Decorating with Rocks
Some utilitarian ways to make your aquarium look better 

 
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LA Pic
When we gave this guy his blue ribbon, he said, "What filter?"  Larry Martin's a rock star.

Rocks can help you achieve that “natural look” so many aquarists strive to achieve.  Let’s explore some of the various ways you can decorate with rocks.

LA Pic
This rock terrace also contains caves.

Coordinate Your Rocks.  Select rocks that work well together.  For instance, it’s much harder to tie in a black rock, a white rock, and a pink rock.  Strive to use rocks that have the same family look or resemble each other.

LA Pic
Limestone rocks stacked to create a cichlid condominium with lots of apartments.

Vary Your Rocks.  We want our rocks to resemble each other but still vary in size and hue.  If they look as similar as bricks, they lose a lot of their natural look.  The brick look has its place, but we wouldn’t call it “natural.”

LA Pic
Hard to miss a rock focal point.

Focal Point.  Large rocks make great focal points.  Smaller rocks of the same type leading up to the larger rock help to direct the eye to your focal point.  If you use rocks with a grain or pattern, try to make all the grains run in the same direction.

LA Pic
Rock terrace as focal point.

Softening.  Squish your rock into the gravel, then gently pull it up a ways – as if it were growing up out of the substrate.  Then, position plants around your rock to soften its impact – tall plants in back, short plants in the foreground.  Short plants help you achieve that microcosm look.

Attach Plants.  Many plants will root into or anchor to your rocks if you first lash them to your rocks with monofilament fishing line.  The best candidates:  Java lance fern, Java moss, bolbitis, and riccia (crystalwort).  Plants attach more rapidly to grained or rough surfaced rocks.  However, Java moss will attach to any rock – even glass.  By the way, leave plecostomus-type fishes out of these setups.  They will knock your plants loose – or eat them – before they can anchor to your rocks.

Bubbles.  Bubbles coming up in back of your rock will also frame it.  Bubbles coming from the middle of your rocks add an interesting effect.  You can even make an up-side-down waterfall.  

LA Pic
River shale (real rock?) terrace with creeping Charlie from our backyard.

Terraces.  Rocks make great terraces.  The different levels in your aquarium add to its interest.  One long rock on its side makes a good terrace.  Or several similar rocks can be arranged in a wall to hold back your gravel.

Warrens/Layers.  Baby African cichlids dive into any layers in your rock work – just as rabbits live in brush-covered warrens.  Mixing flat and round rocks creates the most nooks and crannies.  Attach some plants to make your terrace look lived in.

LA Pic
10-gallon tank with coordinated rocks in terrace with built in cave for dwarf cichlids.

Caves.  Put a flat rock atop two rocks and you have an instant cave.  Most catfishes and many cichlids (especially baby cichlids) move into these quarters as soon as they locate them.  A little ingenuity on your part and experimentation can yield some good-looking caves.  You can even build caves into a terrace.  Adding an airstone makes the cave more interesting to us but less interesting to your fish.  You may need several caves depending upon the preferences of your fish population.

Aquarium Backgrounds.  Before you set up your tank, you can build a very individual background.  Lay your tank on its side.  Apply aquarium sealer liberally (on the inside) and attach gravel of the type you prefer.  Adding some varying sized rocks to your background adds to the effect you want to achieve.  The shadows they cast will add interest and “depth” to your tank.  Careful selection of the rocks you add helps them “work with” your other rockwork. Never use malachite green in this tank or you will color your aquarium glue.

LA Pic
Rocks also provide security to several species of fish.

Summary.  Rocks add a natural look to your aquarium.  Rocks help design a show tank that catches even the non-fishkeeper’s eye.  LA.

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