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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
FTS (1/29/2019)
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FTS (3/3/18)
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FTS (7/17)
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FTS (3/10/17)
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FTS (11/15/16)
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Initial Layout (7/1/16)
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Current Specs
Tank: 32 gallon Mr. Aqua Frameless Low Iron W24 x D18 x H18 (in)
Filtration: Eheim Pro 3 Ultra G 90; Eheim Pro 4+ 350
CO2: GLA PRO-SS CO2 System [Two Stage]; Two 18" Rex Grigg Reactors
Lighting: 24" T5 ATI Dimmable SunPower 6 x 24W
Heating: Hydor 200W Inline
Substrate: ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia

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Going Dutch
Over the past year I have become more and more interested in the Dutch style of aquascaping, which I would not have expected, given that nature style scapes are big part of what pulled me into the planted side of the aquarium hobby. But for whatever reason, I’ve found that the most enjoyable aquariums for me recently are the Dutch styled ones. Probably has something to do with the fact that Dutch style emphasizes the plants, while nature style seems to have gravitated increasingly toward an emphasis on hardscape - the majority of contest nature scapes these days contain more rock than anything else. That’s no dig on the nature style. I still love the nature style, and the hardscapes that people are creating are mind blowing. For me right now, it’s about the plants.

So in the spring I decided to make the conversion to Dutch my summer project. The tank being converted was a ‘tree’scape nature style established a little over a year ago (https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/12-tank-journals/875121-32-gal-mr-aqua.html). I have spent the last few months now contemplating this project, growing out some of the ancillary elements for the tank (i.e., hardscape materials like moss covered branches and rocks and a moss wall), and sourcing plants - things are finally starting to take shape. At this point I have a plan and all of the plants/materials. Time to start executing. More details to come.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
The Dutch Aquascaping Style

If you’re looking for specifics on the Dutch aquascaping style, there’s not a whole lot out there (that I’ve found) written in English. The best write-up I have found is this Crash course Dutch style Aquascaping | UK Aquatic Plant Society over at UKAPS. The author provides a very nice overview of the Dutch style. In addition to that thread, there is a handful of blog postings and forum journals which contain some excellent information on specific techniques. Stephan Mönninghoff over at ExtraPlant.com wrote about his trip to the Netherlands Extraplant Blog | Aquarium Plants. José Antonio Jurado Rivera kept a journal of his Dutch tank over UKAPS 300L pseudo-Dutch style Planted Tank | UK Aquatic Plant Society – this tank ultimately won the 2014 AGA Dutch category. Finally, TPT user @Saxa Tilly keeps a fascinating journal of his Dutch tank over at The Barr Report Going Dutch with Aquasoil - Aquarium Plants - Barr Report. Basically all of my limited knowledge of the Dutch aquascaping style comes from these resources. If anyone knows of some other good links (ones that aren’t obvious rip-offs of those sources already mentioned), please let me know.

With that said, here are some of the key points I’ve gathered about the Dutch aquascaping style. This certainly is not an exhaustive list, but these are the points I’ve thought about the most in planning this tank.


1. Tank Size - Typical Dutch tanks seem to be relatively large. I don’t know if there’s an actual rule on tank size, but most of the legit Dutch tanks I have seen on the internet have been at least four feet long.

2. Cabinet - The tank is usually enclosed in a cabinet, with only the front open for viewing. All external equipment – CO2, lighting, filter, etc. – needs to be hidden, usually inside of the cabinet.

3. Internal Equipment - Items inside the tank, such as filter inflows and outflows or heaters, should be hidden from view.

4. Walls - The back and side walls inside of the aquarium are covered with a dark background, often thin foam, and to these are pinned mosses, ferns or other plants.

5. Substrate - Substrate is typically light colored sand or gravel, and is kept very low on the front glass, sloping up toward the back of the tank.

6. Plant Spacing - There should be a maximum of one plant species per four inches of tank width. Plants of a given species should be planted together in a group, and each species group should appear in only one location within the tank. The plant groups should be spaced at least a finger’s width apart.

7. Contrast - One of the primary objectives in planning a Dutch style layout is to achieve maximal contrast between plant groupings. Adjacent plant groups should have clear differences in color, leaf size/shape, and height.

