Choosing the Right Substrate for Your Plants - The Planted Tank Forum
 
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post #1 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-11-2015, 03:44 PM Thread Starter
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Choosing the Right Substrate for Your Plants



Photo Credit: all4aquarium.ru


Before you place your first plant in your new tank, you have to have something to plant it in. There are lots of options for aquarium keepers, from fine sand to rocks. How can you find the right substrate the first time with so many choices? Don’t worry, we have some tips for picking the right substrate for your tank, no matter what kind it is.


You Don’t Have to Choose Substrate


If you just want to add a few plants to your tank to help with nitrate levels, you don’t necessarily need a substrate at all. Hospital tanks, grow-out tanks and tanks that house fish that need constant care can still benefit from plants, you’ll just have to pot them and place them in the tank instead of rooting them in substrate. As the plants get bigger, simply repot into another aquarium-safe container and place it back in the tank or split it up and spread parts of it into other tanks or pots.


Sand’s an Option


Sand can make a great substrate for plants, provided you choose a course sand. Sand grades smaller than #3 introduce a high risk for the creation of hydrogen sulfide during the nitrogen cycle. If you have some areas that won’t be planted out, use larger sand to protect any fish in your tank. Adding iron supplements to tanks bedded with sand can also help to bind any hydrogen sulfide your plants can’t control.


Gravel Depends on the Fish


Gravel can work as a substrate in a tank that doesn’t generate a lot of detritus, or as a top layer of a multi-substrate tank. The gravel you choose should reflect the type of fish you’re keeping, though. For example, goldfish tend to eat small pebbles off the floor of the tank, so with that in mind, choosing a very small (#1) or very large (#5) grade of gravel would be the best plan. Catfish, too, can be easily injured by sharp gravel, so make sure to protect your rooting catfish like cory cats by using only smooth gravel.


Complete Substrates


If you choose to use a complete substrate, like ADA Aqua Soil or Eco Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate, you absolutely cannot add fish into the tank while it’s cycling. These types of substrates tend to have an ammonia spike within the first three weeks of use in order to encourage the growth of filter bacteria. You’ll need to completely cycle your new tank before adding any fish for success with this type of substrate. Check your pH before adding any livestock, as this type of substrate can sometimes drop levels too low for many fish species.


Combining Different Substrates


In a real life aquatic environment, layers of sand, soil and stone tend to accumulate together. Because of the action of water, the smaller particles eventually filter down, creating layers of substrate. You can mimic this by first applying a layer of sand, then a layer of aquarium soil and then topping it all with gravel. Your plants will have a great environment to grow in and the gravel will help keep the smaller particles from clouding the water.

DIY Substrates Not Recommended


Yes, you absolutely can add things like garden soil or peat from the garden center into your aquarium, but the results you get may not be what you expect. Any garden soil mixes contain fertilizers and other chemicals, and peat can seriously mess with pH levels. Unless you have a full analysis of what is in your DIY soil, and know exactly what it’ll do when it’s mixed with your local water source, this can be a seriously dangerous and frustrating game for you, your plants and your fish.


Plain Gravel or Sand


If you’ve been reading planted aquarium forums for a while, you may already have heard that it’s not ok to use plain gravel or sand when you’re setting up a planted tank. These substrates aren’t ideal for heavily planted tanks, but if you only have a few hardy plants in mind for a tank that’s primarily about fish, gravel or sand are fine. Gravel can be easier to clean in many cases. If you use a basic substrate, remember to keep the needs of your fish in mind as you choose the size and shape of gravel or sand.


Selecting the right substrate for your planted tank is an important first step for any setup. You’re literally laying the groundwork for the future success of your aquarium when you’re installing gravel, sand, soil or other base. Make this decision thoughtfully to ensure you have the right substrate for whatever you plan to grow in your tank and you’ll be rewarded with a healthy environment in the long run.

