12 Aquascaping Ideas For Every Skill Level – Beginner To Pro!

The aquascaping hobby is more popular than ever, yet the common challenges of finding inspiration and overcoming procrastination persist.

To help address this, I’ve compiled this blog post featuring a variety of top aquascaping designs that cater to enthusiasts of all skill levels.

Whether you’re a beginner or an expert, you’ll find something here to inspire your next aquascaping project.

All these designs are from the Horizon Aquatics display gallery, my local aquascaping shop.

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A Beginner-Friendly Red Aquascape

A Beginner-Friendly Red Aquascapeing Idea
A Beginner-Friendly Red Aquascapeing Idea

First up, we have a beginner-friendly red plant aquascape that looks stunning.

The team at Horizon Aquatics designed this setup to demonstrate that you don’t need an expensive CO2 injection kit to achieve impressive results with red plants. With the tank on display for years, they’ve definitely proven their point.

Using a red-hued plant like Ludwigia mini super red can help you replicate this beautiful design in your own tank.

This type of aquascape is more affordable than you might think, as it’s in a small tank of about 30 liters (8 US gallons) and doesn’t require CO2.

The hardscape is simple, utilizing large river pebbles and a bit of driftwood to bring the design together.

This particular setup features a white cloud mountain minnow variant as the fish of choice due to their contrasting color, but many other popular fish species would also thrive in this type of aquascape.

An Island Competition Aquascape

An Island Compesition Aquascape
An Island Compesition Aquascape

Island compositions with a lush carpet remain a staple in the aquascaping hobby, and this tank exemplifies what can be achieved with the right skills and budget.

This design incorporates CO2 injection to support healthy carpeting and robust plant growth, as carpeting plants can struggle without it.

CO2 kits are now more affordable and user-friendly, making this type of aquascape accessible even to beginners. However, due to the investment of time and money, I recommend this style for intermediate and advanced aquascapers to maximize the chances of success.

Island aquascapes are versatile, allowing a mix of various plants to create a rich tapestry of colors and leaf shapes.

James and Nichole, co-owners of Horizon Aquatics, used the following plants for this composition:

  • Monte Carlo
  • Hydrocotyle Verticillata
  • Staurogyne Repens
  • Blyxa Japonica
  • Rotala Wallichii
  • Rotala Green
  • Rotala Orange Juice
  • Rotala Macrandra
  • Limnophila Hippuroides
  • Anubias Petite
  • Anubias Mini Coin
  • Bucephalandra Red

To keep hardscape costs down, you can use lava rock and bogwood. Most popular aquascaping fish suit island compositions well, but my personal favorites are cardinal tetras and rummy nose tetras.

An Epiphyte Only Jungle Aquascape

An Epiphyte Only Jungle Aquascape
An Epiphyte Only Jungle Aquascape

I love jungle-style aquascapes, and with epiphyte plants being ideal for beginners, this type of scape can be surprisingly beginner-friendly.

The dark green aesthetic is a personal favorite, and it’s a style I plan to try in the future!

Key plants for this type of aquascape include:

  • Java Moss
  • Java Fern
  • Bucephalandra
  • Bolbitis Heudelotii
  • Anubias

Corbo catfish wood is an excellent choice for your hardscape, offering plenty of character and numerous anchor points for your epiphyte plants.

However, if you’re looking to keep costs low, you can get creative and use cheaper rocks and other types of driftwood.

This type of aquascape pairs well with a wide variety of popular fish such as tetras, rasboras, and corydoras.

A Hardscape Heavy Aquascape

A Hardscape Heavy Aquascape
A Hardscape Heavy Aquascape

Hardscape-heavy aquascapes are gaining popularity in the hobby, and this scape by James, Co-Owner of Horizon Aquatics, shows why.

If you have the budget for the hardscape, this aquascaping style can be both stunning and unique. It can also be adapted to suit any skill level, making it an excellent way to track your progress over the years.

James used a combination of extra-large bogwood, structure wood, dragon wood, and Hakkai stone in this particular scape. However, sticking with bogwood and structure wood can help keep costs down.

The bulk of the plants are intentionally kept to the rear, with small amounts of detailing plants brought to the foreground. Plants used in this design include:

  • Cryptocoryne Nurii
  • Limnophila Hippuroides
  • Bucephalandra
  • Bolbitis Heteroclita Difformis
  • Various types of Rotala
  • Various types of Anubias

There are many plant setups that can work well with this type of aquascape, allowing you to adjust plant difficulty to match your lighting and CO2 setup.

Like most other aquascaping designs featured in this article, a wide range of popular fish, shrimp, and snails will thrive in this type of aquascape, giving you plenty of options for your livestock.

An Aquascape With CO2 Injection

An Aquascape With CO2 Injection
An Aquascape With CO2 Injection

Next up, we have a stunning aquascape created by Charlotte (@Plenty Of Bettas) from Horizon Aquatics.

This style of aquascape is often seen as the gold standard for those new to the hobby and offers a captivating mix of colors, textures, and leaf shapes that draw in viewers.

While this design might be challenging for beginners, it uses CO2 to promote healthy carpeting and plant growth, which can increase costs.

Charlotte used the following plants in this aquascape:

  • Elatine Hydropiper
  • Ludwigia Mini Super Red
  • Blyxa Japonica
  • Gratiola Viscuda
  • Rotala Bonsai
  • Rotala Nanjenshan
  • Bucephalandra Needle Leaf
  • Bucephalandra Serimbu Brown

The various colors in the scape complement each other beautifully, and most nano fish will thrive in this type of design.

A Java Fern Heavy Aquascape

A Java Fern Heavy Aquascape
A Java Fern Heavy Aquascape

I love the combination of Java fern and moss in an aquascape, and Rachel (@Re_scapes) has done a fantastic job incorporating both in this design.

