I'm new here, so question on substrates. - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 7 (permalink) Old 01-28-2020, 06:26 PM Thread Starter
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Talking I'm new here, so question on substrates.

Hey guys,

New here. I setup my account to inquire about the use of aqua soils. What are the values and characteristics for the aquascaping soils you see popularized on youtube? Are there any DIY solutions of greater value?

I'm not new to planted tanks but I did want to pioneer into mainstream aquascaping and the greatest question I come up with is, "why not just use pure sand with fert tabs?" How about using potting soil?

Are their issues with using clay in aquariums as a portion of substrate?

Yeah so all my questions are substrate based. It seems that marketing material for specific products is 90% of what you get when googling around so it's hard to find out the truth of this.

My personal experience is limited to using play sand from Home Depot with fert tabs to relatively good effect. I've not yet branched into using CO2. My previous tank was 180 gallon reef tank, I sold everything and am re-entering the hobby again.

Also, any issue with using some plant fiber stuff like this:
https://zoomed.com/eco-earth-coconut-fiber-substrate/

I'm sure floating is a common issue with soil products not intended for the aquarium.

Anyway please sound off.
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post #2 of 7 (permalink) Old 01-28-2020, 06:47 PM
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Youíll likely quickly get all the info you need from the substrate section stickies. Go to forums-specific aspects of the planted tank-substrate. Look at the top post and there will be stickies answering all of those questions.


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post #3 of 7 (permalink) Old 01-28-2020, 07:07 PM
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Welcome to the forums! I've used Eco Earth in terrariums and would not use it for an aquarium substrate. It's very light and I don't think you'd have a good time planting in it. I'm honestly not even sure it would stay on the bottom, it's not much heavier than water. I've also used potting soil underneath substrates and have mixed feelings on it. Sift it really well and remember that less is more, if you decide to go that route. ADA and such soils grow plants really well, but they do drop your KH and pH while active, this can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the species you are keeping. They also have a finite lifespan and are quite light and plants can float out of them when doing maintenance. Clay + water = mud with much agitation at all, so that wouldn't be something I would choose. Regular Flourite and Eco Complete don't offer any nutrients, but I've had success using them and will continue to use them on future tanks. If dosing your water appropriately with fertilizers, you can grow almost anything without root tabs or active soils.
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post #4 of 7 (permalink) Old 01-28-2020, 07:47 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Blue Ridge Reef View Post
Welcome to the forums! I've used Eco Earth in terrariums and would not use it for an aquarium substrate. It's very light and I don't think you'd have a good time planting in it. I'm honestly not even sure it would stay on the bottom, it's not much heavier than water. I've also used potting soil underneath substrates and have mixed feelings on it. Sift it really well and remember that less is more, if you decide to go that route. ADA and such soils grow plants really well, but they do drop your KH and pH while active, this can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on the species you are keeping. They also have a finite lifespan and are quite light and plants can float out of them when doing maintenance. Clay + water = mud with much agitation at all, so that wouldn't be something I would choose. Regular Flourite and Eco Complete don't offer any nutrients, but I've had success using them and will continue to use them on future tanks. If dosing your water appropriately with fertilizers, you can grow almost anything without root tabs or active soils.
Yeah my experience with sand was that it takes on a soil like composition very quickly when its your primary substrate as dying plant matter will get pulverized and blended in with fish waste. I've not ever really struggled with ammonia levels but I do tend to favor over filtration or at the very least high flow rates in a tank. Sand is easy to clean IMHO, it is cheap, and easy to plant. I do struggle with forming it up into any sort of scape though. That is the main issue. Finding something that scapes well, that can give me some nice slope... Any thought on Volcanic Rock Gravel

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Originally Posted by Sam the Slayer View Post
Youíll likely quickly get all the info you need from the substrate section stickies. Go to forums-specific aspects of the planted tank-substrate. Look at the top post and there will be stickies answering all of those questions.


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Been reading the stickies not yet helped me advance towards a solution.

I think its cause I'm looking for that scraping utility. I was looking at black lava rock gravel, so please sound off, I've not seen much on it but given the texture I was hoping it would have good scaping capacity that I could combine with tabs to good effect.

I don't really like the cons of the stuff like the ADA Amazonia and other aquascaping soils. They all seem to loose most pros after a year. I'm not looking to swap out substrate annually. Inversely my sand seemed to get better and better as it built up organic content. I don't know where is the best place to get my hands on some volcanic gravel, that is what I'm looking at and want to try. Any input on its pros and cons is appreciated.

