipe has always been a mixture of laterite, Flourite, Terra-lit, and Flourish tabs. I usually cap this with whatever gravel I'm using on the specific layout. Recently I started adding a little Ferti-Plant Plus on the topmost layer just for a little "jump-start" of nutrients near the initial root growth. I tried switching to Carib-Sea's Eco-Complete and was really disappointed. It did not seem to measure up to the claims on the packaging- which would have you believe it was the most amazing and all encompassing product ever made. I wish there was a comparable system to Amano's out there. Why one of these companies have not analyzed Amano's stuff and basically duplicated it is an ongoing mystery to me. Obviously his system is awesome and looks awesome too. I think there is really something to his Power Sand product. While Flourite makes up the bulk of my mixture, I find it exceedingly ugly and never keep it exposed.

Carlos: Of all the aquascapers I've interviewed so far, your aquarium layouts seem to be the most influenced by Takashi Amano. Do you follow any particular artistic style or philosophy when creating your planted aquarium layouts?

JEFF: Let me just say that I would not be doing what I am doing in this life were it not for Amano. He has been a source of boundless inspiration, and I owe the man a tremendous debt of gratitude. If you follow Aqua Journal, you know he continues to progress and push limits. Yes, I do still reference Amano when devising a new layout. Especially in the area of "tricks" and planting techniques. The different ways he uses Java moss for example- as an accent, a foreground, or completely encasing a piece of wood, for example- I study his work and deploy the same techniques. However, I feel in the end I am still creating something unique and my own. I have never (intentionally ) tried to duplicate and Amano layout, but to take cues from him is sort of necessary. The ADA Layout Contest has certainly exposed us all to some world-class aquascaping as well.

I also wouldn't say I try and follow any one style or aesthetic, though obviously I amdrawn to Japanese styles and influences. Because the spaces in which I do tanks varies so much, I feel I must be able to cover a lot of ground in terms of style. I can tell you that if there was one defining moment for me- a singular event that forever changed the way I approach aquascaping- it was at the 2001 AGA Convention. I had brought several photos of my work and like the student before the master I showed them to Amano. He said I was on the right track and obviously knew how to grow healthy plants-but that my tanks lacked "philosophy." While he did not elaborate, I understood what he meant. I was arranging plants and trying to balance things enough, but my compositions lacked a unifying element- a clear direction or intent. Plants growing healthfully in an aquarium alone are not sufficient to achieve the higher goals of aquascaping, though I do think such tanks to can evoke a similar response from someone who doesn't "know" anything about aquascaping as an artform (i.e. what we are now commonly referring to as "collector tanks"). Ghanzafar Ghori's Tank of the Month here at APC certainly shows that. He claims it's not aquascaped, but I find it beautiful and a brilliant accident.

Carlos: When creating a new layout for a customer, what type of design planning occurs before actually setting up the tank?

JEFF: These days, quite bit of design planning occurs. When I first started, I was both ambitious and naive. I was attempting all sorts of high maintenance foregrounds and lots of stemmed plants. To a large extent, I was limited in terms of plant availability and resources because I had only ever really bought plants from my local retailer. I would see all these cool species in the Amano books, but I had no idea how to get them. Cyperus helferi is one that always sticks out in my mind because it is the perfect tall, grassy, very elegant plant and it is totally stationary- no unwanted runners invading other sections and no real trimming involved. Now that I can get most all of the species I need, I have been able to form more coherent ideas in my head and then actually produce them with at least some degree of accuracy.

Typically I meet with the client specifically to discuss the layout. They look at a combination of my portfolio and Amano books and Aqua Journals. Of course they migrate toward the most amazingly impossible designs first, whereby I proceed to tell them the 100 reasons why that design won't work for them (inappropriate tank dimensions, maintenance issues, etc.) What this does, though is allows us to figure out the general direction of the aquascape. Are we going minimal, dense, stem plants, shade plants, is layout consistency a major concern or is some down-time while stem plants grow back on O.K.? Rocks, wood, rock and wood, open foreground or glosso/riccia fantasy? etc. From there I try and think of the lowest maintenance/most manageable way to achieve the look. Most of the time I have a few weeks from the time I have discussed layout until I go in and do it, so I spend quite a bit of time- while I'm driving, eating lunch, etc.- thinking about layouts. It ultimately is a lot of mental prep because when I go in to execute, I'm in a setting where (unlike your own home) I really have to get it right the first time. Of course I can still make changes once the tank gets going, but the essence and direction has to be there from the get go.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

JEFF: My goals are foremost concerned with blowing the clients mind, to put it frankly. Right up there though is the desire to impress or feel like I've outdone myself. I am extremely critical of and usually very hard on myself. In my mind, I am yet to produce an aquascape that's even close to where I want to be. I feel I've done some cool tanks, but still have so far to go to even get in the same universe as Amano and many of the other great aquascape designers out there. I do have to remember that the VAST majority of my planted tanks really do have different objectives and accompanying needs that put me in a (at least somewhat) different category. I am doing this as a business and not just a hobby, so my approach is different- as are the results. My main goal right now is to create an aquascape of the ultimate impact that still is practical to maintain (into the years, not just months). At the same, I don't want to become formulic- I want to do something different every time, even if it's with the same core elements.

Carlos: Are there any tactics or techniques you use to make arrangement decisions in your designs? Do you use any guidelines or rules for wood or rock placement? How about the use of colored plants? Fish choice?

JEFF: I try to go into a layout with some design direction but a lot of times, once I start arranging the hardscape, it takes a turn I never expected. Often it's even totally accidental. Maybe a piece of wood shifts a certain way, revealing an angle that cues the repositioning of another piece and so on until pretty soon you've created something totally spontaneous and new. So I like to have a clear direction, but really try to keep my mind open and in the moment. Though I can say for the most part I do often use same of the defaults we all do of tall plants in back, shorter plants in the front with a well defined midground. Where I can't do this is on many of the really challenging room-divider or multiple-angle installations I do. On these, you basically have to abandon all rules because- as far as I 've seen anyway- there are none. I just haven't seen enough examples of those types of layout situations to have any sort of reference point for how to go about it in my mind. Amano certainly has not gone there to any degree. Oliver Knott is among the only others, and let me just say here his layouts are very cool.

As for using colored plants, I find I just don't have a lot of great settings. So many of my tanks are exceedingly tall- 30 inches plus. It is really hard to grow a lot of color plants in those dimensions. What I do try and do is bring in different shades of green and really focus on leaf shapes. A good contrast of shapes with the right complements can create good visual interest even the color is predominantly green. Sometimes I do incorporate a red stem plant or something that will get some height and is rugged (i.e. Rotala magenta, Rotala indica, Hygophila ploysperma) in a way that if I either trim it down or have to get rid of it down the road, the layout as a whole is not dependent on it.

