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This week's topic will be more technique oriented (as several other topics I have in store for you all) to help those who would like to the "how tos" of aquascaping. Before delving into the topic, let me thank Luis Navarro for allowing me to use his picture for this little demonstration.

White Sand Foregrounds:

Step 1
For those using substrate or base fertilizers such as peat, pumice, Fertiplant, laterite, etc, the first step is to lay down the base material over the section of the tank where the plants will be located.

Step 2
Measure, cut, and place a flexible, sturdy, inert, transparent piece of plastic between the area where the plants will go and the area where the sand will go. Fill one side with sand up to the top of the plastic sheet. If necessary, get some help to hold the plastic sheet in place.

Step 3
Fill the other side with the substrate material of your choice (Florabase, Eco-complete, Flourite, etc).

Step 4
When completely filled, the subsrate material you use, eco-complete in this case, should be higher in the back and slope downward toward the sand. Begin placing rocks, driftwood, and plants on the side with Eco-complete.


In this tank, the Marsilea was allowed to grow into and act as an accent for the sand.

Some other tanks featuring white sand, by Takashi Amano:

Some comments:
Since I did not have plastic at the time, what I did to segregate the white sand from the eco-complete in my tank was use broad pieces of flat driftwood.
Keep your white sand foregrounds clean by vacuuming the area weekly during water changes. Also, occassionally move and shift the sand with your hands to bring clean sand from the bottom toward the top. If the sand is not kept clean, the effect will be ruined.

Trivia: The Dutch were actually the first to start using this technique because most did not have enough light reaching down into the foreground to grow plants well. Takashi Amano, however, was the first to popularize it and turn it into a new foreground option for modern planted aquariums.

Discussion Question #1:
What do you feel is an aesthetic benefit of using white sand over a foreground plant like glossostigma or hairgrass?

Discussion Question #2:
What effect does it evoke? Where are these white sand foregrounds appropriate? Where are they inappropriate?


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I think the white sand helps bring out the foreground plants. It provides a nice contrast with the bright green colors of glossostigma or hairgrass. I think it adds to providing a sense of depth to the aquarium, and also, there are a lot of fish prefer sand to gravel and some sand in the front will allow you to watch them act as they do in nature. Plus it looks pretty cool!

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tsunami said:
Discussion Question #1:
What do you feel is an aesthetic benefit of using white sand over a foreground plant like glossostigma or hairgrass?
- Creates depth in tank
- Creates contrast between "beach" and "forest" (black and white are the best in underlying the border)
- Less maintainance

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Well, In amano's tank with white foregrounds i noticed the plants we would usually use as focal points are higher up, or the driftwood points in an upward direction, the white sand is also a focal point so you go up and down. At least i do. I think he might be trying to make the viewer look throughout the tank more thoroughly. Am i the only person who thinks this? Anyway for one reason or another i really like the white beach but i doubt strongly i could not make it look messy somehow.

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I did not care for it when the Dutch did it.
I really took awhile to come around to this style also.

I just see a black wall or white sand and I want to paint it green.
Even a 2x4 looks good with moss all over it angled out over a low foreground.

I think the style was done more as a practical matter, their ratty looking foregrounds were often ripped up so the heck with it, they just leave it and get tired of messing with a nice foreground plant.

I see white sand patches in the clearing in places like the Ichetucknee river with the plants as contrast with wood and stumps.

I like the look in the river, I like the look in a tank where the look is on purpose and attempted as a style.

Some Dutch commented that plants pressed up against the front of their glass was not aesthetic as a justification. I agreed with that so I sloped my gravel below the tank lip so the plant would not press up against the viewing area. A trim a week or two before the viewing of an inch or two also provided some space.

There were not as many foreground plants available back then either, so folks had a lot of Crypts, swords and more rossette type plants.

I think this style is great for folks that like Fish. I think this makes it a great appeal beyond this planted hobby into the fish only folks that might snear at the fully weed choked approaches they might often see.

I will say the method is natural looking in many respects and presents a lot of options. Many did this separating method to terrace their tanks and seal off their rich substrates in the rear with deeper gravel depth.

I like blue backgrounds when using white sand over black.

I also see Luis goes left also with rocks.
Some art folks saw me do this and an archtiect and said that this is odd.
They ask me to justify etc why I did that and I said because it feels right.

The front of a tank is so important since it's the detail folks see when they first view the tank. A non planted portion still looks good and requires less work on this critical part, so that's appealing rather than having a sos -so neglected foreground with plants.
Some may like that.

1#Brighten, defines space within the design, allows for more space, imagination of fish in this open area, natural in some systems, going deeper beyond the light zone, adds a stair step wall effect since the first layer is non planted and therefore very low.
You can use a number of different colors and shades, grain sizes(even large stones can be used or "scree" shale.

I think using solid stones, much larger than sand, also has a great deal of potential for design, you do not have to stay so small, 3-4" long pieces or blocks etc can work there also.
These can be mossed also if you want.

Colors of the sand (or background) can really affect the mood and the color of fish and the entire tank.

I think from a maintenance prespective, the work is less, it's easier to maintain and defined slope. The plants can be corraled easier with wood or stone barriers with a few plants sneaking around and through.

I'm not sure they are ever inappropriate.

It'd be interesting to try the reverse, have moss stones in the front building up to a sandy shallow section in the back.

Or place the sand in other regions, much like the larger stones are placed.
Riccia or moss stones would work well trying this.
Or emergent tanks etc.

There's a great deal that has yet to be done or tried.
Don't let Amano beat you to it:)
Try things outside the box also.

Tom Barr
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