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Old 11-02-2011, 02:25 PM   #1
TactusMortus
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Substrate Choices Pros/Cons


I am sure this has been done before but I figured it wouldn't hurt to have a nice updated listing of some of the most popular substrate choices. Feel free to copy and paste this original post and make corrections as well add another substrate or new pros and cons. I think this thread would eliminate a lot of the questions "What substrate should I use?". Every once and a while I will copy the most recent post to the original post so we can keep it up to date.

For Reference:
CEC=Cation-exchange capacity in layman terms that is the amount of nutrients a soil is capable of storing.
Inert=In terms of soil simply means the soil contains nothing of any value to plants by itself.

Regular Aquarium Gravel:
Pros: Cost, Easy To Gravel Vac, No Real Risk of anaerobic pockets
Cons: Hard to plant in, Inert, Foreground plants do not grow or spread well in it, appearance

Eco Complete-
Pros-Appearance, High CEC, Rough Surface Easy For Mosses And Smaller Plants To Attach To
Cons-Lacking Key Plant Nutrients, Cost, Inconsistent size makes it hard to make hills and slopes that stay

Turface/Schultz Aquatic Plant Soil/Pondcare Aquatic Plant Soil/AquariumPlants.com Substrate/Kitty Litter/Oil Dri-
Pros-Appearance, Uniform Size, High CEC, Cost
Cons-It is very light and easily disturbed, Lacking Key Plant Nutrients

Aquasoil-
Pros-Includes Key Plant Nutrients, Uniform Size, Holds Slopes Well Compared To Other Substrates, Durability as it looks great for years, Lowers PH And Water hardness
Cons-Cost, Leaches ammonia into the water for a couple of weeks or so, and needs big water changes, often, to get rid of the ammonia initially., Can be messy while rescaping

Mineralized Top Soil-
Pros-Cost, Includes Key Plant Nutrients, Availability, Little Need For Additional Ferts
Cons-Time consuming to make, Must Be Topped, Ingredients Hard To Come By, Can Be Messy When Rescaping

Miracle Grow Organic-
Pros-Cost, Includes Key Plant Nutrients, Availability
Cons-Can Be Messy When Rescaping, Must be Topped, Temporary Gas Pockets

Flourite Regular/Sand-
Pros-High CEC For Regular, Appearance, Uniform Size
Cons-Cost, Lacks Key Plant Nutrients, Lots of Rinsing, Possible magnetic pieces (could scratch glass when using magnetic cleaner)

Blasting Sand-
Pros- Cost, Appearance, Uniform Size, Availability
Cons- Inert, No CEC, May Require Root Tabs

Pool Filter Sand-
Pros- Cost, Appearance, Uniform Size, Availability
Cons- Inert, No CEC, May Require Root Tabs, Discolors over time

Play Sand-
Pros-Cost, Appearance, Uniform Size, Availability
Cons- Inert, Very Light, Compacts Which Creates Anaerobic Pockets, May Require Root Tabs

Fluval Stratum-

Pros: contains some nutrients, doesn't leach ammonia, good particle sizes
Cons: Cost, Must Be Rinsed (This is debatable as some suggest not rinsing to keep water clear.)

Estes Black Sand-

Pros: Uniform Size, Appearance, Cost, Not Silica Based Sand
Cons: Inert, No CEC, May Require Root Tabs

Pea Gravel:
Pros: Cost, easy to aquascape and clean, to some appearance may be a pro, eliminates risk of anaerobic pockets
Cons: inert, eliminates a lot of options for foreground plants, root tabs don't work as well.

Hagen GEO System Pacific Gravel #2 (actually sand)
Pros: doesn't compact, easy to plant in, holds slopes well, not stark white like silica sand, looks very natural
Either way: acts as a pH buffer
Cons: light colored so hard to clean, cost, some random black/red granules, needs rinsing

Side Notes:
Substrate fertilizing isn't essential with the inert substrates. Plants will grow well with or without substrate ferts, but then you have to be very consistent in following the dosing method you use, so you don't run out of any of them. With substrate fertilizing you can be more relaxed about dosing the water without worrying about the effect on the plants.
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Old 11-02-2011, 05:41 PM   #2
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I wish this had been around a few weeks ago! Very helpful. Glad I went the way I did though.

