Creating a stunning underwater world in your home with the correct substrate and decor is no easy task, and requires a fine balance of the two P’s:
Practicality and Prettiness.
You must first ensure that the equipment you use is suitable for the type of aquarium and aquatic life you wish to keep, and then you can focus on how to make it look good.
Let’s start with the substrate:
What is substrate?
Aquarium substrate is the material that covers the bottom of your tank and is usually made up of gravel or sand. Substrate assists the nitrogen cycle of the tank by providing a place for beneficial bacteria to grow, as well as providing a base for aquarium plants to take root in and draw nutrients from. Substrate also helps replicate a more natural environment for your aquarium fish to live in.
Types of substrate
There are three main types of common aquarium substrate used by most fish owners:
Gravel – This is the most commonly used form of substrate and is very easy to get hold of. Aquarium gravel comes in both fine and coarse varieties and a huge range of colours, providing lots of choice.
Aquarium gravel is completely safe to use as it will not alter the water quality in any way. You should use aquarium gravel for fish-only aquariums and as a top layer of substrate for planted aquariums, but make sure you regularly vacuum your gravel to remove food particles, as these like to slip between the gravel particles and start to rot.
Rocks and pebbles – Larger river rock or beach pebbles are sometimes used by themselves or combined with finer gravel to create a more natural setting for the fish. These can be made from glass, ceramic or are sometimes real rocks taken from river beds and beaches. Rocks and pebbles are perfectly safe to use as a substrate, but make sure you rinse them before adding to the tank. However, rocks and pebbles are not a suitable substrate on their own if you wish to create a planted tank. Combine them with fine gravel or sand in this case.
Sand – Sand is the most natural looking substrate, particularly for marine aquariums, and is particularly enjoyed by fish and bottom-dwelling creatures that like to burrow and forage. Sand is also one of the cleanest forms of substrate, as it compacts and doesn’t allow food particles to penetrate its surface.
Other substrate materials include coral sand, which acts as a buffer, increasing the pH and hardness of the water. Laterite and vermiculite substrates are also available, which are able to store and release important nutrients needed by aquarium plant life. These are often used as a bottom layer of substrate, and covered with a top layer of gravel.
Decorating your tank
Once you’ve chosen the most suitable type of substrate for the kind of aquarium you are going to keep, you can start having fun with the decor and theme.
Here are a few themes and suggested decor items to help get you started with some ideas:
Creating a calming, peaceful zen aquarium couldn’t be easier. Start off with a simple gravel substrate – ivory or black coloured gravel are great for this theme – and begin adding your decor. To add more variety to your gravel bed, try adding shiny Feng Shui style marble pebbles, which come in different colours to represent different energies.
You can also add zen-style ornaments and art to create feature focal points, like this Zen Wall Ornament from Fluval, which includes plant holders which you can place real or artificial plants inside.
And for one last finishing touch, you can add these ceramic bamboo tubes, which add to the zen effect and give your fish somewhere to explore and hide if they wish.
If you’re the adventurous type, why not create a mysterious underwater exploration zone with a classic shipwreck theme for your aquarium? It’s incredibly easy, all you need to start with is a sand substrate and some jagged rocks (make sure you rinse them first) to replicate the natural seabed.
Then start adding your features. These moss-covered pebbles are great for adding a realistic pop of green plant colour, while maintaining the dark and mysterious theme. Then, of course, you need your shipwrecks. There are lots of shipwreck ornaments available, and it’s up to you how many you put in. Try this two-piece frigate that looks eerily abandoned and provides lots of exploration and hiding opportunities for your fish. Or you could try this more traditional pirate-style shipwreck ornament, which also has gaps for your fish to swim through and adds lots of character to your aquarium.
Starting off with a fine sand substrate, you can create a stunning, colourful coral reef wonderland in minutes with just a few simple decor additions. You can use ornaments and sculptures like this coral shell ornament and this pink reef sculpture to replicate the natural coral landscape of the great reefs.
Then start introducing some artificial plant life to add maintenance-free colour to your aquarium. Vibrant artificial sea fans come in lots of different colours and brighten up your tank instantly, or you can choose coral-themed decor sets which are a super quick and easy way to bring your new aquarium to life.