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Beginners Guide to Hardscaping Your Aquarium with Rocks.

Beginners Guide to Hardscaping Your Aquarium with Rocks.

Posted by Artur M. Wlazlo on 31 Oct 2023

What is hardscaping? It basically is what hobbyists call decorations or decorative materials in the aquarium. Hardscaping is important for at least two reasons. First, it has a visual impact on the aquarium and provides a canvas for aquascaping. And, secondly, it provides a home, territories, and places to hide to your fish and other inhabitants of your aquarium.

Hardscaping can be minimalist with very few pieces interspaced throughout the aquarium. At the other end of the spectrum are aquariums where a hardscape is its essential and focal feature filling most of the space in the aquarium. Your personal aesthetic will mostly drive your decision on how heavily to hardscape your aquarium.

Holy Lace Rock

Sometimes, however, the choice of your fish will influence that decision as well. For example, African Cichlids prefer rocky hardscapes with multiple rocks stacked on top of other rocks, breaking lines of sight, creating multiple territories, and hiding caves, allowing you to manage and disperse their aggression.

In any event, there is no one “right” way to hardscape your aquarium but we can provide some general advice that served us well when creating hardscape for our aquariums.

How to Choose Rocks for Your Aquarium

There are many different types of rocks available at Modern Aquarium. Rocks sold in our online store are aquarium and fish-safe. They have different features such as colors, shapes, and sizes. For example, Ohko Dragon Rock and Holy Lace Rock are “light” and have intricate and jagged edges while Red Pagoda Rock and Rose Quartz are solid and bold. Petrified Rock exhibits golden to brown colors and hues while Seiryu Stone shows off its white veins on a mostly dark blue/gray background. You can browse our large selection of aquarium rocks here. And, here are some tips to help you choose your rock:

  1. Generally, you should not mix different types of rocks in the aquarium. Using one type of rock in the aquascape will make it look more natural and will be more impactful.
  2. Take time to review our selection of rocks. Choose those rocks that you find most interesting. Pay attention to their colors, shapes, and textures, and think about how you will use them in your aquarium.
  3. Make sure you buy enough. Most beginners make a mistake and do not buy enough rocks for their hardscape. And, if you have never hardscaped before, it is very easy to underestimate what you need. You will most likely need several rocks of different sizes and shapes to create a beautiful hardscape. In fact, if you can, you should buy more than what you think you need. This will provide you with more options or choices while hardscaping.
  4. Consider different textures and colors. Smooth rocks or pebbles will work well in aquariums looking to re-create fast-flowing rivers. Dense/heavier rocks are more suitable for stacking. Think about whether other hardscape items like driftwood will be utilized in your aquarium and whether you want them to blend with or provide contrast against the rocks you choose. 

Placing Rocks in Your Aquarium

It is almost never a good idea to start hardscaping with an aquarium full of water. We recommend practicing placing your rocks in an empty aquarium. Try different layouts and do not be afraid to experiment. Take your time and enjoy it. This should be a fun exercise. Ask your family members for their opinions and advice. Here are some tips from us:

  1. Consider the rule of thirds. This is a composition guideline that places your subject/focal point in the left or right third of the hardscape, leaving the rest or two-thirds of the area less developed and more open.
  2. Generally, larger rocks should be placed in the back areas of the aquarium.
  3. Rocks often look better, and more natural, when placed in groups of three, five, etc.
  4. Rocks should have their base partially buried in the substrate as it makes them appear more natural.
  5. But, first and foremost, always remember that their placement is pleasing to you. It is, after all, your aquarium!

Hardscaping your aquarium is an important part of the aquarium setup process. Your hardscape will define much of your aquarium’s feel and aesthetic. It should not be rushed. Make sure to explore our rich selection of aquascaping rock. Happy scaping