All plants, whether they are land plants or aquatic plants, they all have some forms of root systems. Some of these systems can be simple, while others are very complicated. Regardless of the complexity, all roots are used for nutrients uptake. Thanks to these nutrients, the plants can stay alive and healthy.
As you know, land plants have soil. What about aquatic plants in your aquarium? Ever wonder how to hold them ‘standing’ in your tank and provide them with nutrients.
This is when you need Substrate for your tank.
Not only for plants, the substrate is also necessary and important for your fish. Since it is an essential factor of your aquarium, it is crucial for you to choose the best substrate for planted tank.
Table of Contents
- Best Substrate for Planted Tank
- Substrate for Planted Tank Reviews
- Benefits of substrate in aquarium
- Types of substrate for aquarium plants
- What is best substrate for planted aquarium?
- How much substrate for planted aquarium?
- How to set up substrate for planted aquarium?
Best Substrate for Planted Tank
There are many brands and types of substrate on the market. Sometimes they are different in chemical compounds. Sometimes they are different in characteristics. With a lot of choices you have regarding substrate, it can be confusing to choose the most appropriate substrate for your tank.
We have done some intense research and scouting the market for you. And we are glad to present to you this list of the top 6 substrates for your planted tank.
Substrate for Planted Tank Reviews
1. Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate
This product comes in a twenty pounds bag. It is a complete substrate for freshwater tank use. This one substrate is enough for all necessary plants’ need without having to add any other extra substrate or chemical.
This substrate uses new formula for enhanced root development. It is everything in one package. It is advertised that the substrate can be compared with the exuberant soil in Hawaii or Costo Rica. The Eco Complete Substrate alone contains magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, sulfur and more than 25 other elements. This product is perfect for nourishing your aquatic plants.
Not only beneficial for plants, this product is also good for your fish. The substrate has highly porous spherical grains for higher diffusion performance, so the waste is less likely to stay for long on the surface but will be diffused and absorbed into the layer of substrate.
The substrate also contains live Heterotrophic bacteria, which helps rapidly convert fish waste into natural food and nutrients for your aquatic plants in the tank. With the Eco Complete substrate, there will exist a natural biological balance in your tank, making sure all the nutrients and waste are cycled and reproduced as naturally and as fast as possible.
However, there is a problem with this almost-perfect product. It’s the pH level. Being a combination of many nutrients at once, it is very difficult to have a neutral level of pH. This product has a slightly alkaline characteristic. Before placing your fish in the tank, you should check the overall pH level of the whole tank to make sure it falls in the appropriate living range for your fish and your plants.
- All in one substrate
- Include many necessary nutrients
- Porous texture
- Include live heterotrophic bacteria
- Alkaline level of pH
2. Flourite Black
This product comes in a package of 15 pounds. It is black in color (hence, the name) so its appearance is best suited for planted aquarium, but it can also be used in any other aquarium environments that you see fit.
It is not coated or treated with any chemicals, therefore it will contain no harmful substance. It also has the ability to maintain the pH level of the tank without disturbing the overall water quality.
The package alone is enough to provide good and essential nutrients for aquatic plants. The substrate encourages root development for a healthier plant. It can be mixed with any other type of nutrient substrate that you see fits. Yet, it is not necessary. It also does not require gravel modifiers such as laterite to be fully functional.
This substrate is a specially fracted stable porous clay gravel. It makes it easy for the food waste from the fish to be easily dissolved into the layer of substrate, keeping the water clean and healthy for the fish.
The substrate has especially long lasting life. When using Fluorite Black, you do not have to worry about switching it out with newer batch of substrate. You will never need to worry about replacement since the substrate stays effective for as love as the life of your aquarium.
There are very few complaints about this product from customers. If there is anything, that’s the clay dust. Because of its form, when first used in the aquarium, the substrate can release lots of clay dust. These clay dust can make the water cloudy for a few minutes. However, it will quickly sink and dissolve, and the water will be clear again.