Fish choice is a biggie for me. I'm really into trying to harmonize the fish with the aquascape. It's a double challenge for me in many instances, though, where the client gets set on having a fish because of the fish- not the way it will complement the layout. Cardinal tetras are the best example of this. Everyone wants cardinals for their bright colors whether the are right for the tank or not. Ultimately, I am really looking to satify the needs of the specific project and people are generally more into fish than plants and you have got to impress both those with and without a clue as to what a planted tank is all about. I always try to avoid the "fish circus" look that can easily occur when you have too many species. We have all learned that fish don't stay in these perfect formations like in Amanophotographs. Too many species scattered about can really distract from a great aquascape. I've certainly encountered the same thing with discus. I think that's what kept my extra-large entry in the 2003 AGA Contest out of more serious running. Too many garish discus amongst a rather serene copmposition. I could not have agreed more with the judges' critique in that respect. That was,however, a prime example of a client dictating the fish and me not having much say in the matter. While fish to layout harmony is a subjective, creative, artistic matter, it's really the key to bringing it all together. It all depends on your goals for the aquascape. I think Amano has more than proven it's not just about color- shape and movement are a big part of the equation.

Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums?

JEFF: Honestly, the coolest thing for me is seeing people's reactions to planted tanks. I mean to aquariums in general, when they are well executed, most people inherently respond in some sort of positive way. But planted tanks truly evoke their own unique response. I think it's that a tank with flourishing live plants is actually what most people idealize in their mind when they even just think of the word "aquarium"- they have just never actually seen it really done. I think that's why we all had that tingling feeling when we first saw the Nature Aquarium World books. The coolest thing before that (to the non-hobbyist anyway) was a reef tank or salt water fish tanks.

Laying out the hardscape, in particular, has become very enjoyable. I'm sure finally having access to beautiful wood and stone helps! Dry-scaping changed everything for me, too. Laying the tank out without water in it gives you better overall perspective and you can move things around so much easier. It's just a lot more civilized! Plus the tank is nice and clear when you fill it up; they seem to get going much faster, too. I'm much more into the process now. Before I was just going for it- I didn't know how I was going to manage so many tanks and control all the variables. Now that I've got a little experience under my belt, I can relax a little and try and enjoy it more.

I feel very fortunate to get to do something I am so passionate about for my daily work. Getting to work with architects and designers and other artists on big projects is very rewarding. ADG is really trying hard to elevate the aquarium arts to the same heights as other artforms and crafts, and we have made a lot of encouraging headway this past two years. It's a ton of work, but when you love it, it's not so bad.

Carlos: What is in the horizon for you in terms of aquascaping? Are there any particular ideas you look forward to implementing in future arrangements? Do you feel that you have anything left to learn?

JEFF: I'm going to continue to work on designing really high impact but lower maintenance/long-term oriented aquascapes. I want to push the limits of what can be done with the familiar, hardy, and abundant Cryptocorynes, Anubias, Echinodorus, Valisnerias, ferns and Hygrophila species. But I also love stem plants and intricate foregrounds and I want to expand in those areas as well. Sand and open foregrounds are really intriguing also. Using an open, sandy foreground has proven awesome for discus planted tanks. I'm doing heavy Ehinodorus species in the back, dividing the substrate from the sand with stones. This creates a wonderful open area for food to settle so the discus can graze off the bottom at their leisure. Another big benefit is that you can vacuum the open portion as often as you like to keep it really clean. This not only improves water quality by removing an excess of debris you nornally wouldn't get to, but keeps the foreground sand itself pristinely clean and nice looking. This style of discus layout has allowed me to feed a wider range of foods to the point that I have got most of my fish totally off bloodworms (so they actually grow and thrive!).

We recently completed our first open-top tank here at Gallery ADG. The custom tank is a totally trimless, no center-bracing or perimeter support construction making it a super clean-lined Amano-style glass box and it is gorgeous. The composition is almost entirely stem plants with 3 species of hairgrass, 2 species of tenellus, and Glossostigma foreground. The mostly wood hardscape has long branches that break the surface and create a dramatic architectural feel. High-maintenance? Indeed! It's not a layout style we expect to offer to a lot of clients. We really did it foremost for the sheer art and coolness of it. I'd love to see the open style get more momentum here in the States and people have to see it to get it and progress it.

Anything left to learn? Oh my, so much still left to learn. I'm just getting started. I did my first serious plant tank in 1998 so my career is still in it's infancy. I have many ideas, some of which I've held on to for a long time now, that I am yet to have the setting or the TIME (!) to execute. To those ends, I am still full of energy and passion. I HAVE NOT YET BEGUN TO AQUASCAPE!!

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

JEFF: Keep it simple in terms of species until you get the hang of it. Try and explore your creative ideas, don't worry about getting every latest cool plant. Think about how you can creatively use the plants you can get and get more into your hardscape (wood, stone, decorative substrate). Always enjoy.
700 gallon (10 ft x 3 ft x 3 ft)
Lighting: 4x175w Metal Halide + 2x110watt 10,000k VHO over the Hygrophila (1.31 wpg)
Substrate: Eco-complete capped with natural quartz gravel
Plants: Anubias barteri v barteri, Anubias barteri v nana, Cryptocoryne wendtii 'red', Cryptocoryne lucens, Cryptocoryne x willisii, Microsorium pteropus "Windelov", Microsorium pteropus "Narrow Leaf", Hygrophila sp., Vesicularia dubyana (Java moss)
Fish/Invertebrates: Congo Tetras, Serpae Tetras, P. simulans (green neon), Roseline sharks, Otocinclus sp, Caridinia japonica.

375 gallon (8 ft x 30 in x 30 in)
Lighting: 3x150w Metal Halide (1.2 wpg)
Substrate: Eco-complete in the back with Deko-line "Broken White" in the front
Plants: Echinodorus bleheri, Echinodorus "Ozelot"
Fish/Invertebrates: Discus (Blue Diamond and Striated Red from Jack Wattley Discus), Cadinal Tetras (P. axelrodi), Caridinia japonica.

550 gallon (8 ft x 3 ft x 3ft)
Lighting: 3x150 Metal Halide + 2x140w 10,000k VHO Flourescent (1.33 wpg)
Substrate: Laterite+Terralit+Flourite capped with natural quartz gravel
Plants: Hygrophila sp., Cyperus helferi, Anubias barteri v barteri, Anubias barteri v nana, Microsorium pteropus "Narrow Leaf", Microsorium pteropus "Windelov", Cryptocoryne wendtii "green", Cryptocoryne walkeri, Cryptocoryne pontederiifolia Cryptocoryne balansae, Cryptocoryne lucens
Fish/Invertebrates: Cardinal Tetras (P. axelrodi), Rummy-nose Tetra (H. rhodostomus), Lemon Tetra (H. pulchripinnis), Otocinculus sp, Caridinia japonica.



