How to Create the Perfect Aquascape for a Betta Fish Tank

dumbo betta triton

Through aquascaping, you can make your Betta’s aquarium a wonderful, natural-looking place full of enrichment.

Aquascapes can be natural or artificial, asymmetrical or symmetrical, with any number of variations in between. They are generally designed so that all visible surfaces reflect the aquarist’s taste and skill level.

Aquascaping is the skill of arranging aquariums or ponds with hardscapes like rocks, woods, stones, and plants.

There are many different materials that one can use for aquascaping an aquarium, such as silk plant leaves, driftwood, stones etc. When beginning your design, the first thing to do is deciding on what kind of look you want for your aquascape: naturalistic? Modern? Abstract?

There are lots of factors that you need to consider when working on an aquascape. In this article, experts share their knowledge and experiences of setting up a planted Betta tank. Read on to find out how to create gorgeous betta tanks with special tips guaranteed to keep your fish happy and healthy.

What are axolotls?
What are axolotls?

How to Create a Natural Aquascape for Betta Fish 

One of the most popular aquascapes for a betta tank is a naturalistic one. Often, this entails replicating an underwater landscape as closely as possible with live plants and rocks.

Betta tank selection & size

Small volume tanks will pollute within a short period by fish faecal matters. Further, deteriorated water creates ammonia, nitrite and nitrates compounds that badly affect the fish. Many people are getting success in keeping a betta in a 5+ gallon tank. You will need to add an aquarium heater and a filter with a slow water flow to the tank.

Tank Substrate selection

Usage of gravels as a substrate is the best. Regular size aquarium gravels are the best fit for this. If you use gravel, tanks can be clean easily. When uneaten foods and waste are deposited in the tank, they may deteriorate and pollute tank water. If you use large pebbles and marbles as substrates, there is a high tendency for polluting water, because waste particles will accumulate on them. Before you add the gravels to the aquarium, clean them with bottled or rainwater to remove foreign materials.

Plant selection

Floating and submerged plants are used for aquascaping. Floating plants like Salvinia, Lily varieties, mosses and submerged plants like swamp weed are commonly utilised for aquascaping purposes. Plant selection is varied with the size and the design of the aquarium. Plants provide shade for the fish and comfort them.

The root hairs of the floating plants provide a good structure for the fish to construct their bubble nest when breeding. Choose your lily variety based on the size of your tank. 

Various Cryptocoryne species can be used to design the foreground or midground of the tanks. These aquatic plants are generally doing well in low light conditions. Swamp weed species are a good selection as background plants. They grow quickly and help to remove nitrate from the water. Mosses can create a nice effect in the aquarium and are great for planted aquariums.

Toxic Plants – Do not put these in your betta tank 

Following plants are toxic for betta fish:

  • Hygrophila balsamica.
  • Lily of the Valley
  • Water Hemlock
  • Peace Lily
  • Water Lettuce
  • Swamp Lily

Light selection

Lighting is essential for maintaining a healthy ecosystem in the Betta fish tank. Lightning is also essential for plant growth. The lighting must reflect around 6,500 Kelvin. There are different types of lighting setups especially suitable for the planted aquariums. Such lightings are T5 fluorescent bulbs, LEDs and Metal halides.

Ornament selection

The best combinations to decorate Betta fish tanks depend on “what Bettas like” and “what we like”. Artificial plants are made up of plastic or silk, and these fake decorative items are going out of fashion. Moreover, the sharp edges of those ornaments can damage the fish. Thus, people move for natural ornaments.

Live plants like Java mosses and Anubias are ideal for gaining a wild outlook. Driftwood also can be used as ornaments and to anchor plants. Marimo moss balls are decorative items that also help to keep the tank clean.

Good rocks and rock formations are another great natural formation to fish tanks. Artificial decorations like Skulls, Castles, Pineapple houses, Shipwrecks are available to use as ornaments to fish tanks.

Required water conditions for aquascape

Bettas live in slightly acidic ( pH 6.5 to 7) and warm water. The favoured water temperature for a betta fish is 76F -82F. Coldwater can weaken the immune system and cause illness. The water should be free from Nitrates, Nitrites, and Ammonia.

If your tap water has a high chlorine level, a few drops of dechlorinator should add to the tap water before adding it to the tank. Do not use soap or disinfectants to clean off fish ornaments or decorations. Disinfectants can harm your Betta fish. 

Setting Up Your Aquascape, Step by Step

Planning the Layout

Before starting aquascaping, plan the design, tank size, equipment, ornaments, variety of aquatic plants, and identify the place you will keep your aquarium. The site should not be exposed to direct sunlight, because the sunlight will increase the water temperature, promote algae growth, and harm your betta fish.

The layout of the aquascaping is dependent on your preference. Some people like to arrange desert-like structures, and some are creating mountains. According to your taste you can design your layout. Hence, before starting aquascaping, you should consider your the tank layout.  

Choosing and Adding Substrate to the tank

The soil or sand can be used as the substrate. Add soil or sand into the layout that you have designed. Soil as the substrate is a good selection for a beginners’ aquarium especially if you want to grow live plants.

Soil has a high nutrient content and it will maintain a neutral or slightly acidic pH to promote healthy plant growth. Before adding sand or soil into the aquarium, place a lava granulate base. This will act as a stable supporter for large stones, provide gaps to loosen the soil and support nutrient and water circulation.