- No need extra ingredients
- Porous clay gravels format
- Long lasting quality
- Release clay dust when first used
3. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum
If you have an aquarium that does not only have plants and fish but also shrimp, then this substrate is definitely the right one for you. This is still one of the best substrates out there.
This substrate is made up of natural and mineral rich organic volcanic soil. Yes, it is not normal soil but volcanic soil. Volcanic soil contains many special components that are different from normal soil. All of those volcanic special nutrients are very beneficial for spurring on healthy plant growth. The substrate also contains good nutrients for encouraging root system development.
The texture of this substrate is also great. It is light, noncompacting and porous. With these characteristics, the substrate makes it easy for nitrifying bacteria to grow and develop in the tank. These bacteria will help maintain the water level at the most optimal levels.
The substrate is designed to promote neutral to only mildly acidic pH level.
One special feature of this substrate that is advertised to make this product especially compatible for shrimp tank is the size of the particles. The size of the particles allows the baby shrimp to hide within the substrate until they are large enough to come out of ‘the dirt’ to fend for themselves among other shrimp and fish.
However, there is a little problem with its advertisement about the shrimp. Even though the substrate is gravel like, the size is still pretty small. Even if it can act as a refuge shelter for the baby shrimp, it won’t take long for the shrimp to outgrow the size of the substrate and can’t hide anymore. Still, even then, it is still a great product overall.
- Mineral-rich volcanic soil
- Promote plants growth and root development
- Light, porous
- Neutral to slightly acidic
- Shrimps can quickly outgrow the ‘substrate shelter’
4. Mr. Aqua Aquarium Soil Substrate 1 Liter
This substrate packs an impressive amount of nutrients within itself. These nutrients are very good for the aquatic plants. They provide great source of nutrients for the plants to grow and stay healthy. The substrate also encourage strong root development, helping the plants stay strong in the wavy environment of the tank.
The substrate is light and highly porous. The porous characteristic creates an environment that promotes the growth of healthy bacteria. These bacteria are essential and healthy for the overall environment of the tank.
One more great benefit of this substrate is its ability to maintain and control the pH level of the tank. Unlike a few other types of substrates, this substrate lowers the pH in the aquarium. This soil buffers water pH level at a 6.6 to 6.8 depending on the water parameters. Thanks to that, you do not need to treat your water as often. Furthermore, many freshwater dwarf shrimps and fish prefer the acidic, soft water environment that this substrate creates.
Unlike other substrate brands, this one comes in a particularly smaller package. It is only 1.8 pound. In order to fill a 5.5-gallon tank, you will need a pack and a half to put a layer of substrate thick enough in the bottom of the tank. This is not a big problem, just a little more planning when buying the packages and you will be all fine.
This substrate, when coming out of the bag can release quite a bit dust. The first time putting the substrate into water, the water will become slightly cloudy for a few hours, then it’ll sink down.
- Good nutrients
- Lower pH level
- Promote root development
- Small size bags
- Lots of dust in the beginning
5. UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants
UP Aqua Sand is one of the best substrates in the market with incredibly high rating from customers. And it is highly rated for good reasons.
There is almost no dust released when the substrate placed in the tank. So there is no clouding of the water when the tank is filled with water. It is impressive how clear the water is when setting up with this substrate.
The substrate provides many nutrients to the plants. This substrate is a stand alone. You do not need any extra components or another substrate to support the mini ecosystem inside the tank. This substrate provides enough nutrients for the plants to grow and develop healthily.
The texture of the substrate is round, light and porous. Thanks to the porous form, it is easy to plant the roots of the plants into the substrate. This product also encourages strong root development, making the plants grow more stable.
The substrate does an excellent job in maintaining and controlling the pH level of the water. The substrate lowers the pH level to a range of 6.5 to 7.0 which is perfectly neutral or just very slightly acidic. This range of pH is a perfect environment for many fish and aquatic plants.
The substrate has an incredibly long longevity. It will last as long as your aquarium.