0 Comments Read More

An interview with Luis Navarro, March 2004

By: tsunami
November 8th, 2005
1:24 am

An interview with Luis Navarro, March 2004

For March's APC's aquascaper in focus...

Name: Luis Navarro
Location: Texas, USA

Thank you for volunteering your time to this interview so that you can share your aquascaping knowledge and technique with us. Here are the questions I would like to ask you.

Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby?

Luis: I remember my parents giving me my first aquarium in 1985 after a horrible earthquake that killed thousands of people in my country. It was a therapeutic gift. While living in the tropics, it wasn't long before I realized that we have plenty of native aquatic plants and fish too, so collecting was an everyday thing to do.

Carlos: Luis, your planted aquariums have more light than most hobbyists in the USA. Is there any particular reason why you chose to use so much light (5-8 wpg)? Even experienced hobbyists have a difficult time balancing an aquarium with these high light levels. How do you keep your aquariums stable with so much light (i.e., describe your water change, substrates, and liquid fertilizer routine)?

Luis: Honestly, the only reason why I started using so much light was because there was not very much information back then about how to keep plants alive. My only book Aquarium Encyclopedia by Dr. J.D. Van Ramshort has many pictures of planted aquarium canopies with plenty of light --flourescent and incandescent. It also has beautiful Dutch aquarium pictures in it, and the biggest list of plants I have I have ever seen for such an old book printed in English. I will strongly advise you to get the book if you ever see it they even mention Co2 injection! I guess the intense lighting became a habit, and once the tank is well established, I never have any problems other than the light bill and a very unhappy wife.

Substrates are the second most important factor when making a planted aquarium. I have tried nearly all the products (flourite, eco-complete, florabase), and I have great success with most. The most important aspects of a good substrate material are a long lasting supply of nutrients and good porosity to support a healthy bacterial colony.

As for fertilization, I would like to say that the way I fertilize may not be the best for everyone as the biology (bioload, lighting, maintenance routine) of each tank is different. I use a lot of iron and micro nutrient fertilizer, added up to 4 times a week. Twice a week, I add another fertilizer with trace elements. I add macro nutrients only when I see an obvious sign of deficiency! The reason why I don't have to dose large amounts of macro nutrients to my aquarium is due to the high bioload in my tanks.

I use the Dupla drops in most of my aquariums, but soon I will go with the American brand fertilizers which have proved just as efficient and way more affordable than Dupla.

Water changes are done on a weekly basis 50% at the time.

Carlos: On your excellent web page, you state that you blend the philosophies of wood and rock of the Nature Aquarium style with the use of color from the Dutch Aquarium style in your aquariums. Could you please explain? If you would have to describe your own unique aquascaping style, how would you describe it?

Luis: I really like both styles, and I try to blend a little of the two to create something more appealing to the every day people. The Nature Aquarium is beautiful to most of the people who like aquatic plants, but the use of just a few plants and one kind of fish is not enough for some people. The way I see it is that we live in a country where almost everything is abundant, and we like to have choice. The blending of different cultures and food is what makes America unique. I like to think of this when I aquascape, keeping in mind my family, my friends, and my culture --how to get their attention and complement the plants and not the fish. I also like to study how to make Nature Aquariums. The human brain is extraordinary at creating new, original designs so I don't worry about trying to imitate Amano's work. I do use simple nature aquarium techniques in my aquariums, though, including ryouboku (driftwood) and iwagumi (rock) techniques. I then touch them up and high light them with plants common to Dutch aquascaping.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

Luis: Make an impression. I really enjoy when people ask me if the plants in my aquariums are real.

Carlos: Are there any tactics or techniques you use to make arrangement decisions in your designs? Do you use any guidelines or rules for wood or rock placement? How about the use of colored plants? Do you place any special consideration on choosing the right fish for your layout?

Luis: In Houston, we are lucky to have many different sources for rocks and driftwood that it makes you think twice before making a final decision. A long term layout goes well with driftwood, rocks, and plants that will not overwhelm the aquascape. If you want plenty of color and a more sophisticated design, you will have to work on it three times a week just to keep it looking the way it is supposed to look like.

I usually choose branchy driftwood for my designs. Driftwood should not take up all the space, however, as the stem plants will be the main focus of the tank. I usually attempt to do two focal points in my aquarium --creating a heavier, main focal point and a weaker, secondary focal point. I think this helps make the layout less boring.

Rocks are a different story, because plants grow rapidly and often hide them from view. Only the very dominant ones will show up in the long run so thinking about the future helps me create a better layout.

About the fish, I hate to admit it, but yes I can take up to four months to put the first fish in a new aquascape. It doesn't have to be perfect, but I try make a good choice.

Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?

Luis: Looking at them. I like to sit in front of them with a hot cup of coffee in the morning, because later I am too busy maintaining them that I end up tired by the end of the day. This also applies to the workplace, because we have six tanks there --and I maintain those as well.

Carlos: What is in the horizon for you in terms of aquascaping? Are there any particular ideas you look forward to implementing in future arrangements? Do you feel that you have anything left to learn?

Luis: Good aquascaping skills are acquired through experience. You will never learn if you don't try getting your hands wet so to speak. I have made many mistakes, but I fix them and move on. Reading and learning from people like Tom Barr, Claus Christensen, and Takashi Amano to name a few who have devoted their lives to the study of aquatic plants back up their studies is very important. They made me ask: why? I may not post a lot on other forums, but I do read a lot and probably know most of you through your posts and articles. I like to listen with a closed mouth and do what works best for me.

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

Luis: Be persistent and don't let algae or a dead plant discourage you from continuing. There aren't any green thumb people in the world. There is a reason for everything, so read, learn, and get your hands wet.

Carlos: Is there anything else you would like to say that I may not have
asked about in the previous questions?

