All plants, whether they are land plants or aquatic plants, have some form of root system. Some of these systems are simple, while others are very complicated.
Regardless of the complexity, all roots are used for nutrient intake. 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 up” in your tank and provide them with the nutrients they need?
This is why 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 element of your aquarium, it is crucial for you to choose the best substrate for a planted tank.
Table of Contents
The 10 Best Substrates For Your Planted Tanks
There are many brands and types of substrate on the market. Sometimes they are composed of different chemical compounds. Sometimes they are different in characteristics. With so many choices regarding substrate, it can be confusing to choose the most appropriate substrate for your tank.
We have done some intense research and scouted the market for you, and we are glad to present to you this list of the top 10 substrates for your planted tank.
|Picture||Planted Tank Substrate||Size||Links|
|Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate||20 Pounds|
|Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel||15.4 Pounds|
|Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum||4.4, 8.8, 17.6 Pounds|
|Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 1 L Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil||1.85 Pounds|
|UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants||11 Pounds|
|ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Ver 2||18 Pounds|
|ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Powder Type||20.9 Pounds|
|Ultum Nature Controsoil Freshwater Planted Aquarium Substrate||2, 6, 21 Pounds|
|Carib Sea ACS00832 Peace River Gravel for Aquarium||20 Pounds|
|Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums||5 Pounds|
Planted Aquarium Substrate Reviews
1. Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate
This product comes in a twenty-pound bag. It is a complete substrate for freshwater tank use. This one substrate provides for all your plants’ needs without having to add any other extra substrate or chemical.
This substrate uses a new formula for enhanced root development. It is everything in one package. Their advertising compares this substrate with the rich soil of Hawaii or Costa 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 remain on the surface but will be diffused and absorbed into the layer of substrate.
This substrate also contains live Heterotrophic bacteria, which helps to rapidly convert fish waste into natural food and nutrients for your aquatic plants. 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 quickly as possible.
However, there is one 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 range for your fish and your plants.
- All-in-one substrate
- Includes many necessary nutrients
- Porous texture
- Includes live heterotrophic bacteria
- Alkaline level of pH
2. Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel
This product comes in 15.4-pound packages. It is black in color (hence, the name) so its appearance is best suited for planted aquariums, but it can also be used in any other aquarium environments that you might want.
It is not coated or treated with any chemicals, therefore it will contain no substance that will be harmful to your tank. It also has the ability to maintain the pH level of the tank without disturbing the overall water quality.
The basic product alone is enough to provide a level of essential nutrients for aquatic plants. The substrate encourages root development for a healthier plant, and can be mixed with any other type of nutrient substrate that you see fit.
Yet, it is not necessary to mix with anything additional. It is fully functional without gravel modifiers such as laterite.
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.
This substrate has an especially long life. When using Fluorite Black, you will never need to worry about replacing it with a newer batch, since the substrate stays effective for the life of your aquarium.
There are very few complaints about this product from customers. If there is one problem, it’s the clay dust. Because of its formulation, the substrate can release lots of clay dust when first used in the aquarium.
This 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 for extra ingredients
- Porous clay gravel format
- Long-lasting quality
- Releases clay dust when first used
3. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum
If you have an aquarium that has not only plants and fish but also shrimp, then this substrate is definitely the right one for you. This is definitely one of the best substrates out there.
This product 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 standard soil.
All of those special volcanic nutrients are very beneficial for spurring on healthy plant growth. The substrate also contains nutrients that are good for encouraging root system development.
The texture of this substrate is also great. It is light, noncompaction, and porous. These characteristics make it easy for nitrifying bacteria to grow and develop in the tank. These bacteria will help maintain the water’s health and cleanliness 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 as making this product especially suitable for shrimp 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 one small problem with this advertisement about the shrimp. Even though the substrate is gravel-like, the particle size is still pretty small.
Even if it can act as a refuge for the baby shrimp, it won’t take long for the shrimp to outgrow the size of the substrate and not be able to hide anymore. Even so, it is still a great product overall.