This is a great product. There is almost no complaint reported by the customers. If there is anything, just a very minor complaint about sometimes the bag ripped before arriving at the door. But that has rarely happened. So no need to worry much about this issue.
- Long longevity
- Light and porous
- Provide good nutrients
- Lower pH level in the tank
- Delivery issues
6. CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium
This product is one of the two products on this list that does not feature normal soil but special volcanic soil. This substrate is made out of volcanic soil that is chalked full of essential nutrients for healthy plants. It contains calcium, potassium, sulfur, iron and more than 25 other nutrients. All these nutrients are great for spurring the growth of plants.
The texture of the substrate is light and porous. It provides great base for the roots to grow in and also highly promote the root development that will enhance the plant’s stability.
The substrate creates a biological balance within the tank, making the water being cycling out much easier and faster.
Besides all the necessary nutrients for plants, this product is also iron rich. Therefore, you don’t need to add any extra modifiers such as laterite. The product is good enough to be efficient alone without any extra other substances or another substrate.
The product also contains heterotrophic bacteria that help to naturally convert fish waste into organic matters. These matters are helpful since they can become food for the same fish again.
In the beginning, when you first set up the substrate, you can see that there is no dust released to cloud the water. The substrate also does not contain any dangerous, artificial chemicals, dyes or other additives. It is safe and healthy for your fish and your plants.
There are very few problems with this substrate. One of that is the substrate can smell a little when you first open the bag. It does not affect the smell of the tank once putting in. Besides, this is a freshwater substrate only. It is not ideal to use this substrate in salt water tanks, not freshwater.
- Provide good nutrients
- Volcanic soil
- No artificial chemicals, dyes or additives
- Smell a little bad
- Freshwater tanks only
Benefits of substrate in aquarium
Substrates can serve a lot of functions within the tank.
If you have a planted aquarium, you definitely have to use substrate in order for the plants inside the tank to grow. The roots of the aquatic cannot hold onto glass surface so a layer of substrate in the bottom is an absolute requirement.
Substrates also help keep fish feces and food waste staying at the bottom of the tank instead of floating freely around the fish tank and polluting the water. The layer of substrate in the bottom holds the waste within them after the waste sink to the bottom of the tank.
The substrate provides an aesthetics and natural environment for the fish. In nature, the bottom of the oceans or lakes, rivers are not bare. They have sand, mud, pebbles or some sort of natural materials. Having these materials at the bottom help the fish and creatures in your tank feel more familiar to the living environment. Besides aesthetic purposes, some animals actually require the existence of substrate at the bottom in order to live their normal lives. Some fish and snails need to bury themselves in the substrate to hide or find food within it.
The substrate provides a source of multiple nutrients. Many of these are necessary for the growth of plants and the overall water environment in the tank. Different substrate has different qualities and characteristics. Adding a specific type of substrate can add a particular type of nutrients or substance into the water, and therefore sometimes can affect and control the level of pH in the tank according to the need of your fish and plants.
Types of substrate for aquarium plants
There are quite a few ways to pave the bottom of your fish tanks. Therefore, there is also more than one type of substrate you can use. Here are a few most popular substrates among aquarium hobbyists.
Gravel has always been the most popular aquarium substrate, mostly because of its in-complexity. It is an ideal medium for most tanks and any type of fish or aquatic creatures.
Aquarium gravel is a bit different from the gravel you see on the street. The aquarium gravel is shaped so they have smoother edges, so they can’t damage your fish and also be inert. You need to purchase aquarium gravel from an aquatic center or pet store.
They come in multiple sizes and colors, giving you limitless options to mix match the gravel to decorate your tank.
Sand is another common substrate used in many tanks, especially beginners’ tanks. Sand is ideal for fish that like to dig and bury them. If you have one of those fish, sand would be your go-to choice.
However, because of how small sand particles are, they can easily cause damage to the filters if your fish are the types that like to spur it up in the sand.
Even though it is called ‘coral sand,’ it would be more correct to call it ‘coral gravel.’ They look much more like gravels than sand. This substrate is made of calcium carbonate and it will slowly dissolve in water overtime.
