How to Pick Decorations for a Fish Tank

I enjoy decorating aquariums and sharing tips for beautiful, healthy fish tanks.

Creating Fish Tank Style

When it's time to pick decorations for a fish tank, what you decide to add should meet two main criteria:

  • For one, the decorations that you add should offer the fish a proper sense of atmosphere with elements that allow them to hang out in a particular area of the tank that they prefer or to find shelter if needed.
  • The other is that you should make the appearance of the aquarium fit with your style and your home or office, so that it is the focal point that you want it to be.

The Color of Fish Tank Decorations

One of the first decisions many aquarium enthusiasts make when setting up a new fish tank is what color scheme they are going to use to decorate. Some like to create a very natural underwater world while others want to go wild with color. Here are some things to consider when deciding what colors will rule in your fish tank.

Natural vs. Wild Aquarium Theme

Without regard to how it makes the fish stand out, the color of accessories and gravel will set the theme of your aquarium. To build a natural-looking habitat for fish, consider natural pea gravel with mostly green plants and subtle rock or other hard structures. If you want to make a bold statement, mix in neon colors or go with a whole theme—like an orange theme or a purple theme—to turn your aquarium into a focal point. A totally black and white theme is also really neat.

The Color of Your Fish

What type of fish do you plan to raise? This is important to consider before you bring them home and acclimate new fish to your tank, since the color of your decorations will either compliment or clash with your fish. A tank with many clear or light-colored fish could benefit from a dark gravel like black to make the fish pop out while colorful fish look super swimming over white gravel.

When it comes to plants, the same contrast rules apply. Some fish like to hang out around plants for safety, making a mix of a few different colors a nice option for them. Also, don't be afraid of just using green plants. If the tank is stocked with bright fish, simple green plants look great.

Rock, Structure, and Plants in a Fish Tank

When it comes to exactly what to add to your fish tank, consider a mix of soft elements like plants, mixed with some hard elements such as a big rock, coral, or other hard structure. Different types of fish appreciate different structures, so mixing it up will offer something for every fish.

Using Landscape Items in an Aquarium

It's possible that you have found a beautiful rock in the backyard or a neat seashell when you visited the ocean that you'd like to plop into the aquarium. This may be acceptable, but be careful. At the very least it should be washed thoroughly without soap to remove any contaminants. Ocean items may bring excess salt into the tank, so consider that. It will always be a safe bet to get these items from a professional aquarium store.

About Aquarium Structure

When it comes to hard elements, the inclusion of at least one primary focal point that offers nooks and crannies is a good idea. A piece of coral, an interesting driftwood piece, or a ceramic aquarium decoration will do the trick. The key is that there is irregular structure for fish to swim around or even hide in.

Fake vs. Real Aquarium Plants

Many people are tempted to grow living plants in their fish tank, since they look natural and are thought to feed off of the by-product of the fish that swim around them. However, be sure to understand that these plants are also living things, and they may not flourish.

Like fish, plants have requirements, and some include the amount of light they need, the temperature, fertilizer, or even the pH level in the water. Real aquarium plants are an excellent idea; just read the details before you buy so you will know how to care for them.

Height and Concentration of Aquarium Plants or Hardscapes

In addition to adding both soft and hard elements to the scene, the height and concentration of these design features is also important.

Proper Height of Aquarium Design Elements

When you plan the elements to include in your aquarium, imagine that the tank is split into three zones: the bottom, middle, and top. Fish tend to prefer one of these areas, so having at least some structure, as well as some room, in each area is important. Make sure you include at least one or two items that rise up rather high, and others that are short and only rise an inch or two from the bottom. Fish will feel safer if there is some structure in the zone that they hang out in, so don't leave the middle and top swimmers with nothing but open water.

How Many Plants to Put in a Fish Tank

This is an area in which many new aquarium owners struggle. The tendency is either to include too few or far too many items in the aquarium, both of which will ultimately lead to too many fish-less areas in the tank. A good rule of thumb is to add structure to around 50% of the area in the tank. That means that there should be plenty of open space here and there, but not too much, and ultimately your fish tank size will determine how many items you need. Some fish like open space and some demand structure, so if you want the fish to spread out evenly, space these areas throughout the tank.

