Best Substrate for Planted Tank?

Its the martial at the bottom of your aquarium to root plants into. However, substrates can also have an affect on water chemistry, filtration, and the aesthetic appeal of your planted aquarium.

Without good substrate, youll struggle to grow beautiful lush plants. At the end, Ill review my top picks for the best substrate for planted aquariums.

PreviewProduct ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia 9 Liter Normal Type Buy on Amazon Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel – Stable Porous Natural Planted Aquarium Substrate 15.4 lbs Buy on Amazon CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black Buy on Amazon Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 1 L Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil Buy on Amazon Hermit Habitat Terrarium Substrates, 5-Pound, Marine Blue Buy on Amazon Last update on 2021-11-30 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API Before you go ahead and look at individual types of substrate for your planted tank, youll need to understand some basic facts.

Because theres no point investing in an expensive substrate which is packed full of nutrients if you want to keep water column feeders. If you want, you can add iron supplements to your aquarium to help control the hydrogen sulfide your plants cant deal with. Complete substrates are excellent for starting your nitrogen cycle because they tend to cause an ammonia spike.

Once youve cycled your tank and tested the pH levels, you can add fish. This type of layering can create a good base for your plants to root into, and offers a great environment for them to grow. And by layering the substrates, the gravel will help stop smaller particles from clouding the water in your tank.

Nutrient Rich Granules are the ideal size for aquatic plants Great option if you keep many different types of plants in your tank Color can make vibrant fish and shrimp pop Lowers pH and softens water (good if its needed in your tank) Lowers pH and softens water (bad if you need to avoid this) A little more expensive than other options (but price is justified) Can initially cause an ammonia spike (good for cycling a new tank) Summary: This is a premium organic freshwater substrate made from baked soil granules.

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia 9 Liter Normal Type Last update on 2021-11-30 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API The clay gravel is porous, and ideal for plants and their root structures. The substrate isnt chemically treated, and wont alter the water chemistry in your tank.

If you choose Seachem Flourite, I recommend you clean it before adding it to your planted aquarium. Long lasting quality Porous clay gravel Doesnt affect water chemistry Organic Provides plenty of essential nutrients Summary: A clay-based substrate, its high in iron and has a tendency to lack in other nutrients.

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel – Stable Porous Natural Planted Aquarium Substrate 15.4 lbs Last update on 2021-11-30 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API This substrate provides an excellent base for your plants roots to grow in and creates a biological balance, making it easier to cycle out water. Packed full of nutrients Iron rich, so no need to add extra laterite Contains no artificial substances Includes live Heterotrophic bacteria Wont discolor your water Available in appealing colors

Summary: If youre looking for a substrate which looks cool, adds some nice texture, and is packed with nutrients, this might be the one for you. CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black Last update on 2021-11-30 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API The formula has been specifically designed to also help support betta fish and dwarf shrimp.

The only real con with this substrate is it can make your water cloudy for a few hours when you add it in. Full of nutrients Lowers pH (only good if you need your pH lowered) Aims to promote root development Ideal if you own a Betta or Dwarf Shrimp Summary: A nutrient rich substrate, it promotes the growth of healthy bacteria and is a fantastic bottom layer for your plants to set their roots in.

Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 1 L Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil Last update on 2021-11-30 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API Hermit Habitat Terrarium substrate is an all natural gravel which provides a base for your plants to root. However, it offers no nutritional value, so its suited to plants who primarily get their nutrients from the water.

Adds color and shine to your aquarium Natural gravel Suited to water column plant feeders Also great for normal fish tanks and terrariums Wont discolor your water Not ideal for root feeding plants Needs to be replaced every 6 months Summary: A basic substrate, its primary purpose is to add color and shine to your planted aquarium.

Hermit Habitat Terrarium Substrates, 5-Pound, Marine Blue Last update on 2021-11-30 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API PreviewProduct ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia 9 Liter Normal Type Buy on Amazon Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel – Stable Porous Natural Planted Aquarium Substrate 15.4 lbs Buy on Amazon CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black Buy on Amazon Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 1 L Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil Buy on Amazon Hermit Habitat Terrarium Substrates, 5-Pound, Marine Blue Buy on Amazon Last update on 2021-11-30 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What substrate should I use for my planted aquarium?

Aquarium soil, such as UNS Controsoil or Aquario NEO Soil, is typically a clay-based substrate full of nutrients that excel plant growth. It is the best substrate for aquarium plants and a must-have for a high-tech planted tank.

Do you need special substrate for aquarium plants?

You also have to provide substrate at the proper depth for your aquarium plants. … If they are planted in the substrate that is not deep enough, the roots will become entangled and the aquarium plants will suffer from a lack of nutrients. The deep-rooted plants need at least a 6 cm deep substrate (2 to 3 inches).

Is sand or gravel better for planted aquarium?

Benefits of Using Aquarium Gravel. In terms of planted tanks, plants will usually always do better in gravel than in sand. The small spaces between the rocks, as well as the rocks themselves, provide a great place for plants to set their roots and to allow for big root networks to develop fairly quickly.

Which background is best for planted aquarium?

Vallisneria..Anubias..Rotala Indica..Swords..Ludwigia..Cryptocorynes.

