If you are new to aquascaping, or new to using dragon stone in an aquascape, this article will show you, in 12 easy steps, how to create a head-turning design in a 5 gallon tank using dragon stone.
I find that 5 gallon tanks are ideal for aquascaping because the limited room in the tank means fewer materials are needed to create a spectacular setup.
But, a 5 gallon tank also limits the type and number of tropical fish species you can keep in your tank.
While betta fish are one of my all time favorite picks for a 5 gallon tank, other tropical fish and invertebrates like freshwater shrimp and snails are also excellent choices.
The concepts and aquascaping techniques in this tutorial can also be applied to large tank aquascapes, but this article is mainly aimed at helping those who want to enjoy the peacefulness and beauty of a small tank aquascape.
If you are someone who enjoys a visual tutorial, I created a video of my dragon stone aquascape below:
And, for those who would like a detailed written explanation, as well as some extra thoughts and tips, please continue reading.
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Step 1: Tank Selection
For this aquascape, I used a 5 gallon low-iron, rimless tank.
Low-iron tanks provide exceptional glass clarity, giving you an undistorted view of your plants and fish.
These tanks typically cost significantly more than a normal 5 gallon aquarium, so keep that in mind when selecting a tank.
If I were sticking to a strict budget, I would build the aquascape in a normal 5 gallon, instead of cutting costs on other materials like gravel and stones.
Step 2: Fill Filter Bags with Gravel
One of the easiest ways to add interest and visual appeal to your aquascape is to create a height gradient.
Having a hill or slope in your aquascape gives the human eye something other than a flat surface to look at, which makes your aquascape far more captivating.
My favorite method for creating a slope or hill is filling aquarium filter bags with substrate or gravel.
For this aquascape, I used two medium sized aquarium filter bags.
Step 3: Position Your Filter Bags
Position your filter bags so that one sits on the right, and one sits on the left, side of the aquarium.
Step 4: Add Dragon Stone
Now, select two medium/large pieces of dragon stone and place them parallel to each other so that they create an open channel or pathway in the middle area of your tank.
These larger stones are meant to create stability and prevent gravel from spilling into the middle pathway, which will contain a different color of gravel.
Before, we move on to the next step, let me tell you a little about dragon stone.
What is Dragon Stone?
Dragon stone, also known as Ohko stone, is a sedimentary rock, which means that these rocks are composed of tiny pieces of stone and organic matter that become compacted and cemented together.
This also means that dragon stone is lighter and softer than other popular rocks used in aquascaping (like Seiryu stone).
Dragon stone is covered in little craters and depressions, giving it the appearance of scales, which is likely where its name comes from.
Dragon stone is typically sold by the pound and arrives in a dusty box or bag.
Many sellers seem to ship either huge pieces, or tiny pieces, with medium sized pieces being somewhat of a rarity.
The sizes and textures of the dragon stone pieces, even from the same seller, tend to vary greatly, but over time you should be able to amass a nice collection.
Step 5: Create Overhang and Cover Filter Bag Material
After positioning your anchor stones (the ones preventing the substrate from flooding into the middle of the tank) carefully cover any exposed filter bag material with substrate or small pieces of dragon stone.
Then, carefully position three to four pieces of dragon stone pieces so that each stone is extending over the pathway below.
This will create a dramatic scene reminiscent of cliffs towering over a river or canyon.
Step 6: Fill Middle Pathway With Substrate
I chose to fill the middle pathway of this aquascape with white cichlid sand, but almost any lighter colored substrate will work.
The important thing is to select substrates that contrast each other, which makes your aquascape more interesting to look at.
Step 7: Add Aquatic Plants
The plants I used in this aquascape were:
1. Red cabomba (Cabomba furcate)
2. Micro sword (Lilaeopsis novaezelandiae)
3. Rotala rotundifolia
4. Java fern (Microsorum pteropus)
5. Anubias barteri
I used a Hygger LED aquarium light for these plants, but other strong aquarium lights will grow these plants just as well.
The light you see below seems to be an upgraded version of the Hygger I used because it comes with an external controller (very handy):
Anubias and Java fern grow superbly under this light, but I was unsure of how the Cabomba and Microsword would do, especially without CO2.
So far, both the Cabomba and Microsword are doing well, but growing extremely slowly.
Step 8: Cover Your Aquascape With Plastic
Before adding water to your aquascape, it’s smart to cover your entire tank with a sheet of plastic or bubble wrap.
This will help prevent your hard work from getting ruined.
Step 9: Carefully Add Water.
If you dump water into your aquascape, you are likely going to dislodge your plants and maybe even a couple rocks.
The best thing to do is pour the water into the tank slowly, with as little splashing as possible.
Step 10: Add a Secondary Light
This step is optional, but if you want to create a truly eye-catching aquascape, place an orange or yellow light behind your tank.
The light I used in this dragon stone aquascape is actually a grow light and is pictured below:
Step 11: Add a Heater and Filter
I get a decent amount of questions about whether betta fish need a heater, and my answer is yes, in most cases.
There are tropical climates (in countries such as Thailand) where betta fish do not need a heater because the ambient air temperature stays in an ideal range for bettas.
But, if you live the United States, the answer is generally going to be yes, your betta fish does need a heater for optimal health (especially for digestion).
Unlike some of my other builds, I included a sponge filter in this aquascape.
While it is certainly possible to maintain an aquascape without a filter, having a sponge filter is nice because it oxygenates the water and also captures small pieces of waste and debris that I can quickly remove.
Step 12: Add Your Betta Fish
After your tank is fully cycled (test your water), add your betta fish to the new aquascape.
And, that’s about it.
If you enjoy planted tanks and haven’t tried setting up a dragon stone aquascape yet, I hope this article inspires to build your own.
Dragon stone has such a unique look among aquascaping stones, and can really add drama to a scape.
I created this particular aquascape for my galaxy koi betta, but this 5 gallon aquascape would also work well for other small tropical fish as well as freshwater shrimp.
If you would like to learn more about which fish can be kept in a 5 gallon tank, check out my article on the best fish to keep in a 5 gallon.
And, if you are interested in other types of aquascapes, check out my article on building a cave aquascape using Seiryu stone.
As always, stay zen.