Trimming Plants for Long-Term Maintenance in the Nature Aquarium
ADA Editorial Dept.
Aquascape Design and Photography by Takashi Amano
Translated by Tomoko Schum
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Proper trimming is the key to the long-term maintenance of a Nature Aquarium layout.
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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.
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.
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.
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.
The emergent leaves of Echinodorus and Bolbitis need to be cut off early, since they tend to grow especially large under intense light.
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Takashi Amano advocated the long-term maintenance of Nature Aquarium aquascapes. Thirty years ago, the technology to efficiently grow aquatic plants was still in its infancy, and layouts using them generally looked best right after planting. However, Mr. Amano’s intent in developing any Nature Aquarium aquascape was to plan how it would look after the plants developed and changed from their original size and shape from when they were first planted. He would create the layout so that it would grow into a beautiful arrangement over time, and then maintain its appearance for up to several years.
Aquatic plants started growing more efficiently after substrate materials and lighting improved, and a CO2 injection system was developed later on. However, overgrowth became a new problem. Densely grown aquatic plants not only fill open space and spoil the beauty of an aquascape, but they also prevent light from reaching the lower part of plant stems, which affects their condition and can eventually result in their demise. The flow of water also becomes affected and can lead to a proliferation of algae. The regular trimming of aquatic plants using scissors specially designed by Mr. Amano alleviated this ongoing concern. Also, when necessary, plants were pulled out, cut to a proper length, and then replanted. The development of these maintenance techniques made it easier to sustain an aquascape over longer periods.
Mr. Amano was not completely satisfied with the advancements he had made, so he kept working to design a type of layout in which a beautiful aquascape could be maintained without too much effort. Two methods of expression—the use of cosmetic sand and a form of creative plant arrangement called sozo haishoku—came from this pursuit.
Cosmetic sand, which is a fine river sand, is primarily utilized in the foreground section of a Nature Aquarium layout. Short underbrush plants, such as Glossostigma or Cuba pearl grass, are also typically placed in the foreground. These plants tend to grow horizontally instead of sending shoots upward. Leaves and roots pile on top of each other over time and form a thick mat. If left unchecked, the leaves and roots on the bottom tend to turn brown and deteriorate, leading to cyanobacteria outbreaks. To prevent this condition, they need to be trimmed on the surface to keep them from getting too thick. If one of these plants stops developing new shoots well, it must be pulled and its top portions replanted. If this task is neglected, it becomes difficult to maintain an aquascape long term.
Mr. Amano devised the use of cosmetic sand instead of underbrush plants for the foreground specifically for this reason; it spared the aquarist from having to continuously trim and rejuvenate aquatic plants through replanting. Additionally, this type of sand is easy to keep clean by siphoning out detritus that collects in it during water changes.
Sozo haishoku is a method used for long-term maintenance of an established composition. While sozo haishoku is similar to the process of rejuvenating plants through cutting and replanting, it dramatically changes the impression of an aquascape because aquatic plants are replaced with different ones after the originals are pulled out. While performing sozo haishoku, the removal of as much old substrate material as possible along with the plants promotes better growth and enables the aquascape to be maintained for longer periods.
The impression of an aquascape may be drastically altered by sozo haishoku, but its composition of does not change because the framework comprising stones and driftwood remains the same. For this reason, the composition materials must be arranged very securely in any layout intended for performing sozo haishoku. If they are not, it will collapse in the process, making the practice pointless.
Arranging the Elements
Well suited for long-term maintenance, the aquascape featured in this article has undergone sozo haishoku. Cosmetic sand was placed in the foreground, and sansui stones and branch wood were arranged securely as layout materials. These stones have the fine surface texture characteristic of lava stones, which allows them to stay firmly together when stacked.
Branch wood has multiple limbs coming from its base, and placing just a few of them together can present an intricate appearance. Creating a planting space by stacking sansui stones and arranging some branch wood produces a composition that will not collapse when sozo haishoku is performed. The aquatic plants in the center were primarily stem plants before sozo haishoku, after which the impression of the aquascape was altered by adding more tape-shaped aquatic plants, yet another technique that makes it easier to maintain an aquascape for a long period of time.
Film director Hiroyuki Nakano created this video of Takashi Amano and Nature Aquarium. Takashi Amano appears with a large format camera, followed by images of vivid Nature Aquarium. Mr. Nakano released this video in order to honor the memory of Takashi Amano. We hope you enjoy.