- Mineral-rich volcanic soil
- Promotes plant growth and root development
- Light, porous
- Neutral to slightly acidic
- Shrimps can quickly outgrow the “substrate shelter”
4. Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 1 L Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil
This substrate packs an impressive amount of nutrients that are very good for aquatic plants. They provide a great source of nutrients for the plants to grow and stay healthy.
The substrate also encourages strong root development, helping the plants grow strong in the wavy environment of the tank.
The substrate is light and highly porous. This characteristic creates an environment that promotes the growth of healthy bacteria which are essential for the overall environment of the tank.
One more benefit of this substrate is its ability to maintain and control the pH level of the tank. Unlike a few other types, 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.
One difference between this and other substrate brands is the size of the package it comes in. It is only 1.85 pounds, so you will need a pack and a half in order to put a layer of substrate thick enough in the bottom of a 5.5-gallon tank. This is not a big problem, just requires a little more planning when buying the packages and you will be fine.
This substrate can release quite a bit of dust when coming out of the bag. When the substrate is first put into water, the water will become slightly cloudy for a few hours, then it’ll sink down and be perfectly clean and clear again.
- Good nutrients
- Lower pH level
- Promotes root development
- Small-sized bags
- Lots of dust in the beginning
5. UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants
UP Aqua Sand is one of the best substrates for aquarium plants on the market.
There is almost no dust released when the substrate is placed in the tank, so there is no clouding of the water when the tank is filled. It is impressive how clear the water is when setting up with this substrate.
The substrate provides many nutrients to the plants, and it’s a stand alone—you do not need any extra components or another substrate to support the mini-ecosystem inside the tank. This substrate on its own provides enough nutrients for the plants to grow and develop healthily.
The texture of this substrate is round, light, and porous. Thanks to the porous form, it is easy for this substrate to support the roots of the plants. This product also encourages strong root development, making the plants grow more stable.
The substrate does an excellent job of 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 incredible longevity. It will last as long as your aquarium.
This is a great product. There are almost no complaints reported by customers. The only small issue is one very minor complaint about the bag sometimes being ripped before arriving at the door. But that has rarely happened, so it’s not something to worry much about.
- Excellent longevity
- Light and porous
- Provides good nutrients
- Lowers pH level in the tank
- Delivery issues
6. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Ver 2
With a natural color and high customer reviews, ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Ver 2 is an excellent choice when you are looking for a substrate to place in your planted tank. It is all one color, though it still adds amazing beauty to any tank.
This substrate contains a rare black soil from Japan, which promotes the growth of most aquatic plants. It also contains a number of organic materials and the perfect nitrogen level to create an ideal environment.
If there is a caveat to this great substrate, it is that some report that their tanks get a bit cloudy for a couple of days after using it. This is generally due to the high level of organic compounds. It is normal, and it will subside in a couple of days.
Additionally, this substrate helps to keep the tank mildly acidic, which is perfect for most tropical fish and plants. This substrate is also great for beginners who are looking to make their tanks more beautiful and hospitable for their fish.
- Natural color and organic materials give both beauty and support to the tank
- Helps to maintain a very low pH in the tank
- Low in ammonia content
- Very highly reviewed by past users
- More expensive than other substrates out there
- Due to the high organic content, some have reported cloudy tanks in the first few days of use
7. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Powder Type
This substrate is made from a rare Japanese soil that is derived from decomposed leaves. It is high in organic materials, which helps to create an environment that is perfect for many different types of plants, fish, and even shrimp.
Another great thing that this substrate does is to bring the pH down to a good level. It also helps to lower the hardness of the water. Both of these things help to create an ideal environment for both plants and fish.
Since this substrate has a fine grain size, it is a good option for nano aquariums, though it can also be used with the regular substrate. Simply layer the powder and the normal substrate. This allows you to keep costs low, but still get amazing results that you might expect.
When you are seeking out a substrate to create a luscious carpet in the tank for grasses and plants, this is also an excellent option. The small grain size allows plants to easily anchor to the substrate, which improves the health and growth of roots.
