September 2008 Aquascape of the Month______________________________________________Pinheiro Mansoby Filipe Oliveira INTRODUCTION My name is Filipe Oliveira (FAAO), I am 33 years old and I live in Opoto Portugal. I started in the aquarium hobby eight years ago but not in planted tanks. At that time planted aquarium supplies were poor and there wasn't so much information like there is now. I remember seeing, on the internet, some planted aquariums and I thought, "Oh god! It is so beautiful! How did he do that? Is it all natural plants or plastic, fake plants?" This inspired me to try my hand at growing aquatic plants in my aquariums, but unfortunately it wasn't with much success. In 2005 I bought my first "real" aquarium, not a globe or a small kit for fish keeping. It was a 240L aquarium of water and I saw it as a new challenge to create my first planted aquarium...or so I thought!!! I experimented with a lot of different plants and I remember changing the layout often. "CO2 and fertilizers, for what?" I kept that aquarium without CO2 and fertilization for several months and the results were very different from what I expected. The aquarium did not do so well. I'm a very persistent person and I don't give up on a challenge very easily. "If others can, so can I"!! It was at that time I start searching for more information around the internet and from learning from my errors. I began to understand what I was doing wrong and what was necessary to keep healthy plants. I stopped listening to the aquarium shops and directed my attention to what the experienced people had to say. I quickly learned that the shops only wanted to sell and they weren’t interested in knowing if you had the proper requirements to keep the aquatic plants healthy. So from there, I started to do it my way, and followed what I learned from others. First step, I increased my lighting, then purchased some good fertilizers, added CO2 (DIY) and started to select the plants. Instead of buying plants on impulse, I only bought what I had intended to use in my layouts. I never worried about the hardscape positions. I only placed the rocks and wood to my liking. Later I learned that, while not knowing of the Golden Rule, I seemed to naturally good at arranging the scape proportionally. While relatively new to this hobby, I had great success. In 2006, I won 1st place and Best of Show in the AGA Aquascaping Contest for large category and 2nd place in the small tank category. I am very lucky to live in a place where nature seems to surround me. When I was just a kid, I remember playing in the forest and the trees were always present. Now, I feel very nostalgic every time that I look back at that place. Those memories have played a huge part in creating this aquascape, I have dedicated this scape, Pinheiro Manso, to those great memories of playing in the forest with many friends. This layout is a second attempt of a single tree landscape. The first one I created, Syrah planura (top right photo) turned out very well but I thought I could improve the tree's shape. However, I didn't want a carbon copy of this first aquascape. So instead, this layout has a more close-up view of the tree, there is more detail, and its more proportion with a different foreground plant. To do a better underwater tree, it took more than a month of hunting just to find good branches of wood. With a lot of patience, I worked with several separate pieces of wood to create the single tree that you see. I concentrated on keeping this tree in proportion with the entire aquascape and tank size. I named this scape Pinus pinea (Pinheiro Manso - Portuguese name) which is a common native tree here in Portugal and has the same rounded shaped foliage. AQUASCAPING TECHNIQUES Attaching the Moss To create this tree I used three pieces of wood. By combining these together I made one big tree. This wasn't the first time that I made a tree, so in this one I tried to avoid some mistakes that I made on the first. It is very important to attach the moss in a way that as it spreads it will naturally attach itself to the small branches. If you don't do that, the moss strands will end up free floating and it will be very difficult to trim. Over time as the moss spreads and starts to layer, the under growth of the moss will become weak and die. This is why it is so important to have many smaller branches attached to different parts of the moss mass. The smaller branches act like an anchor to keep the moss from floating up. Designing the Layout I tried to give a convex shape to this layout to help enforce the shape of the main object, the tree. The substrate and placement of the rocks are vital in maintaining the focal point which again is the tree. I envisioned a large tree on top of a hill. While taking these pictures I utilized a spot light aimed at the wall behind the tank to emphasize the convexed shape of this layout. Perfect TrimmingEvery two weeks I did a small trim to the Utricularia graminifolia to keep it from over powering the flat rocks and to keep the contour of the substrate visible. The Vesicularia dubyana was trimmed just to help create the roundness of the tree. The trimming of the moss is always a huge risk. As the tree reaches its maturity the under growth does not attached very well due to the lack of light. So each and every trimming had to be done more and more carefully. Trimming the moss in the tank has another drawback, it is impossible to remove all the small clipping from the tank. The moss clipping will settle into the Utricularia graminifolia and adhere to it as well. The only thing that you can do is trim the mixture together and carefully remove as much moss as you can. Utricularia graminifolia needs the same diligent attention during the trimming, the root system is very shallow. If you are not careful scissors can uproot the plants. GREATEST CHALLENGES When I was about to attempt my first tree layout, some people told me that it would be impossible and it can't be done with the plants that I chose. I'm a persistent person and never give up of an ideas. I had to try and if it couldn't be done, then I would have to see it for myself. Each set-up is completely different and there are a lot of things that works well and in some cases the don't. Who knows why, maybe it's the parameters of the water, different equipment, or something else? But one thing is for sure, you will never know if you don't give it a try after a lot of due diligence. So, be careful with what you find on internet, I compare it to a medical diagnosis, "I prefer to hear a second opinion!" Click here to view Tank SpecificationsClick here to view Plant and Fauna ListFINAL THOUGHTS & ADVICE To create an aquascape, you will need passion, time, dedication and most of all, you must enjoy it! Planning is very important, three months of planning is much better than three months of headaches. If possible, chose the right equipments and quality products, they will not create miracles… but they will help you a lot!