8. Focal Points - The use of focal points is key. Focal points are positioned using the simple approach of dividing the tank into thirds both horizontally and vertically, like a tic-tac-toe grid. Primary and secondary focal points are then positioned at opposite corners of the rectangle formed by the intersections of the grid lines. Most often the focal points are created by choosing plants with dramatic color, leaf size, leaf shape, or all of the above.

9. Depth - Almost all Dutch style aquascapes incorporate a ‘Dutch street,’ which helps convey a sense of depth. Streets are planted wide and low at the front of the tank, and become taller and narrower toward the back, ideally, rising at the viewing angle, so that the street seems to disappear into the distance. The planted street usually does not go straight back, but instead starts near the front center of the tank and extends diagonally toward a point on the back glass about a third of the way across the tank, so that the street often crosses one of the focal points. The classic Dutch street plant is Saururus cernuus (Lizard’s Tail), but these days Lobelia cardinalis ‘Small Form’ seems by far the most popular choice.

10. Framing - It is common to have tall plants in the front corners to frame the composition and prevent the eye from leaving the scape. Common plant choices for this purpose are Hydrocotyle leucocephala, Vallisneria species, Cryptocoryne crispatula var. balansae, and Sagittaria subulata.

11. Hardscape - Hardscaping is generally minimal, and if there is hardscape, it shouldn’t be exposed. Wood or/and rocks should be covered with mosses or ferns.

12. Fish – Typically a primary species is chosen for a large school, almost always a mid-level swimmer. Top and bottom dwellers should be added as secondary species so that all swimming levels are active.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
My Setup: Only Semi-Dutch

This project violates a number of the Dutch conventions/rules outlined in the previous post, so it’s really only ‘semi-Dutch.’ The tank is much smaller than standard at only two feet. I’d rather be working with a four foot, but the 32 gallon is the biggest tank I’ve got for now. I also don’t have a hood or cabinet, and the stand is an open design on the bottom, which means I am completely failing in terms of hiding all external equipment. Lights, CO2, filter, heater are all exposed. I may eventually put some doors on the lower part of the stand to at least hide the filter and CO2.

As far as the inside of the tank goes, the back wall is covered in moss, but the side walls will not be planted. Because the tank is viewable from three sides and I don’t have a cabinet, I am opting to leave the sides open for viewing for now. Concealment of the substrate at the front glass is obviously not possible with a frameless tank and no cabinet (in a true Dutch tank the substrate is ideally so low at the front of the tank that it’s not visible above the frame or cabinet). I will maintain the substrate as low as I can at the front, but this still means a couple of inches of depth for foreground plants. Another standard I am breaking is that I will not be using light colored sand or gravel, but instead Aqua Soil. The reason for this is that it’s what I already had in the tank from the previous scape, and I wasn’t up for switching out the substrate this summer. Plus we know Aqua Soil is a great planted tank substrate and may be the best out there. I’d say using the Aqua Soil gives me some extra margin for error in terms of growing plants over an inert substrate, but is probably a disadvantage in terms aesthetics and aquascaping. The Dutch tank involves lots of uprooting, replanting, and re-arranging, and Aqua Soil is not forgiving in that regard.

Where the tank will be the most ‘Dutch’ is in the arrangement of the plants, with the exception of one rule (and it’s a major one), which is the number of species. In a two foot tank, I really shouldn’t have more than about six different species according to the three per foot rule. However, I don’t think I would be able to achieve the look I am after with only six species, nor would the tank be as much fun to keep. A relatively large variety of species is part of what makes Dutch tanks so interesting. Now too many species on the other hand isn’t good either – even highly ordered groupings will look like noise if enough species are packed into a small enough space. Four feet seems to be a pretty standard length for a Dutch aquarium, and I like the look of Dutch tanks around that size, so I used a four foot tank as a benchmark and gave myself a generous 12-14 plant allotment (not including the mosses on the back wall), with the possibility of reducing the number of species as the scape progresses. Regarding all other aspects of scaping – focal points, contrast, spacing, framing, streets, and minimal hardscape – I will try to emulate the Dutch style as closely as possible.