While she used a variety of plants, the Java fern and moss stand out, possibly because they are two of my favorites.

You can achieve similar results by using more affordable rocks and driftwood, keeping costs low without sacrificing aesthetics.

Although this design utilizes CO2 injection, opting for low-light, low-CO2 plants can still yield impressive results without the extra expense.

Neon tetras are the primary fish in this aquascape, with their vibrant blue and red colors contrasting beautifully with the greenery and hardscape.

The tank also features honey gourami, whose striking yellow hues complement the overall design.

As shown in the video below, the mix of plants and fish creates a visually stunning and harmonious aquatic environment.

A Nature Style Aquascape

A Biotope Style Aquascape
A Nature Style Aquascape

This nature-style aquascape by Ady (@ady_myers_aqua) perfectly demonstrates the impact of a natural theme in the hands of an experienced aquascaper. With a triangular composition and a “fallen branch” theme, this scape instantly evokes biotope vibes.

Ady utilized manzanita wood, Frodo stone, and various detailing gravels to enhance the aquascape’s detail, though this does increase the cost for those looking to replicate his style.

Fortunately, there are more affordable alternatives like seiryu stone and smaller bogwood to help keep costs down.

A variety of popular plants have been used in the aquascape, including anubias, bucephalandra, and mosses, all of which are easy to grow without CO2. This means you can mimic this type of aquascape without CO2 injection and still achieve excellent results, saving on the added expense of a CO2 kit.

The bright red of the chili rasboras stands out beautifully against the deep greens in this tank, catching the eye.

However, neon tetras or cardinal tetras are great alternatives for those seeking that red pop, as it can be challenging to achieve the deep red color in chili rasboras, which often retain an orange tint.

An Iwagumi Style Aquascape

An Iwagumi Style Aquascape
An Iwagumi Style Aquascape

This Iwagumi aquascape by Tommy from the Green Aqua team highlights the Iwagumi style, which emphasizes rock placement over plants.

Budget requirements can vary significantly depending on the size, number, and type of rocks used, with some Iwagumi aquascapes becoming prohibitively expensive for many.

To keep costs down, consider using Seriyu Stone or Millennium Stone. Opt for two or three large pieces for your aquascape and supplement with smaller rocks for detailing.

A thriving carpet is essential for Iwagumi aquascapes, so CO2 injection is often recommended to achieve the best results. With the focus on rocks and carpeting plants, there’s no need for driftwood or other types of plants, simplifying the selection process.

Most tetras, rasboras, and danios are well-suited to Iwagumi aquascapes, but other fish can also thrive in these environments.

An Epiphyte Heavy Aquascape

An Epiphyte Heavy Aquascape
An Epiphyte Heavy Aquascape

As mentioned earlier, epiphyte plants are a fantastic, beginner-friendly option for those new to aquascaping, and this setup utilizes them extensively on and around the hardscape.

While there are some background stem plants and carpeting plants, the primary focus is on the various java ferns positioned towards the right.

Recreating a similar aquascape without CO2 injection is relatively easy, making it an excellent choice for a first aquascape. The numerous hiding spots ensure that most nano fish will thrive in this environment. Additionally, this type of aquascape can be very budget-friendly.

Use bogwood for your wood selection and try to acquire aged java ferns that can be divided into smaller clumps to anchor onto the wood.

Great supplementary epiphyte plants for this aquascape include:

  • Anubias
  • Bucephalandra
  • Bolbitis Heudelotii

Most fish species will thrive in this type of aquascape, and the abundant grazing areas make it ideal for shrimp and snails as well.

A Pathway Style Aquascape

A Pathway Style Aquascape
A Pathway Style Aquascape

Pathway-style aquascapes have become increasingly popular in the hobby, and there are various ways to create them.

This design typically features two main bushes of plants with a narrow pathway between them.

To enhance depth, place hardscape elements like rocks or driftwood behind the plant bushes.

Smaller pieces of driftwood and rocks can be positioned at the front to maximize the aquascape’s perceived scale.

Popular stem plants can be used in the background to add color and texture. Depending on your plant choices, maintenance might be higher than expected, as regular trimming is required to keep the pathway clear.

While CO2 injection isn’t essential, it can significantly help achieve the bushy appearance of the plants flanking the pathway.

A Colorful Aquascape

A Colorful Aquascape
A Colorful Aquascape

This aquascape is ideal for someone setting up their first nano tank with a CO2 injection kit.

It offers vibrant colors, diverse textures, and a variety of leaf shapes to keep things visually interesting.

The use of CO2 helps you achieve a lush carpet with your chosen carpeting plant and supports the thriving growth of red plants.

While this setup may be a bit more expensive than non-CO2 aquascapes, it is perfect for someone diving into aquascaping rather than general fish keeping.

The minimal hardscape keeps costs low for non-tank related items.

With a good lighting unit, you can add a wide variety of popular aquarium plants, giving you plenty of options.

Due to its size, a single betta fish would work well, but you could also keep a small school of tetras, rasboras, or danios.

A Paludarium Style Scape

A Paludarium Style Scape
A Paludarium Style Scape

Paludariums, which incorporate both terrestrial and aquatic elements, aren’t pure aquascapes. However, one of the first things you’ll notice at Horizon Aquatics is their stunning paludarium display.

Initially, I was hesitant to include it in this article, but then I remembered that a good friend of mine uses her paludarium as the main breeding colony for her cherry shrimp.

There are countless YouTube videos showcasing larger paludariums where the aquatic section is 10, 20, or even 30 gallons, housing various fish.

In my opinion, paludariums are not beginner-friendly. Most newcomers to the hobby will benefit from starting with a pure aquascaping project to build up experience.