- Lowers the hardness level of the water naturally
- All-natural, organic materials, derived from plants
- Powdery consistency is ideal for plant and root growth
- Helps to lower the pH levels of the tank
- Since it’s a powder, it can cause the tank to become cloudy
- More expensive than other brands on the market
8. Ultum Nature Controsoil Freshwater Planted Aquarium Substrate
This substrate, the Ultum Nature Controsoil Substrate, is an andisol-based substrate made from Japanese volcanic ash. It is available in either gorgeous black or brown, which really helps to bring out the different shades of your fish and plants.
When placing this substrate into your tank, you will notice that your levels are ideal for a number of freshwater fish, shrimp, and plants. This is not for a saltwater tank.
This substrate also helps to absorb any of the impurities that might be in your tank, including ammonia, and the texture of the substrate allows plants to attach roots.
The formulation of this substrate allows you to not have to worry about rinsing, and when properly used, it will not cloud up the water. The substrate is available in three different granule sizes, ranging from 1mm to 5mm.
When you place this substrate into your tank, you should see a great improvement in the health of your plants or fish, and even though you can only use it in a freshwater tank, it is perfect for those situations.
- Very affordable option for those seeking out a new substrate to try
- Can last for up to three years with proper care before it needs to be replaced
- Does not require rinsing, and will not make the water cloudy when placed correctly
- Helps to keep pH stable and lowers ammonia content in the tank
- Only recommended for freshwater tanks, not saltwater tanks
- Can take several bags to fill the tank
9. Carib Sea ACS00832 Peace River Gravel for Aquarium
The Carib Sea Peace River Gravel is an amazing choice for anyone looking to create an environment that is close to a natural river for their plants and fish. This is neutral gravel which will not introduce any unwanted chemicals into the tank.
Another nice thing about this substrate is that it does not affect the pH levels or the tank, and since it is a fine grain, you don’t have to worry about any harmful buildup, which could negatively affect your fish and plants.
Since this is a natural color, there are no dyes or paint that can harm any of the fish or plants in the tank, but it doesn’t allow you to customize any colors.
Your fish will, of course, love this gravel, but so will live plants, as it allows them to stay rooted into the substrate. Thanks to the size of the gravel, it also allows for a nice flow of water, which means the plants can easily get the nutrients they need to grow.
- Helps to create a natural, river-like environment for fish and plants
- Does not negatively affect the tank’s pH levels
- Affordable price and great value
- Neutral color without any dyes, paints, and chemicals
- Some might not like the natural color and prefer something bold or bright
- Small particles can make the water brown or cloudy
10. Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums
Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular aquarium gravel is a small-sized substrate that is perfectly safe to use in any freshwater aquarium. This gravel is non-toxic, and it does not negatively affect the pH of your tank.
Since this gravel is on the small side, it is a good option for small tanks. It has a natural array of colors, and the small pebbles come in many different shapes, which create an ideal environment for both fish and live plants.
Though this gravel is a bit smaller in size than other types of gravel, you can still get a good amount of circulation in the substrate, which is good for your plants to receive the nutrients they require.
The product is affordable. When compared to other highly rated aquarium gravels, you get a great value for your money. It supports many types of freshwater plants and fish, and you can even use it in your houseplants or succulents!
- Created to ensure that it doesn’t affect pH levels of the tank
- Pebbles are small, which is ideal for small tanks, small fish, and small plants
- Plants can easily anchor into the substrate
- Variety of colors and pebble shapes make your tank look great
- Very affordable when compared to other similar products
- The texture is a bit rough to the touch
- Requires a lot of rinsing or the tank can become cloudy/muddy
Benefits of Substrate in an Aquarium
Substrate 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 aquatic plants cannot hold onto the glass surface, so a layer of substrate in the bottom is an absolute requirement.
Substrates also help keep fish feces and food waste 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 it after the waste sinks to the bottom of the tank.
The substrate provides an aesthetic and natural environment for the fish. In nature, the bottoms of the oceans, lakes, and rivers are not bare. They are covered in sand, mud, pebbles, or some sort of natural materials. Having these materials at the bottom of the tank help the fish and other creatures feel more familiar and comfortable in their 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.