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Formulated to support nitrifying bacteria and maintain a neutral to slightly acid pH while not discoloring the water. It is composed of an extremely porous material that contains a wealth of nutrients as well as beneficial bacteria to support the nitrogen cycle .

It is formulated to support nitrifying bacteria and maintain a neutral to slightly acid pH while not discoloring the water.

Next to saltwater reef tanks, the most beautiful type of aquariums are those filled with live plants. Planted freshwater tanks pose a challenge, however, because the ideal substrate for your fish may not support your rooting plants growth. If you want to exercise your aquatic green thumb youll need the best substrate for planted tanks!

View Product Mr Aqua Plant Soil Weight: Approximately 1.8 pounds Type: Complete Fortified Gravel Color: Black There are many benefits to using special substrates in your planted tanks rather than using regular aquarium gravel or sand .

Protect delicate plant roots Support healthy colonies of good aquatic bacteria Prevent compaction and oxygen-depleted dead zones from developing AdvantagesDisadvantages Supports rooting plant growth and colonies of good aquarium bacteria Particles are sized to prevent oxygen depletion and dead zones in your tank Provides nutrients and trace minerals for healthy plants Fertilizing qualities last for many years before replacement is needed May be more expensive than traditional aquarium gravels and sand Fewer options in terms of colors and textures More complicated to use as you may need to add several types of substrate to your tank in layers or pockets to get the effect you want May still need to add fertilizer and nutrients to the tank to support plants growing on decor

Its not always easy to immediately identify a good substrate for your tank, because it depends on the types of plants or fish you want to keep. Aquarium sand is usually collected from streams and rivers or manufactured from silica and processed into a uniform size and shape. Any substrate with a particle size from 1/16 to 2 mm in diameter is considered sand no matter what it is made from.

Sandy tanks nearly always have problems with dead zones and produce spindly and weak plants. Youll have to read the fine print to determine what each product is made from, as it isnt always easy to tell. The best fortified gravel substrates for planted tanks are usually manufactured from natural ingredients and slowly release nutrients and trace minerals into your aquarium water.

They may contain volcanic ash, rich iron-infused clay or other natural ingredients that boost the fertility of the plants in your tank. Regular aquarium gravel and products made from polished pebbles, glass or resins are not suitable for growing rooting plants. You might be tempted to make a potting soil aquarium , but Id advise against that if you also plan to keep aquatic animals and fish in your tank.

You can occasionally make it work by using a pocket of potting soil underneath a layer of sand or gravel, but this isnt ideal for your plants. While it may be tempting to opt for another type of natural aquarium substrate like marble or coral, these are bad choices for planted tanks. While you can use crushed coral substrate in freshwater aquariums to help increase your waters pH, it can be toxic to aquatic plants.

You dont have to mix or layer it in your tank (although you still might choose to) A complete substrate supports the plants roots and provides the minerals they need to grow. A compound aquarium substrate is one that requires the addition of another type to make it viable for growing plants . If you opt for this mix youll have to pay close attention to how you layer or cap your substrates to prevent cloudy water.

But you may be drawn to the appearance of a substrate that isnt ideal for rooting aquatic plants, like a smooth sand or soil. The particle size matters to your plants and aquatic animals and affects the function of your filtration systems. Youll need to use about double the amount of fine products like fortified sands and soils since they compact down so much, too.

You may need to add substrate occasionally to replace any thats been lost to filters or gravel vacs. Sand and aquarium soils are harder to maintain because gravel vacuums and filters can pick up the sediment along with the waste products. If you cover the filter intakes and gravel vacs to prevent this they will leave more waste behind, which could hurt your fish and plants.

These six substrates represent some of the best options on the market for planted freshwater tanks that also support community fish and invertebrates. Its nearly always better to allow a planted tank to cycle for a few weeks before adding animals to your aquarium, in case of ammonia spikes. Weight: 20 pounds Type: Complete Fortified Gravel Color: Red Particle size: Coarse 3 to 6mm

The coarse red gravel is perfectly sized for all types of filtration systems and its easy to vacuum clean. Your plants will get a jump-start when you add this substrate to your tank, because you wont have to wait weeks for colonies of good aquatic bacteria to grow. PROSCONS Coarse 3 to 6mm particle size is ideal for growing rooting aquatic plants and contains 25 essential minerals Gravel includes Amazon black water that contains good aquarium bacteria Requires no rinsing so you can add it straight to your tank!

Weight: 15.4 pounds Type: Complete Fortified Gravel Color: Black Particle Size: Approximately 2 to 3mm Ive used it completely on its own in densely planted tanks and used it under the sand when I wanted a smooth lake bottom look to my aquariums. Its a stable clay-based gravel thats high in iron and the ideal size for filtration systems and rooting plants.

