Aquascaping reef tank columns in a saltwater tank


Aquascaping for marine aquariums is the act of arranging your live rock into a presentable display which is appealing to look at but still providing a healthy rock arrangement for your livestock. Of the several different types of Aquascaping for reef tank I prefer the column appearance. It provides several different heights for different corals to grow on while also limiting the space that the rock takes up.  This allows the fish plenty of room to swim freely.

My approach to creating reef tank columns is fairly simple. Drill holes through the rock and run a piece of PVC pipe through the holes for stability. As far as how to choose the rock, I just pick one large piece of base rock and the remainder, I just use whatever I have available. I realize that many people would recommend too use some type of epoxy or pond foam to further seal the rocks together to make sure nothing will come apart or fall over, however, I personally am in and out of my tanks so much that sealing the rocks together is just not an option.

Rocks chosen for column

I use a one inch diameter piece of PVC pipe as the stabilizer so I purchased a 1 and ¼ inch drill bit. I use a Lenox drill bit which was designed to drill through course surfaces such as rocks. It was about ten bucks and so far a very good purchase. It cuts through the rock very well.

Drill bit used

Since live rock is so porous I don’t clamp it down due to the fact that it doesn’t give much resistance. I hold the rock with one hand against the ground and drill with the other. The drill bit makes a nice even hole through the rock.

find a place to drill

It’s not an exact science on where you choose to drill your hole but I try to go from heaviest to lightest rock and I try to keep in mind good places to glue frags down where they will still get direct light.

Drilling through live rock has little resistance
Rocks drilled for column
Begining to build the column

Once the column is formed I glue the frags onto the rock. On this particular structure I glued some Montipora frags near the bottom and some different Birdsnest and Digitata frags in the middle. Then to finish the column off I placed different Acro species near the top.

Frags placed so they will all get light

Once the column is placed in the water I twisted the rock around just a little bit to make sure all the frags get light.

Rock column placed in tank
Frags getting direct light

A straight column alone is not enough hiding places for different species of fish or shrimp to hide so I also created a second column to place near this column and pushed some smaller rocks against the base for livestock to get shelter under it if needed.  My final result with aquascaping was an attractive column structure which will provide good light to frags, places for livestock to take shelter, and still leaving ample area of free swimming room for the fish.


Normally the PVC would be cut for a display tank. I leave the PVC sticking from the top because i hold onto it while fragging.

Aquascaping reef tank

14 thoughts on “Aquascaping reef tank columns in a saltwater tank

  1. Cool idea, thanks for the tip! I am so tired of having my rocks fall down all the time- but as an artist and avid gardener I tend to move them around too much! I am creating a new 55 gal and want to secure the rocks better. 1″ is too big for my rocks but I’m sure I can find a thinner plastics substitute.
    Thanks again! Love your site.

  2. How has this held up over time? Is it still standing?

    I’ve thought about this exact thing, although I was going to fill the PVC pipes with sand/cement to prevent them from leaning and to provide a bit more mass.

    1. Hi Wade,
      Yes the columns are still standing and are solid. I could see adding sand to the pipe as giving it more weight and being a little bit more sturdy. However I have a wave maker on this tank with tons of flow and everything is sturdy the way it is. Good luck on your aquascaping!

  3. nice to see that … i have done mine before 70 days now i put 1/2 inch pvc and drill the rocks … i tried to get flat rocks as much as i can and build 4 towers and then connect in between with other flat rocks to .. all are gr8 .. i have one stand moving a bit with the 2 mp40 so i will need to adjust the rocks and the weight to make more steady if you tell me how i can post pic i will do it over here

    i think its the best way to build nice aquascaping and avoid as much as you can to make the rocks lay on the sand and avoid dead spaces … on top of that the water flow is much better all over the tank nothing blocking the flow i really recommend it

    one more think this will give more space to build corals shelves and sure it will look nicer.


    1. Maze that turned out looking great!
      I can see the tower on the left swaying a little bit. It does look like you might need a heavier base rock on that column OR possibly just try moving it to be one of the middle columns where it might not have as much flow to deal with. Looks great , thanks for posting the video link!

  4. Tom,
    I’ll repeat it again, you give some really good info and some very cool ideas on my second go-around at this. Did I mention that I’ve only been active in reef keeping for 1 year an some months?

  5. Tom I just stumbled onto your site and man its awesome.
    I’m in process of setting up a, I think its called a corner hex. It’s a corner tank 46 gallon with 3 panels in front but anyways I wanna do a column and this is nice site. Any pointers il take them.

  6. When doing this can you put multiple corals on/in at the same time? Wouldn’t that mean you would be quarentining them at the same time also? Or do you do this after you’ve had the corals in your tank for a while?

    1. Yes to add them as I did in the article you would want to have them all QT’d for at least a month if you have a QT tank.
      If you dont then the frags need to at least be dipped in some type of anti pest solution.

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