This 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 substrates have different qualities and characteristics.
Adding a specific type of substrate can add a particular type of nutrients or substance into the water, which can affect and control the level of pH in the tank according to the needs 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, and more than one type of substrate you can use. Here are a few of the most popular substrates among aquarium hobbyists.
Gravel has always been the most popular aquarium substrate, mostly because of its lack of complexity. It is an ideal medium for most tanks and for 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 to have smoother edges, so it can’t damage your fish and will not easily move around. You need to purchase aquarium gravel from an aquatic center or pet store.
Aquarium gravel comes in multiple sizes and colors, giving you limitless options for mixing and matching 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 themselves. 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 stir up the sand.
Even though it is called “coral sand”, it would be more correct to call it “coral gravel”. It looks much more like gravel than sand. This substrate is made of calcium carbonate and it will slowly dissolve in water over time.
Coral sand serves a bigger purpose than just being tank decoration. The dissolving process works as a counterbalance to acid build-up and decaying organic matter in the aquarium. The coral sand will raise the pH level in the tank, making the water more alkaline, which makes coral sand an ideal substrate for your tank if you have fish that prefer water with higher pH levels.
Marble chippings are in many ways very similar to coral sand. They are calcium carbonate based substrate, but heavier and not as porous as coral sand.
You can purchase marble chippings as substitute for coral sand because of its cheaper price tag, however it will not as effective in raising the pH level of your tank as real coral sand.
You may have seen marbles in many tanks before. They are normally flat and spherical. They come in many colors, giving you many options to decorate your tanks any way you want.
However, marbles are not usually the best substrate because of the big gaps between the individual marbles. These gaps can trap large items of food between them and inhibit the growth of beneficial bacteria in the tank.
On the other hand, it is a great substrate for breeding tanks. The eggs will fall between those big gaps, and will therefore 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. It can be as fine as sand or each particle can be little tiny balls. Regardless of the specific shape of each particle, the substrate is generally tightly packed. It also has multiple beneficial nutrients for your tank.
This substrate is most suitable for planted aquariums. The nutrients provided by the substrate will help the plants grow, and the tightly packed texture helps the plants’ roots take a strong stable hold in the substrate.
This substrate comes in many varieties. So make sure to do a little bit of research on the different types of substrate before you choose what to use in your tank.
What is the Best Substrate for Planted Aquarium?
Among all those substrates listed above, it is easy to point out that the most suitable substrate for a planted aquarium is the soil-like substrate (which includes all the substrates we introduced in the list above).
Even though they do not come in multiple color options like other substrates, they are the most practical and beneficial choice for your plants.
You can mix and 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 tank’s overall environment before putting them in the tank.
How Much Substrate for Planted Aquarium?
The answer to this question depends a lot on your own preferences. You can use as much substrate as you want, depending on how you want your tank to look. You do need to be careful if you are using substrate that can change the water’s characteristics, such as altering the pH levels. If that is the case, then once you have added the substrate, you will need to monitor the water quality and adjust accordingly to your preferences.
Even though there is not a maximum 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 less 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 the substrate. If you want a 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 product 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 any substrate that you think contains many nutrients and chemical compounds, 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. To be safe, 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 then place all your beautiful fish in the tank.
There are many kinds of substrates on the market right now, with different characteristics and qualities. It is not that easy to choose the best substrate—one that makes your tank looks good, is healthy and safe for the fish, while also encouraging plant growth. That is why we presented you with a list of the best substrates for planted aquariums, 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? Go get some great substrate for your beloved planted aquarium.
Related Buyer’s Guides and Aquarium Adviser Lists:
Best Aquarium Plant Fertilizer for Plant Growth & Safe for Fish
The Best Aquarium CO2 Regulator For Planted Tank Care
The Best Aquarium Water Conditioner – Make Tap Water Safe For Fish
Lin Fryman says
Great info. I’m currently ‘curing’ several heavily planted 1.5 G round Betta bowls with Eco-Complete substrate. The bowls have been sitting for several weeks now. I have one I let Cure a few weeks, added my Betta and he’s doing great. I do about 25% water changes weekly, sometimes more, and do water tests once or twice a week. No problems, yet. Betta has been in this first bowl over a month and looks great. I do have a grow light on the bowl during the day as it it located in a non lighted, non window area. Feed frozen and North Fin pellets during the week with occasional live mosquito larvae, fast on Sunday. You reinforce adding fish after a short time of just leaving the bowl planted a few weeks.
