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 planted tank.
Table of Contents
- Best Substrate for Planted Tank
- Substrate for Planted Tank Reviews
- Benefits of Substrate in an Aquarium
- Types of Substrate for Aquarium Plants
- What is the 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 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 6 substrates for your planted tank.
|Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate||Freshwater Planted Aquariums|
|Flourite Black||Any Planted Aquarium Environment|
|Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum||- Freshwater Planted Aquariums|
- Suitable for plants, tropical fish or shrimp
|Mr. Aqua Aquarium Soil Substrate 1 Liter||Freshwater Dwarf Shrimp, Aquarium Plants, Betta, and other Fish|
|UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants||Any Planted Aquarium Environment|
|Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium||- Freshwater Planted Aquariums|
- Ideal for discus, tetras, angelfish, water turtles, rays, plants, cichlids and more
Substrate for Planted Tank Reviews
1. 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. Flourite Black
This product comes in 15-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 Aquarium Soil Substrate 1 Liter
This substrate packs an impressive amount of nutrients that are very good for the 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 1.8 pound, 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 on the market, with incredibly high ratings from customers. And it is highly rated for good reasons.
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 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 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. CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium
This product is one of the two on this list that does not feature normal soil but special volcanic soil. This substrate is made out of volcanic soil that is chock-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 a great base for the roots to grow in and also highly effective in promoting the root development that will enhance the plant’s stability.
This 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 rich in iron. Therefore, you don’t need to add any extra modifiers such as laterite. The product is effective all by itself without any extra other substances or another substrate added to it.
This product also contains heterotrophic bacteria that help to naturally convert fish waste into organic matter. This matter is helpful since it feeds the plants and becomes 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. This 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 small complaint is that substrate can smell a little when you first open the bag. It does not affect the smell of the tank once you put it in, however. Besides, this is a freshwater substrate only – it is not intended for use in saltwater tanks.
- Provides good nutrients
- Made using volcanic soil
- No artificial chemicals, dyes or additives
- Smells a little bad when in the bag
- For use in freshwater tanks only
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 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 a 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 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.
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