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Trimming Plants





Trimming Plants for Long-Term Maintenance in the Nature Aquarium

ADA Editorial Dept.

Aquascape Design and Photography by Takashi Amano

Translated by Tomoko Schum




Proper trimming is the key to the long-term maintenance of a Nature Aquarium layout.

à Or – depending on design, TBD ß



Proper trimming is the key to the long-term maintenance of a Nature Aquarium layout.


One of the key considerations for a Nature Aquarium layout is its long-term maintenance. As long as an aquarium is well kept, an aquascape can be maintained normally for two to three years, and even longer if the substrate is replaced. This article is an introduction to the primary plant-trimming techniques taught directly by Takashi Amano and practiced in the Nature Aquarium Gallery in Niigata, Japan.

The Nature Aquarium style focuses on creating a beautiful aquascape by growing aquatic plants, and various aquarium maintenance tasks are performed starting shortly after an aquarium is set up. These tasks are common to most aquariums and include water changes, adding nutrients, and removing algae, and they are not especially difficult skills to learn, so we entrust them to newer staff members at the Nature Aquarium Gallery. By contrast, only experienced staff members are allowed to perform the trimming of aquatic plants, a task that requires finesse and a solid working knowledge of the finer points involved.




Takashi Amano instructing his staff at the Nature Aquarium Gallery in Niigata, Japan.


Since aquatic plants grow and increase in volume over time if left alone, they will eventually encroach into what should be left as open space, causing the aquascape to become unattractive. Also, when plant growth becomes too dense, the lower part of the plants where light can no longer reach tends to deteriorate, and as water will not be able to circulate properly around the plants, algae will take hold and grow.

Such conditions make it difficult to preserve the look and health of an aquarium and may even cause an aquarist to give up on long-term maintenance of the aquascape. Such an eventuality can be avoided with proper plant trimming.



Photo 9

Layout A: The surfaces of the Unzan stones in this layout were exposed in some areas by carefully trimming Hygrophila pinnatifida.


The three aquascapes in this article have been maintained for nearly three years since they were first set up. They are kept in good shape with basic maintenance work and trimming. Time after time, Takashi Amano taught the maintenance staff at the Nature Aquarium Gallery how to trim aquatic plants to maintain an aquascape over the long term.

Generally speaking, the trimming method to be used varies depending on the type of plants involved, such as stem plants and undergrowth plants. It can also vary depending on the aquascape itself. For example, the Hygrophila pinnatifida on the Unzan stones in Layout A was trimmed to adjust its density so that it would not grow to its massive potential size. Its remaining white roots on the stone surface were removed carefully with tweezers after the stems were cut off.

In the Layout B aquascape, the Bolbitis at the upper part of the aquarium was trimmed often so it would not grow too thickly under the intense lighting. The important point here is to prevent the upper part of the Unzan stones from becoming hidden by the leaves.



Photo 10

Layout B: Since the leaves of Bolbitis tend to grow quite large, they were trimmed frequently to prevent the upper parts of the Unzan stones from becoming completely hidden.


In Layout C, in which aquatic plants are grown not only underwater but also emerging above the water surface, the technique for trimming varies according to whether the plants being trimmed are above or below the water surface. Under the water, it is important to keep individual Bolbitis plants separated on the driftwood. Bolbitis grows steadily into a single, large plant over a long period of time, so, if left unchecked, the multiple plants in this layout would grow into each other and form one massive body. To prevent this from happening, we not only need to cut off the large Bolbitis leaves, but the sections of thick stems growing on the driftwood also need to be removed occasionally to keep the plant from growing too large.



Photo 14

Layout C: This aquascape has been kept in good condition over a long period of time with proper trimming, using different methods for cutting the emersed and submersed plants.


The key point for the maintenance above water in Layout C’s aquascape is to cut off the emergent Echinodorus leaves at the base of the plant to keep them from growing too big. There is only a short distance between the lighting fixture and the water surface in this open-top aquascape, and the large emergent leaves of the Echinodorus can easily grow tall enough to touch the lights—and suffer burns as a result—if they are not adequately trimmed. Removing the older, larger leaves also allows light to reach the smaller leaves below and lets the other aquatic plants receive enough light to grow beautifully.


Photo 15

The emergent leaves of Echinodorus and Bolbitis need to be cut off early, since they tend to grow especially large under intense light.




