Lay out materials are one of the most important aspects of aquascaping. Materials such as stones and pieces of driftwood help create a more natural scene inside a planted aquarium. The type, shapes, and placement of the these materials can evoke moods and feelings for the observer. The combination of wood with rock or simply using one or the other can greatly improve your aquascape.
Aquascaping with Driftwood
Take care when choosing your wood, as you do not want it to overpower the aquascape by being out of scale. Many aquarists will use blocky forms of Malaysian driftwood, while others may use manzanita branches depending upon the look they are trying to achieve. When choosing branchy type wood, the diameter of the branches should be in scale with your aquarium. You do not want too thick or too skinny of wood but rather a mixture of diameters relative to the size of your aquarium. When selecting your branches, make sure to get as much branching, twisting or curving as possible. This will help add character to your aquascape.
Have an abundance of wood to choose from and dont hesitate to break or cut you branches to fit into a particular spot. The tips of these branches should always be broken and not cut. Having a smooth 90 degree cut at the end of your branches can take away from the natural appearance you are trying to obtain. Once you have collected more than enough wood, you should take the time to prep it before using it in your tank.
Manzanita branches are very popular in our hobby, because of the cost, density and character these branches possess. Before using this type of wood you will need to soak them until they sink on their own. This soaking plays two parts. The first is to leach out as much tannins as possible. I use an extra bathtub in my house to soak this type of wood. I will fill the tub up with hottest water possible and submerge the branches by placing rocks on top of them. I will change the water out every other day, re-filling the tub with hot water. This allows the pores of the wood to open and the leaching of tannins will happen quicker. Typically, I will soak the wood for about a month, although two weeks should be enough. By this time, most of the tannins are removed and the wood will be water logged and sink on their own
Malaysian wood is another popular choice among aquarist. The benefit of this wood is that it is so dense that it will sink when completely dry. The bad thing about this type of wood is that it is loaded with tannins. Soaking them in hot water is a must before using them in your tank. The larger the piece the longer it will leach tannins. I have had large pieces leach enough tannins to make my tank appear as if it was filled with iced tea; only to stop after about 8 months of weekly water changes. Buy used pieces of Malaysian driftwood from other hobbyists and you can skip the soaking part.
ADA Old Black wood is one of the most desirable types of wood for some aquascapers. ADA Old Black wood is collected from South America, along the central parts of the Rio Negro (black river) deep in the Amazon. It is very dense and will sink naturally on its own. Unlike the other types of driftwood discussed, ADA old black wood doesnt leach any tannins and therefore no pre-soaking required. ADA Old Black wood are some of the most interesting pieces I have every seen. The cost of this wood ($12 or more per lb) is cost prohibiting for most of hobbyists but, can be well worth the try in a smaller tank.
As I mentioned earlier, try to have several wood pieces to select from before beginning your aquascape. I have seen many people aquascape with only three to five pieces, only to be frustrated with the lack of arrangement possibilities. You have very little options when you use too few branches. Give yourself more options, and besides the remaining wood will already be soaked and the tannins removed for a later project.
Rocks and Stones
One of the most important things to remember is to use the same type of rock in your aquascape. I have often seen two or three types of rocking in one aquascape and it only makes me frown. The lack of continuity in the stones is enough for me to overlook the rest of the aquascape.
There are far too many different types of rocks that are used in aquascaping to mention them all. Some of the most desirable are Seiryu-seki stones, Shou stones, Ryuoh stones, and Maten stones. These are all imported from Japan so the cost can be quite significant. This prohibits many aquarists from purchasing and enjoying the incredible beauty of these stones.
The most commonly used are those that are collected in and around various locations. I have gone on a couple of rock hunting trips myself. I once purchased some very interesting lava rock from another hobbyist only to have later found the exact rocks here locally in Arizona. So get out there and hunt for rocks! It will be well worth your time and effort. Another source for rocks can be your local rock and landscape supply store. I have used a rock from such a retail outlet called rip-rap. It comes in various colors and also seem to buffer my RO water to a kh of 4-5. Thats a huge benefit to me because I use 100% RO in all my scapes. No matter where you get your rocks, remember to get plenty. Just like wood, it always better to have options when placing these rocks in you tank. Lastly, dont forget larger rocks are great materials to start with too. These rocks can be broken by a well placed chisel and a hammer, just be sure to wear eye protection.