Coral sand serves a bigger purpose than just being a tank decoration. The dissolving process works as a counterbalance to acid built up and decaying organic matter in the aquarium. The coral sand will rise the pH level in the tank, making the water more alkaline. The coral sand is an ideal substrate for your tank if you have a fish that prefer water with higher pH levels.
Marble chippings in many ways are very similar to coral sand. They are a calcium carbonate based substrate. However, it is heavier and not as porous as coral sand.
You can purchase marble chippings as substitute for coral sand because of its cheaper price tag. But it will not as effective in rising the pH level of your tank as the real coral sand.
You may have seen marbles in many tanks before. They are normally flat and spherical. It comes in many colors, giving you many options to decorate your tanks anyway you want.
However, marbles are not usually the best substrate because of the big gaps between the individual marbles. These gaps can make large item of food be trapped in between and inhibit the bu9ild of beneficial bacteria in the tank.
On the other hand, it is a great substrate for breeding tanks. Thanks to those big gaps, the eggs can fall in between, therefore they will be safe from being eaten by other fish in the tank.
Yes, this substrate looks like soil, especially in color: dark and gray or black. They can be as fine as sand or each particle be a little tiny balls. Regardless of the specific shape of each particle, the substrate is generally tightly packed. They are also supported with multiple beneficial nutrients for your tank.
This substrate is most suitable for planted aquarium. The nutrients provided by the substrate will help the plants grow and the tightly packed texture helps the plants grow their roots stably in the substrate.
This substrate comes in many varieties. So make sure to do a little bit research on the different types of substrate you want to use in your tank.
What is best substrate for planted aquarium?
Among all those substrates listed above, it is easy to point out that the most suitable substrate for planted aquarium is the soil-like substrate (which is also all the substrates we introduced in the list above).
Even though they do not come from multiple color options like other substrates, they are the most practical and beneficial choice for your plants.
You can mix match the soil-like substrate with a little of other substrates if you want other effects for your tank. Just remember to be careful and make sure you understand what each type of substrate does for your overall tank environment before putting them in the tank.
How much substrate for planted aquarium?
The answer to this question depends a lot on your own preference. You can use as much substrate as you want, depending on how you want your tank to look. You need to be careful if the substrate can change the water characteristics, like alternating the pH levels. If that is the case then once adding the substrate, you need to monitor the water characteristic and adjust accordingly to your preferences.
Even though there is not maximum ceiling level for how much substrate you can place in your tank, there is a minimum level. The substrate level in your tank should not be any lower than 1”.
The rule of thumb is in order to achieve a 1” bed, you will need to use 1 lb of substrate per gallon of your tank size. For example, to create a 1” bed in a 10 gallons tank, you will need from 10 to 20 lbs of substrate. If you want 2” bed then use 2 lbs per gallon, and so on.
How to set up substrate for planted aquarium?
Here is how to apply a complete aquarium substrate. All the products listed above are complete aquarium substrate, which means you will not need anything else but that one substrate only to set up your tank.
First, you simply pour the substrate in the tank and arrange it according to your taste and preference. Then fill the tank with water.
Second, if you use a fertilized substrate or just any substrate that you think contains many nutrients and chemical compounds, to be safe, you should wait a week or so before adding fish to your tank. During that time, ammonia and nitrite levels will spike up, creating a very suitable environment for useful bacteria to grow in the planted aquarium, yet making the environment uninhabitable for fish. Check the ammonia and nitrite level before placing fish in the tank later.
Finally, plant your plants into the substrate. Put in decorations and devices. And place all your beautiful fish in the tank.
There are many substrates with different characteristics and qualities in the market right now. It is not that easy to choose the best substrate that makes your tank looks good, harmless for the fish while encouraging plant growth. That is why we presented you with a list of the best substrates for planted aquarium so it would be easier for you to choose the best one for your tank.
Now, when you already know what the best out there is, what are you still waiting for? Get some great substrate for your beloved planted-aquarium.