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How to Grow a Wall to Wall Reef Tank

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Last updated on November 17th, 2023


Wall to Wall Reef Tanks

Do you want a wall-to-wall coral reef?

Wall-to-wall coral packed tanks are simply beautiful. Exemplifying what you would expect to see on the coral reef. These coral packed tanks are the reason most of us start reef tanks to begin with. I'm betting you've seen these gorgeous reef tanks that look like what we would expect to see in movies and public aquariums and thought "I want that in my house!". I am right there with you! But has anyone told you how to get there?

I want to make sure to take the time and talk (or write in this case) to you about how to get that wall-to-wall reef. That way, rather than wishing to reach this dream, and never getting it, you will be able to have a piece of the cinematic ocean in your home. If this advice helps you, I have one request! Please tag @ReefStable wherever you post your photos so that I can also enjoy the impressive reef tank you are about to build!

Shop Coral at Reef Stable

Deciding what you really want

If you clicked the link and decided to read past the intro, I'm guessing that you want a wall-to-wall coral reef, just like me! But there's more to it than just that. Some of it comes down to what type of coral you want, and what are your goals with your own aquarium. I just made it sound complicated, didn't I? Don't worry, it's really fairly simple.

We all want the crazy reef tanks from movies and deep dive documentaries. However, when this happens, what do you do when you find a new coral that you simple "HAVE TO HAVE"? You either get rid of a coral you have in the tank to make room, or set up another tank. At this point you may be asking, "why are you making this awesome wall-to-wall coral reef sound like a bad thing?", and it really isn't. I just want to talk to you the same way I would talk to my friends about this because even these awesome tanks still have disadvantages.

What kind of wall-to-wall coral do you want in your reef?

This is the part that may trip you up a bit. When I see these coral packed tanks, I used to think I could just fill in all the gaps in the tank with different coral. I now know that as soon as you put a torch next to an acropora, you no longer have an acro (RIP). Lessons like this are how we learn. Granted, I learned many of these lessons over 10 years ago, and thankfully the coral weren't as expensive as what I keep now.

I'm not saying you can't have both, there are plenty of mixed reefs on Instagram that have proven that it is possible. That's where you have to plan ahead for what you want. That way, you can put each of these coral in a spot that they can't hurt the other coral.

Start Your Wall To Wall Reef With Reef Stable!

The easiest way to wall-to-wall coral tank

Let me start by saying that if these wall to wall coral tanks were "easy", then everyone would have one. That being said there are some ways that are much easier than others. The choice in coral is the biggest factor. For example, if you are looking for a wall-to-wall high end acropora filled reef tank, get ready to spend some major cash, or you will need to be extra-ordinarily patient in waiting for the coral to grow.

On the other side of that, you can fill your reef with fast growing, and relatively lower cost soft coral that will fill the tank very fast. Then there is the hammer and torch filled tank in the middle, where they will grow faster than most SPS coral, but due to popularity, you may pay for the cool options. You will see some example photos below to help you decide what kind of reef tank you want. Let's look at a few options, as well as the pros and cons of each.

Soft Coral

The easiest way to have a picture perfect reef tank is to fill the tank with fast growing, soft coral. Most of these soft coral grow quickly and still have a lot of color, similar to some of the more difficult coral. Beyond the color, soft coral can sway with the flow. Adding a lot of movement and relaxation to the reef!

Wall to wall soft coral reef tank

Leather Coral - Large

There are a number of soft coral options. The larger of these is the leather corals. Leather coral are large, fleshy coral that expand their arms or polyps (depending on the coral) and give a beautiful display. If you are looking to fill a lot of space in your reef quickly, leather coral are a great way to do so.

A good example of these includes the Green Polyp Toadstool Leather Coral. This coral has a large stalk and flat "mushroom-like" head with long stalk like polyps that will pulse with the water flow. On the other side of this are coral like the Kenya Tree, as well as Nepthia and Sinularia. These are more tree-like leather coral. The branched puff up into soft arms that will sway. There are a lot of different leather coral to choose from.

How to Care For Leather Coral

Zoanthids - Low / Flat

Zoanthids are one of my favorite for filling in large spaces due to their bright colors and fast growth. Zoas grow across rocks, and while they can stretch toward the light, they generally stay fairly low. Zoas and Pallys known for creating what is called a zoa garden. Zoa gardens are a "flatter" rock that you "plant" a variety of zoas the same way you would plant a garden. As the zoas grow outward, they fill in like a bright flower bed. In terms of soft coral, a beautiful zoa garden is easy to keep and there are few coral that come close to this about of color in such a small space.

Zoa Garden

If you'd like to start a zoa garden, check out this article.

Clove Polyps - Flowing Coral

I really didn't want any kind of clove polyps in my tank because they grow very fast. Most clove polyps will take over any rocks they can reach. So before I say much more, if you like clove polyps, you can place them on a rock in the corner or in the sand, not touching other rocks. Then you don't need to worry about these polyps taking over your tank.

All of this and it turns out that the Firework Clove Polyps are some of my wife's favorite coral. They grew very long stalks and pulse in the water flow. They are simply a beautiful coral that you, like myself and most people that stop by, probably can't resist. They also add a lot of filled in space. So if you're looking for a wall-to-wall reef, these long stalk clove polyps are an easy win.