Flourite is a high-quality substrate that lasts for years and doesnt really compact down, so you dont need to worry about dead zones or adding extra gravel to your tank. PROSCONS 2 to 3mm porous clay particles are ideal for most rooting plants and supports healthy bacterial growth Iron and mineral-rich clay compound supports healthy plant growth Does not compact or decompose in your tank and lasts many years Requires additional fertilizers as this formula doesnt contain everything you need for balanced plant growth Clay particles are rough and not ideal for growing plants with fine roots like ground covers Very dirty substrate that requires a lot of rinsing and tank cycling

Weight: 8.8 pounds Type: Complete Fortified Fine Gravel Color: Dark Brown Particle Size: Approximately 2mm Its the ideal size and shape for raising baby and adult shrimp, and it works with most types of filtration systems too. PROS CONS Molded soil particles support plant growth and allow baby and adult shrimp to thrive in your tank Porous particles help establish good aquarium bacteria and maintain your tanks pH at neutral to slightly acidic Round shape is ideal for plants with fine roots or growing dense ground covers

Soil pellets eventually breakdown and loses their shape so you may need to replace every few years Lighter than aquarium gravel, so gravel vacs and filtration systems can accidentally pick them up Shift to slightly acidic water pH is ideal for shrimp but not all aquatic fish and plants These gravel-sized particles are made from organic and inert materials that slowly release minerals to support healthy plants and bacteria. PROSCONS Ideal size for growing aquatic plants and supporting invertebrates like shrimp The organic composition slowly releases fertilizer to your water over 16 months Pellets are porous and allow good aquarium bacteria to become established in your substrate

Weight: 11.5 pounds Type: Complete Fortified Sand Color: Black Particle Size: Just under 2mm Check The Price If youve been considering using Ada soil but dont care to deal with the downsides, then this aquarium sand for aquatic plants by Up Aqua could be a great choice for your tank. PROSCONS Small sand pellets slowly release minerals into your water and support plant and bacterial growth No rinsing needed, so you can add it straight to your tank!

Check The Price This substrate closely resembles the red-colored Eco Complete but is black and has a wider mix of particle sizes. But like the other version, this product is ideal for planted tanks and all types of tropical freshwater fish. It supports lush plant growth and comes filled with Amazon black water for healthy bacteria proliferation.

PROSCONS Mix of sand and gravel particles allows plenty of water to flow through your substrate to prevent dead zones Contains 25 minerals proven to support plant growth and comes filled with Amazon black water containing good aquarium bacteria Ready to use straight out of the bag, with no rinsing needed! For planted shrimp tanks, the Fluval Stratum is ideal but the Mr Aqua is also a good option If you prefer a sandy substrate, consider the Up Aqua Aquatic Sand, or use a good plant substrate for the lower layers and cap it with the sand of your choice.

In this guide, we dive into the different types of substrates for planted tanks. In addition, we give you a few of our choices for the best planted aquarium substrate on the market.

We want a planted aquarium substrate thats porous because it provides space for beneficial organisms to make a home in. While its a bit of jargon its not hard to understand: essentially, the CEC is how well a medium can grab onto and release positively charged ions.

Substrates with a good CEC will also absorb free floating nutrients, such as when you add liquid fertilizers. Aesthetics is entirely subjective and youll have to decide which substrate looks the best to you and has all of the benefits you need for your planted aquarium! ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia 9 Liter Normal Type Completely new substrate made from rare and sparse… Rich in organic elements and nutrients that…

It is packed full on nutrients right out of the bag, making it the perfect all-in-one solution for any planted tank owner. Cons Needs time to cycle: The flip side of having tons of nutrients is also having a lot of ammonia. If you are looking for great plant growth without the need for additional aquarium fertilizers , this is the perfect choice.

Contains major and minor trace elements to nourish… Substrate encourages healthy plant root growth Eco-Complete is so complete it even includes the beneficial heterotrophic bacteria the aquarium cycling process normally takes weeks to grow! It is significantly cheaper than AquaSoil, but make sure you add the cost of root tabs when considering which planted tank substrate to buy.

In addition, Eco Complete is high in iron and contains over 25 trace elements to promote a healthy planted tank. Cons Inert (doesnt contain many nutrients right out of the bag): If you decide to go with Eco Complete, I would recommend getting some root tabs if you want to start out on the right foot. Seachem Flourite Black is a porous clay gravel that provides a sleek look unlike any other planted aquarium substrate.

Cons No natural nutrients: As with a few other choices on our list, I highly suggest that you pick up some Seachem Root Tabs for use with this Flourite. Stimulates strong aquarium plant growth Promotes neutral to mildly acidic pH Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum is made from mineral rich volcanic soil that contains tons on trace elements to encourage healthy growth.

Stratum is made up of mostly larger sized granules (similar to ADA AquaSoil), but it tends to be extremely light. It contains a proprietary blend of organic and inert substances that provide all the necessary elements for healthy plant growth. The micropores provide additional filtration capacity and allow free-floating organics, nutrients, and other substances to collect within the grains.

Beneficial bacteria and other organisms then colonize the pores and help your aquarium ecosystem function even more effectiely. Nice consistency and texture: Mr. Aqua Soil is made up of smooth, round pieces around 0.5cm in diameter. Pricey for the Coverage Amount: Mr. Aqua Aquarium Soil is one of the best substrates on the market to start your plants off in.

However, plants deficient in Phosphorus will take it up quickly, making the binding action of this clay soil less problematic. Traditional wisdom holds that Laterite is purely an additive but it also makes a fine substrate by itself. Laterite tends to be more expensive than Flourite but has nearly 10 times the iron content, an essential plant nutrient for chlorophyll production and enzymatic regulation.