Finally, there are the fish. Here’s where the lack of a cabinet or hood presents another obstacle. A school of ember tetras and a handful of cardinals provide good mid-level activity. The bottom has the bristlenose pleco, panda corydoras and otos, along with a bunch of inverts – shrimp, snails, and a dwarf crayfish. But what fish are true top-level swimmers, will fit in a two foot tank, and won’t jump out of the open top? I haven’t been able to come up with any. I have been tempted to add some marbled hatchets or some smaller species of pencilfish and see how it goes, but I doubt it would end well. So as of now, the upper stratum remains vacant.
 

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Discussion Starter · #6 · (Edited)
Plant Selection

In selecting plants for this tank I had a few parameters in mind beyond those related to creating contrast and appropriate focal points. To help ensure the scape had a Dutch 'feel' I made sure to include some Dutch style classics, like the Lobelia cardinalis 'Small Form,’ Bacopa caroliniana, Vallisneria ‘Italian,’ Hydrocotyle leucocephala, and Microsorum pteropus ‘Windeløv.’ I’ve also attempted to select plants appropriate for the tank size, keeping in mind that the plants need to be able to grow in and still have about a finger’s width between them. With only a 24” x 18” footprint, some of the larger staples such as Hygrophila difformis and Hygrophila corymbosa were automatically eliminated from contention.

Beyond these concerns, I’ve tried to choose plants that match my skills. I am a novice grower and scaper. Creating and maintaining a decent looking Dutch style scape in a smallish tank will be a challenge for me, even without a bunch of highly demanding species. I am looking for an enjoyable learning experience and entry into the Dutch style, not a rapid crash and burn. So, the majority of the plants I’ve chosen are those known for being very forgiving. I’d say the most ‘difficult’ plants I have in the current scape are the Erio ‘Polaris,’ the Limnophila aromatica, and the Ludwigia ‘Red’ – and I think most experienced growers would say these are pretty easy and certainly not challenging. But that’s not to say they have been, or will be, easy for me.

Actually, I’ve had most of the species in the tank on hand for a couple of months in preparation for this setup, and I can say that I have yet to bring them anywhere near top form. But the plan is to work on growing these easier species really well - practice pruning and scaping, tinker with optimizing CO2 and dosing ferts, get better at watching the plants for feedback and bring them into prime shape. When/if I come close to reaching their potential, then I’ll gradually integrate plants which are more challenging. At least that’s the plan :)
 

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Very nice tank! Love what you're doing.

Semi-dutch is as much as most of us can attempt. 100% NBAT compliance is only necessary if you're competing. And besides, it would drive me nuts to be so restricted.

I was worried about doing a dutch tank with Aquasoil. The cloudiness from uprooting is very short-lived. It is a non-issue IMO. Also, I only uproot and move things around just before a water change, so that helps too.
 

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Discussion Starter · #8 ·
Very nice tank! Love what you're doing.

Semi-dutch is as much as most of us can attempt. 100% NBAT compliance is only necessary if you're competing. And besides, it would drive me nuts to be so restricted.

I was worried about doing a dutch tank with Aquasoil. The cloudiness from uprooting is very short-lived. It is a non-issue IMO. Also, I only uproot and move things around just before a water change, so that helps too.
Thank you for chiming in! Your journal/tank has been extremely educational and a huge source of inspiration. I agree about the rules in terms of there being no reason outside of competition for 100% compliance. I guess there's a core set of the rules that I think are the essence of the style, and I'm just trying to cover enough so that the tank is clearly in the Dutch vein of aquascaping.

Good to hear that the Aqua Soil hasn't been an issue. There's some GSA and BBA on some of the lower level plants that I'd wanted to blame on substrate disturbance and muck, but guess I can't use that excuse!:D
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Love the moss wall, does it collect a lot of crap? :)
I have a love/hate relationship with moss. It looks really cosy but it gets dirty as F and you never get rid of it once you introduce it :>
Thanks! Nope, not yet, well not visibly at least. Probably if I were to shake it, there's a lot more trapped in there than I realize. It's actually still pretty short right now though. It's kind of tough to tell that looking straight on, but from the side angle you can see it's still only about 1/2" average length, tops.
moss wall 1.jpg
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I'm looking forward to watching it fill out, and I sure hope it doesn't start accumulating too much detritus as that happens. I was careful to select a moss that isn't known for readily attaching itself to stuff in hopes of reducing the nuisance factor. The mini Christmas seems to fit that description.