Posted December 22nd, 2016.

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Nano-Reef Species



Adventurous Aquarist Guide™: The 101 Best Nano-Reef Species

by Scott W. Michael


E-Book $13.99

The popularity of nano tanks (or tanks under 30 gallons) has exploded over the past few years. These delicate systems require specialized species that are able to survive and thrive in a smaller tank. The 101 Best Nano-Reef Species offers expert advice on selecting and keeping brilliant and hardy fishes, corals, and invertebrates for nano-reef tanks.

Each entry in this stunning field guide is accompanied by a color photograph, plus information on the fish’s common name, scientific name, maximum length, native range, minimum aquarium size, feeding, and habitat. The entries are arranged alphabetically by genus name within their family groupings, which makes this guide extremely user-friendly. A bonus section on species to avoid helps hobbyists steer clear of species that just won’t work in diminutive tanks. You will also find troubleshooting advice that deals with the most common problems in nano-reef tanks.

Adventurous Aquarist Guides™ are a critically acclaimed series dedicated to the art of aquarium keeping. Written by experts, these fully illustrated field guides offer the most in-depth information on the aquarium hobby.

ISBN: 978-0-9820262-4-3 ()
192 pages

ISBN: 978-0-7938-4960-4 (E-Book)


Posted September 30th, 2016.

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Aquarium and terrarium water stays clear and odor-free for years with easy-to-use EcoBio-Stones, a unique volcanic mixture infused with live beneficial bacteria that degrade organic matter, naturally create a healthy ecosystem for fish, and reduce aquarium care and maintenance.  Visit for more information

EBS-group NEW pic-page-0

Posted September 14th, 2016.

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My Aquarium Box

My Aquarium Box is the first ever subscription box made for freshwater and saltwater aquarium hobbyists. Discover the latest and greatest foods, tools, gadgets, supplements, and décor delivered straight to your door once a month and always with free shipping. Subscriptions are month-to-month and you can cancel at any time. Visit for more details.



Posted September 13th, 2016.

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Feed for Bivalves & Filter Feeders A concentrated, clean, liquid feed that is a unique blend of 6 marine microalgae: Isochrysis, Pavlova, Tetraselmis, Chaetocerous, Thalassiosira weissflogii & Thalassiosira pseudonana—species that have demonstrated success with a variety of shellfish. Increases growth and survival rate for: bivalve species & other filter feeders from first feeding larvae through broodstock, artemia, and some copepods. Lower density version of our commercial product Shellfish Diet®.  Provides the same nutritional value of live algae in convenient form. Whole cell of the microalgae encapsulates all nutrients, creating cleaner tank, less waste, & greater value.   For more information visit



Posted September 11th, 2016.

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For Fish and Invertebrates

Concentrated, whole-organism feed by Reef Nutrition® consisting of large, nutrition-packed, planktonic copepods (3000 microns). Naturally rich in carotenoids, HUFAs & wax esters. Even finicky fish like Potter’s Angelfish, Purple Queen Anthias and Moorish Idol love them as well as LPS Corals, Anemones, Zoanthids, and Brittle Stars. Unique benefits: pure, healthy feed; harvested fresh from cold, pristine arctic waters; the only refrigerated copepods on the market that are never pasteurized.



Posted July 11th, 2016.

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Sneaking Success

Neolamprologus pulcher. Photograph from TFH Archives.

By David E. Boruchowitz

Cichlids demonstrate extremely sophisticated reproductive strategies. One of the least common involves cooperative breeding in groups or colonies. Lake Tanganyikan Neolamprologus pulcher breed en masse, with the entire colony rising as one to fend off predators, and with non breeding individuals participating in the care and protection of the offspring.

Aquarists have long known about this behavior, which is more obvious in the wild, where hundreds of fish are involved, but which translates in captivity into breeding groups that avoid the typical predation on the fry by non parental adults in the same tank.

A new study reveals that about 10 percent of the fry produced in these colonies are sired by subordinate males, and that those males are more diligent in protecting the young.

This is reminiscent of the situation in several Xiphophorus swordtails, where smaller, inconspicuous males rely on sneaking rather than courtship to father a small percentage of fry. In both cases subordinate males father a small but significant number of offspring, though in the case of the swordtails it is a matter of genetic castes among the males, not just one of dominance.

Posted June 2nd, 2015.