Put sand or soil around 2 inches of depth and if you want to grow some aquatic plants. Then push some root tabs into the sand. These will provide nutrition to the plants. Now take steps to add an aquarium heater and a filter to the tank.


The next step is to add rocks and woods to the tank bottom. Use different sizes of the rocks that should not react with the tank water. Tie mosses and ferns to the rocks. You can use natural stones that have different colours.

Planting the Aquarium

As the last step add aquatic plants and fill up the tank with water. Plants should be placed on the substrate using a tweezer and should be immersed an inch into the soil to avoid them from floating.

Plant the taller plants at the backside and the smaller plants at the front side of the aquarium. Try to add plants around the hardscape to soften the edges, resulting in a very natural-looking aquascape.

When you add smaller plants add some water with them. This will stop them withering whilst you work on the rest of the tank. Then add the large plants. The water will help long stems to stand in water. 

aquascaping 2
Create an illusion of depth with clever sand and gravel mix

Adding Water

The water should be added gently and carefully in a way not to displace the substrate.

Select a small bowl to this and gently pour water into the tank. A siphon also can be used to fill the aquarium. 

Aquarium Cycling – The Nitrogen Cycle

First, add a few small fish like guppies to check the setup of the aquarium. Feed the fish lightly at first and gradually increase the feeding amounts. Speed up the aquarium cycling process by introducing beneficial bacteria into the tank. Then remove that small fish. It can take up to 8 weeks for a tank to cycle properly. Check the water quality with a testing kit.

Adding Your Betta Fish

Before adding betta fish allow them to acclimatise to the water conditions. Open the bag they came in and fold down the top. Float the bag with your betta fish in, in the aquarium for 20- 30 minutes to allow the temperature to equalise. Keep the lights off.

aquascaping 3

How to Maintain your Betta Fish Aquascape

 After setting up the tank, spend a couple of minutes cleaning and maintaining it. The most important thing is to change the water regularly and clean the gravel. This can be done using a siphon.

Syphon the tank until you remove about one-third of the water from the tank. Then replace it with clean, freshwater. For small tanks, make sure to add water that is at room temperature. In a set up that does not have a filtering system, the water should completely change once a week.

In the tank with a filtration system, change about 20-30% of water weekly. This will help fish to adjust gradually to the preferred temperature and pH of clean water. Make sure not to disturb the biological balance of the fish’s environment. 

Use a simple siphon to remove debris from the bottom of the tank. This will help to prevent the formation of excessive ammonia and bacteria.

Do not wait until the water changes to a visibly murky nature. Do not remove the fish with a net. Scoop the fish with a small cup or bowl when you perform the weekly maintenance. 

Test the tap water before using it in the tank. If the water has chemicals like chlorine, it may harm the fish. If the water has a high level of chlorine, add a few drops of dechlorinator to the tap water before adding it to the tank. 

Do not use soap or disinfectants to clean the fish ornaments or decorations. This will harm the fish. Plain warm water is good for cleaning the items.

Remove the algae in the fish tank using Algae scrubbers or clean them by hand.

An established aquascape betta fish
An established aquascape

Do I Need a Filter for a Betta Fish Aquascape?

Betta fish can live without a water filter. Because they can take atmospheric oxygen from the outer environment. But having a filter will help to maintain healthy water conditions for the fish.

A sponge filter is ideal for this. If the water is not changed regularly, or the Betta is living in a small bowl or vase, then bacteria and fungus will kill the fish. The most suitable environment for a betta fish is a planted tank of over 10 gallons with a filter and a heater.

Do not use a filter with a high flow rate. It will destroy the designs of your aquascaping.

Betta Aquascaping FAQS

Can I use floating plants for betta fish?

Floating plants create a great cover and can encourage Betta to build bubble nests. But most floating plants like Water Sprite can coat the surface, soaking up all available light and hindering plants growing under the water.

Do Betta fish like to hide in plants?

Bettas love to hide in the plants. They sometimes even rest on the leaves. But, if live plants seem too difficult to maintain for you, then use artificial plants for aquascaping.

Do Betta Fish Mind Fake Plants in their Tank?

Betta much prefers live plants rather than fake or artificial plants. But usually at first you can start aquascaping by introducing fake plants for the Betta fish. This makes their tank more visually attractive. It is important to choose silk and plastic plants that are soft and not have sharp edges. Because Betta fish have fragile fins and it is easy to tear them with sharp edges of fake plants.

Do Betta Fish Prefer Live Plants in Their Tank?

When they are in the wild, Bettas take protection from plants and build a bubble nest around them when it’s time for reproduction. Live plants will make Betta feel at home. Bettas also like to rest, sometimes on an ornament or the aquarium floor, but often they perch on a plant leaf.

In summary

You should consider these facts before creating your betta fish tank aquascape. The size of the tank, the type of substrates, plants and ornaments used are critical factors for the aquascaping of betta fish.It is vital to select suitable plants for aquascaping.

Not only that the water quality conditions such as water temperature, pH, nitrate, and ammonia concentrations, but also the amount of light entering the tank should be regulated to an optimum level.

Moreover, when setting up the aquascaping all the steps should be followed correctly and accordingly. All the procedures and measurements should be followed when maintaining the aquarium. Inability or the absence of any factor or measure will lead to the failure of the whole project. 

This Guest Post was written by:

Dr. Chamika Siripardhana – a water and environmental researcher and the editor of life of fish website. He is a passionate fish keeper and has years of experience in the field. His mission is to help fellow aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping. You can find him on Facebook.