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Originally Posted by jkellyid View Post
I don't really like the cons of the stuff like the ADA Amazonia and other aquascaping soils. They all seem to loose most pros after a year. I'm not looking to swap out substrate annually. Inversely my sand seemed to get better and better as it built up organic content. I don't know where is the best place to get my hands on some volcanic gravel, that is what I'm looking at and want to try. Any input on its pros and cons is appreciated.
Or, is it better just to get some plain black gravel and fert tab that? Please weigh in.


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My former 180 gallon sumped planted tank.

Last edited by Darkblade48; 02-01-2020 at 07:37 AM. Reason: Please use the edit function for back to back posts to keep threads cleaner
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post #5 of 7 (permalink) Old 01-28-2020, 09:45 PM
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I personally use about an inch or so of organic potting soil mixed with compost on the bottom, then cap it with an inch 1/2 - 2 of fine black gravel or sand. The dirted setups usually last a good year or two without any need for additional ferts, depending on the density and type of plants. Obviously if you have densely planted fast growing plants they'll use up the nutrients in the soil much faster than other, slower growing plants would. By the year or two point I'm bored with the aquascape anyway so it's not a problem for me, but you could always dose liquid ferts and root tabs after the nutrients have been largely used up. The aquascaping soils you talked about have the benifit of having some nutritional value while not making any sort of mess in the aquarium, but it comes at a high price imo. The only downside to using soil is that it'll dirty up the water if you mess with the plants too much, but a water change can fix this pretty fast.

I've also used loam in the past under the gravel cap, which is a mixture of clay, silt, and sand. The clay, while containing beneficial nutrients compacted into a hard layer that the roots of the plants could not penetrate, so if you were to use clay in this way i'd mix it with something else to make it less dense.

The volcanic gravel you mentioned is mostly inert so I see no problem with using it, it also looks very aesthetic. Where you source it from I guess depends on where you live, but the internet is a good place to start, ebay etc. The coconut fibre you mentioned would have little to no nutritional value, and would probably float so i'd avoid it honestly.

"why not just use pure sand with fert tabs?" There's nothing wrong with doing this at all! In the hobby sometimes you just have to experiment and find out what works the best for you.
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post #6 of 7 (permalink) Old 01-29-2020, 03:16 PM Thread Starter
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Originally Posted by Wansui View Post
I personally use about an inch or so of organic potting soil mixed with compost on the bottom, then cap it with an inch 1/2 - 2 of fine black gravel or sand. The dirted setups usually last a good year or two without any need for additional ferts, depending on the density and type of plants. Obviously if you have densely planted fast growing plants they'll use up the nutrients in the soil much faster than other, slower growing plants would. By the year or two point I'm bored with the aquascape anyway so it's not a problem for me, but you could always dose liquid ferts and root tabs after the nutrients have been largely used up. The aquascaping soils you talked about have the benifit of having some nutritional value while not making any sort of mess in the aquarium, but it comes at a high price imo. The only downside to using soil is that it'll dirty up the water if you mess with the plants too much, but a water change can fix this pretty fast.

I've also used loam in the past under the gravel cap, which is a mixture of clay, silt, and sand. The clay, while containing beneficial nutrients compacted into a hard layer that the roots of the plants could not penetrate, so if you were to use clay in this way i'd mix it with something else to make it less dense.

The volcanic gravel you mentioned is mostly inert so I see no problem with using it, it also looks very aesthetic. Where you source it from I guess depends on where you live, but the internet is a good place to start, ebay etc. The coconut fibre you mentioned would have little to no nutritional value, and would probably float so i'd avoid it honestly.

"why not just use pure sand with fert tabs?" There's nothing wrong with doing this at all! In the hobby sometimes you just have to experiment and find out what works the best for you.
Thanks very much for your input. I'm steering towards inert substrates, I was thinking of mixing this black clay with volcanic rock. And using this mix for the scape portion and then using sand wherever I want less pronounced slopes etc. In my experience the sands I like always seek a relative level within the tank.


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My former 180 gallon sumped planted tank.
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post #7 of 7 (permalink) Old 01-30-2020, 12:23 PM
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I'm a big fan of miracle gro potting soil with bds cap.not sure how it would work on a slope though.

MTS? no,I just need one more tank...
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