Newbie needing substrate advice! - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-16-2020, 02:29 PM Thread Starter
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Newbie needing substrate advice!

Hi there,

I am hoping to create a planted tank with my new 84" x 24" x 24" tank!

However I am getting rather confused by what substrate to use for a planted tank - in my previous tanks I have never head live plants other than cheap bunches you buy and then die after a week!

Because of the size of the tank, I am kind of ruling out going for something like aquasoil or the likes as this would require around 100litres of soil substrate for a 3" thick base at a cost of around £350-£450 just for the substrate soil! This is for one which doesn't need capping such as Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate / Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel.

My plan is to create a partially planted tank with some wood and rockery - with an open area at one end of the tank.

Is there a more affordable way to create a substrate that will last a long time without having to spend hundreds of pounds?! - what happens if you use normal garden soil from the garden center in the UK?

I dont really want to just fill with black gravel as i dont think ill have much success with plants this way unless people would recommend this?

The only other option I can see is to somehow use an alternative soil with a gravel capping so that i can plant the tank to make this more affordable, otherwise I'll be going for just a gravel tank and no planted which is not what id ideally want

Thanks in advance
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post #2 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-16-2020, 02:38 PM
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Originally Posted by matt769 View Post
Hi there,

I am hoping to create a planted tank with my new 84" x 24" x 24" tank!

Great sized tank!

However I am getting rather confused by what substrate to use for a planted tank - in my previous tanks I have never head live plants other than cheap bunches you buy and then die after a week!

Lots of good info here, we can help you have success

Because of the size of the tank, I am kind of ruling out going for something like aquasoil or the likes as this would require around 100litres of soil substrate for a 3" thick base at a cost of around £350-£450 just for the substrate soil! This is for one which doesn't need capping such as Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate / Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel.

Too expensive.... stay clear of eco-comp and flourite, they are completely inert and offer no nutrients for plants to use

My plan is to create a partially planted tank with some wood and rockery - with an open area at one end of the tank.

You'll eventually fill up the open area of the tank with more plants

Is there a more affordable way to create a substrate that will last a long time without having to spend hundreds of pounds?! - what happens if you use normal garden soil from the garden center in the UK?

Absolutely there is a more affordable way. Pool filter sand, coal slag blasting sand, play sand, silica sand, normal aquarium gravel, these are all very good options and can grow plants very well. You don't need a nutrient rich substrate for success, soil is very dirty and comes with a slue of potential problems. It can work well if you manage it properly, in my opinion it's not a guarantee for success.

I dont really want to just fill with black gravel as i dont think ill have much success with plants this way unless people would recommend this?

This is what a lot of us will recommend! Especially on a larger tank such as yours. Super easy to maintain.

The only other option I can see is to somehow use an alternative soil with a gravel capping so that i can plant the tank to make this more affordable, otherwise I'll be going for just a gravel tank and no planted which is not what id ideally want


Thanks in advance
See bold. Successful planted tank with plain, inert gravel / sand are all over this forum. Cheap, easy to maintain, easy to clean, lasts the life of the tank, no mess when moving plants and comes in many colours at a very affordable price. Save money on the substrate to spend on lighting / CO2 / fertilizers and plants!

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post #3 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-16-2020, 02:57 PM Thread Starter
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See bold. Successful planted tank with plain, inert gravel / sand are all over this forum. Cheap, easy to maintain, easy to clean, lasts the life of the tank, no mess when moving plants and comes in many colours at a very affordable price. Save money on the substrate to spend on lighting / CO2 / fertilizers and plants!
That's brilliant! Exactly what I wanted to hear so thank you

I think the specialist soil may be good in smaller tanks but as mines rather large its just not economic! I did get rather worried when I started costing it up..

Haha, I plan to have a slightly open area as I would like 2 smaller variety pleco's so I'll see if they tear up the plants! I'm planing on placing rocks around the plants so that there's a reduced possibility of it happening.