Luis: Many thanks for giving me the opportunity to express my ideas and points of view in your forum.
30g (20 x 18 x 20 in)
2x96w --6.4 wpg
Substrate: Eco-complete topped over Fertiplant
Plants: Ammania gracilis, Micranthemum umbrosum, Marsilea quadrifolia, Eleocharis montevidensis, Eusteralis stellata, Vallisneria nana, Echinodorus tenellus, Cryptocoryne wendtii 'brown'
Fish: SAEs (C. siamensis), Pearl Gourami (T. leeri), Harlequin Rasbora (T. heteromorpha), Norman's Lampeye

58g (36 x 18 x 18 in)
4x96W 10,000K PC, 4x55W 10,000K PC --10.41 wpg
Plants: Ammania gracilis, Eicchornia diversifolia, Rotala sp Green, Bolbitis heudelotti, Heteranthera zosterifolia, Hygrophila corymbosa v stricta, Eusteralis stellata, Anubias barteri v nana, Ludwigia glandulosa, Hydrocotyle verticellata, Echinodorus tenellus, Echinodorus 'Rubin', Hygrophila lacustris, Marsilea quadrifolia, Micranthemum umbrosum, Cyperus helferi, Ludwigia brevipes, Nymphoides sp.
Fish: Rummynose tetras (H. bleheri)

75g (48 x 20 x 18 in)
6x55w 10000K and 6700K, 2 x 55W 10,000K --5.87 wpg
Substrate: Florabase over Terralit
Plants: Ammania gracilis, Anubias barteri v nana, Lilaeopsis brasiliensis, Cyperus helferi, Hygrophila corymbosa v stricta, Hygrophila augustifolia, Hemianthus micranthemoides, Microsorum pteropus, Anubias barteri v barteri
Fish: Bleeding Heart Tetras (H. erythrostigma), Rummynose Tetras (H. bleheri)

El Paso
Volume: 39g (147L)
Lighting: 110 watts power compact 6700K
Filtration: Eheim 2213
Plants: Echinodorus tenellus, Anubias bareri var. nana, Cypherus helferi, Eleocharis montevidensis, Limnophilia aromaticoides, Rotala nanjanshean, Lotus spp., Hottonia palustris, Crinum spp., Physostegia purpurea
Fish: Puntius densonni O-cat Cardina japonica

La Ceiba Seca
Volume: 75g (284L)
Lighting: 440 Watts Power Compact 10,000K
Filtration: 2228x2 Eheim Cannisters
Substrate: Florabase, Carat #1
Plants: Microsorum spp., Bolbitis heudelotii, Limnophilia aromaticoides, Anubias barteri var. nana, Anubias barteri var. barteri, Cryptocoryne spp., Cyperus helferi
Fish: Angels Tetras, Cory’s, O-cat, Cardina japonica


1 Comments Read More

An interview with Oliver Knott, February 2004

By: tsunami
November 8th, 2005
12:46 am

An interview with Oliver Knott, February 2004

On the very first week of every month, I have decided to do something a little different with the weekly topic. Besides just presenting discussion topics on technique, style, composition, etc, I will hold an email interview with a notable, accomplished aquascaper. post it on the forum, and present a sampling of his or her aquaria. Hopefully, we will all be able to learn and take something from these discussions (even beyond just aquascaping). For Aquatic Plant Central's very first aquascaper in focus, I have chosen German aquarium designer Oliver Knott. So without further adieu, here it is:

Name: Oliver Knott
Location: Germany

Thank you for volunteering for the interview. Your sharing of knowledge and technique on the APC forum will be very much appreciated. Here are the questions that I would like to ask you.

Carlos: How did you become interested in the planted aquarium hobby? How long have you been in the hobby?

Oliver: It is my job --since I was 16 years old. I always looked for new things in the aquarium hobby and tried to learn as much as possible besides the normal job routine. It was maybe about seven years later before I saw tanks from Amano-san --and they were so great! At that time, I made my first "nature" tank with Riccia stones.

Carlos: Oliver, I have noticed that many of your aquariums do not have nearly as much light as many in the United States. As a professional aquarium designer, what other strategies and techniques do you use such as plant choice, technology, and pruning technique to make sure the aquarium runs smoothly while you are not there?

Oliver: Automatic pH-regulators, daily fertilization with automatic fertilizer sets, and a light timer... and someone who makes the weekly water change.

Carlos: Looking at your aquariums, many of them seem very natural yet very unlike most Japanese tanks following the Nature Aquarium style. Do you follow any particular artistic style or philosophy when creating your planted aquarium layouts?

Oliver: No, I look at a tank and I know how it will look like. Sorry, I can't describe it in a better way.

Carlos: What are your main goals when setting up a new tank?

Oliver: My main goals are that it will look harmonic and interesting --not run-of-the-mill.

Carlos: Are there any tactics or techniques you use to make arrangement decisions in your designs? Do you use any guidelines or rules for wood or rock placement? How about the use of colored plants?

Oliver: No, it's just emotional reactions when designing and making decisions.

Carlos: What do you enjoy most about designing and creating aquariums in this hobby?

Oliver: When the tank grows successfully, seeing the development from little plants to beautiful ones. Also, a nice, splendid tank that the customers are astounded with.

Carlos: What is in the horizon for you in terms of aquascaping? Are there any particular ideas you look forward to implementing in future arrangements? Do you feel that you have anything left to learn?

Oliver: There are so many things I want to try in the future. So many plants I haven't used yet. I will never be finished with learning! In March, I'll visit Amano-san for a two week practical training.

Carlos: Finally, is there any particular advice you would give to a hobbyist creating his first planted aquarium layout?

Oliver: Consistency is the most important, I think. Water changes, fertilizing, cleaning, pruning the plants --all these jobs should be done regularly.

147g (51x27x27 inches)
4x54w T5 + 1x39w T5, total of 255w, 1.73 w/g
Substrate: ADA Aquasoil
Plants: Hemianthus callitrichoides, Taxiphyllum sp., Ludwigia sp Cuba, Limnophila aromatica, Eusteralis stellata, Riccia fluitans
Fish: Puntius denisonii, Otocinclus paulinus (spec. "Negro"), Caridina japonica

122g (51x24x24 inches)
4x38w Arcadia lamps, 1.25 w/g
Plants: Narrow Leaf Java Fern, Windelov Java Fern, Nymphaea sp, Cryptocoryne sp, Anubias barteri v nana
Fish: trio of Discus

122g (51x24x24 inches)
2x54w T5 tubes, 0.88 w/g
Plants: Cryptocoryne balansae, Java Fern, Windelov Java Fern, Nymphaea, Echinodorus tennellus, Cryptocoryne sp, Taxiphyllum sp.
Fish: Altum Angelfish, Rummynose Tetras, Bleeding Heart Tetras

Volume: 1,500L (396g)
Dimensions: 400cm (160") x 70cm (28")x 55cm (22")
Lighting: 6 x 70 Watt HQI (behind) 8 x 54 Watt T5 (in front)
Flora: Hemianthus callitrichoides, Cryptocoryne wendtii "Tropica," Cryptocoryne wendtii "Brown," Taxiphyllum sp. (java moss)
Fauna: Puntius denisonii, Cardina japonica, Otocinclus affinis, Poecilia sphenops

Volume: 500L (132g)
Dimensions: 130cm (52") x 60cm wide (24") x 60cm (24")
Lighting: 2 x 150 Watt (HQI 5.000 Kelvin) 2 x 30Watt (tube 7.500 Kelvin)
Flora: Heteranthera zosterifolia, Limnophila aromatica, Didiplis diandra, Sagittaria subulata, Hemianthus callitrichoides, Taxiphyllum sp.