Neutral: Laterite doesnt buffer pH but it neither raises nor lowers it, making it useful for tanks with a decidedly alkaline or acid water chemistry. Nutrients like iron may decline, and require supplemental boosting but its CEC means it will continue to replenish itself through fertilization for the lifetime of your aquarium! A surprising choice for the budget conscious shopper that wants the benefits of absorbent substrates like Laterite and Flourite without the cost.

Special Kitty has been lab analyzed by Planted Aquarium Magazine and it actually has 10 to 20 times the CEC of either Laterite or Flourite! This makes quite a bit of sense when you consider the point of kitty litter is to absorb waste efficiently and control odors well before they hit your nose. Nearly all brands on the market have added scents, odor control chemicals, and clumping agents to improve the litters functioning.

This old fashioned brand of kitty litter is 100% clay and works perfectly as a substrate for planted aquariums. Very High CEC: The Cation Exchange Capacity is higher than even specialty substances like Flourite and Laterite. This allows the substrate to bind and hold onto nutrients over time for slow release to plant roots.

Cons Messy: Kitty Litter will usually take a lot of rinsing to come clean due to the dust content. Kitty Litter sometimes decays over a period of months to years into a clay bed instead of hard pellets. Additional fertilizers, water retainers, and more are useless at best and potentially harmful at worst, causing extreme nutrient spikes that can foster algae growth.

Pros Easy to Find: Potting Soil can be found in any home and garden store and for little money. While adding a layer of gravel above the Potting Soil will help hold it all down, moving a plant or digging about will bring debris to the surface. Depending on the brand and composition, you should either pre-rinse the topsoil or simply add it first and then cover it with a layer of sand, All-in-One substrate, or something else.

This reduces the chances of compaction forming anoxic layers and provides the perfect medium for plant roots to thrive in. While the steps vary, a typical Mineralized Top Soil will contain added pottery clay (5-10% of the total volume) which not only increases the CEC but adds weight to the subtrate, potash for potassium, and dolomite for calcium and magnesium. Pros Easily Obtained: Whether you go with garden store topsoil or source it from your own backyard, you wont have much trouble save ensuring its fertilizer and pesticide-free.

Mixed Grain Sizes: Mixed grain sizes are best for good water flow and plant root health Great Additive: Top Soil is the main ingredient for Mineralized Top Soil. While it takes far more work to set up compared to the other options here it combines the best of all worlds: great CEC, looks good(ish), comes pre-loaded with nutrients and can absorb and retain more later on. Cons Messy : Mineralized or standard Top Soil tends to cause cloudiness when disturbed.

Not Inert: As a mixture of organic materials and various minerals whose composition will be mostly unknown, Top Soil will definitely impact water chemistry. So careful cycling and monitoring of the water chemistry is crucial unless you know the details of your Top Soils makeup. Black Diamond Blasting Sand is a controversial yet popular substrate for planted aquariums.

20/40 Grit is the best balance of good plant anchorage while being loose enough for fish to stir with ease. Pros Extremely Inexpensive: Black Diamond Blasting Sand can be found for as little as $15 for a 50 lb bag; enough for a 20-30 gallon tank. Nonporous: While sand has more surface area than gravel it doesnt have nearly as much living space for beneficial bacteria as the All-in-One and clay-based subtrates do.

You need to have a substrate layer of pure sand 3 or more in depth, for starters, which means little water flow is occurring below. Organic material has to then penetrate the sand, which is normally not easy to do, but things like dead and decaying plant roots can do so. Once this occurs, the pocket of rotting material can release poisonous hydrogen sulfide in a slow stream, which can have disastrous effects.

Flourite, Laterite, and Kitty Litter are similar to the other planted aquarium substrates in that they doesnt contain any natural nutrients (it is inert). Each one of these planted aquarium substrates can be recharged with root tabs and will passively absorb even free-floating fertilizers. Attractive appearance; it looks almost identical to traditional gravel substrates but is far more beneficial to plants and fish alike.

The grains of flourite are then ready to absorb and slow release nutrients over time and provide space for beneficial bacteria to take hold. Ammonia spikes are common when first introducing the soils, so make sure you dont have any fish present when youre just setting up the tank. They also take a bit of research to find precisely the right blend or single substrate to suit your needs.

But many aquarists will prefer simply knowing that whats in the bag will ensure incredible plant growth, like any of the other options listed above. If aesthetics are a big deal, such as needing a patch of bare substrate for a foreground point of interest, Soil may not be the best choice. And sourcing your own Top Soil can be dangerous, with pollution, fertilizers, and other hazards potentially placing your planted aquarium at risk.

In addition, a lot of planted aquarium owners like to keep Malaysian Trumpet Snail. They tend to dig in the substrate in search of food, which helps keep it aerated and clean. If you are looking for a substrate that offers explosive plant growth, ADA AquaSoil is a great choice.

If you want a substrate that absorbs nutrients well and has a nice natural look, Eco Complete is a trustworthy, popular choice.

Product Comparison Table: Planted Tank Substrate

Last update on 2021-11-30 / Commissions Earned / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

What is Substrate?

