A beautiful betta fish in all his dazzling, long-finned glory is a sight to behold. But he doesn’t need to be the only feature of your tank.
Aquascape tanks use plants, rocks, and driftwood to create lush, enchanting underwater worlds that observers love getting lost in almost as much as a betta.
Here is how to create your very own exotic aquascape betta tank.
What You’ll Need To Create an Aquascape
A single betta needs a minimum tank capacity of 5 gallons. To give him any less is cruel and will impact his health and well-being.
10-gallon tanks are excellent for lone bettas and allow more room for placing rocks, plants, and driftwood. These beautiful fish require enough space with clean water.
If you want to keep a female sorority of bettas or give your male betta some tankmates, then a 20-gallon will be best.
A Good Filter
Despite what you might have heard, betta tanks do need a filter! It’s essential to keep the water clean and free from ammonia which could otherwise kill your pet fish.
Bettas are from slow-moving or still waters and don’t like fast-moving water, so it’s essential that you find a filter with a low-moderate flow or at least a nozzle so that you can point the water circulation down toward the substrate.
Harder water requires a filter to filter the impurities, including the fish faecal and other aquarium rock.
For more information on finding the perfect filter for your betta tank – check out our comprehensive guide here.
A Good Heater
Heaters are also a must-have for betta tanks. Bettas are from South-East Asia’s warm, tropical waters and prefer temperatures between 78-81 Fahrenheit.
Be sure always to keep a thermometer attached to your tank, too, to make sure your heater is working properly. These fish require warm water (favoured water temperature) to survive.
The type of heater you invest in depends on the gallons of water you intend to heat to acquire an appropriate betta environment for your fish.
Check out our guide on choosing the perfect betta tank heater here.
Bettas are like a tank with subdued lighting that resembles their original habitat. Warm, subdued lighting can also lend your aquascape a magical, mysterious feeling.
On the other hand, most aquatic plants need fairly bright light to thrive, so the best aquascapes must strike a balance between moderate lighting and plants that do well under lower light levels.
The amount of light you need may depend on your choice for budget or the type of fish you own.
The Right Plants
Most aquascapes rely heavily on a vibrant array of plants to give the tank that lush, wild feeling. Aquatic plants that do well under subdued lighting include Microsorum Pteropus (Java fern), Taxiphyllum Barbieri (Java moss), and Cryptocoryne spp. (Crypts).
You might also consider floating plants like Amazon Frogbit to offer an attractive dappled shading effect through the tank.
Some well-chosen pieces of driftwood can be one of the most attractive features of an aquascape. Large pieces can alter the entire tank’s appearance by leaching tannins which cause the water to become a beautiful tea-brown.
These tannins also help lower the water’s pH, and some fishkeepers think tannins also help boost their fish’s immunity!
Smooth Rocks and Stones
Rocks and stones can provide a beautiful, solid contrast to the lush, soft textures of the plants.
Granite, Quartz, Slate, and Glass Rock are all suitable choices, but make sure you choose rocks with smooth, round edges to prevent injury to your betta’s fins.
Limestone, marble, and dolomite are best avoided as they’ll raise the pH of your water, possibly beyond safe limits for your betta.
The Right Substrate
When talking about Bettas substrates, we mean soil, gravel, or sand.
Sand can look attractive but is probably the least suitable of the three for live plants. The compact nature of sand means that roots can struggle to penetrate or receive sufficient oxygen to thrive.
Sand that contains aragonite can also raise your water’s pH beyond safe limits.
Gravel is easy to clean and can provide a solid, aerated anchor for your plants, but it doesn’t have the capacity to hold a lot of nutrients.
If you use gravel for a heavily planted aquascape, you may need to supplement your plants with a fertilizer like root tablets to give them all the nutrients they need.
Aquarium soil is usually made up of an ancient clay called laterite. It is the best choice for densely planted aquascapes since it stores far more nutrients than gravel or sand and will keep your plants flourishing over a long time.
On the flip side, soils are more difficult to clean with the aquarium hoover.
You can combine these three substrates in different tank parts to give you the best aesthetics, practicality, and fertility.
Chlorinated tap water needs to be treated before being added to your tank. Chlorine can kill fish and plants, so be sure not to miss this step!
There’s one ingredient that mustn’t be left out of any betta aquascape, and that’s a betta fish! You’ll probably be thinking of getting a male betta splendens, but remember, there are other species of betta that can also be great fun to keep!
