How important is substrate?
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Old 06-02-2010, 08:13 AM   #1
snafuspyramid
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How important is substrate?


I've looked at these forums for a little while now, but still haven't got any clear idea: how beneficial is a nutrient-rich substrate as opposed to plain old gravel, enriched with root tabs / balls?

Assuming adequate water column dosing. Found some cheap and good dry ferts.

Any sort of specialised substrate is RIDICULOUSLY expensive here in Australia, since as far as I know all of it is flown in from overseas. This includes laterite, oddly, since half of Australia is covered in the stuff (unfortunately not the half I live on...).

To fill a tank with Flourite, for example, would cost more than the glass tank itself.


In short: is specialised substrate really worth the cost and effort? Or is plain old (fine) gravel with tabs a decent alternative?
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Old 06-02-2010, 10:15 AM   #2
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Just speaking from my experience...

I use plain pool filter sand, use dry ferts and root tabs, co2, and t5ho lighting and have been able to grow almost anything very well.
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Old 06-02-2010, 11:56 AM   #3
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The dosed nutrients in the water column will diffuse into the water within the substrate and will therefore still be accessible by the plants roots.

I think these expensive mediums are a gimmick. Some people do fine with cat litter even!
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Old 06-02-2010, 12:01 PM   #4
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Foregrounders do extremely well with nutrient rich substrates. But, they also do well in a matured substrate that isn't quite so expensive(Turface, filter sand, etc.) that is root tabbed and whose water column is dosed regularly. IMO, I would get it if it wasn't a hassle, but if not, Turface or another High CEC clay would do just as well.
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Old 06-02-2010, 12:47 PM   #5
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Alrighty, sounds good. Is sand or fine gravel more effective at accumulating nutrients in this way? Why the emphasis on sand (particularly pool filter sand) in these forums? (Apart from it being cheap: but I already have a fair bit of fine aquarium gravel at my disposal from an old tank). Is it any better for plants? I understand maintenance is more difficult...


Um, what's Turface?
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Old 06-02-2010, 01:15 PM   #6
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Turface is a HIGH CEC terrestrial substrate used for sod, grass and baseball/soccer fields. It allows for nutrients to pass through, and hold on to the particles, so roots can derive nutrients from it. It also has fairly high TDS and Fe amounts if I remember correctly. It's what I use in all of my aquariums, though I am thinking of mixing some Turface with Eco-Complete for and Iwagumi I want to start late this year.
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Old 06-02-2010, 10:23 PM   #7
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Cool, I'll look into it to see if there is as australian alternative. In the meantime, does anyone have any insights on the sand versus gravel debate for plants?
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Old 06-02-2010, 10:41 PM   #8
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I have been able to grow a decent variety of plants in sand without root tabs or anything. (most of them were considered "easy" or even "very easy.") I think sand is better, I have never tried growing plants on gravel since I got into the planted aquarium hobby. Apart from sand's tendency to accumulate mulm I would say sand also looks better.

I cannot say for sure, but I would assume gravel would be good for large hardy plants and things like anubias and java fern. I don't think a java fern's rhizome would die if it were partially buried in coarse gravel.

However I don't think foreground plants would be able to take root very well in gravel, it at least would be hard to plant them without damaging them. Correct me if I'm wrong.

Are we talking plain old aquarium gravel (usually "pretty" colors) that one can buy in WALMART or something a little larger?
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Old 06-02-2010, 11:06 PM   #9
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No, fine aquarium gravel, with no plastic colour coating. The grains are quite small - a few mil across - and golden coloured. It was bought from an aquarium store for a ridiculous price, I'm guessing it's just been dredged from a river bed somewhere. I've got about $50 of the stuff. With that said, if sand is cheap enough, I don't mind abandoning to a goldfish tank.

I'm mainly concerned about maintaining sand. Is it possible to gravel vac it? And is there a risk of Malaysian trumpet snail overpopulation?

And, finally, does it come in a dark colour?
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