Are you looking to create an awesome place for your fish to live? Read on to learn the top tips for decorating an aquarium.

If you’ve ever watched the show Tanked on Animal Planet, then you understand that the sky’s the limit when it comes to decorating an aquarium. That said, how you set up your tank has a massive impact on the health of your fish. You need to weigh esthetic concepts against the best materials and set-up for your aquarium inhabitants. Many people run into trouble when they start decorating their tank, either by including the wrong materials or overdecorating the tank. The result? An aquarium that’s not safe for their fish. Or, one that looks crowded and kitschy. Fortunately, you can avoid these potential issues (and others) by keeping the following five tips in mind.

1. Start from the Bottom Up

When it comes to aquarium decorations, work from the bottom up. The substrate that you choose will prove essential to the health of your fish and the look of your tank. So, you have to understand your options, what your fish require, and how the substrate fits into the overall theme of your tank. For example, if your tank will contain an eel or knife fish, then choose aquarium sand as your substrate. Why? These fish hang out at the bottom of the tank and could rub their bellies raw on gravel. A freshwater ray also needs sand and a thick layer of it. They burrow down into it to feel safe and protected. For other fish, stones and aquarium gravel prove popular choices and are easier to work with during gravel washes. (Sand gets easily sucked up and needs constant replacing.) Avoid glass pebbles. Over time, they break down into sharp pieces that can harm your fish.

2. Add the Right Rocks

After you’ve placed your substrate, it’s time to start decorating with rocks. These can add natural, artistic, or even whimsical touches depending on what you choose. Depending on the size of your aquarium and the type of water used, you’ve got a vast array of options when it comes to decorating your tank with rocks. For example, if you’re going for a mermaid or underwater theme, consider installing clam rocks. If you want to give your tank a sense of depth, opt for rock ledges. Custom carved rock scapes add an artistic, one-of-a-kind touch.  When it comes to adding natural elements to your tank, you’ve got many gorgeous rock options to choose from.On occasion, people want to use stones they’ve collected from nature in their tanks. But a word of caution about this. You’ll need to clean these rocks thoroughly before installation. You should also check their pH by soaking them in water for a few days and then testing the water quality. If it proves the wrong pH for your fish, then forego using these rocks.

3. Go Green

Live aquarium plants can prove somewhat tricky to work with, but they come with numerous benefits. They add a natural look to your tank and green it up. They also pull nitrogen and carbon dioxide from the water replacing it with precious oxygen. Live plants add texture and dimension to a tank, but watch out for placement or else they could obstruct your views of the fish.When choosing live plants, make sure you get the right ones for the type of water your aquarium holds. For example, saltwater tanks can use algae and coral that would perish in freshwater tanks. Stay on top of tank maintenance and watch out for signs that plants are dying as this can upset the water quality and harm your fish. Consider supplementing your live plants with plastic ones in order to get the most texture and depth. Plastic plants have come a long way over the years and look very lifelike. Try placing mid-height ones in the center of your tank as well as clumping some around rocks. You can also place them strategically to hide your filtration system. Just remember to buy plastic plants specifically approved for aquariums.

4. Other Natural Touches

Depending on the type of water that you use and the look you’re going for, you might wish to add some additional “natural touches.” For a nod to sand and surf, find or purchase a beautiful piece of driftwood. Readily available along rivers, beaches, and lakes, make sure nothing’s living inside it before you bring it home. As with self-collected rocks, you’ll need to scrub and boil it to remove bacteria. Or, purchase a piece from an aquarium store. Shells represent another option that can give your tank a fun ocean feel. When it comes to prepping them for a tank, you’ll want to follow the same cleaning rules recommended for naturally-occurring rocks and driftwood. You’ll also want to limit shells to saltwater tanks. Why? Shells can put off too much calcium for freshwater systems, and they can alter the pH of the water.

5. Adding Novelty Items

Finally, novelty items provide fun touches of whimsy to your tank. For example, if you’re going with a mermaid theme, you can actually include a little mermaid figure coming out of a clam rock.  Or, you might want to include a mini-diver or a treasure chest depending on your aquarium’s unique story. That said, use these additions sparingly or else your tank will look cluttered and kitschy. Besides novelty items, a glass jar or bottle can provide a great touch that hints at beach glass or a message in a bottle. Just make sure you follow the same cleaning tips for these items as you would for rocks and driftwood.

Your Ideal Aquarium

Decorating your aquarium comes with lots of choices, so follow the five tips above to create the best new home for your fish. Think bottom up as you fill your tank, opting for the ideal substrate for your fish of choice. Choose the right rocks to give your tank natural appeal and provide your fish with places to congregate and hide. Add texture and green by opting for live and plastic plants. Consider natural additions such as driftwood or shells. Finally, add a novelty item that tells a story and makes people do a double take. Just avoid overfilling or cluttering your tank. Contact us today for more tips on how to bring your aquarium to life.