~ plantedtank.net


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post #2 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-11-2015, 04:07 PM
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I believe the expression for this would be..."you da man."
I also will be the first to suggest it should be a sticky/first thread on the Sub section.
Perhaps... "Easy, basic guide to tank substrates."
I will also supply you with a picture of #4 blasting sand. It is inert of course but also
very cheap. Often a Mom & Pop pet shop will buy the 40# bags of it and put it into
2-5lb bags for resale. Much better size over the regular pea gravel. Not very good
for hills though as you can see by the rounded corners it will slide easily.
https://www.plantedtank.net/forums/pi...ictureid=52570

The shortest distance between any two points is a straight line...in the opposite direction...
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post #3 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-12-2015, 04:15 PM
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DIY can cause unexpected results but if you choose the right soil to start with, it's not an issue. Buy plain top soil with no add fertilizers and you're fine.You can even mineralize your soil to change the organics to something more stable. I usually do a soak and skim off any floating big bits of organics( bark ). I never had any issues. So, I would recommend it.


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post #4 of 5 (permalink) Old 11-24-2015, 07:02 PM
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Sand as substrate: The cautions regarding the use of "plain sand" as a substrate are worth considering. However, for the past 20 years I've been using #20 grade swimming pool filter sand without any problems. It's just sand, meaning that it's just silica. It compacts no worse than sand at the waters edge of a sandy beach. However, to avoid the unwanted sulfide production or the chance of fish developing silicosis it's necessary to thoroughly clean sand under constant running water from a garden hose for several hours, continuously sifting with your hands until there are no longer any micro sand grains and/or dust. When the water finally runs clear the sand is ready for the aquarium. This takes patience and time. After properly washing a 50 pound bag of pool filter sand it's normal to have flushed away 15-20 lbs leaving only 30 lbs as satisfactory substrate. Yet, for a natural-looking and easy-to-keep-clean substrate, sand is -- well, it's sand. And what other clean and natural substrate can you buy in 50 lb bags for $5? Properly washed sand should present no problems for plants or the majority of fish you intend to grow or keep. Amending the sand with liquid minerals (soluble iron, potassium, zinc) is simple. Burying fertilizer pellets in sand means they stay put where you stick them under or near plants. The same with plants, which anchor quickly. And I've noticed a #20 and substrate keeps corydoras, kuhli loaches, fresh water flounders, clams, and shrimp all very happy.

Anyway, just thought I put in a good word for ordinary sand, which seems to be avoided by most aquarists.

Last edited by Ocatavio; 11-24-2015 at 07:32 PM. Reason: grammar
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post #5 of 5 (permalink) Old 12-02-2015, 03:07 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Ocatavio View Post
Sand as substrate: The cautions regarding the use of "plain sand" as a substrate are worth considering. However, for the past 20 years I've been using #20 grade swimming pool filter sand without any problems. It's just sand, meaning that it's just silica. It compacts no worse than sand at the waters edge of a sandy beach. However, to avoid the unwanted sulfide production or the chance of fish developing silicosis it's necessary to thoroughly clean sand under constant running water from a garden hose for several hours, continuously sifting with your hands until there are no longer any micro sand grains and/or dust. When the water finally runs clear the sand is ready for the aquarium. This takes patience and time. After properly washing a 50 pound bag of pool filter sand it's normal to have flushed away 15-20 lbs leaving only 30 lbs as satisfactory substrate. Yet, for a natural-looking and easy-to-keep-clean substrate, sand is -- well, it's sand. And what other clean and natural substrate can you buy in 50 lb bags for $5? Properly washed sand should present no problems for plants or the majority of fish you intend to grow or keep. Amending the sand with liquid minerals (soluble iron, potassium, zinc) is simple. Burying fertilizer pellets in sand means they stay put where you stick them under or near plants. The same with plants, which anchor quickly. And I've noticed a #20 and substrate keeps corydoras, kuhli loaches, fresh water flounders, clams, and shrimp all very happy.

Anyway, just thought I put in a good word for ordinary sand, which seems to be avoided by most aquarists.
Thanks for the informative post. This will be my first time using sand and I did the washing procedure until the water ran clear. Hopefully, with some osmocote+ ice cubes, there won't be any problems with plants!

btw, that picture is amazing!
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