However, little bits of moss do escape the wall occasionally and end up accumulating around the bases of the plant groupings. I just vacuum up these little piles during water changes, and I can't say it's added significantly to my maintenance routine yet. But it could become more of an issue as the volume increases. Part of the problem is the way I attached the moss. You can see I just used fishing line to wrap around.
moss wall 0.jpg

The gaps between the crisscrossing line are too large though, so that in certain places the moss can either escape the wall, or else hangs too loosely so that the growth pattern isn't nice and tight. So at some point in the next few weeks I plan to pull the wall and trim the whole thing down really short, and then cover the entire surface with a fine plastic mesh. This should do a better job of corralling the moss and encourage more even growth. I think the long-term result will be much nicer, even though it's going to suck hacking 'er back to square zero.
 

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I was looking at stainless steel meshes myself not sure what mesh size would be best. And I probably will never be able to get my background of from the glass. Went a bit crazy with the silicone :/

Anyways it looks really nice in your tank and I would say by far the best looking way to do a background. Just looks so lush and natural :)
 

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Good to hear that the Aqua Soil hasn't been an issue. There's some GSA and BBA on some of the lower level plants that I'd wanted to blame on substrate disturbance and muck, but guess I can't use that excuse!:D
I've been able to one-up both of these algae types with increased water changes, improved flow, cleaning, and high+steady CO2.

Cleaning = trimming, pruning, removing half-dead leaves before they die and melt, scooping out floating leaves, scrubbing glass, cleaning filter, etc.

Flow = circulation, but also giving plants elbow room to access CO2 and nutrients. Alternating short and tall plants. Alternating plants of different leaf types that allows circulation. Preventing overgrowth of fast-growing plants to the dainty feeders don't get hungry.

The algae wolf is always at the door, but husbandry and CO2 will make it disappear. It demands an unusual amount of discipline and consistency with husbandry. I find it to be a surprising amount of work. When you're busy with work and family, this demand can be a pain in the a**. But it's certainly effective in getting rid of algae.

Unless you go with low-light, low-bioload, low-tech, nature tanks (so Dutch style tanks do not qualify), elbow grease and micro-management is a must.

I've had excess substrate disturbance cause algae too, but those have been massive re-scaping with not enough water changes immediately post rescape. If I were to do a big re-scape, I'd do massive water changes daily for 2 or 3 days. Even with smaller uprooting, I like to do a water change within a half hour or so.
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
I was looking at stainless steel meshes myself not sure what mesh size would be best. And I probably will never be able to get my background of from the glass. Went a bit crazy with the silicone :/

Anyways it looks really nice in your tank and I would say by far the best looking way to do a background. Just looks so lush and natural :)
I think the background on your tank looks incredible. Actually, foam was my first choice, because I think this is what many of the true Dutch tanks use, the Juwel backgrounds being the most popular. And the mosses and epiphytes are attached and allowed to grow onto the foam. I looked into Poret foam, 3M solid core foam, and cork board - any of them would have done a nice job I think. I ultimately went with the SS mesh, only because I didn't think it was worth breaking the tank down to silicone something onto the back. And I also like the idea of the wall being removable for maintenance.

I went with a single 24" x 18" sheet of 304 4 mesh with 0.047" wire diameter. It's right on the verge of being too flexible imo, and if the background were any larger I think you'd have to go with multiple panels or a larger wire diameter. Spray painting the mesh with matte black spray paint eliminated any glints of metal catching the eye from underneath the moss.
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LRJ here's a pretty good Dutch journal I found over at APC - Introducing my tank - Aquascaping - Aquatic Plant Central
Nice find, burr! Thanks!
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Quick update.

Did some trimming and made a few changes to the tank tonight. Here is a beforehand shot.

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Didn't like what was going on in the middle third - too much noise. Java fern isn't giving the contrast needed, pulled it. The Bacopa compact, even though I searched high and low for this plant, not making the final cut, pulled it. Too much Fissidens in too many different spots, pulled the lhs wood and the larger middle stone. Here's afterward.

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I'm going to extend the Bacopa australis down into the foreground where the compact was - skewers are marking out the boundary for the 'street.' Then I'm thinking maybe Pearl Weed bush off to the right where the Java fern was, Rotala rotundifolia off to the left to replace the fissidens wood. Might remove the Hydrocotyle sp. Japan as well. I like the contrast the Japan has with the Octopus plant, but it and the Bacopa australis are redundant.

