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What is a Dutch Aquarium?

Owning an aquarium is a wonderfully rewarding and relaxing pastime. There are so many varieties available on the market today that it can be difficult to choose which one to set up in your home. One such example is a Dutch Aquarium. Perhaps I’ve piqued your interest and you’re now wondering to yourself, ‘what exactly is a Dutch Aquarium?

A Dutch aquarium is often described as a heavily planted ‘underwater English garden.’ It centers around aquatic plants which create depth, contrast and striking visual appeal. Harmony and simplicity are the key design elements. Driftwood, rocks and ornaments can also be found in a Dutch aquarium setup as well as a single species of schooling fish.

Now that you know what a Dutch aquarium is, let’s explore this topic further. We’ll explain more about ‘aquascaping’ your Dutch aquarium, the history behind it, how long it lasts (on average), how to set it up and how to maintain it. We’ll also give some examples of different plants and fish to include in your aquascape design.

So, if you’re ready to learn more about setting up a Dutch aquarium, then let’s begin!

Who Invented the Dutch Aquarium?

The Dutch aquarium (which utilizes an aquatic style often referred to as aquascaping) dates way back to the early 1900’s in Europe. Somewhere around 1930 in the Netherlands, this aquarium design took off and even led to the creation of its own society known as the NBAT. This elite group would even run annual aquascaping contests whereby aquariums were judged based on specific guidelines.

What is Dutch Style Aquascape?

The concepts behind the Dutch style aquascape include the following principles:

  • only I plant species per every 4-inches of tank space
  • no duplication of the same plant species is allowed
  • at least 12 schooling fish from the same species should occupy the tank space

No doubt, the rules for establishing a proper Dutch style aquarium seem quite limited and restrictive. However, if at least 70% of the tank floor is ‘planted’, then you’re within the correct parameters. In fact, most Dutch aquariums you see today are hybrid versions of the concepts listed above.

How Do You Setup a Dutch Aquarium?

Setting up a Dutch aquarium or planted tank isn’t too difficult. It’s really all about the plants! You must establish a balance between plant color, density and variety. Terracing is a common practice that helps create depth in the tank. These various tiers or levels within the aquarium, each showcasing a specific plant species, are essential to the overall design.

Begin with a 40-gallon tank, or one that’s around 18 to 24 inches high and 3 to 4 feet wide. Lay substrate at the front of the tank flat and then ‘slope it’, increasing the amount gradually as you move to the back of the tank. Place the various plant groups on these different levels od substrate, remembering to leave at least half an inch between the different species to allow for growth and ‘breathing room.’

The biggest and brightest plants should be your focal points. Once established, add schooling fish to the tank – a group of 12 is recommended. Specific equipment (pumps, filters, heaters, etc.) is needed to monitor the life cycle of the plants. Liquid fertilizer must be added daily to the tank. Regular trimming of the plants is also required to maintain a healthy aquatic environment.

planted tank dutch style

What Plants are Recommended in a Dutch Aquarium?

There are a variety of different plants you can grow in a Dutch aquarium. These include the following:


This type of aquatic plant is mostly found naturally in softly flowing streams and/or rivers. It can be red or green in color and usually placed in the foreground of a Dutch aquarium. This plant grows slowly and doesn’t require too much attention.

Java Moss

This species helps create contrast and focal points in a tank. It is often placed between different groupings of plants to promote a seamless transition from one species to the next. Its also easy to maintain and can be purchased at most pet supply stores.

Limnophilia Aquatica

This plant adds bold, visual interest to a Dutch aquarium. An undemanding plant, it grows quickly and sends ‘runners’ that spread across the bottom of the tank. Its large stems provide unique shapes and visual interest to a variety of aquascape designs.

Saururus Cernuus

This species, also known as Lizard’s Tail, grows naturally in shallow water along ditches, ponds and swamps. It’s usually placed low and close to the layer of substrate in a tank. It helps create angles, pathways and depth in a Dutch aquarium.

Tiger Lotus

This plant is large, colorful and used as a main focal point in many Dutch aquariums. It’s a type of African aquatic plant that helps soften water and absorb excess nitrate in any tank. Its beautiful red and green leaves add wonderful contrast to any aquascape design.

What Fish are Recommended in a Dutch Aquarium?

Schooling fish are the best choice for a Dutch aquarium. A few to consider include the following:

Dwarf Angelfish

These freshwater community fish are native to the Amazon River. And, since they prefer a slightly acidic aquatic environment (pH between 6.0 and 7.5), will do very well in a planted tank. Grouping them in pairs is best (6 is a good number). Since they can be aggressive with other types of fish, they’re ideal for a Dutch Aquarium, which is meant to showcase only a single fish species.

Blue Danios

These bright blue tropical freshwater fish are found on the islands of Langkawi in Malaysia. An active yet peaceful schooling fish, this species prefers heavily planted aquatic environments (with a pH level between 6.5 and 7.0) making them perfect for a Dutch aquarium. A grouping of 12 would be perfect for a 40-gallon aquascape-inspired tank.

Congo Tetras

These freshwater schooling fish are often found in the Central Congo River Basin in Africa. Their small size and beautiful, multi-colored fins make them perfect for a Dutch Aquarium. A grouping of 12 would work well in a 40-gallon planted tank and since they prefer aquatic environments with plenty of cover, an aquascape design is ideal for this species of fish.

Neon Tetras

These freshwater schooling fish are native to the blackwater and clearwater streams in the Amazon Basin of South America. Their brightly colored, glow-in-the-dark fins make them the perfect addition to any aquascape design. Easy to care for, they too prefer heavily covered aquatic environments, just like the Dutch aquarium. A school of 12 would do quite well in a 40-gallon planted tank.

Harlequin Raspboras

These schooling fish are found in freshwater habitats in Southeast Asia near China. Their beautiful, metallic-colored fins provide amazing contrast to any Dutch aquarium. Peaceful and easy to maintain, this species helps bring aquascape designs to life with incredible visual appeal. A grouping of 12 would be perfect for a 40-gallon planted tank.

How Long Does an Aquascape Last?

Depending on the plants, the setup and how well the tank is maintained, an aquascape can last anywhere from 8 weeks to 18 months. Using the right fertilizer, providing ample light and keeping the pH level between 6.5 and 7.5 is recommended.

Are Planted Tanks Hard to Maintain?

Contrary to popular belief, planted tanks (like the Dutch aquarium) are often easier to maintain than most conventional tanks. Live plants help to enhance water quality and prevent algae growth in an aquarium, keeping it cleaner overall. They also produce oxygen while absorbing carbon dioxide and ammonia. This keeps the environment safer for fish, allowing you to longer without water changes.


In summation, a Dutch aquarium is a type of heavily planted tank. It focuses mainly on a variety of aquatic plants placed at different ‘levels’ throughout the tank. This creates depth, contrast and visual appeal. Driftwood, rocks and ornaments can also be found in a Dutch aquarium setup. A single species of schooling fish is also recommended – the more active and brightly colored, the better!

Thanks for reading. Good luck and happy fish keeping!

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