Substrate and plants
I want to change my tanks substrate from gravel to a sandy one to support plants better than gravel does. I am getting a nice light fixture for my 35gal tank. It comes with 4 T5 3900K and two moon led lights as well and has a timer. Want tips for substrates for plants that keep the roots held down nicely, I have a 8inch Pleco and a African Upside Down Catfish who both pull the plants out and eat them very quickly.Fertilizers is not a concern, I have a liquid one. Also a cheap way to do C02, we have a computer from when my dad did coral tanks that reads all the levels. But this is my tank, so I really make $100 a week, so cheap plants and a cheap way to do C02 is wanted. I currently have 12 Amazon swords, 4 are little while 8 are large, and 2 water Lilly bulbs, the African keeps the bulb and plants eaten to the roots, but that should change with the new lights coming. I want to do more plants that look nice and grow quickly to match my fish veracious appetites and are cheap as well. We will be bulding a home made sump real soon, and hopefully get the bio balls going.
If you are looking to do a planted tank on the cheap, I'd highly recommend going low-tech. (plus, it's a bit less maintenance). You might need to cut down on the light a bit, but I'm not very well versed in that aspect. If you can't cut down on the number of tubes, you could just throw in a bunch of floaters, or use some screen or something.
I'm not sure about how to deal with the plants getting pulled up by fish. If you can get them established, something like anubias, java fern, bolbitis, etc. that attach directly to rocks/wood might help. They also tend to be pretty tough, durable plants in general.
If you go low-tech, you really won't need CO2. As to substrate, if you go with capped dirt, I'm not sure the cap is all that important, a lot of people here (and elsewhere) have had good luck with both pool filter sand and blasting grit, which are relatively cheap. SafeTsorb and similar products are also pretty cheap, and have high CEC, but also tend to be lighter (makes initial planting more difficult, etc.).
Maybe try keeping some lettuce clipped into the tank at all times, or some other (relatively) cheap food source, to try and distract the fishes from the plants? I don't know, it sounds like those might just not go well in a planted tank :(
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