The do nots of decorations
Before we get started, here’s are a few important things to remember when it comes to choosing decorations.
Do not put any decor in your aquarium that contains or is made of metal. This will rust and seriously affect the water in your aquarium.
Do not use decorations or ornaments that are sharp. Some decorations can have sharp edges or protruding features that a betta could easily tear its fins or snag itself on. Some driftwood and rocks can also have sharp edges, so inspect them thoroughly before putting them in the aquarium.
Do not arrange decorations in such a way that your betta could confine, wedge or entangle itself within them. This is an easy mistake for a novice keeper to make, but could be fatal to your betta if it is stuck for too long before you notice. As much as bettas are intelligent fish, sometimes they can be too curious and get themselves in an awkward situation. If you’re putting ornaments in your aquarium, ensure that any areas that the betta may swim through are wide enough. You should be confident that your betta can easily fit through the gap, or that the gap is too small for it to even be considered a swim through spot.
Now for the fun stuff
Decorations or aquarium ornaments can really make an aquarium look unique. With some creativity you can give your betta’s home an artistic look, or create a natural wonder world with a window into an underwater habitat.
Bettas don’t tend to be too fussy when it comes to aquarium decor, but something is better than nothing as bettas do like to be stimulated. They like things to hide in, rest on, and to build bubble nests around.
Here’s a look at the different types of decorations you can add to a betta tank. If you’ve got any decorations that you’re particularly fond of, let us know in the comments.
Typically, live or fake plants may not be considered as ‘aquarium decor’, but they do look great when set-up nicely and can improve the look of any aquarium.
Plants are also great for your betta, especially if it can swim in and out of them and have foliage to hide in. Plants are lightweight (so they don’t take up a large volume of the aquarium) and can provide a very natural look depending on which plants you choose.
Live plants can also help keep your aquarium healthy and clean. You can read more about this in our page on live plants.
Wood is a favourite of the dedicated aquascaper as it’s a decoration that really helps to emulate that natural underwater look. Driftwood comes in many shapes and sizes and can vary in colour too. Its form can give any natural aquarium a unique look but you must be careful with aquarium wood in case it harms your betta.
Consider these points:
Try not to pick driftwood with twiggy ends or jagged edges as your betta could tear its fins on them.
Some driftwood can raise the acidity of the aquarium, so it’s best to consult a specialist at an aquatics store before you buy if possible.
Driftwood varies in its nature and the various forms are treated differently. You should only ever use hardwood for driftwood in your betta aquarium, and you should also bear in mind that some tree wood can contain toxins or can increase acidity levels in your aquarium. Soft wood is more problematic because it’s susceptible to rot, it doesn’t sink as well as hardwood, and some soft wood can contain poisons.
The best place to acquire driftwood is from a reliable online retailer or an aquatics store. This way it may be labeled with instructions for introducing it to your aquarium.
Before adding driftwood to your aquarium it’s always a good idea to pre-soak it and scrub it. You don’t want the wood to stain the water or to add dirt to the aquarium. It’s really not a good idea to use driftwood you’ve found yourself outside as the wood could rot or contain harmful chemicals. One wrong choice can damage your aquarium and be fatal for your betta.
Cleaning and Soaking driftwood:
Readily prepared aquarium driftwood is usually pre-treated, soaked and cleaned but it’s always best to be on the safe side before adding it to your aquarium. Start by grabbing a clean toothbrush that isn’t chemically treated and rinse the brush head under some tap water for a minute or two.
Use the brush to scrub the wood; get into any nooks and crannies, try to scrub the surface all over. Next find a container (clean, hasn’t had chemicals in it, rinse out if need be) that your driftwood can FULLY submerge in. Fill the container with prepared water (dechlorinated water, mineral water, treated water). Allow it to sit in the water for at least 24 hours.
If your driftwood floats, weigh it down so that it remains submerged. If after 24 hours it still floats on the surface (if it was floating in the first place) keep it submerged until it has stopped floating. Some driftwood has tiny air pockets and bubbles in it — sometimes it takes a while for these to fill with water and cause the wood to sink.
When you leave the driftwood in the water, you may find that the water turns a yellowy brown. This is because residue from the wood can stain the water – it’s best to get this off before you transfer it to the aquarium. If your aquarium has a filter with a chemical insert it won’t be a problem if any water colouration does occur as the staining will be removed by the filter. See our filtration article for more info.
Rocks are another feature that you can add to your aquarium to give it a natural look. Rocks and stones come in all sorts of shapes, sizes and colours. Some are even perfect anchors for plants like Java Ferns and Anubia (read our plant section here).
Be aware that some rocks can alter the pH level of your aquarium. For example, limestone can raise the pH level of your aquarium. Like with adding driftwood/wood to an aquarium, it’s always best to source your aquarium rock from an aquatics store — they’ll be able to recommend what rock is best for your aquarium. The rock will also be treated and ready for use when bought from an aquatics store, although you should still clean it before adding it to the aquarium.
Another perk of aquarium rocks is that some provide a substantial surface area for nitrifying bacteria. Any igneous rock will do fine in the aquarium, as well as river pebbles and rocks. When and if collecting any rock yourself, research what you’ve found and make sure it’ll work in your aquarium. To sterilise and prepare for use, simply boil any pebbles or rocks in a pot for about 5 minutes after the water has reached boiling point – if you boil them for too long or if they cool down too quickly after boiling they can crack or eventually combust, so be cautious.
A quick note on shells:
Do not keep natural shells in your betta aquarium. Shells are made of calcium which will dissolve in the aquarium water and increase the pH level.
When choosing ornaments for your betta be sure to choose ones that don’t have pointed or jagged edges as this may tear the betta’s fins. Ornaments are specifically manufactured for fish by aquatics companies so be sure to source your ornaments reliably. Everyday household ornaments can be made of the wrong plastic, which can affect the aquarium water and eventually harm your fish.