Betta imbelis, Betta falx, and Betta brownorum are some of the most popular examples. Some of these species can even be kept in groups!
Many betta owners like the simplicity of keeping a male betta on his own. But there are a host of possible tankmates out there that could make your aquascape even more dynamic.
Snails and shrimps are ideal pet invertebrate friends for your betta that will also help keep the tank clean.
As for compatible fish, you need to think about species that will neither be vulnerable to attack from your betta nor nip his lovely fins. White Cloud Mountain Minnows, Raspboras, Cory Catfish, and Khuli Loaches are great candidates.
CO2 Injection System
If you want an underwater landscape glowing with healthy plant growth, you might consider investing in a CO2 injection system for your aquarium.
While all aquariums contain small amounts of CO2, it will often not be sufficient for that vibrant, green underwater jungle you’ve seen pictures of. Those kinds of tanks normally use additional carbon dioxide.
A CO2 injection system consists of three main components, a CO2 tank, a regulator to control the flow, and a diffuser to release the bubbles.
How To Create a Gorgeous Betta Aquascape in 14 Steps
Step 1: Design Your Aquascape!
Let yourself have lots of fun, and take your time with this step. You want to create a stunning aquascape that will last at least as long as your fish – and in the case of bettas, that can be over 5 years.
It’ll be harder to change things once it’s set up, so it’s better to get things right from the beginning.
Take a piece of paper, and make various sketches or even paintings of how you’d love your tank to look. Don’t be afraid to dream or place limits on what you’re capable of creating.
Think about the colors, lighting, and textures that will make your heart sing. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Write down the names of the plant species you’d like to include and any tankmates you’d like to keep alongside your betta.
Use my list above to note down the items of equipment and decor you might need, and think about where you’ll find them.
Step 2: Choose the Right Place for Your Tank
Aquascape tanks are all about looking visually stunning. You must find the right place for them to be at their glorious best.
Never place a betta tank anywhere that’ll receive direct sunlight. Bettas don’t like intense light; direct sunlight can produce algae blooms.
Your tank will look much better in a darkened corner, where its warm glow attracts attention. Also, situate the tank where you’ll see it often, so you can keep a close eye on your betta and build a strong bond with him.
Kitchens and living rooms make excellent places for an aquascape tank, but think twice before introducing an aquarium to your bedroom unless you know all your equipment will be silent!
Cheap filters and bubblers can produce a lot of noise, making it difficult to sleep.
Step 3: Choose Your Tank
Now that you’ve chosen the setting use my notes above to establish which tank size you’d like to use. Make sure you’re happy with how it’ll fit into the space you’ve assigned.
Step 4: Test Your Tank for Leaks!
Whenever aquariums are moved around, there’s potential for tiny cracks to form in the glass. These might go undetected until they’re filled with water.
Don’t wait to uncover a leak until you have half of your fabulous aquascape installed! Fill your tank with water and wait for several hours to ensure it’s completely sealed with no water leaking.
You can empty your tank and add your substrate, equipment, and decor.
Step 5: Add Your Substrate
Whether you’ve chosen sand, gravel, or aquarium soil, it’s time to get it into your tank!
Note that gravels and sands need to be thoroughly cleaned before adding them. Fill large bucket three-quarters full with the gravel or sand and use a hose to rinse it. Keep stirring the substrate with your hands and tipping away the cloudy water until it runs clean.
If you intend to have live plants in your aquascape, it’s best to provide them with at least 2 inches of substrate. Remember to add the substrate gently so you don’t damage the bottom of your tank!
Step 6: Add Your Hardscape Decor
Now it’s time to introduce the rocks, stones, and pieces of driftwood into your tank. Move these around in different formations until you’re happy with how they look.
Anchor them gently into the substrate, and make sure they’re secure. You don’t want them falling on your fish!
Step 7: Set Up Your Lighting
Many aquariums will come with lighting already intact, which makes things simple. You just need to add a timer switch, and you’re done!
If you need to set up the lighting yourself, choose the bulbs according to the effect you want to create.
For densely planted betta aquascapes, warm white-pale yellow bulbs give the tank a lovely glow. Make sure you’re happy with the color and intensity of your lighting. It’s one of the most crucial aspects of making an aquascape shine.
Step 8: Fill the Tank Halfway With Water
Before planting, you’ll need to add some water to your tank. If your tap water contains chlorine, it’ll need to be treated with
It’s easier to fill your fish tank halfway, to begin with, so you can easily reach the bottom of the tank without going beyond your elbow! The water will be cloudy, to begin with, but it’s perfectly ok to add plants at this stage.
