Fish in fishtanks
(Image credit: Junia Maria Campos / Getty Images)

As someone who has had lots of fish (and other aquarium critters) over the years, I've acquired quite a bit of interest in this area. You may not think it has much to do with gardening, and in some cases it doesn't, but sometimes it does - like when plants are involved. And just like gardens can be calming, so too can fish.

Keeping fish is actually quite fun and entertaining (ask anyone with a toddler at home). Yet, having and using fish tanks is more than simply getting fish and plopping them in. Not sold on the whole fish in a tank idea? That's okay. There are still plenty of things you can do with an aquarium.

Keeping Aquarium Fish

The possibilities are literally endless when it comes to having an aquarium set up for fish. For starters, you have to select the type of fish, decorations and setup (including themes if you want), type of tank display, and placement. A few ideas include:

  • Glow-in-the-dark tank - This is one I always wanted to try and haven't. You can get these with bright colored backgrounds, different colored 'glo fish,' glow-in-the-dark decorations and black gravel to really make the colors pop, likely a most "spooktacular" choice for Halloween.
  • Betta tanks - There are numerous varieties of betta tanks available. I've had small fishbowls, some with dividers for multiple fish, some with lights, some with plants growing on top, and one called betta falls (a three-in-one with a waterfall style connecting them all).
  • Fry tanks - I've never been ready to try my hand at it, although I might in the future if my angelfish keep mating, but you can have fry tanks set up specifically for breeding and raising baby fish.
  • Saltwater tanks - Although this expands the possibilities even more and provides endless color appeal, this is another one I've not tried. I would love to have a saltwater tank (which house saltwater fish), but I'm not prepared for the work that comes with it. There is far more maintenance and upkeep involved with these versus freshwater tanks.
  • Natural Habitat tank - This idea is one we have used for many years with our biggest tank. It has all-natural rocks, logs, and plants. This tank is where we have kept young fish and other critters - we've had brim, sun perch, baby bass, minnows, turtles, crawfish, and native water snails.

Themes for your tanks is where you can get most creative. From a home, office, or classroom aquarium to a Nemo and friends, SpongeBob, or beach theme, you can make it completely your own. You could even decorate for holidays if you wanted.

Creating a Terrarium

Using an aquarium to create a terrarium is another idea, especially if you're not big on fish. There are many ways to create this setup too, but you'll need a layer of gravel and soil (and some suggest activated charcoal as well) rather than water when creating this type of live ecosystem. So, what can you put in a terrarium?

  • Plants - Nearly anything from ferns and mosses to succulents and houseplants work well in a terrarium. With your own research, you may find other suitable plants to use. Just be sure the plant you select is compatible with your terrarium style and its conditions (my mom could tell you what happens when you don't. LOL).
  • Animals - When adding animals, you may choose to have a wet or a dry style terrarium. Animals for a wet style include tree or African dwarf frogs, certain toads, tadpoles, and crawdads (water is needed for this type). Dry animals include tarantulas, chameleons, toads, salamanders, geckos, and hermit crabs. Be sure to choose plants accordingly - moisture lovers for wet tanks and drought tolerant for arid types.
  • Snailarium - This is one I recently became familiar with, as my son decided to keep two garden snails he found. Your snails will thrive as long as you keep your soil neutral or alkaline (acidic is bad for their shells). Mist daily for moisture. We added native plants that our snails were familiar with but can also use as food. Also, do not place in direct sunlight.
  • Bug terrarium - Another interesting idea, a complete bug ecosystem. My son's recent fascination with bugs, including the giant Hercules beetle he put in his bug catcher, prompted us to explore this option. Use an old aquarium and fill with soil or substrate. Add some native plants and provide places to climb and hide. Then collect your bugs. You can use just about any local insects you find, just do your research to see if there are any that cannot be housed together or have special considerations. Pill bugs, ladybugs, beetles, praying mantis, and stick bugs are common choices.

Other Uses for Aquariums

  • Aquascaping - Another way to use an aquarium is to set it up just for plants. Maybe you don't want the hassle of keeping up with a critter or you're just a plant enthusiast and you want more possibilities to try out your green thumb. Consider aquascaping. You still need the basics as if setting up a regular aquarium - a filter, an air pump or way to oxygenate the water, a light and substrate for plants, and possibility even a heater depending water temps. Thoroughly research plants since aquatic doesn't necessarily equate to being fully submerged.
  • Food tank - A unique, but convenient, use for an aquarium is to create a "food tank." This is useful if you have other pets that you have to provide food for such as turtles, large fish, lizards, or toads. Some ideas include making a worm farm with earthworms or adding mealworms, a live-well to keep minnows, or a habitat for keeping crickets.
  • Pet tank - If you still want a unique pet but don't want to set up your aquarium with fish, create a reptile habitat for snakes, turtles, and lizards. You can make a home for amphibians, varieties of crabs, and crayfish. If you have large enough tanks, they can be used for hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and other small animals. I've used them for baby chicks until they're old enough to go outside. The glass helps hold in warmth, it's safe for them, and easy to clean.
  • Garden tank - Lastly, if you have old fish tanks laying around and need something to do with them, try repurposing them for use in the garden. They can be used as mini greenhouses, a fairy herb garden, a way to display a unique succulent collection, or to create an aquaponics or hydroponics system.