It’s the martial at the bottom of your aquarium to root plants into. However, substrates can also have an affect on water chemistry, filtration, and the aesthetic appeal of your planted aquarium.

Choosing your Substrate

This is important if you want to own a successful planted tank: youYou have plants which get most of their nutrients from the water, and these are called water column feeders.And then you have root feeders, these are plants which obtain their nutrients from the substrate.This can affect the type of substrate you decide to purchase. Because there’s no point investing in an expensive substrate which is packed full of nutrients if you want to keep water column feeders.I’m not saying a nutrient rich substrate won’t do anything for your aquarium. But, if you’re on a budget, you’re money may be better spent elsewhere.

Sand

As long as you choose course sand, it can be a great substrate for planted tanks.However, sand grades smaller than #3 can increase your risk of hydrogren sulfide forming during the nitrogen cycle.If you want, you can add iron supplements to your aquarium to help control the hydrogen sulfide your plants can’t deal with.

Gravel

If you’re plants are column feeders, gravel can work as long as it doesn’t produce a lot of waste.You could also use gravel as a top layer of a multi-substrate tank.If you’re thinking about adding gravel, you’ll need to consider which fish you will be keeping.Some fish may eat small pebbles (goldfish), and some could injure themselves on sharp gravel (betta fish).So make sure you take this into account and choose accordingly.

Complete Substrates

Substrates like ADA aqua soil or CaribSea Eco-Complete contain nutrients which are great if you want to keep root feeders.Complete substrates are excellent for starting your nitrogen cycle because they tend to cause an ammonia spike.This does mean you should only add this substrate to new tank with no fish. Once you’ve cycled your tank and tested the pH levels, you can add fish.

Multi-Substrate

By adding a base later of sand, middle layer of aquarium soil, and a top layer of gravel, you’ll mimic a natural aquatic environment.This type of layering can create a good base for your plants to root into, and offers a great environment for them to grow.And by layering the substrates, the gravel will help stop smaller particles from clouding the water in your tank.

ADA Aquasoil Amazonia

ADA Aquasoil is an excellent option if you want to keep many different plants.Generally, the nutrients will be good in your tank for a year. So you’ll need to provide some liquid dosing.This substrate will lower the pH and soften the water in your tank. Now, this is good for many aquatic plants, but may not be for the fish you keep. So keep that in mind.If you do need to lower your pH, ADA Amazonia Aquasoil will help.

Seachem Flourite

A huge benefit of using Seachem Flourite is you’ll never need to replace it. The clay gravel is porous, and ideal for plants and their root structures.The substrate isn’t chemically treated, and won’t alter the water chemistry in your tank.If you choose Seachem Flourite, I recommend you clean it before adding it to your planted aquarium. If you don’t, it’s more likely to discolor the water.

CaribSea Eco-Complete

Made from volcanic soil, it’s packed full of nutrients.This substrate provides an excellent base for your plant’s roots to grow in and creates a biological balance, making it easier to cycle out water.It contains no artificial chemicals, dyes, or additives and won’t discolor your water.

Mr Aqua Aquarium Soil Substrate

This is another substrate which will naturally lower the pH in your tank.Meaning this is a great option if you’re struggling with high pH levels.The formula has been specifically designed to also help support betta fish and dwarf shrimp.The only real con with this substrate is it can make your water cloudy for a few hours when you add it in.

Hermit Habitat Terrarium Substrate

If you want to add some bright colors, this could be the one for you.Hermit Habitat Terrarium substrate is an all natural gravel which provides a base for your plants to root.However, it offers no nutritional value, so it’s suited to plants who primarily get their nutrients from the water.It’s less work, but you will have to replace this every 6 months.

Runner-Up, Best Overall: Seachem Flourite 15.4 lbs

Seachem Flourite is a porous clay substrate that is nutrient rich, particularly in iron. It can be used as a stand-alone substrate in a freshwater aquarium without the need for additional plant nutrients supplements. It is not chemically treated and is pH neutral. Seachem Flourite comes in 15-pound bags and is available in a natural dark color, red, black, and black sand.

Introduction to Substrates for Planted Aquariums

There are two types of plants typically found in freshwater aquariums: those that root in your substrate and those that grow on your aquarium decor. While all aquatic plants need the right amount of light and nutrients to thrive, your rooting plants need the extra support a good plant substrate can provide.

Sand and Fortified Sand Substrates

There are many benefits to using special substrates in your planted tanks rather than using regular aquarium gravel or sand. Regular aquarium substrates don’t provide any extra nutrients or trace minerals your plants can use, and the texture and composition of these substrates can actually impede your plant’s growth.

Gravel and Fortified Gravel Substrates

A substrate is considered an aquarium gravel if the particle size is 2 mm or larger in diameter. Aquarium gravels can be harvested from the wild or manufactured artificially from resins, clay, or even soil. You’ll have to read the fine print to determine what each product is made from, as it isn’t always easy to tell.The best fortified gravel substrates for planted tanks are usually manufactured from natural ingredients and slowly release nutrients and trace minerals into your aquarium water. They may contain volcanic ash, rich iron-infused clay or other natural ingredients that boost the fertility of the plants in your tank.Regular aquarium gravel and products made from polished pebbles, glass or resins are not suitable for growing rooting plants. Your plants may do OK for a while, especially if you add fertilizers to your water, but they won’t thrive.

