Dirt Shelf


Oct 12, 2017
New York, NY
[note: I have posted some of this content in a competing aquatic plants forum, but I've been sort of bummed by the lack of response, so I'm trying my luck here! I am in dire need of some hardscape advice, and I would appreciate any help you guys have to offer]

I have been unsatisfied with my 30 gallon scape basically since day one. The driftwood is way too big for the tank and there is very little room for planting stems. On a technical level, the hardscape really gets in the way of water circulation, making this the only one of my tanks with an algae problem (black beard on hardscape and bolbitis heudelotii). Midway through keeping this scape, I replaced the javamoss growing on the driftwood with fissidens. The fissidens has done well, but I never managed to completely irradiate the javamoss, which continues to plague me. It's time for a new scape.


[Current Scape]


[Dollar Sunfish, the 30 gallon's inhabitants, next to some christmas moss I am trying to grow out for the new scape. Don't mind the raggedy rotala macrandra - it's still acclimating]

For the new project, I want to have a lot more space for stemmed plants, much less room taken up by hardscape. But I'd still like a little dimensionality. So I'm going to try and create a shelf in the back of the tank made of driftwood. This shelf will be filled with dirt, sand (+ some sort of false bottom), and stemmed plants.

Here's an early sketch of what I was thinking:

I am hoping to divide up different zones of stemmed plants using thin branches - more on that later. I want the foreground to have a diverse mix of low growing plants.

To keep the shelf from falling over from the weight of the substrate it will be holding up, I'm wiring it to a sheet of eggcrate.

Here is the dry hardscape wired to the eggcrate:


I collected this wood from a forest in Maine. There were tons of good concave pieces (hardscape on left) but it took awhile to find a good convex piece (on the right). Both had a bit of rot, so I sanded them down and then used woodworking skillz to carve some character back into the surface of the wood.

The hole in the driftwood on the right is plugged up in the back, so it can be filled with substrate without allowing the cliff to leak.


Things looked very flat at this point, so I tried adding some branches to add a little dimensionality. My thought was that I could culture them with fissidens and have a sort of suspended freeway system for shrimps to graze on.



I'm not really sold on this. The branches look messy, random. I'm hoping they will improve after I'm done dry-start culturing fissidens on them using a paste of Red Mill vegan egg replacement and old tank water. Unfortunately, the wind (yes, I'm doing this outside) blew open the plastic wrap and it all dried out, so things aren't going so hot at the moment.

I am also trying to dry start some christmas moss on the wood "shelves", but I'm not sold on that idea either - also probably too messy.

What should I do with this scape to add additional interest? Rockwork?

These are the plants I currently have in my possession. I would like to avoid buying new plants for this scape, but please feel free to make a recommendation if there's something you feel strongly about. Obviously I don't plan on using all of the below plants; this is just what I have to work with.



ludwigia repens
ludwigia cuba
ludwigia palustris
limnophila aromatica
lindernia anagallis
myriophyllum propinquum
rotala wallichi
rotala magenta
rotala green
rotala macrandra
proserpinaca palustris

java fern (normal, windelov, needle)
anubias (various)
cardamine lyrata
hydrocotyle sibthorpioides
penthorum sedoides
limnophila aromatica mini
syngonanthus sp. 'belem'
hydrocotyle tripartita ‘Japan’
nymphae micrantha
alternanthera reineckii

staurogyne repens
blyxa japonica
monte carlo
ranunculus inundatus
crypt wendtii
crypt parva
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