Pardon my noobism, what is CEC?
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Old 11-02-2011, 06:36 PM   #3
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cation-exchange capacity in layman terms that is the amount of nutrients a soil is capable of storing.
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Old 11-02-2011, 06:54 PM   #4
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Originally Posted by TactusMortus View Post
cation-exchange capacity in layman terms that is the amount of nutrients a soil is capable of storing.
Thanks...the acronyms around here can be overwhelming at times, lol.
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Old 11-03-2011, 04:38 AM   #5
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Come on I know someone else has to want to weigh in on this. I mean this forum has an awesome thread by Hoppy that breaks down your lighting choices and is a very valuable tool when it comes to setting up a new tank. Lets get the same thing going for substrates.
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Old 11-03-2011, 05:34 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Daximus View Post
I wish this had been around a few weeks ago! Very helpful. Glad I went the way I did though.

Pardon my noobism, what is CEC?
You don't have to call yourself a noob. Everyone starts off somewhere when learning. I try to learn something new everyday if I can help it.

This post is very useful. On aquasoil shouldn't the ammonia leaking be a con also.
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Old 11-03-2011, 06:41 AM   #7
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Eco Complete Plant Substrate = Uniform Size? LOL
They must have really messed up the screening machine on every bag of volcanic rock I was dumb enough to buy LOL. Let your tank go lean on ferts and I swear it comes with BBA spores imbedded in it because that's where I'll see it first. bet you can tell I'm not really a fan huh?
The marketing and labeling; "Contains all the necessary mineral nutrients for luxuriant aquarium plant growth PLUS beneficial bacteria to rapidly convert fish waste into natural food for your aquatic plants."
I truly do not believe it based on how it DID NOT preform well beyond a few weeks. The above is quoted ad material. My biggest complaint is they're marketing plan. It holds plants well enough having weight to it but the ad gab really offends me because after using over a dozen bags of it in different tanks I just can't believe any of it to be true. It preforms almost on a par with Flourite Original in my experience.

Flourite Original Pros-Good CEC, is uniform in it's frag size and as far as a capping material for a soil tank it tops my list of those I've tried as the best to date. It has the weight Turface/Soil Master Select lack when used as a capping material.
Cons-the rinse needs to be very thorough and the fines lost or it can be a cloudy mess straight out of the bag. Marketing terms it as 'dust' but that is grossly understated (imo).

Miracle Grow Organic Potting Mix (NOT potting soil) The soil mixes I've seen all contain cow manure. The product will vary by region and also the season it is processed during. Whether screened to fines or not it seems to preform well as a base with predictable results. The gassing that is a concern is only during a brief period of transition to the stable submerged decay that provides CO2 via bacteria activity that lasts for the about the first year chewing through the organic materials releasing the mineral content for plant uptake. Easily handled in my experiences using it.

Black Beauty or Black Diamond blasting media is another substrate option I'm using that is cost effective, inert, appears stable for long term use both as a capping material and in conjunction with root tablet supplements. Positive experiences to date based on about six months of use in two tanks.
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Old 11-03-2011, 01:03 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by wkndracer View Post
Eco Complete Plant Substrate = Uniform Size? LOL
They must have really messed up the screening machine on every bag of volcanic rock I was dumb enough to buy LOL. Let your tank go lean on ferts and I swear it comes with BBA spores imbedded in it because that's where I'll see it first. bet you can tell I'm not really a fan huh?
The marketing and labeling; "Contains all the necessary mineral nutrients for luxuriant aquarium plant growth PLUS beneficial bacteria to rapidly convert fish waste into natural food for your aquatic plants."
I truly do not believe it based on how it DID NOT preform well beyond a few weeks. The above is quoted ad material. My biggest complaint is they're marketing plan. It holds plants well enough having weight to it but the ad gab really offends me because after using over a dozen bags of it in different tanks I just can't believe any of it to be true. It preforms almost on a par with Flourite Original in my experience.

Flourite Original Pros-Good CEC, is uniform in it's frag size and as far as a capping material for a soil tank it tops my list of those I've tried as the best to date. It has the weight Turface/Soil Master Select lack when used as a capping material.
Cons-the rinse needs to be very thorough and the fines lost or it can be a cloudy mess straight out of the bag. Marketing terms it as 'dust' but that is grossly understated (imo).

Miracle Grow Organic Potting Mix (NOT potting soil) The soil mixes I've seen all contain cow manure. The product will vary by region and also the season it is processed during. Whether screened to fines or not it seems to preform well as a base with predictable results. The gassing that is a concern is only during a brief period of transition to the stable submerged decay that provides CO2 via bacteria activity that lasts for the about the first year chewing through the organic materials releasing the mineral content for plant uptake. Easily handled in my experiences using it.