Using High Plants to Your Advantage

Since you should include at least one or two tall plants anyway, this is a fantastic way to hide the aquarium heater or other unnatural feature. Both the heater, and the tall plant, should be in the back of the aquarium anyway, so consider them to be friends and install them in the same spot.

Time to Make an Aquarium Style List

Now that you've considered what to add to your home aquarium, here is a quick review to make sure you get it right.

  1. Pick your overall color scheme and stick to it so everything will gel. Consider the color of the fish you are most likely to buy in your plans.
  2. Include a mix of soft items like plants and hard items like a rock, coral, or driftwood. Be careful about adding things from around the house.
  3. Make sure some items reach the top while others remain short to fill vertical space. Use the high items in the back to hide the heater.
  4. Include enough decorations to offer plenty of structure while maintaining 50% open space.

Now it's time to make your decision and decorate that fish tank!

taffy on March 11, 2018:

what is the best theme

for a fish tank

"Fish" Everyone a Happy Holiday

The holidays are a great time to get creative with the decorations of your tank, especially if you have some extra holiday decor. You can do this for any holiday, from Halloween to Easter to Christmas.

Fun Ideas to Try

Give these awesome ideas a shot:

  • Pick some plain, colored glass ornaments and remove the hanging hardware. Fill the ornaments with water and place them on the bottom of the tank.
  • If you have food safe holiday figurines, like Easter bunny-shaped salt and pepper shakers, put those in the tank.
  • Add holiday lights around the outside of the tank to bring even more cheer.

Fish Safety

Avoid anything painted or sharp, even if it makes a cute holiday decoration. Similarly, consumable items are a bad idea. Remember, you can always use those items on the outside of the tank!


Another staple decoration you see in many tanks is driftwood. It’s a great focal point and oftentimes you can use it to anchor plants too.

It’s also going to provide places for your betta to hide and swim through, and if you have any other fish they can hide in it as well.

However, driftwood also has its downsides. Over time it can lower the pH in your tank and if you leave it for too long no matter how well it’s been treated it’s going to begin to rot over time.

If you plan on adding driftwood to your tank make sure you buy it from a seller, instead of using stuff you find naturally.

Also, remember before you add driftwood to your tank you need to make sure that you’ve cleaned it thoroughly first.

The best aquarium decoration

A bare fish tank not only looks boring but also doesn’t provide an enriching, safe-feeling environment for your fish. Placing a range of aquarium decorations gives your fish plenty of spots in which to explore and hide out in, making them feel secure in their surroundings and keeping their brains active.

To learn more about how to choose the best decorations for your tank, continue reading our guide, which contains all the basics you need to know. We've also listed our top products at the end, including our overall favorite, the Penn-Plax Deco-Replicas Granite Aquarium Ornament Set, which provides a variety of stackable hideouts for your aquatic friends.

How to Decorate a Fish Tank

Last Updated: March 11, 2021 References

This article was co-authored by Craig Morton. Craig Morton is the CEO of Aquarium Doctor Inc. based in Huntington Beach California and servicing Orange County, Los Angeles County, and the Inland Empire. With over 30 years of aquarium experience, Craig specializes in creating custom aquarium designs along with aquarium installation and service. Aquarium Doctor works with manufacturers and products such as Clear for Life, Sea Clear, Bubble Magus, Tropic Marine Centre, Salifert, ReeFlo, Little Giant, Coralife, and Kent Marine.

There are 17 references cited in this article, which can be found at the bottom of the page.

This article has been viewed 127,645 times.

Getting a new fish and an aquarium is super exciting, and adding decorations is half the fun! When there’s so much to choose from, it can be hard to pick out exactly how you want your tank to look. Start from the bottom and move upwards to make your tank a paradise for your underwater creatures.

Watch the video: Top 5 Homemade Aquarium Wonderful On Desk For Betta. Diy Planted Aquarium No Filter No Co2 (June 2021).