2012 has been a pretty good year. Psy graced the world with Gangnam Style, we watched another exciting set of Summer Olympics, and the planet didn’t blow up (that last thing is my favorite). We’ve got a lot of things to look forward to in 2013, including Ai Weiwei’s art exhibit in Ontario and the next installment of the Hobbit trilogy. For aquascapers like you and me, 2013 is the perfect time to start a freshwater aquarium project. But here’s the big question: how long will it take you to complete your aquascape? If you start working on your freshwater aquarium on January 1, will your aquarium be complete before 2014?

Freshwater aquariums are distinct from their saltwater counterparts in that they require a lot of time. The star of most freshwater tanks is the plant life, which can take weeks or even months to realize their full potential. So today, mere hours away from 2013, we’re going to take a look at the progression of freshwater aquariums as they slowly crawl from a barren aquascape to a verdant underwater forest.

We’re going to do a mental exercise. Let’s pretend that you create a freshwater aquarium tomorrow, on the first day of the new year. How long will it take before you have a fully realized aquascape?

January 1, 2013

Freshwater Aquascape Stage 1

Image source: Wetwebmedia.com

At this point, the aquascape definitely looks more artificial than natural. It’s obvious that the structures have been carefully arranged, and the carpet plants are sparse. It will still be a while before this aquascape looks like a tiny snapshot of nature. At this point, the best advice I can give is to not fiddle with it too much. Just sit back, relax, and let Mother Nature do its thing.

February 4, 2013

Freshwater Aquascape Stage 2

Image source: Wetwebmedia.com

The carpet plants are gradually spreading and the leafy plants on either side of the aquarium are also growing out. It’s well on its way! By now, you should have a much better idea of where the plants in your aquarium are headed. This is the point when you might want to consider making minor changes to your arrangement. After all, it’s impossible to predict with 100 percent accuracy how high or wide a plant will grow. Snipping a plant here and there can ensure that your plants grow into your original vision. Just don’t go overboard, or you might regret it later.

February 15, 2013

Freshwater Aquascape Stage 3

Image source: Wetwebmedia.com

We’ve got a sudden growth spurt! The carpet plants now completely cover the dark sand that they were planted in, and the leafy plants are tickling the surface of the water. It still has some more growing to do before it will have that overgrown feel, but we’re one step closer.

February 22, 2013

Freshwater Aquascape Stage 4

Image source: Wetwebmedia.com

We’ve gotten the point where this aquascape might need a bit of trimming. Some aquascapers prefer an overgrown look. If that’s what you’re going for, then just let the plants do their thing. If you want a more manicured appearance, then you need to get out the aquascaping scissors and trim away some of the plants.

March 3, 2013

Freshwater Aquascape Stage 5

Image source: Wetwebmedia.com

Whoa! It’s getting a little bit crazy in there. The central strip of white sand has almost been swallowed up by the ambitious carpet plants. The leafy plants have grown large and dominate the left and right sides of the tank. At this point it’s all an issue of maintenance. You can’t just leave your aquarium to grow constantly, otherwise the plant life will completely swallow up the entire aquascape. Once your plants get to the desired length, you should trim your plants on a weekly basis.

Of course, you need to keep in mind that all plants are different. Some grow a little bit faster or slower than others, but two to three full months is a good ballpark estimation of how long it will take you to create a complete aquascape. It’s also important to remember that plants grow differently — carpet plants spread outward (hence their name), while other plants grow upward.

For those of you with a bit less patience, here’s a timelapse of a freshwater plant as it slowly crawls across the bottom of an aquascape.