Black Beauty or Black Diamond blasting media is another substrate option I'm using that is cost effective, inert, appears stable for long term use both as a capping material and in conjunction with root tablet supplements. Positive experiences to date based on about six months of use in two tanks.
Thanks, I have updated the original post to add a few of your additions.
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Old 11-04-2011, 12:55 AM   #9
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Substrate fertilizing isn't essential with the inert substrates. Plants will grow well with or without substrate ferts, but then you have to be very consistent in following the dosing method you use, so you don't run out of any of them. With substrate fertilizing you can be more relaxed about dosing the water without worrying about the effect on the plants.

Fluval Stratum:
Pros: Loaded with nutrients, doesn't leach ammonia, good particle sizes, grows plants very well
Cons: Cost, has to be washed pretty well to avoid dust clouds when filling the tank.

ADA Aquasoil:
Additional con: Leaches ammonia into the water for a couple of weeks or so, and needs big water changes, often, to get rid of the ammonia initially.
Additional pro: It holds slopes well compared to most substrates.
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Old 11-04-2011, 04:59 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hoppy View Post
Substrate fertilizing isn't essential with the inert substrates. Plants will grow well with or without substrate ferts, but then you have to be very consistent in following the dosing method you use, so you don't run out of any of them. With substrate fertilizing you can be more relaxed about dosing the water without worrying about the effect on the plants.

Fluval Stratum:
Pros: Loaded with nutrients, doesn't leach ammonia, good particle sizes, grows plants very well
Cons: Cost, has to be washed pretty well to avoid dust clouds when filling the tank.

ADA Aquasoil:
Additional con: Leaches ammonia into the water for a couple of weeks or so, and needs big water changes, often, to get rid of the ammonia initially.
Additional pro: It holds slopes well compared to most substrates.
Thanks Hoppy I have added your additions and notes. Anyone else care to add any pros or cons?
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Old 11-05-2011, 05:08 AM   #11
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I know someone else wants to weigh in here!
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Old 11-05-2011, 06:00 PM   #12
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Fluval Stratum isn't nutrient-rich. It's just dirt/clay. It will require the use of fertilizers to be nutrient-rich.

This has been discussed a ton on the forum but it's rather fragile and does not need to be washed or rinsed.
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Old 11-05-2011, 06:18 PM   #13
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Fluval Stratum isn't nutrient-rich. It's just dirt/clay. It will require the use of fertilizers to be nutrient-rich.

This has been discussed a ton on the forum but it's rather fragile and does not need to be washed or rinsed.
Fluval recommends gentle rinsing until the water runs clear. All ADA Aquasoil type substrates, and there are several now, are made from dirt/clay, and like MTS, they naturally contain substantial nutrients. I believe that they are deficient in potassium, but have no proof of that. I didn't find Stratum to be fragile. In fact after a year, when I had to tear down the tank, the particles were still hard and intact.
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Old 11-05-2011, 06:35 PM   #14
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Originally Posted by TactusMortus View Post
I know someone else wants to weigh in here!
Give it time, lol, I have linked to this post at least 4 times this week instead of trying to explain all of this. It's a wonderful post...should be sticky if you ask me.
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Old 11-05-2011, 07:11 PM   #15
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hoppy View Post
Fluval recommends gentle rinsing until the water runs clear. All ADA Aquasoil type substrates, and there are several now, are made from dirt/clay, and like MTS, they naturally contain substantial nutrients. I believe that they are deficient in potassium, but have no proof of that. I didn't find Stratum to be fragile. In fact after a year, when I had to tear down the tank, the particles were still hard and intact.
It's definitely fragile in the sense that you can easily break it apart by putting it between two fingers. Maybe more so than Aquasoil, in my experience. Clay/soil products aren't like gravel or pumice in that they can and do easily break down under pressure or when replanting (which isn't necessarily a bad thing). As far as rinsing, though, there's no need to do it to cut down on cloudiness. Countless folks here on the forum can back that up.

I use Fluval Stratum products pretty much exclusively at this point and I think saying the products contain substantial nutrients can be misleading. Especially if someone new is researching the product. Because it's definitely not a nutrient-rich substrate like ADA or Netlea. I don't get terrific growth unless I fertilize with the product. The packaging even recommends adding root tabs.

I'd also add as a pro: Fluval Stratum LOOKS nice. That's a plus. Reminds me of Aquasoil and Netlea and a greatly reduced price for the most part.
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