Volume: 250L (66g)
Dimensions: 100cm (39") x 50cm (20") x 50cm (20")
Lighting: 4 x 30 Watt T8 (2 x 4.000 Kelvin / 2 x 9.000 Kelvin) JBL
Flora: Potamogeton octandrus, Potamogeton gayi, Juncus repens, Cyperus helferi, Taxiphyllum sp., Eleocharis acicularis
Fauna: Cardinal tetra (Paracheirodon axelrodi), Otocinclus affinis, Crossocheilus siamensis, Caridina japonica

Volume: 580L (153)
Dimensions: 160cm (64") x 60cm (24") x 60cm (24")
Lighting: 2 x 70 Watt HQI (5000 Kelvin)
Flora: Alternanthera aquatica, Hydrocleis martii, Microsorum pteropus "Narrow," Anubias barteri var. nana, Vesicularia montagne (Christmas moss)
Fauna: Phenacogrammus interruptus (Congo tetra), Otocinclus affinis and Otocinclus paulinus Also: Caridina japonica

For the rest of his gallery:



1 Comments Read More

Roland on Low Maintenance Layouts (Live Chat, Sept 2005)

By: MiamiAG
October 21st, 2005
6:14 am

<tsunami> Hello all APC members and welcome to one of our guest speaker presentations! This night’s guest speaker comes from the tropical island nation of Singapore at the tip of the Malay Peninsula. His extensive knowledge of Southeast Asian biotopes and experience of setting up aquariums in public and private places has earned him a position in this year’s APC Aquaplant Layout Contest judging panel. Please help me welcome my good friend Roland Seah!

<lorba> I am very honored to be sharing my experiences with you here.

<tsunami> How do you define a long term, low maintenance layout and aquarium?

<lorba> In my humble opinion, a long term layout is one with plants that will keep growing and thriving without replacing. Low maintenance could means little fertilization or lesser water changes required. Most importantly, you do not have to cut and trim them every weekend.

<tsunami> Roland, let us start with a walk through for setting up a successful long term, low maintenance layout, starting with the equipment. What filtration type and filter media do you find best? Do you use any special media or products to keep water clarity high?

<lorba> For me, a long term and low maintenance layout is one which needs minimal handwork. Let’s talk about the filters. In all the aquariums (3ft and above) that I set up, I uses 2 external filters. One will be connected to the surface skimmer and output to the tank via an external CO2 reactor. This filter will contain mostly wools and serves as the mechanical filter. The other one is the biological filter with mostly ceramic rings or eheim filter me

<lorba> I found that by using 2 filters, the water can be kept really clean, even if you have quite a few corydoras digging here and there. The best part is, I don’t wash them at least for a year. The flow rate may slow down slightly over time, and you can just clean the mechanical filter.

<tsunami> For low maintenance layouts, I am sure that lighting choice is an important decision. One must not keep the light too high or the layout will be hard to keep stable, and not keep the light too low or the plants will not grow. How much lighting and of which type do you tend to use? Does tank size and depth become a consideration in choosing the best lighting option?

<lorba> When budget allows, I always use Metal Halid (MH) with Fluorescents (FL) or Compact Fluorescents (PL) as support. You can find these lights all in one piece, like the Arcadia or Dymax. I believe that very bright lights brings about a good photosynthesize period and plants can grow better, even for a shade/slow plant like java fern.

<lorba> Usually, I will try to provide longer hours of dim lights and shorter period of intense lights to the plants. For example, 8am – 1115am, the PLs are switched on. 11am – 4pm, the MH are switched on, and 345pm – 6pm, the PLs are switched on again. This simulates the lighting period of a normal day, and I find that you have very much less problem with algaes. For example, I’ve never had algae problem for this tank since it was set up.

<tsunami> On to CO2 equipment, what do you tend to use? Do you use any pH controllers or other monitoring devices to assure that CO2 is kept stable?

<lorba> I do use pH controllers sometimes, but most of time, I adjust the amount of CO2 base on bubble counts, tank size and layout. For some tanks, I even remove the CO2 injection after the plants have matured and growing. Of course, this can only be applied on low maintenance set up with hardy plants. See this for a CO2less example :

<tsunami> When laying down the substrate, do you use a base fertilizer?What is it composed of and why do you tend to use this product? What do you tend to use over the base fertilizer? Why have you chosen this as your preferred substrate medium?

<lorba> This is really about preference, budget and availability. I used to favor JBL before I switched to ADA and FERKA. JBL is affordable, but it is bulky to transport and store when I set up a big tank. I uses ADA soil and powersand in some of tanks as I find them good for growing beautiful stems plants. The growth is truly different when you put them in ADA and normal sand. I uses FERKA Aquabase most of the time as it is very small and light.

<lorba> I uses FERKA Aquabase most of the time as it is very small and light to carry around in its concentrated powder pack. The Aquabase is mainly organic stuff and works roughly like the powersand. Its really about budget and preference between these two.

<tsunami> Do you have any other comments to make on equipment hardware for setting up a low maintenance aquarium?

<lorba> To make your tank a real low maintenance one, you should invest in some good equipment which helps to keep the water in better condition. Such as installing a UV filter, better filtration and adequate lighting. When the water is good, you have less worries and problem.

<tsunami> Now that we have touched base on equipment, let us move on to the actual setup of a low maintenance layout. Do you tend to use rock, driftwood or both when creating an aquascape? Which aquascaping techniques do you use to help you place these pieces within the aquarium?

<lorba> I usually use both in most of my aquascapes. And depending on the theme, some may have more rocks or wood then the other. Of course, if you have a zenish theme in mind, rocks is very useful.

<lorba> Placing them is really about achieving a sense of balance. When you put some rocks or woods together, they will need to form a connection with each other such that you see a flow of contour or structure.

<lorba> Stand away from the tank and observe them from a further distance after you place them usually helps a lot. You should also imagine how the layout will look like when the plants are matured. This will remind you in creating and catering the space for growth.

<lorba> I am quite a lazy man and thus, I choose the easiest way of doing things - a method which I call Modular Aquascaping. Use as much rock or wood as structure with ferns, moss or Anubias attached on wood. Once they are placed in the tank nicely, you will only be left with the foreground and background plants.

<lorba> Take the below 17footer for example, 70% of it are “Modules” and I completed the entire aquascape in less then 3 hours. Most of the time spent on carrying the big heavy trunk!


<tsunami> It seems that a large part of the effort in your low maintenance layouts is devoted to the epiphytes growing upon the driftwood. How do you tie the mosses, Anubias, and ferns to this hardscape material? How do you decide where to place the larger ferns and Anubias and where to place the moss on these pieces? From my understanding, larger ferns and Anubias can be focal points or fillers while mosses are more subtle layout elements.