Step 9: Add Your Plants
This is where things get really exciting. Having researched and chosen your aquatic plants carefully, you can get planting. Place plants that stay short in the foreground of your tank.
Medium-sized plants that are 4-10 inches tall can be placed at the edges of the aquarium, leaving free-swimming space in the center.
Reserve the back of the aquarium for your tallest aquatic plants. Here they will make a stunning visual impact without obscuring the view or cluttering the sense of space in the aquarium.
Step 10: Add the Rest of Your Water and Turn On Your Equipment
Fill up the rest of your tank with treated water and turn on your tank’s filter, heater, and CO2 injection system if you have added one. Now with the tank up to temperature and the water circulating, the water conditions and microbiology of the tank can begin to get established.
Step 11: Let the Tank Cycle Before Introducing Fish
Many beginner aquarists don’t realize that it’s essential to let their new tank settle or ‘cycle’ before fish can be introduced. This is because an aquarium is a living system of millions of bacteria and microbes!
These little critters need time to get established and help facilitate your tank’s nitrogen cycle.
Without getting too technical, the right bacteria and microbes must be present in your substrate and filter to convert harmful ammonia from fish waste and uneaten food into nitrates that your plants will absorb.
If you want to speed up the cycling process, you could add an aquarium bacterial starter to help build a healthy microbial culture more rapidly.
Allow your tank to cycle for at least 10 days, then test your water.
Step 12: Test Your Tank’s Water
Now your tank has had some time to cycle, test your water. Check that ammonia is safe and that your pH and water hardness are within the correct parameters.
Bettas need a water pH of between 6-7 and a hardness of between 5-20 gDH. Also, check your tank’s thermometer to make sure the water is at a stable temperature. Most betta owners keep their thermostat set to 78 Fahrenheit.
Step 13: Add Your First Fish!
If you’re confident that your water conditions are now stable and safe for your betta, you could go ahead and add him. Even so, some aquarium keepers prefer to add super-hardy fish like guppies or corydoras catfish to ensure there won’t be any hidden surprises before adding their most prized pet, betta!
When you’re ready, float your betta in a plastic bag in the new tank with the lights turned off.
Slowly introduce the tank’s water into the bag before releasing your fish.
It’s best to do this in the evening so that your betta will have a full night to recover from being transported. This way, he’ll be better rested to encounter his new surroundings the following day.
Step 14: Lastly, Maintain Your Tank.
Now that you have your aquascape set up and betta swimming-free, you need to ensure everything stays in tip-top condition so that your plants and fish continue to thrive.
Inspect the tank regularly, especially in the first month or two, to ensure your betta looks bright and healthy. His eyes and scales should be shiny, and his fins without holes or tears.
If your betta looks dull or his fins become ragged, test your water to ensure everything runs smoothly.
Your aquatic plants must also be kept in good condition for your aquascape to shine. Brown spots or yellowing of leaves can indicate that your plants are not receiving adequate light or nutrients.
To maintain good water quality, change 10% of the water each week or 25% each month, and remember to clean your filter regularly.
Which Plants Are Toxic to Bettas?
Firstly, it’s important to understand that any plant that is not happy and beginning to decay can be toxic to your betta fish. Rotting leaves produce ammonia, which in large quantities can kill your fish.
There are also some plant species that are inherently toxic to bettas. Peace Lilies, Devil’ Ivy, Hygrophila balsamica, and Philodendron are all toxic to bettas and should be avoided.
Do Bettas Eat Plant Roots?
Betta splendens, the Siamese Fighting Fish, is primarily a carnivore. Although they may occasionally nibble on plant leaves or algae, they like to get most of their nutrition from high-protein foods, like bloodworms, daphnia, or brine shrimp.
If you see your betta rooting around in the gravel, he’s unlikely to be searching for plant roots! Chances are he’s looking for a place to hide or is distressed. Check your fish for parasites and try providing more hiding places for him.
How Can I Hide My Aquarium Equipment?
Tall plants are excellent for disguising your tank’s filter, heater, and air tubes. This a great tip for keeping things looking natural!
Can I Use Marbles or Pebbles as a Substrate for My Betta Tank?
Marbles and big pebbles should always be avoided since it’s too easy for uneaten food to sink between the gaps and cause serious water contamination.
You can find out more about choosing the ideal substrate for your bettas on our dedicated page here.