Would you say sand or gravel is better in terms of not causing any issues as ive heard that you can get build up of things under sand - I'd have a community tank including burrowers and snails.

What thickness to you have your gravel/sand at or would recommend?

Last question! Haha - what would you recommend as fertiliser/dosing for the plants when using gravel/sand?

The tank will have a black vinyl applied background so my plan is to have a darker coloured substrate to match this and create a modern looking tank

I will have a look into those suggestions you've made now, would you recommend any particular suppliers at all?

Many thanks
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post #4 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-16-2020, 03:39 PM
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I second Quagulator regarding staying clear of eco-complete or flourite. They are inert and add no nutrients to the party and are expensive in large quantities.

You can definitely just go with sand (pool filter sander is probably the cheapest and most uniform variety available in the USA, no idea about the UK but would be surprised if its much different). Another option is to buy a bag or two of aquasoil. I know George Farmer and MD Fishtanks (youtubers) are in the UK and both are sponsored by Tropica which has their own brand of substrate (thus I know its relatively easy to get in the UK) and you could certainly buy a bag or two of their substrate. This is no where near enough to cover your tank but you wouldn't need to. Instead just put some down in the area you know will be planted then cap it with sand. An inch of aquasoil followed by an inch or sand would do fine. Elsewhere 3 inches or less of sand is a good way to go. Burrowing fish will mix the substrates up over time, so it might be a good idea to add a few handfuls of darker colored aquarium gravel on the surface of the sand so the aquasoil won't stand out as much as it gets brought to the surface.

Most sands you will find will be lighter colored. So you will want to keep that in mind.
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post #5 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-16-2020, 04:07 PM
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If your new to this, my advise for a deep tank (24") that's going to be partially planted with rock/wood is go with easy slow growing, low light plants and use a dark substrate. Although pool filter sand is great, it will discolor and get littered with waste and will need to be maintenanced on a regular basis. Use mostly ferns, anubias, crypts and other slower growing plants that are attached to hardscape and can be higher up in the water column. Reaching down tow feet for frequent trimming/maintenance can get old, fast.

Deep tanks require a lot of light to reach the bottom. So if the tank isn't heavily planted this can easily cause algae issues. That's why low-light plants are key.

One final thing, I would learn about co2 and use it. It makes growing everything easier. Even in low light plants grow better and their uptake of nutrients is increased which makes algae related issues less likely.
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Last edited by Asteroid; 01-16-2020 at 04:30 PM. Reason: ...
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post #6 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-16-2020, 05:35 PM
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I have a 20 gallon long planted. I needed to go cheap so i went with potting soil capped with sand. I have no complaints except in the beginning mine clouded the water for a while but i did like 50% water change ever other day and within a few weeks it was crystal clear. Otherwise my plants are triple the size and i dont run CO2. The only thing is the soil has to be organic i believe. do some research before getting the soil because certain ones can effect the water parameters. But this is a super cheap alternative and i personally love the look of sand.
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post #7 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-16-2020, 06:08 PM
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My 55 gallon planted and 5 gallon betta tank both use water filter sand as substrate. I've enriched it somewhat with laterite but mostly because I have a very old box around that needs using up. The only complaint I have is that the sand is slightly coarser than optimum.
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post #8 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-16-2020, 06:29 PM
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Originally Posted by matt769 View Post

What thickness to you have your gravel/sand at or would recommend?

Last question! Haha - what would you recommend as fertiliser/dosing for the plants when using gravel/sand?

The tank will have a black vinyl applied background so my plan is to have a darker coloured substrate to match this and create a modern looking tank

I will have a look into those suggestions you've made now, would you recommend any particular suppliers at all?

Many thanks
I would not go less than 1.5" in the front, then up to 3" - 4" in the back.

I would recommend either an all-in-one fertilizer such as Thrive, or dry ferts and follow PPS-Pro or a modified EI light.

