Advice on How to Fake a High-Tech AquariumWritten by: Bryson (@unso.fish.ticated)
As the title suggests, there is a strategy to achieve the high-tech look on a low-tech tank! Let’s dive right in (pun intended). When it comes to high-tech aquariums, CO2 gear, high lighting, and a strict fertilizer schedule is typically the standard. Although, let’s explore ways to create the high-tech look without all of the expensive gear.
Thoughtfully Design Your Layout
In terms of constructing your hardscape, practice makes perfect. Practice is necessary in order to be able to put together a nice composition that looks well put together. Keep in mind that if a tank is properly scaped, it can look high-tech even if it's low-tech!
Make sure to strategically plan your scapes. Put in the extra time to have the style and layout you want in consideration throughout your entire scaping process. Have an overall vision and let it guide you when choosing your hardscape, substrate, plants, and equipment and take your time with it. I won’t be covering much else concerning hardscape, your first takeaway is to practice different setups and take the time to play around with your hardscape before planting. Most importantly, have a conversation with a fellow aquascaper, look at pictures online, watch videos, and do research on the type of style you would like for your tank. Feel free to DM Buce Plant on Instagram or Facebook for some fresh ideas!
Select Your Setup
The type of tank and surrounding equipment also play a role in achieving the high-tech aesthetic. Rimless aquariums and glass pipes hold the connotation of being high-tech right from the start. I understand that this hobby can be expensive. I recognize that it can be difficult for a beginner to rationalize paying so much for a glass box. Although, if you know that you’re in it for the long haul, I would recommend purchasing a well-made rimless aquarium. A well-made rimless glass tank, such as UNS rimless tanks, will last as long as you maintain it and can be rescaped countless times. Think of it as a long-term investment.
When it comes to growth patterns and colors in your plants, light is the big player. You want your plants to be dense and robust to emanate the high-tech look that would utilize CO2. In order to achieve that, you’ll need a proper lighting fixture. Twinstar and AquaWorx are great brands for both large/small and high tech/low tech aquariums. The ONF Flat Nano is also an affordable and sleek looking option for nano tanks.
Nano Tank with ONF Silver LED Light
Choose Your Plants Wisely
Plants can make or break any aquascape. Your tank may not look as nice if the plants are not thriving or filling in properly. You need to be able to place and maintain your plants strategically.
Along with the right light, you will want to pick the correct aquatic plants. Keep in mind that there are species of plants that will only grow well if you can provide CO2. Research is extremely important when you’re trying to find the right plants. Always always google and read plant product descriptions. Make sure your plants won’t require CO2 injection to thrive. Avoid high maintenance plants in a low tech tank. Some high maintenance plants include Dwarf Baby Tears, Glossostigma, and Eriocaulons to name a few. You may think that low tech plants consist of just Anubias and Java Fern, but most of the aquarium plants commonly available can be grown in low tech environments! Some of my favorites due to their speedy growth are Rotalas, Ludwigias, Pearlweed, Vallisneria, and Echidnodorus.
Carpets can often be hard to achieve in low tech tanks, but it’s not impossible. Just give it time. Some low tech carpeting plants include: Monte Carlo, Dwarf Hairgrass, and Dwarf Sag (keep in mind Dwarf Sag can grow quite tall and can make your tank give off a less high tech vibe). If you don’t want to go through the difficulties of growing a carpet without CO2 injection, then consider a sand foreground which can add a clean look to your tank.
Keep Up With Maintenance
In order to keep your aquarium balanced and healthy, you’ll need to keep up with your water changes. As I keep aquariums for longer and longer, I have come to find that water changes/maintenance are one of the most important parts of balancing an aquarium. Water changes will remove algae spores in the water, excess nutrients, and detritus. They are the key to keeping your water crystal clear and your plants healthy. By doing weekly (or even twice a week) water changes, one allows for their plants to grow without worry of being outcompeted by algae.
Below the most recent photo of my low tech tank, The Green Gorge. As you can see, my primary plant is Pearlweed. This aptly named plant is a fast grower, if I want to maintain its freshest look I would have to trim every 1.5 weeks! However, I’m really lazy so I usually wait a whole month. My Monte Carlo carpet is taking its time too, but it should be a full covering in two more months. I only used some really easy plants for this tank because that was all I had that fit the scale, keep in mind that this is a 5 gallon tank.
When starting your tank, the dry start method (DSM) can give you a huge boost in achieving your desired look. Learn more about the dry start method by clicking here. Any experienced aquascaper will tell you that planting densely from the start helps greatly (and they're right!) The more plants you have in your tank at the beginning, the easier it will be for that tank to balance itself. The plants will be able to outcompete any algae and remove any excess nutrients in the water. I paid the price recently when I set up a tank with a high bioload (fish/shrimp/snails) and sparse planting. No worries though, it isn’t something that frequent water changes and eventual plant growth wouldn’t fix!
A stunning example of a low tech tank that looks high tech is from @shrimpery. His low tech tank is done in his characteristic wild nature style, mixing multiple species of stems in a bush. You can see that even his low tech tank is extremely nice. With a strong light and dense planting, less robust growth from lack of CO2 can be presented in a way that is pleasing to the eye.
It will seem daunting at first but don’t be afraid to try “intermediate difficulty” plants in a low tech environment. It’s all trial and error. Find the plants that work for you! Experiment with different species, and sooner or later you’ll have a mental list of which plants species you can grow no problem. And that’s one of the things that makes fishkeeping so interesting to me. It’s the constant pursuit of knowledge and evolution of an ecosystem.