Now that you have the substrate down, it's time to give some thought to decorative items, like rocks for starters. Normally, you probably wouldn't think of a rock as a decoration. Just what would your spouse think if you started placing rocks in your living room as a way to decorate. (What's that you say? You have rocks in your living room?) Rocks, quite frankly, perform more than just a decorative function. They also provide your fish with shelter as well as spawning sites. In fact, they're quite essential for the health and well being of your cichlid. You can arrange the rocks so they form caves, grottos, isolated groupings or even just piles. The arrangement you choose depends to a great extent on the natural environment of your fish, as well as their habits.
Sand & Gravel
Oh yes, you will have to clean the gravel in your aquarium. The type of cleaning with which you attack your gravel depends on the amount of it you laid for your substrate. If you were able to use just a thin layer, then you need to do little more than to siphon off the accumulated waste that lingers on the gravel's surface. On the other hand, if you have a thick layer laid down you'll have to perform a more serious cleansing. Before you start worrying, you can find products that assist you in this. One of these is called (strangely enough!) a gravel washer. Simply stated, it's a siphon with a section of rigid tubing about three times the width of a water siphon. The wide portion of the hose is placed into the gravel. The siphon is turned on. Since it does have such a wide diameter, the debris is sucked through the siphon, leaving the heavier gravel behind. If you're going to use this, be very careful around plants, or more specifically, their roots.
Ever hear of bogwood? This can also be a useful tool for furnishing your aquarium. It can go a long way to helping create that natural setting, especially if you have Congo and South American cichlids. While you can collect your own bogwood if you live near any unpolluted bogs, you’d probably be better off just purchasing these at a pet store. (How can you be positive that bog is not polluted?) If the bogwood has been dried, it'll float. This is probably not what you want. You can also screw it to a piece of slate that's heavy enough itself to sink and stay at the bottom of the aquarium. If you don't like that idea, try soaking it in water for an extended period of time. Once it's waterlogged it won't float any longer.
Not really worried about the overall beauty of your aquarium? Then consider using clay flowerpots as housing for your fish. Lay these on their sides. You'll be surprised how the cichlids will appreciate this. You can also use sections of PVC piping. Many cichlid owners do this. Not only are they easily cleaned, they are fairly inexpensive as well. Who cares that they may not be the prettiest things to look at!