<lorba> In the native jungles and swamps that I often trek in, I noticed that there is very sparse vegetation when it reaches the water. Most of the time, if there is any aquatic plants, they are cryptocoryne species. More then often, you find moss covered logs and roots, or ferns and aroids creeping over all the embankment.

<lorba> My aquascape styles are very much affected by what I observe here. (See some photos here:

<lorba> To keep your plants nice and lush in a low maintenance tank, you will need to understand the brightness tolerance of these mostly shade plants. Ferns such as microsorium pteorus do well in both low and high. Thus, is suitable to be place higher and central of the tank which probably receive the most light.

<lorba> You can use rocks or bare wood as elevation to place these ferns (tied on wood) to create terrace or contour. I like to tied some on branch forks as well and the ferns usually grow into a nice ball in mid water.

<lorba> Anubias species are broad leafed and thus, is more suitable as carpets at lower heights. This gives the aquascape a better sense of balance. Usually, I place them underneath some plants or at the sides and corners where the light is least intense.

<lorba> Moss is essential to complete the aquascape as they form the micro details in a big picture. You can have them grown into balls among branch forks or even on small pieces of wood on the floor. They will eventually spread out nicely.

<lorba> I used thin fishing line to tie all of them to wood or rock. Threads are quite unsightly and takes long time to disintegrate.

<tsunami> How about the rosette plants such as Cryptocoryne sp. and Echinodorus sp.? How do you choose to plant these in your layouts, and how exactly do you go about planting them? Do you remove all the outer
leaves or shorten the roots before planting?

<lorba> Before I plant them, I will cut the roots down to about 2-3cm. If the Echinodorus has too many leaves, its helpful if you remove 1/3 to 2/5 of the leaves. The plants floats easily when there is too many leaves.

<lorba> Plan the position and space carefully when you go for a echindorous, as most will grow to very large size taking up big diameters. On the other hand, cryptocorynes are wonderful midground plants. I like to stuff them in between woods and in clusters at the sides.

<lorba> Just to share a useful note that I learn from a farm operator. When you plant a potted cryptocoryne which is tissue cultured, it is best not to break them up. Remove as much mineral wools as you care and plant the whole bunch. They will grow faster and nicer this way. You can easily tell a tissue cultured pot by determining if the plants are well rooted, and stick to each other closer by rhizome.

<tsunami> Do stem plants in these layouts play any role, at least in the beginning stages to absorb excess nutrients and control algae?

<lorba> I find that by playing with the light intensity period mentioned before, algae is minimal even without stem plants. However, lots of stem plants do help in the beginning stage of any plant tank. Choose the fast growing species such as rotalas.

<tsunami> What care tends to go into your aquascapes? Do you add liquid fertilizers to the aquarium, and what do you tend to use if you do? I imagine that you would not use too much nitrate or phosphate in such layouts, which would speed up growth.

<lorba> For most of my tanks, I’ve designed so that minimal care is required, such as the lighting period discussed, and also by keeping the water chilled at 25-26C. All fertilization and water changes are kept at once a fortnight for the low maintenance layouts.

<lorba> I do upkeep a few high light stem plants tank on my own which I uses FERKA Aquatilizer (macro, micro) and Balance (K and Trace elements) on alternate days. On top of this, I add Potassium powder almost on daily basis to keep the bubbling and pearling nice and a little Nitrate per water change to get strong stem plants growth.

<lorba> If you love toninas and eriocaulon, this is one of the best way to keep it growing nicely and healthily.

<tsunami> How often do you change the water and when do you start doing so?

<lorba> As mentioned, I do water changes per fortnightly at 50% for low maintenance one. As for the high light tanks which I added lots of fertilizers and nitrate, I do more frequent water change at probably once per week.

<tsunami> Do you usually face any sort of algae infestations during the first few months? How do you handle algae outbreaks if they do appear in such a layout?

<lorba> The only time when I face algae infestations is when the tank gets some direct sunlight and when water change frequency is adequate. Most of time, algae comes from the new plants that I bought, rather then grown out of the tank.

<lorba> I am not permitted to do black outs in my customer places, therefore, frequent water changes and dosing fertilizers as usual helps a lot. Physical removal of the algae is important as well.

<lorba> More then often, if you find algae among your mosses, the best solution would be dump it and start over again. A lazy-man method, but it’s the fastest and most effective way.

<tsunami> After the aquarium hardscaping and plantings are completed, how long do you wait before adding the aquarium inhabitants? Do you add shrimp and algae eating fish in the first month and then later add the other fish? Please explain.

<lorba> Most of the time, my tanks are in public location where the owners will not tolerate a single day without any fishes. Since water parameter is pretty neutral here in Singapore, I add the fishes on the first day.

<lorba> The most usual combination I have are : 300 shrimps, 20 otocinclus, 10 Siamese algae eaters, dwarf puffer fishes and whatever fishes chose. More then often, it is 200 cardinal tetras. Casualty rate from what I see is pretty low, mostly the shrimps suffered if they come from a lousy shipment.

<lorba> I guess the 2 filters method helps too where high initial bio-load is concerned.

<tsunami> When choosing fish for these layouts, what do you tend to look for in the fish? Do you choose fish according to color, size, or movement? Feeding habits? How does general maintenance of a fish species affect its viability as a choice for a low maintenance layout? i.e. discus are high maintenance in relation to most other fish.

<lorba> There is a reason for popularity of cardinal tetras. They look beautiful in any aquascape, and stands out especially in slightly dim, low maintenance green tanks. These fishes feeds readily on autofeeders and I have least worries about keeping them well fed.

<lorba> For biotope themes, for example a Southeast Asian one, I choose fishes that are active and school well. Most will get use to the feeding spot and linger around the area during the feeding time. Such as harlequin rasbora, six banded barbs.

<lorba> Discus on the other hand is slightly tricky, especially during the introduction period. They might be very shy and fall sicks easily. But once they get use to it, they are pretty fine with even chilled water at 26C. Make sure you have big plants or hiding places to avoid stressing them out. If you intend to keep them with other cichlids such as altum angels (in bigger group), you will need a biger tank so that territory is not an issue.

<lorba> Tricky fishes are those that have different appetite. I will need to buy crickets to feed the archer fishes, and they may go hungry once they hunted down all those in a vivarium before the maintenance day.

<tsunami> From beginning to end, how long would you say does such an aquascape need to mature? Could you give us a general timeline of what we should be seeing in a week by week basis in the first 8 weeks?

<lorba> For a low maintenance tank with moss ferns, you should not be expecting much in the first 2 months. Most of the time, ferns may brown off before coming back strong. Moss will take some time to adapt and grow lushly.

