This article is about aquascaping in your African Cichlid aquarium. Note, I am writing this article from my own experience.
Usually in a Cichlid aquarium you want to keep the aquarium as natural to there inviornment in the wild as possible, with lots of hiding places for smaller fish to find refuge, and for bigger fish to claim territories. What I did when I started my first Cihclid aquarium was read at lot of books and look at some pictures of lake Malawi to get an idea of what their invironment was like. I also researched African Cichlids on the web and found a lot of information that way too.
After I did some research I started to plan out what kind of materials I wanted to use, like rock, plants, and subtrate. I recommend crushed coral or sand as subtrate because the bottom of lake Malawi is quite sandy in some areas and that subtrait also looks nice. The crushed coral is a good idea because it raises the PH in your water. If you want to use sand I recommend you buy some Tropical Play Sand From The Caribbean at your local Home Depot for only about $4.50 for a 50 pound bag. This is the same sand you'll find in the fish stores for about $15.00 for a 25 pound bag, maybe even more! When you finaly decide on what kind of subtrate you want to use REMEMBER, always WASH what ever subtrate you are using very well. Then you can put the subtrait in the tank.
Now it's time to buy some rock. When I started my twenty gallon aquarium I bought Tufa rock, also known as salt water base rock at a LFS (local fish store). I haven't tried honey comb rock yet because nobody sells it were I'm from. Lots of people have raved about honey comb rock because it has lots of holes and tunnels for smaller fish to hide.
Once you buy your rock try to build a safe structure and make several hiding places for the fish. Remember, Cichlids are aggresive and smaller fish need to have some refuge from other bigger fish. Once you have made your stucture make sure it is sturdy and it won't come toppling down on the fish!
honey comb rock
Now your last step is to buy some plastic or real plants. Most people prefer plastic plants because usually people have a hard time keeping live plants in a cichlid aquarium, because cichlids like to eat plants. If you really want live plants in your aquarium here is a list of suitable plants to go in your
cichlid aquarium (list is to the right). In my tank I have a real Amazon sword and a couple of fake plastic plants. I like adding plants to my tank because I think it gives my tank some color and and a couple of places to hide out. Usually when doing plants you want to place the plants in bunches or clumps. When you buy plastic plants don't go and buy yellow or bule colored plants, buy natruall green plants.
Different aquascaping materials to use
Driftwood- easy to find in an LFS, looks naturall, my yellow the water, lowers PH, naturall to lake malawi
Shale, flag stone, slate- good for forest and rift lake cicchlids, makes good caves and over hangs, not naturall to lake malawi
Snail shells- good for the lamprologine .sp cichlid for shelter and spawning in, highers the PH, naturall to lake malawi
Clay pots- good for spwning in and for shelter, not naturall to lake malawi
Empty coconuts- this is one of my favorit decorations, good for shelter, very light, not natruall to lake malawi
The list of suitable plants for your cichlid aquarium
Anubias barteri - slow growing moderate light
A.nana - moderate light
Aponogeton crispus - bright light need a high amount of PH
A.ulvaceus - moderate light
Bolbitis heudelotii - african fern, needs moving water and a dimly lit tank, slow growing
Ceratophyllum demersum - bright light
Ceratopteries cornuta - needs bright light easy to grow, can be grown floating in the water or planted in the bottom of the tank
C.pteridioides - floating fern
C.thalictroides - Indian fern does best planted
Crinum thaianum - Thai onion plant, leafs grow up to 5 feet long
Cryptocoryne wendtii - moderate light, likes high PH
C.willisli - high PH, needs frequent water changes
Echinodorus major - needs bright light, easy to grow in tanks 30 gallons or higher
E.parviflorus - black amizon sword plant, needs bright light
Hygrophila difformis - needs bright light,
Microsorium pteropus - java fern, slow growing, does best in a dimly lit tank, slow growing
Nymphaea lotus - needs bright light
Vesicularia dubyana - java moss, prefers dim light