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Conditioning Breeders

By Mike Hellweg

Fish will do what comes naturally and spawn in our aquaria IF we give them what they need.  With many species that means approximating the spawning season, giving the adults what barb and tetra guru Randy Carey calls a “trigger” to initiate spawning.  Following the metaphor, all we as aquarists need to do is figure out how to turn off the safety and pull the trigger.

With many fish like cichlids and livebearers, all we have to do is buy a group of juveniles and grow them out.  Eventually, they will reach sexual maturity and pair off, even in a community tank.   Often they will even successfully raise a brood of fry in that same community tank.  But many other fish aren’t so easy.  Many of them require a little to a lot of extra work on the part of the hobbyist.

Blackworms are an excellent live food to use to help induce spawning in somewhat difficult fish.

Blackworms are an excellent live food to use to help induce spawning in somewhat difficult fish.

With these fish it is best to separate out the males from the females.  When you have limited tank space, the best way to do this is to move the female(s) to what will become the spawning tank, and leave the male(s) in the community tank.

At first the spawning tank can have water similar to the main tank.  As the conditioning period goes forward, begin changing the water out with water more appropriate for the particular species (harder, softer, more basic or acidic, more or less salty, etc.).  Do several water changes over the course of a week to 10 days.

Feed the adults heavily with meaty foods.  Flake or pellet food just isn’t enough.  There are various enzymes, amino acids, and other things in living foods that are destroyed by processing.  This is why every experienced breeder will tell you that you need to use live foods for conditioning.  Many of us use frozen and freeze-dried foods as well, but live foods really provide that extra boost that makes the difference between success and failure.

European drift worms are another type of worm that can be cultured and fed to fish that are being conditioned to breed.

European drift worms are another type of worm that can be cultured and fed to fish that are being conditioned to breed.

Every time I give a talk on breeding fish, I quote my friend and breeding guru Charley Grimes of Indianapolis.  I think he put it most succinctly:  “the best way to put eggs in her belly is to put worms in her tummy.”

Worms are an excellent live food.  We are fortunate in that we have many different types of worms to use that can be sized to the mouth of the fish, or larger worms can be cut up for feeding smaller fish.  Some of the ones currently in use by breeders include Grindal worms, white worms, tubifex worms, Dero worms, black worms, red wigglers, European drift worms, and night crawlers.  All can be found in a local pet shop or bait store, or they can usually order them for you.  If not, members of a local aquarium or herp club likely can supply starter cultures and information on how to culture them.  Or you can go to various sites on the web and order them from reputable growers. Of course, you can also read my book Culturing Live Foods (T.F.H. Publications, 2008) for tips on starting many different types of live food cultures.

Whiteworms do best at cooler temperatures, which is why these are stored in a fridge.

Whiteworms do best at cooler temperatures, which is why these are stored in a fridge.

Live food cultures need to be fed. Here whiteworms are eating a slice of bread.

Live food cultures need to be fed. Here whiteworms are eating a slice of bread.

Most breeders culture their own live foods.  There is a lot of excellent information out there about culturing live foods, including several excellent books.  Culturing your own foods gives you a chance to control every aspect of your fish’s diet.  More on this later…

Posted June 2nd, 2015.

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Preparing the Fishroom

By Mike Hellweg

When Ted first approached me with the idea for this contest, I jumped at the chance to help promote my favorite part of the hobby, breeding fish.  I knew I would have to step up my game a bit (Ted is a fierce competitor!), but that also would require some modifications to my fishroom.

First, I needed to have a place for all of the fry to grow out.  After all, if I was going to participate in this contest, I would also want to support my own club (the Missouri Aquarium Society, Inc. [MASI]) in our Breeders Award Program (BAP).  But that would mean holding the fry for 60 days.  I know, our contest rules include growing them out to 30 days, which is generally the safe point from which you know the fry will survive, but my club requires them to be at least 60 days old.  That means I have to tie up tanks for twice as long as Ted.  But it also means my fry will be closer to saleable size when I turn them in, so I can get them to local shops at this time, too.