Aside from all of that, I've been having growth issues with some of the plants. If you're paying close attention, you may have noticed the Erios Polaris are smaller than they were in the initial photo I posted a few weeks ago. Outer leaves got covered in BBA and fuzz algae, so I pulled them and hacked off all the infested stuff. Crossing my fingers that they can come back.

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Also experiencing curling/stunting of Ludwigia sp. Red and Bacopa australis, and loss of color in the Limnophila aromatica. Wasn't getting much color out of the L. aromatica to begin with, but you can see some of the leaves are almost white. Not sure at this point if this is CO2, micro tox (or deficiency) or something else, but something is definitely up if even the stalwart Bacopa australis is complaining.

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Based on what happens to red plants in my tanks: A darker than normal color generally indicates too much of something, either Fe or micros. It's one of the very first signs. A deficiency of either one tends to show faded coloration. Stunted/twisting can happen in either case.

L aromatica can lose color either way. When short on Fe the tops will turn almost white, starting in the center. When there's too much, for me it never gets really unhappy, growth wise. It just reverts back to green.

And of course all the above assumes good CO2.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
Struggles continue...

Did 70% water changes on back-to-back days and then skipped micros all of last week (dosed macros as usual). Finally dosed 0.032 ppm fe micros yesterday.

Ludwigia Red looking maybe a little healthier than last update, but still a dumpster fire overall.
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Limnophila aromatica actually growing pretty quickly, but color seems even worse than before. This was supposed to be the main focal plant. If I can't get some red out of it, will have to go with something else.
Limnophila aromatica sp. 'White'
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Polaris starting to gather algae again. Don't know if they're gonna make it.
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Going out of town next week, so the tank will not get regular fert dosing. Probably change the water the day before I leave and dose macros. Interested to see what sort of shape things will be in after a week of basically zero ferts.
 

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Discussion Starter · #18 ·
After one week of neglect

Got back home on Sunday. The tank went eight days without ferts or top-offs. Lighting and rate of CO2 injection were left at normal levels during this time.

Other than the plants being overgrown and water level having dropped slightly below the filter outputs, things seem to have gone smoothly. Overall, no major complaints about the lack of ferts from what I can tell.

Ludwigia red grew quite a bit and looks a little healthier than when I left.
L. red 8-9.jpg

The Limnophila aromatica gained some color.
L. aromatica 8-9.jpg

Eriocaulon polaris looking in bad shape, but it was already in trouble when I left. May have become shaded by the Ludwigia red to make matters worse.
E. polaris 8-9.jpg

Lobelia cardinalis, which had been showing some GSA on the lower leaves, is almost completely cleared up.
L. cardinalis 8-9.jpg

Before leaving I swapped some Rotala rotundifolia in place of the Hydrocotyle Japan. A beginner plant, but as you can see it's looking rough, major stunting. Hoping this is just part of it acclimating to a new tank.
R. rotundifolia 8-9.jpg

The Isoetes lacustris in the back left corner had been fading for a while and has now shriveled to four small clumps. Time to cut losses and try something else in that spot.
I. lacustris 8-9.jpg

This is what the tank looked like when I got home - jungle dutch.
fts 8-9.jpg

Did a huge trim yesterday and back-to-back water changes. Still need to do some more trimming this week. The Isoetes lacustris is gone and the Rotala rotundifolia has been moved to the back left corner. Still need to find a midground plant to go in front of the Limnophila aromatica. This was originally going to be the Windelov fern, but not enough contrast. I have tried pearl weed in that spot twice now over the last month, only to have it completely melt within 24 hrs. Not sure about a third time.
 

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32 Gallon Frameless Semi-Dutch

Before leaving I swapped some Rotala rotundifolia in place of the Hydrocotyle Japan. A beginner plant, but as you can see it's looking rough, major stunting. Hoping this is just part of it acclimating to a new tank.
I'm experiencing the same thing with some R. rotundifolia 'Blood Red' (I don't even know if this variant is a thing to be honest). It's looking really rough right now albeit with some new growth. Although mine was grown emersed, was yours? For some reason it is doing even worse in my emersed setup than my show tank. Puzzling to say the least. Hopefully it bounces back for the both of us, it's one of the hardiest/easiest stems as well. I would think in both our cases it must just be acclimating to the new environment.




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