When it comes to decorating your home aquarium, you have an endless array of options. Some aquarium hobbyists choose to go with novelty décor items like sunken pirate ships or treasure chests while others like to go for a more natural look. I am personally a fan of the natural look. To me, nothing looks better than a thriving aquarium filled with bright green plants and happy tropical fish. One of my favorite ways to naturally decorate a freshwater tank involves using driftwood and java ferns. If you know the right way to do it, you can actually attach java ferns (and other plants) directly to a piece of driftwood for a truly unique tank decoration.
Though I love using driftwood in freshwater aquariums, driftwood can be a little tricky to deal with. If you live near the ocean or another body of water you may be able to find your own driftwood. Otherwise, you might have to pay the high prices charged by the pet store. When using driftwood that you find outside it is very important that you disinfect and then cure the wood before using it in your aquarium. If you don’t, you could be exposing your aquarium fish to dangerous parasites, mold, or other nasty critters. Fortunately, cleaning driftwood doesn’t require any special tools or materials – all you need is some distilled water.
To clean natural driftwood using distilled water, first scrub the wood with a sturdy brush to remove any dirt and debris. Then, place the driftwood in a container large enough to fill with water so it completely covers the wood. Fill the container with distilled water and allow it to soak for at least two weeks. During this time you will notice that the water starts to darken – this is the result of tannins being leached into the water.
Tannins are a type of organic substance found in bark and other types of plant tissue which are responsible for the yellow/brown color and bitter taste of those materials. While tannins may not harm your aquarium fish, they will change the color of your tank water so you want to get rid of them if you can. Change the soaking water for your driftwood a few times to get rid of the tannins as they are leeched from the wood. After the two-week period is over, remove the driftwood from the water and place it in a cool, dry location to dry out.
Once you’ve cleaned and cured the driftwood it is ready to use in your home aquarium. Be sure that the driftwood is the right size for your aquarium before you add it and think about different ways to position it to achieve the best effect. I personally like to use large rocks to prop up one end of the driftwood so it occupies more vertical space in the tank. If you attach plants to the driftwood it will add to this effect and give your tank multi-dimensional appeal. The process for attaching plants to driftwood is quite easy – you just need your driftwood, a few plants, and some dark cotton thread.
To begin, set your piece of driftwood on a solid work space like a table or counter. Next, arrange your plants as you like on the driftwood – try out different arrangements to see which you like best. Keep in mind that the plants will grow over time so you want to start out with fairly small plants and give them room to grow. Once you’ve determined the ideal arrangement for your plants, use the dark cotton thread to tie them down. Java ferns are the perfect plant to use for this project because they have thick, sturdy roots which won’t break if you wind the thread around them a few times. After you’ve attached the plants where you want them, just trim the thread and put the driftwood in your aquarium.
Your driftwood-plant combination may look a little awkward for a while but eventually the plants will become firmly rooted to the driftwood and they will start to look like they belong there. Over time the thread will dissolve, so do not worry if it is visible at first. If you decide that you do not like the plant arrangement you chose, you have a little bit of time to make adjustments before the plants become firmly rooted. Once they do you will have a natural-looking centerpiece for your freshwater tank that you can be proud of.