Check out this website to determine how much of what to dose:

https://rotalabutterfly.com/nutrient-calculator.php

For black / dark substrate, google the UK equivalent of black diamond blasting sand. It's coal slag used for sand blasting things, find a supplier and check the SDS sheets to see if they are similar. In Canada where I'm at, K @ E industrial sand is essentially the exact same as black diamond blasting stand our American friends use, so I use the K @ E stuff.

Check out astro - turf infill sands, they are inert (the ones I've seen anyway) and can come in various colours.

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post #9 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-16-2020, 07:34 PM
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To me sand should be kept to no more than 3Ē thick, also grain size of 1-3mm is best. Avoid cheap sands that look like one on right here, to fine, makes it hard for most plant root to penetrate and doesnít allow adequate circulation into substrate layer, the size on left is proper grain/pore size.



If you go for black diamond blast sand (coal slag) go for medium 12/40 grit, not the fine.

Good resource for howís and whys of of substrate, in fact his whole website is a wealth of fact based information you should read start to finish.

https://www.advancedplantedtank.com/...substrate.html
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post #10 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 12:57 PM Thread Starter
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This is what I’ve managed to find so far:
https://rover.ebay.com/rover/0/0/0?m...2F181632097251

Not too bad for £32.99 for 30kg delivered and it’s 1-3mm if this isn’t too fine

I can’t seem to find any blasting sand suppliers near me or online so I think something like this may be more suitable 🙂

I reckon that maybe 90kg would be plenty enough gravel, maybe less as not all will be 3” base and some will be different levels with lava rock

Unless anyone would recommend another supplier 🙂
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post #11 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 01:08 PM
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This is what Iíve managed to find so far:
[Ebay Link Removed]
Do you have a "tractor supply" or "TSC" style store where you are located?

Some hardware stores can carry coal slag as well, try looking up coal slag abrasives around you.

Again, check the SDS sheet compared to Black Diamond Blasting Sand to make sure they are close, do a bucket test if you buy some on TDS / pH / kH / gH just to confirm it's not adding anything dramatically.

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post #12 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 01:46 PM Thread Starter
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I’ve had a look but we don’t really have that equivalent in the uk unfortunately and haven’t been able to find anywhere to source it from
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post #13 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-17-2020, 05:17 PM
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This is what Iíve managed to find so far:
[Ebay Link Removed]

Not too bad for £32.99 for 30kg delivered and itís 1-3mm if this isnít too fine

I canít seem to find any blasting sand suppliers near me or online so I think something like this may be more suitable 🙂

I reckon that maybe 90kg would be plenty enough gravel, maybe less as not all will be 3Ē base and some will be different levels with lava rock

Unless anyone would recommend another supplier 🙂



I would try a farm supply store.

In the states, Tractor Supply Co, a sort of 'big box' agriculture store seems to stock it.

In the old days, I remember using a "Gran-i-Grit" used in chicken feed -also sold at the feed store. Our local was a salt and pepper white crushed granite, dusty but cheap. Still available it seems.
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post #14 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-20-2020, 04:42 PM
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I have 6ftx2ftx2ft 180 gal build in the works.

I've been following this thread with great interest. You all are a wealth of information. I'm going with 12/40 black sand. I'm lucky and have a Tractor Supply down the road with it in stock. My question is before I put the sand in is there any ferts I should first. Like Crushed coral for calcium or clay etc...
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post #15 of 20 (permalink) Old 01-20-2020, 06:32 PM
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I've been following this thread with great interest. You all are a wealth of information. I'm going with 12/40 black sand. I'm lucky and have a Tractor Supply down the road with it in stock. My question is before I put the sand in is there any ferts I should first. Like Crushed coral for calcium or clay etc...
You don't need any, but you can lay half a handful of Osmocote+ fertilizer down before adding sand, again, not needed.

Go easy on the osmocote+ if you use it... a little goes a long way and you can always add more later.

My vote would be just go with 100% sand and not add anything to it, keep things simple and clean.
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