Firework Clove Polyps

Mushroom Coral

Mushroom coral will attach to the sides and undersides of most rock. They will spread quickly and fill in most of your tank that doesn't already have coral. The only caution with mushroom coral is that they can spread and fill in a lot of rock fairly quickly. If that's the look you're going for though, this is a GREAT coral for you!

See Mushroom Coral from Reef Stable.

LPS Coral

With what we call LPS in the hobby, you have two paths to take. There are the Euphyllia types of coral, such as hammers, torches, frogspawn, and octospawn. The other path are non-flowing large head coral such as scoly coral and acans. If you're trying to keep wall-to-wall coral, Euphyllia gardens are one way you will absolutely enjoy!

You'll want to keep some distance between the coral to give them space as they grow. Other than that, one thing to consider is that most LPS coral grow fairly slow. While they tend to grow faster than SPS coral, they are still relatively slow growing coral. If you are willing to buy high-end pieces and wait for them to grow, you will be very happy! If you're looking for an instant coral garden, due to their popularity, it can be very expensive.

LPS Coral Garden

Euphyllia - Large Flowing Coral

Hammers, torches, frogspawn, and octospawn are some favorites you should really consider looking at. Torch coral have larger, fleshy tentacles that sway in the flow. Hammers and the different "spawn" coral don't tend to flow as much, but they do add some movement in the reef. All of these coral are very popular at the moment. The downside is that with popularity, they are harder to find, and more expensive. If you can get ahold of some of these beautiful coral, they make a great focal point for your reef tank!

Euphyllia Coral Garden

See the Hammer and Torch Coral I have Available.

Large Polyp - Flatter Coral

Coral like Acans and Scolys have large, fleshy heads that can grow large, but tend not to spread as well as many other coral. Because of this, I think they are best as filler coral especially on the bottom of the tank and in the sand bed. They are great coral for adding color and filling in the sand bed.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot more to say about these coral. They are very cool, and can thrive when fed, though often not needed. There are no hidden secrets, and they show their color and whether they are doing well or not simply by the amount of "fluffiness" of the heads. They may not fill the reef, but they are a very cool addition to the lower areas that may not otherwise have any coral.

See All LPS Coral from Reef Stable.

SPS Coral

When it comes to wall-to-wall coral reef tanks, SPS coral are likely the first thing you imagine. As I'm sure you are aware, it is also going to be either the slowest option or most expensive option.

SPS Coral Garden

Based on the image above, I'm sure you can agree that a wall-to-wall SPS reef tank is hard to beat. The part that is difficult with SPS packed reefs, is that they grow very slow. Though you may be able to get ahold of a few large colonies, most of the nicest acropora and other SPS are sold as very small frags and can be fairly expensive. Unfortunately, there is not much you can do to get around this. For wall-to-wall SPS, you will either have to spend time or money (or both) to get that amazing tank you're hoping for!

See All SPS Coral from Reef Stable.

Mixed Coral

Now, I'm sure you're wondering how to meet in the middle. If acros take too long to grow, and soft coral grow fast, and LPS need space, what about combining them all? Mixed reef tanks add an additional challenge where there is a mix of high and low flow demand coral, as well as high and low light demand coral. There are ways to make this work well (as you'll see in the photos below), but I won't go into depth about how to do that here.

Mixed Reef Coral Garden

As you can see, some mixed reef tanks are as beautiful, if not more beautiful, than SPS reef tanks! The soft and LPS coral helps fill in the tank while the SPS coral is growing out! This is one of the best compromises between speed, cost, and beauty!

Mixed Reef Coral Garden

Start Your Wall To Wall Reef With Reef Stable!

Shop Coral at Reef Stable


When it comes to wall to wall reef tanks, there are a number of ways to get there. You can start with soft coral, and over time either transition to a different type or add other coral to create a wonderful mixed reef that wil be the envy of everyone that visits. I am hoping that this article helps you decide what kind of reef tank you are looking to achieve, and hope to help get you there.

If you would like to start a beautiful reef tank, I would love to get you stated! Check out some of the amazing coral available from Reef Stable and build your own wall-to-wall reef tank!

How to care for different coral types:

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About the Author

Reef Stable Founder John Krenzer

John is a Software Engineer with a passion for saltwater aquariums, as well as the founder and president of Reef Stable. He started in the aquarium hobby as a child with a 20 gallon freshwater aquarium. His interest in aquarium life grew and in 2008, John set up his first saltwater aquarium.

Today, John maintains an over 300 gallon reef tank system, consisting of a 120g reef and a 210g reef. These large tanks are contained within the same system, sharing a sump as a means to reduce total maintenance and increase total water volume.

John writes articles for the blog as a means to learn about more reef aquarium topics. These articles act as a reference for the readers as well as himself. John updates these articles frequently to provide additional information or make corrections as new information becomes available.

If you would like to request an article, tank tour article, or to collaborate, let me know via the Contact Me Page!

About Reef Stable

Reef Stable was initially founded in 2019 as a reef tank parameter log to fill a need. Reef Stable quickly grew, becoming a location to solve all of your reef tank problems as well as a place to learn.

Reef Stable now provides a Reef Blog, Reef Aquarium Guides, Coral Care Guides, Identification and Solutions for Pests and Algae, and Reef Dosing Calculators, in addition to the original Reef Parameter Log.

Reef Stable continues to grow, striving to provide a single location for all your reef tank needs!

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