Planted Aquarium Hardscape Essentials Part 3: Wood Used in Aquascaping
This article is the third and final of our series where we have been taking a look at the elements of hardscaping in an aquascape in greater detail. In part 3 we will look at how wood is used in aquascaping. We will look at common types of wood used, ways of using wood in the nature aquarium, the relationship between wood and rocks in an aquascape, how to prepare driftwood for your aquascape, and finally some tips to prevent wood from floating!
When you spend the time choosing a great piece of wood to feature in your aquascape, you want it to look good. You are, however, not just choosing it purely for its aesthetic qualities. Wood is a simple hardscaping item to anchor plants on and looks great with plant life attached to it. Some types of wood will also assist with lowering pH levels in your aquarium water. If you have fish in your aquascape, then it is a great design feature to use the wood to mimic the natural environment that the fish would have been found in in the wild. In their natural environment, fish would have used wood to hide, spawn and breed in.
Once you have decided that you would like to feature wood in your aquascape, you must make sure that the wood you would like to use will be safe for use in your planted aquarium. The last thing you want after spending many weeks planning your aquascape, is to ruin it by adding a piece of wood that is not appropriate into your aquarium. Make sure the piece of wood that you have selected is safe!
Every individual piece of driftwood will have its own unique aesthetic. Many types of driftwood will work well in your aquarium, but some may effect your aquarium’s water chemistry. For a healthy aquarium, select the correct driftwood for your set-up.
Common types of wood used in aquascaping
This dark wood featuring linear shapes is collected in South-East Asia. Although many fish prefer the water tea-coloured and acidic, this type of wood is very rarely used in aquascaping. This Malaysian driftwood darkens and lowers the pH of the aquarium water. The upside of the Malaysian driftwood is the ease at which you can position it in the aquarium as it sinks rather than floating.
Mopani Wood – African Driftwood
The Mopani wood has similar properties to that of the Malaysian driftwood; lowering the pH of the aquarium water being one. Boiling wood before placing it in your aquarium can eliminate the pH lowering effect of the Mopani wood. The Mopani wood looks very different to the Malaysian driftwood. It has gnarled branches with are lighter than the Malaysian, and also has the property of sinking rather than floating. This sinking property makes for a simpler aquascape, as you will not have to consider how to weigh it down.
If you are looking to create a cave in your aquascape, look no further than a coconut husk. If you are creating a nature aquarium to take on the look of the water on and surrounding a tropical island, then using a widely available coconut shell can have a great-looking effect. Coconut husks do not float once placed and have little to no effect on the water chemistry in your aquarium.
For a cheaper alternative to other available types of wood used in aquascaping, there is American driftwood. This type of driftwood has a wide range of appearances and is generally a light colour. One of the issues with the American driftwood though is that it floats. Many shops will sell this driftwood attached to a piece of slate or rock in an attempt to weigh it down.
While this isn’t a type of wood in its own right, occasionally it is worth considering a piece of planted driftwood. ‘Planted driftwood’ simply means a piece of driftwood that is sold with plants already attached to it. The most common plants that will be attached are the more hardy of aquarium plants that will generally thrive under most conditions in the aquarium, including an aquarium with low light. Plants such as Anubias plants, Java ferns, and a range of aquatic mosses are common.
Types of wood to avoid
Generally speaking, if you purchase wood for your aquarium at a pet store it is probably safe; do check though and if unsure, follow the tips below. When you collect wood for yourself, there is really no telling where it came from originally and the route it has taken to where you found it.
4 Tips for choosing wood for your Nature Aquarium
- Make sure it is aquarium safe. Reptile driftwood may look great, but is not always safe.
- Avoid using wood you have found yourself unless you are confident you can make it 100% safe.
- Consider attached plants such as Java moss to your driftwood to help you create that natural look. Use fishing line or cotton to attach the plants to your driftwood, then remove it once the plants have attached.
- Even after careful preparation, driftwood can still release tannins and make the water murky. Using a chemical filter or activated charcoal can help to reduced this and clarify your aquarium water.
The relationship between wood and rocks in an aquascape
This is a stunning example of how to use a feature piece of wood. Look at how the wood has been placed according to the Rule of Thirds and creates the illusion of movement. The use of moss on the driftwood and the angles that the rocks and pebbles have been laid at, really capture the look of a natural environment that the aquascaper was trying to achieve. Choosing this piece of driftwood creates the look of a grand root reaching out into a river. The fish choice really works with this design to enhance the scale and depth of the aquascape.
Preparing wood for your planted aquarium and preventing it from sinking
How your piece of wood will look in your aquascape
As with everything in Aquascaping, a lot of the work is in the planning. Decide where you would like to place your driftwood and consider how the feel of your aquascape will change depending on the orientation and positioning of the driftwood. Take your time to work on different design layouts. Drawing rough sketches to help you visualise how the final piece might look without needing to move hardscaping once you have positioned it.
How to clean Driftwood
Wherever you have sourced your driftwood from, it is good practice to thoroughly clean it before placing into your aquarium. Using a clean brush, scrub the driftwood all over just using water to remove any dirt or dust that may be on it. Do not use any chemical cleaner on your driftwood as the residue may harm your aquarium chemistry, killing plants and fish. The driftwood will now be ready to cure.
Curing Aquarium Driftwood
Some driftwood, such as the Malaysian driftwood and the Mopani wood sinks and will remain underwater. Some driftwood, however, will require some assistance to stay submerged. One of the most effective and simple, but time consuming, ways to achieve this is to soak the driftwood until it has become fully saturated. This is achieved by soaking the entire piece of driftwood in water for as long as possible, 1 to 2 weeks is recommended as a minimum!
This soaking will also help to remove tannins from the driftwood. As mentioned earlier, these tannins, if left in the wood, will cause the water to go murky and give it a dark brown color. The tannins will also lower water pH. When curing the driftwood, you will need to keep and eye on the water and change it when necessary. Every time the water needs changing, change all of the water and rinse the driftwood thoroughly. You will need to repeat this many times over the curing period. You will know that the driftwood is ready for you to use in your aquarium when the water is not ‘tea-stained’ for several days.
Many aquascapers choose to boil their driftwood and this have many benefits. Boiling driftwood is another way of removing the tannins and is much faster than the curing process. The main reason why aquascapers will boil their driftwood however is to sterilize it. The boiling will kill any algae or fungus growing in the cracks and crevices of the wood. You will need to boil the driftwood for around 1 to 2 hours to fully sterilize it.
Once you have planned for where your driftwood is going, chosen your feature piece, and prepared the driftwood, it will be time to place it in your aquarium. Refer to your notes and plans to make sure it is placed exactly where you planned it to go. Add aquarium water gently when refilling after placing a new hardscaping material. This whole process takes time and patience, but will be well worth it when you step back and admire your art.
We hope that you have enjoyed our series about Planted Aquarium Hardscape Essentials.