Vermiculite capped with playsand is the only plant substrate I've used so far. It works much better than plain sand, but I'm not sure how it compares to other substrates or even plain sand with root tabs. My Water Sprite exploded and even my Java Ferns perked up after their little grabber-roots got ahold of it. However, growth slowed down a few months later, so I'm not sure how good it is for the long-term. I'm soon going to be switching to MTS, so I probably won't be using vermiculite any more.
If you do want to use it, I suggest soaking it in a bucket of water until most of it sinks. Drain off any floaters before you put it in the tank. Don't make it more than an inch thick, otherwise it'll go anaerobic. Then, if you can, put the sand on dry- wet sand just plops down and mixes with the vermiculite. You can also use gravel, but be careful when you vacuum it.
Vermiculite can clog up your filter and cloud your water at first and whenever you break the cap, so I recommend using a sponge or polyester batting prefilter when you first fill the tank and whenever you add or remove plants. If you soak it well, you won't have to worry about floaters, but sooner or later some of the vermiculite will settle on top of the cap. If the look doesn't bother you and it's not clogging your filter, you can leave it alone and it won't cause any trouble. If you do want to get rid of it, just take some airline and siphon it out like fish poo.
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