I know some readers will want to know more about my fishroom.  It is approximately 12 feet by 14 feet.  In the walls and ceiling I installed R-30 insulation to cut down on heating and cooling costs.  It is heated and cooled with our home’s central air and heating.  This means I don’t have to worry too much about temperature control in individual tanks.  For electrical supply in the room, I added three extra ground fault circuit interrupters (GFCI)  protected circuits just for the fishroom.  One is on a timer and runs the lights, another is on all the time and is for any extra filters/heaters that I might need, and the third is extra, in case I want to run something extra at some point.  All of the tanks are filtered with air driven sponge filters powered by a linear piston air pump, and all of them contain live plants.

All of the tanks are drilled with overflows that go to a floor drain, so water changes are easy;  I just run a hose from my 220 gallon water holding system to each tank for a few minutes and let the old water flow into the drain.  This system consists of four 55 gallon drums plumbed together.  The water is treated, heated, aerated and circulated between the drums until needed.  If a tank needs a bit more cleaning, I can drain individual tanks into a line that runs around the room and goes to the floor drain.  I can also add hang on filters if needed, but I only use these when I need to clean a tank.  Lighting is supplied by power compact florescent lights and by low power consumption commercial shoplights.  To control humidity and prevent mold growth, I also added an exhaust fan that turns on automatically when the room humidity gets above 50%.  This just dumps the humid air to the outside, and pulls in fresh, conditioned air from the rest of the house.

In my fishroom, I have a dozen 30-gallon breeders.  Those are excellent grow out tanks, each will hold dozens or even hundreds of fry, depending on the species.  I can even grow out fry of several species in one tank, if they are compatible in size and temperament.  But even so, that means I can only grow out a dozen or so species at a time.  I need more room.  Fortunately, I have eight more 30-gallon “box” tanks from a local wholesaler that went out of business a few years ago that have just been sitting there, waiting for me to come up with something to do with them.  They are called “box” tanks because they are shaped like a fish box – just a bit larger – two foot square and just under a foot deep.  They are used in the trade to hold a box of fish each.  With their large surface area and shallow depth, they can be stacked four high in the fishroom.  This rack of tanks will only take up 8 square feet of floor space while giving me 32 square feet of tank floor space!  This is perfect for my fishroom, where space is at a premium.  So I begin this month setting up this rack up and starting to get these tanks ready to go.

Mikes newest addition to his fishroom, a rack for more 30-gallon breeder tanks.

Mike’s newest addition to his fishroom, a rack for more 30-gallon breeder tanks.

I also started conditioning fish for spawning.  That means tanks for males and tanks for females in many species.  I have a rack that holds 5 x 10 gallon tanks and 8 x 20 gallon “high” tanks that I designed for this purpose.  It will also give me extra room to isolate new fish (every fish, invert, and new plant coming into my fishroom gets at least one month’s quarantine) and rotate extra pairs in case I have to separate fish from the main pairs in the breeding tanks.

With other fish, conditioning just means setting up a tank with proper conditions and feeding them well, while letting nature take its course.  I have a wall of tanks set up just for this – a 30 long, 6 x 29 gallon tanks, 6 x 20 longs, 7 x 10 gallon tanks and 3 x 5 gallon cubes.  These will be used for most of my breeding attempts.

I have a set of extra grow out tanks in case things get out of hand and I get lucky with spawnings.  This consists of 4 x ½ ten gallon tanks (a specially made tank), 5 x 10 gallon tanks, 2 x 20 flats (made from two ten gallon tanks glued together – one with the back out and the other with the front out), and two fifty gallon flats (essentially a 75 gallon tank cut down to a foot deep).  In addition, outside of the fishroom I have setups for larger fish.  I have 7 forty breeders, a 58 breeder, and two 75’s.

A mated pair of Honduran Red Points Amititlania siquia in Mikes fishroom.

A mated pair of Honduran Red Points Amititlania siquia in Mike’s fishroom.

Finally, the last group of tanks will be my “secret weapon” that I plan to roll out in month two or month three.  More on that later – I don’t want to give too much away to Ted!

Posted June 2nd, 2015.

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Researcher: Male Desert Goby Fish “Put Courtship Before Childcare”

MELBOURNE, Victoria — After studying male desert goby fish, a team of Monash researchers has suggested that male sexual behavior is primed to produce the greatest number of offspring.

In the underwater world of desert goby fish, it is the males whose work is never done.

As exclusive parental guardians it is up to males to guard and fan the eggs – keeping them well-oxygenated and removing debris – while females flit about finding new mates.


Photo:P. Andreas Svensson.

Posted June 1st, 2015.

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