<lorba> Try to use ferns or anubias that are already grown underwater for your new aquascape. Probably some young plants from a big mother plant. This way, you skip the acclimatization period of the plants which sometimes take months!

<lorba> I would say give a fern, crypt and moss roughly about 4 months to mature.

<tsunami> Do you have any other recommendations to add in the creation and progress of a low maintenance layout in the first couple of months? Anything you have to recommend to the neophyte who does not want to dive immediately into a high light, CO2 injected stem plant tank?

<lorba> Keeping a low maintenance tank does not necessary means lower cost or lower technology. But, generally, fluorescents do the job nicely.

<lorba> CO2-less is fine for new set up, but you will experience very slow growth and may be, not a lush one. A moss-only tank might see good result though.

<tsunami> What do you enjoy most about your work and business as a professional aquascaper in Singapore?

<lorba> The most enjoyable part of my work is to be able to meet many people and be able to create something that they like. The most satisfaction comes when the customer likes the work. Its also very helpful to hear the comments of non-hobbyists as they can usual pin point something that is lacking.

<lorba> Its fun to be able to turn hobby a job!

<tsunami> Thank you for giving us this presentation Roland. It has been most informative and helpful in creating alternative layouts for those who do not have the time to make frequent water changes, weekly pruning, and heavy fertilization.

<lorba> Thank you too, for being here tonight. I hope you find some helpful tips in getting your hands drier and lower your water bills!

<tsunami> Thanks everyone for doing a good job of keeping silent. Now, we will commence our question and answer period. If you have a question, please send me a private message in chat. I will ask questions in order of receipt.

<tsunami> Question asked by SnyperP
<tsunami> Do you forsee FERKA being available in the United states in the future?

<lorba> Likely. I was talking to a company who did a trial on the product. But I have yet to hear anything.

<tsunami> CGI009 asked:
<tsunami> Do you use a TDS meter?

<lorba> No, i guess its not really necessary for a tank. And for good water in Singapore, its less required.

<tsunami> Next question is by squee:
<tsunami> For a 2ft 16 gallon tank, do you think that crypts should be used? If so, are they more suitable in the midground or background?

<lorba> If you If you are planning a low maintenance one, crypts are a perfect choice. Try C. parva for somewhere in the foreground. Other crypts like wendtiis, becketiis are good for mid/background in small tanks. C. balansae will be too big for a 2ft tank.

<tsunami> Last question for the night, asked by SnyperP:
<tsunami> We've all recently seen alot of your customer location tanks. How much time do you generally spend at each location? Specifically in mind at Banmainum in Thailand.

<lorba> The Bnmainum is not maintained by me. J The restaurant owner is a hobbyist himself. There is also a good friend of his who help out at the store within the compound.

<lorba> I try to keep maintenance at a location within an hour. I do spend up
to 2, 3 hours at private houses, maintaining and talking to my customer. Still very much interested to talk about plants and fishse.

<tsunami> First, I'd like to thank Roland again for providing this wonderful
presentation to us. Next, I'd like to thank all of you for cooperating
during this presentation and, most of all, for being here. THANK YOU ALL!
Chat is now open.

End of #apcchat buffer Sun Sep 04 05:06:50 2005

0 Comments Read More

Aquascaping series: Glossostigma Foregrounds

By: dennis
September 1st, 2005
10:31 pm

Aquascaping series: Glossostigma Foregrounds

Aquascaping Journals Series: Part 1

Foregrounds: Marselia/Glossostigma

Photos and text:
Dennis Dietz

This section of the Aquascaping Journals Series will be discussing the planting of a typical foreground. There are many styles and techniques used in dealing with the foreground of planted aquariums. There are also many species of plants to choose from. For this demonstration though we will be focusing on the use of Marselia sp. or Glossostigma elantes, a foreground of glosso is shown in the photo above. To accomplish this task, you will need sharp scissors, pointy tweezers/forceps, a tray/ plate to hold you prepared plants and a suitable portion of the chosen plant species.

For the basics let us assume we have a suitable aquarium setup consisting of correct hardware and materials. The choice of substrates for the foreground should consist of any fine gravel. Many commercial products abound including Eco-Complete, Flourite, Onyx Sand and the ADA substrate systems however any sand type substrate will suffice. For the foreground of an aquarium, the substrate should have a minimum depth of 1-2inches (2.5-5cm). This will allow us to easily plant our chosen species and provide a suitable base for their roots.

For this demonstration I have chosen to use Marselia sp. which is similar to glosso in appearance and growth habits but much slower growing; thus easier to maintain. The substrate shown in the photo above is a base layer of Eco-Complete/Onyx mix, about 1”-1.5” deep with a thinner cap of Black Beauty blasting grit on top. The Black Beauty adds some depth and weight to the Eco-Complete and gives the substrate a consistent dark color. Over time the 2 materials will mix together but no problems will come from this.

First we start by preparing our plants for planting. Notice that the Marselia sp., like glossostigma, spreads via runners and each plantlet has only one leaf per node. Glosso usually will have 2 leaves per node. Each node is capable of producing another runner, just like the grass in your yard. For fastest propagation, the runners of the Marselia should be cut into small portions consisting of 1-5 plantlets. Generally I use single plantlets but some prefer to use more. This is basically a matter of technique, both ways will yield the same result in the end.

Using sharp scissors cut the runners into individual plantlets, leaving the roots intact. Spread the trimmed plantlets on a tray/plate as you go but make sure they don't dry out. This is especially important with glosso as it will dry out very quickly. Marselia is a little more forgiving. Either way, simply mist the plants as necessary with aquarium water or cover with damp paper towels. Preparing the plants can be tedious so get a comfy seat and enjoy the meditative aspect of the process.

Next we need to plant the prepared specimens. Using good tweezers/forceps with a fairly sharp point (the pointier the better) grasp an individual plantlet by the roots or trimmed portion of runner. Try to have the stem of the plant grasped at 40-60 degree angle as pictured below.

Insert the plantlet straight down into the substrate making sure the rooted portion is fully covered. Generally one would leave only the rounded top portion of the leaf above the substrate. Slowly open the tweezers and pull them out toward you, in the direction they are pointed, gently wiggling them as you do so. This will help settle the substrate around the plant. The plantlet should stay in the substrate with very little disturbance of the surrounding area.

Continue planting individual plantlets in a 1/2”-1” grid. The closer you plant initially, the faster the foreground will fill in. I prefer to plant left to right as I am right handed. Doing it this way will ensure the my insertion and removal of the tweezers will not disturb those already planted. One tends to pull a little substrate in the direction they plant. This holds true for planting most species, always work toward yourself and your dominate hand. Below is a section fully planted. The Marselia should fully cover the substrate in a month or less, depending on light and CO2 availability.