Potting Soils and Aquarium Soil

You might be tempted to make a potting soil aquarium, but I’d advise against that if you also plan to keep aquatic animals and fish in your tank. While potting soils can provide a decent environment for rooting plants, they quickly fade as the soil’s nutrients are depleted. You’ll have to replace the soil frequently, too.They’re also nearly impossible to vacuum clean and usually don’t work with aquarium filtration systems. You can occasionally make it work by using a pocket of potting soil underneath a layer of sand or gravel, but this isn’t ideal for your plants.Technically, these soils are considered aquatic sands because of their fine particle size and some are labeled as both sand and soil. An Ada soil aquarium would be one option, or you could search for Controsoil for sale online. Look for products that specifically mention they support plant and bacterial growth and are safe for fish.

Laterite and Vermiculite

Laterite is a type of porous clay that is rich in iron, and vermiculite is a mineral-rich compact substrate that contains aluminum, magnesium and iron.Laterite and vermiculite are both common additives to aquarium substrates for plants but are usually not used on their own. Back in the day, the only option was to make our own plant formulations so we’d have to layer or mix these into our base substrates if we wanted a lush planted aquarium.These days we have complete aquarium substrates available so we’re not limited to mixing custom formulas. But you can still mix laterite and vermiculite into your base substrates to boost their power, or use vermiculite as the bottom layer of substrate and cover (cap) it with another product to enrich your rooting plants.

Particle Size

The particle size matters to your plants and aquatic animals and affects the function of your filtration systems. Some delicate fish like loaches prefer fine sand and gravels that won’t damage their barbells and some shrimp rely on fine sediment for feeding. If you choose an option with a very small size you may need to adjust the filter intakes.

Price and Amount Needed

Substrates for planted tanks can be much more expensive per pound than standard aquarium gravels and sand. While you’ll usually use about a pound of substrate per gallon of water to fill a fish tank, for planted tanks you’ll often use a lot more.You want at least 2 to 3 inches of good substrate for your rooting plants, and you can use even more if you want to create the impression of hills or valleys in your tank. You’ll need to use about double the amount of fine products like fortified sands and soils since they compact down so much, too.

Longevity of Your Substrate

Should you worry about changing aquarium substrates, and how often would you need to do that? If you pick a high quality complete planted substrate, like those in the reviews below, you should not need to swap out your substrates unless you’re completely redoing your aquarium.You may need to add substrate occasionally to replace any that’s been lost to filters or gravel vacs. All substrates compact down a bit, and some types also may break down and decompose in your tank. Sand and soil substrates are the worst offenders of compaction and organic substrate pellets often decompose.

Maintenance Issues

Sand and aquarium soils are harder to maintain because gravel vacuums and filters can pick up the sediment along with the waste products. If you cover the filter intakes and gravel vacs to prevent this they will leave more waste behind, which could hurt your fish and plants.Gravel substrates are easier to maintain and allow more water flow to prevent dead zones. They tend to be better at supporting colonies of good aquatic bacteria too. These substrates also hide the debris and waste better since they blend into the gravel. Sand and soil-based tanks can often look messy by comparison.

Top 6 Substrate for Planted Tank Reviews

These six substrates represent some of the best options on the market for planted freshwater tanks that also support community fish and invertebrates. They are all high-quality products that should help your aquatic plants thrive for years to come.You’ll still need to use plant fertilizers and other additives like CO2, however, especially if you’ve opted for a densely planted tank or one with plants that attach to your decor. It’s nearly always better to allow a planted tank to cycle for a few weeks before adding animals to your aquarium, in case of ammonia spikes.

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

CaribSea Eco Complete Red is my current favorite when it comes to planted aquariums, and of all the options this could be one of the easiest to use too (along with the other Eco Complete formula below). The coarse red gravel is perfectly sized for all types of filtration systems and it’s easy to vacuum clean.Your plants will get a jump-start when you add this substrate to your tank, because you won’t have to wait weeks for colonies of good aquatic bacteria to grow. Instead, the bag is filled with a patented “Amazon” black water along with the substrate. The best part is you don’t need to rinse it—just put it straight in your tank and plant away!

Mr Aqua Plant Soil

If you have a small aquarium with plants and invertebrates, then you should consider this special plant and shrimp formula from Fluval. It’s the ideal size and shape for raising baby and adult shrimp, and it works with most types of filtration systems too. You can use it on its own or mix it with another substrate if you prefer.The particles are made from Japanese volcanic soil and molded into a round shape. They provide minerals and iron to your plants and are porous to support aquatic bacterial growth. Rooting plants of all types will thrive in this substrate and it’s safe for most tropical fish as well.

CaribSea Eco Complete Black

If you’ve been considering using Ada soil but don’t care to deal with the downsides, then this aquarium “sand” for aquatic plants by Up Aqua could be a great choice for your tank. It isn’t truly a sand but rather small clay-based pellets the size of large sand particles.They slowly release minerals into your water and help your plants to grow and thrive. The porous pellets also support healthy bacteria growth and allow water to flow through your substrate. This is an excellent option for growing ground covers with very fine roots and is soft enough for loaches too.