Thanks for sharing your great experience!
Bettas should not be kept in bowls.
If the bowl is heavily planted and she does regular water changes there should be no problem. Obviously a filtered 10 gal would be “betta” but plants and water changes should keep the Betta happy.
Bettas should not be kept in tanks smaller than 5 gallons!!! It must be heated and filtered as well. No, bettas cannot be kept in small bowls regardless of plants or water changes!!
one or the other of the 2 is wrong…everyone has there own opinion, some are based on experience and some are based on feelings…
PAUL FOREL says
I kept a 1 gallon (yes, 1 gallon) fish bowl on my desk for several months with one Betta and a couple of guppies.
The bowl had a mini undergravel filter, a few live plants and a heater to keep the water at temperatures Bettas prefer.
There was never a problem- the fish bowl was clean, the plants grew and the Betta did not mope about and was as lively as if it were in a larger tank.
However, if we think about this from a moral viewpoint, keeping in mind the natural habitat of a Betta is a rice paddy that is hundreds of meters wide and long, one has to acknowledge that we are bending the Betta to our requirements (for a small tank/fish bowl) and are basically ignoring the fact that Bettas could be better off living in a ten plus gallon tank with additional tropical fish to keep it company.
It is a matter of doing what we want to do vs doing what could be best for a tropical fish.
Randy Ub says
How much Substrate per the amount of water do I use?
Larry M. says
Any comments or reviews on Floramax Substrate for a planted tank?
With Floramax Substrate, you can read more reviews here
TotaticheJalisco LGLD says
How about ADA aqua soil amazonia or any of the ADA products?
ADA aqua soil Amazonia is great for planted aquarium too. I will update this article soon. Thanks!
Eco complete is on here twice. #1 and #6 are the exact same product.
michael nagy says
No,they are not the same. One is made using volcanic soil, the other is normal soil. Did you read the article? It wasn’t that hard to figure out. They don’t even have the same name. #1 Is Eco-complete black Aquarium Substrate. #6 is CaribSea Eco-Complete planted Aquarium. Eco -Complete is the name of an entire line of Aquarium substrates. Even their substrates for marine aquarium use,are called Eco-Complete.
PAUL FOREL says
This is great information…
I have been encouraged by AquariumPlants.com to purchase/use their ‘GRO-PRO’ substrate.
Has anyone here used this product and/or have any good or bad experience with GRO-PRO?
Thanks very much!
Great information, I thank you very much. Even the comments provided information. I am planning on changing my substrate again. I started with Gravel(9 years), then switch to Sand(5yrs) for last 2 years I have had regular clear glass only marbles in the tank(55gal). I am ready to switch again, if I am being honest, it is out of jealousy. I was showing off my “pretty” tank pictures, and he laughed at me. He laughed at the marbles and plastic(I had to correct him) I have silk plants. He pulled out his pad and showed me his 110gal tank. It was gorgeous with real plants and Eco Complete. Never mind the freaking 1-2 foot eel he has.
I am ready to switch until I read your section – How to set up substrate for planted aquarium?
I have fish already, what is the best way to change the substrate without killing my fish, so I can have real plants.
Has anyone tried RECYCLED GLASS SAND / Gravel As Substrate
I want to go “ Green “ & the stuff says sanitized & for use in Aquarium
Does anyone have experience with Mosser Lee’s black sand and soil cover it comes in a 5lb bag for $4.58 its cheap and seems like a good substrate for a 20 gal set up but i don’t want to use it and have discolored water or dead fish and plants can anyone help ?
Jacque Davis says
Really useful article and made it easy for me to decide which substrate to buy next.
What is the cubic inches of 1 -15.5 lb bag of Flourite gravel?