I hope you have enjoyed this section of the Aquascaping Journal Series, brought to you by APC. Check back soon for the next chapter in the Series! If there is a specific idea or technique you would like to see covered, please let us know

21 Comments Read More

Setup Guide - Wind, Forest, Fire and Mountain

By: waynesham
August 19th, 2005
3:32 pm


The 3-ft tank themed ‘Wind, Forest, Fire, and Mountain’, even though smaller in scale when compared to the previous 4-footer, is nevertheless a tried-and-true, time-consuming learning tank. From the start that began with the idea, theme selection, material gathering, to tank set up, maintenance, photography, and later modifications; every step has taken an immense amount of time and dedication, using what I thought would be the best way to approach things, in order to attain what I had imagined in my heart!!

Ever since the ever so popular Japanese ‘Zen’ aquascaping methodology, people have been trying to imitate the nature; bringing a piece of it home. Oftentimes, however, they missed out on the many great images and textures around them. Simply add a small dose of imagination and a larger dose of observation, even the drab and uninteresting can become evermore so vivacious. The idea for this aquascape comes from the Victoria dock, with the many surrounding skyscrapers shining their never ending night-lights. Thus born the ‘Wind, Forest, Fire, and Mountain’!! If everyone could picture all the buildings replaced by rocks, all the lights replaced by thin-stemmed plants, an entire layout has appeared!!


Equipments and materials needed prior to the beginning!!

ADA heating plate

The under-gravel heating plate/heating line is not a new technology or new device. Its main usage is to provide a circulation between the different temperatures of the tank bottom and the tank surface, thereby bringing out the still water and bringing in the active water. This helps to lessen the blackness due to the anaerobic activities of the bacteria and the substrate, as well as providing the roots with oxygen which would allow for a more robust development. The aforementioned pointers all come from theories in the book. Whether or not they are true await further experiments. (Note: I’ve been keeping plants for three years without using such products, and the plants have all been very healthy. Still it is worth a try to follow the books)

Light Rock

Its main purpose is to circulate the water, in order to prevent it from being still. This helps the bacteria to increase as well as slowing down the aging of the substrate. Even though I have always used this approach, I still have this one question; wondering if anyone has ever thought of it. Even after I added the light rocks, the substrate was still too dense for the water to circulate properly. I therefore believe that if I use the heating plate I could better aid in the exchange of still and fresh water, thereby brings out the effect of the light rocks.

***Take caution that light rocks will increase the pH.
Bottom Fertilizations

When I first used the ADA substrate I never thought about using any substrate fertilizers. ADA substrates contain enough nutrients coupled with periodic liquid fertilizers, which could support the plants for a period of time. However, the matter of the fact is, ADA substrates will not be able to provide the plants with enough nutrition after it has been used for more than six months. Plants can only survive, but will have lost their liveliness. Because of this reason, it is best to fatten up the substrate now so as to prevent later regrets…..

penacW need not further introductions. Its use has already been explained from previous setups (usage is to vivify the substrates).


In actuality, OHKO stones have unnatural textures coupled with vertical and horizontal linings. During the designing stage, therefore, there must be conformities among the stones. As a result of this, it seems the difficulty level has been raised. But because OHKO stones belong to warm type of rocks, their formations will be more acceptable upon completion. This time the OHKO stone is the main theme in terms of rock works so that’s why I chose larger sized pieces (the largest being about 1 foot long).

Setting up the tank

Starting from nothing, first add the heating plate.

Spread the gravels that will cover about 5/6 of the surface area, toward the back to prevent them from flowing to the edge of the tank.

Use a sieve to sprinkle penacW over the substrate in order to distribute it more evenly.

Top off with a small amount of substrate fertilizer, plus old substrate (For no particular reason, the old substrate is already there so it remains on the bottom while the new substrate is on top).

Thereafter, add a little more substrate fertilizer to the old substrate. Then finish off with new substrate!!(***Substrate here is probably ADA Amazonia just in case anyone is confused about substrate and gravel here)

Arranging the rocks is considered one of the time consuming parts in aquascaping. Plants can be easily removed and rearranged, however, the rocks aren’t so easy. So it is imperative that care must be exercised. In the end a total of three hours time was spent, half of which was pure gazing at the formation possibilities. As mentioned before, even with a basic layout already in mind, the rocks’ patterns and linings make it extremely difficult to figure out just what a proper arrangement should look like (Wondering if anyone noticed that the background changed from being day time to night time).

Take notice that when setting up the rocks, it is important to arrange them in such a way that all the smaller, surrounding rocks are pointing toward the biggest one. This arrangement places the focus on the main rock piece. I utilized a method which I discussed more in depth in my previous aquscape. Looking at my watch, I realized it was time to sleep. Tomorrow we shall continue…..

October the first, the second day, water was still…..obviously murky with very low visibility! Small amount of older plants were added nevertheless to prevent any casualties.

October the second, visibility has increased dramatically.

October the thirteenth, all the plants have been acclimatized to the new environment. An especially strong plant is the glosso, growing at two nodes per day. At this point I had a thought that in less than one month the front part of the tank will be fully covered. One another note, the ‘Wind’ part of the theme can started to be seen as in the movement of the black neon tetras.

November the first, sigh…..wondering why the water continues to turn yellow, while the plants have been shedding leaves, as well as moss growing in abundance. Even the most robust glosso has slowly turned yellow. Should the project be discontinued, even though it had such a great outlook? Thinking about all the possible causes, I plugged in the pH meter, and the reading turned out to be…..7.8……….I didn’t even realize; the ‘Wind, Forest, Fire, and Mountain’ is slowly headed toward the salt water tank field.

After that I had help from Eric that, using ADA Plam Net would decrease the pH. So now the pH is between 6.4-6.8!! Awesome, indeed!!

December the nineteenth, happiness made one forget about the time (Actually it was due to business). No photographs were taken for an entire month. Glosso continues to be a strong survivor after the pH has been adjusted back to normal. It is growing at several nodes per day, turning into a complete carpet. I won’t prune anything; replanting certain areas is faster and better!!

January the second, now is the time to savor the good memories. Camera was picked up and many pictures were taken. Click, click, click………………..even though it doesn’t look its final goal, this opportunity can not be missed.


I believe that, if everyone remembers, I have discussed in detail in 2004, about reviving and its procedures on the web. There was a great response, and it wasn’t only in Hong Kong and Taiwan and other areas where Chinese people live. The discussion even extended as far as USA and other famous plant forums. I do believe aquascaping has no known boundaries. The most important lesson is in learning how to share!! Hope everyone likes to share!!

P.S. Thank you very much for Paul Higashikawa as the translator.

7 Comments Read More

Search Engine Friendly URLs by vBSEO 3.6.1