Porosity

Surface area is a big deal in aquariums. We want a planted aquarium substrate that’s porous because it provides space for beneficial organisms to make a home in. While people often think the filtration unit is where all of the good bacteria live, your aquarium substrate can hold as much, if not more bacteria, if it’s nice and porous!

CEC

You’ll see this acronym bandied about a lot in this comprehensive guide. CEC stands for Cation Exchange Capacity. While it’s a bit of jargon it’s not hard to understand: essentially, the CEC is how well a medium can grab onto and release positively charged ions. Many charged ions are essential plant nutrients, so binding them directly to the soil allows plant roots to uptake them easily. Substrates with a good CEC will also absorb free floating nutrients, such as when you add liquid fertilizers.

Buffering Capacity

This is a measure of how a substrate will interact with the water chemistry, specifically the pH. Buffering capacity can be either good or bad, depending on your needs. Some planted aquarium substrates will tend to make the water more acidic in pH. If your fish and plants prefer this environment then that’s perfect. Others will bring the pH around neutral and others will shift it towards alkaline. And many are entirely inert and won’t affect the pH at all.

Aesthetic

Do you like dark substrates or light? Gravel or sand? Clay or soil? A mixture of the above? Aesthetics is entirely subjective and you’ll have to decide which substrate looks the best to you and has all of the benefits you need for your planted aquarium!

Cost

Last and most obvious: how much does it cost? Scientifically formulated substrates can cost tens of dollars per kilo while simple kitty litter or top soil goes for pennies per kilo or even free.

Best Planted Aquarium Substrate Choices

Here are a few of our choices for the best planted aquarium substrate on the market:

Pros

ADA AquaSoil is a revolutionary substrate specially processed from 100% natural materials.It is packed full on nutrients right out of the bag, making it the perfect all-in-one solution for any planted tank owner. This feature alone sets it apart from anything else available.In addition, ADA AquaSoil features a ton of amazing characteristics that we will dive into a little deeper now:

CaribSea Eco Complete

ADA AquaSoil Amazonia may not be the cheapest planted tank substrate out there, but it is definitely worth a try. If you are looking for great plant growth without the need for additional aquarium fertilizers, this is the perfect choice. Just be prepared to spend a little more.

Pros

Seachem Flourite Black is a porous clay gravel that provides a sleek look unlike any other planted aquarium substrate.It is effective when used both by itself or when mixed with other substrates, such as sand or gravel.Flourite is known for its long-lasting attributes and is good for the entire life of your tank; no more worrying about replacing your substrate!

Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum

Overall, Seachem Flourite Black is a great option for those who are looking for something a little different. The black gravel-size pebbles provide an amazingly sleek look, especially against bright green plants. This substrate is definitely a show stopper.

Pros

Mr. Aqua Aquarium Soil is the least common substrate for planted aquariums on our list, but definitely shouldn’t be overlooked.It contains a proprietary blend of organic and inert substances that provide all the necessary elements for healthy plant growth.As a porous substance, this soil has several benefits. The micropores provide additional filtration capacity and allow free-floating organics, nutrients, and other substances to collect within the grains.Beneficial bacteria and other organisms then colonize the pores and help your aquarium ecosystem function even more effectiely.Mr. Aqua is effective for 12 to 18 months and should be supplemented with additional nutrients after that time period. The black coloration of this planted aquarium substrate is extremely sleek and contrasts great with bright green plants.

Natural Kitty Litter

A surprising choice for the budget conscious shopper that wants the benefits of absorbent substrates like Laterite and Flourite without the cost.Special Kitty has been lab analyzed by Planted Aquarium Magazine and it actually hasThis makes quite a bit of sense when you consider the point of kitty litter is to absorb waste efficiently and control odors well before they hit your nose.A very important point: I’m recommendingNearly all brands on the market have added scents, odor control chemicals, and clumping agents to improve the litter’s functioning. You don’t want any of that chemistry in your water or it will definitely cause problems.This old fashioned brand of kitty litter is 100% clay and works perfectly as a substrate for planted aquariums.

Potting Soil

Potting Soil is an increasingly popular planted aquarium substrate because it’s easy to obtain, inexpensive, and creates a beautiful “natural” substrate look.Make sure above all else that you stick with organic blends with no additives. Additional fertilizers, water retainers, and more are useless at best and potentially harmful at worst, causing extreme nutrient spikes that can foster algae growth.Most Potting Soil is peat-based, which means it will buffer your pH towards acidity.Many of the most common aquarium plants and fish thrive in these conditions; South American and Southeast Asian natives like Java Moss and Amazon Sword Plants, for example.The tannins from the peat will also color your water light yellow to tea colored, depending on how much soil you use and how often you change the water.While it does lessen over time it never truly goes away, so hopefully you enjoy the jungle river look!Because potting soil is so loose it’s important to cover it with another substrate layer, like sand, gravel, or an All-in-One substrate. Otherwise the slightest disturbance will cause it to fill the water column with debris, which can cause damage to filtration units.

Top Soil

Believe it or not, standard Top Soil is an excellent substrate for planted aquariums! Top Soil contains more inorganic matter compared to Potting Soil but makes for a great base layer or even main substrate.The main concern with Top Soil is quality control: different brands will contain different materials.You may find yourself sifting out bark and other undesirable particles. Depending on the brand and composition, you should either pre-rinse the topsoil or simply add it first and then cover it with a layer of sand, All-in-One substrate, or something else.Another advantage of Top Soil is the varying grain sizes most mixtures have. This reduces the chances of compaction forming anoxic layers and provides the perfect medium for plant roots to thrive in.Topsoil works even better if used as a base ingredient in a Mineralized Top Soil recipe!While the steps vary, a typical Mineralized Top Soil will contain added pottery clay (5-10% of the total volume) which not only increases the CEC but adds weight to the subtrate, potash for potassium, and dolomite for calcium and magnesium.When properly mixed and added to a new aquarium, you have one of the most natural and potent planted aquarium substrates possible!

Black Diamond Blasting Sand

Black Diamond Blasting Sand is a controversial yet popular substrate for planted aquariums. There is a lot of concern over the abrasiveness; this sand is normally used for sandblasting paint and brick, after all! Surely, it’s too rough for delicate fish and plants?It turns out that isn’t the case at all. It’s been tested be hundreds of aquarists and it’s no more coarse than regular sand. What makes it better for sandblasting is that Black Diamond is especially hard not that its sharper in any way.As an abrasive, it comes in several grades. I prefer the fine grade 20/40 Grit as a planted aquarium substrate. 20/40 Grit is the best balance of good plant anchorage while being loose enough for fish to stir with ease. But any grade is well suited for the job, depending on your personal aesthetic tastes.

Popular Types fo Substrate for Planted Tanks

There are tons of different types of aquarium substrates out there, some of which are

Sand

Gravel is the easiest and most common type of aquarium substrate. It’s the traditional substrate of choice and very attractive if chosen carefully.If you’re just starting up a tank, this is most likely what the people at the local fish store tried to sell you.Gravel has its strengths andIn the end, gravel is an option that I would strongly not recommend. While it is possible to start off a planted tank using gravel as a substrate, you will run into problems later on. A good substrate might be a little more expensive, but it’s worth it is the long run.If you love gravel, another option is to mix it with another substrate. A gravel layer over Potting Soil or mixed with an All-in-One or Fluorite has far more biological capacity compared to pure gravel!

All-in-On Substrates

Flourite, Laterite, and Kitty Litter are similar to the other planted aquarium substrates in that they doesn’t contain any natural nutrients (it is inert).That said, they have a high CEC (Cation Exchange Capacity), meaning they absorbs nutrients from the water very well.Think of these substrates as an empty sponge; they have the potential to absorb a lot but doesn’t come pre-loaded.Depending on the type of plants you plant to keep, it may be best to use a few root tabs when setting up you tank. This will start you off on the right foot and jumpstart some quick plant growth.One of the more interesting features of clay substrates is that they work very well when mixed with other types of substrate.I like to mix up my flourite with a little gravel, dirt, and sand to create a more natural substrate. The grains of flourite are then ready to absorb and slow release nutrients over time and provide space for beneficial bacteria to take hold.When using these substrates make sure you rinse them very well before placing it in your tank. It tends to be extremely dusty and will cloud up you tank like nothing else.

Planted Tank Substrate FAQ’s

Soil substrates may be the most controversial choice (besides kitty litter) for a planted aquarium substrate despite it being the most obvious. It’s exactly what Mother Nature intended for plants and the benefits are massive, especially when used together with any of the other substrates. Soil substrates basically have a little of everything and can patch in the weaknesses of the other substrates.Really, when mixing substrates, the idea is to create a soil substrate. So why not skip the expense and go straight to Top or Potting Soil?Well, several reasons. If your plants or fish have specific requirements that can’t be met by Soil then you may be better off using a substrate that buffers the pH to where you need it to be, like Fluval Plant and Shrimp or Carib Sea Eco Complete. If aesthetics are a big deal, such as needing a patch of bare substrate for a foreground point of interest, Soil may not be the best choice. And sourcing your own Top Soil can be dangerous, with pollution, fertilizers, and other hazards potentially placing your planted aquarium at risk.

How much substrate do I need?

A healthy planted aquarium should generally have 2-3″ of substrate. So…how much substrate do you need to buy to achieve this depth?TheRefer to this substrate calculator for a much more accurate measure.

Does substrate ever need to be changed?

Just like soil, aquarium substrate can eventually be sucked dry of nutrients – no nutrients means no plant growth.So it is necessary to replace the substrate once this happens?Instead of ripping apart your tank (yikes!), a much easer option is simply dosing with a mix of liquid fertilizers and root tabs. Root tabs (fertilizer tabs dug into the substrate) are great because they actually help replenish the natural nutrients in your substrate.

Do I need to clean/vacuum the substrate?

Once a tank is established and planted, there is really no need to disturb the substrate. A lot of what you would “clean” with a vacuum is actually beneficial to the plants.In short –You can, of course, slightly disturb the surface with a net and scoop out any large debris. In addition, a lot of planted aquarium owners like to keep Malaysian Trumpet Snail. They tend to dig in the substrate in search of food, which helps keep it aerated and clean.