Not sure if substrate is for me & should go back to gravel? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-11-2020, 06:32 PM Thread Starter
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Not sure if substrate is for me & should go back to gravel?

I bought a tank months ago and still haven't bought fish. Started by using gravel, getting the biological function going, making it look nice with plastic plants, and then decided I like the look of aquascaping videos on youtube with substrate.
I liked how an aquarium looked in a store with plants, substrate but no gravel on the top, and bought a big bag of the substrate she told me they used.
Then in Petworld the assistant didn't seem to know about the substrate they sold, and just repeated what a bag said about how it has nutrients for good plant growth, so I bought a small bag of that. Then put the small bag of substrate at the back of the tank where I wanted plants to grow bigger, and rest of tank that I want short grass like plants, I put the big bag that the store said is the same as their planted tank with just substrate and no gravel on top.
Not sure what I did wrong, but filled tank with water and the water was muddy and stayed muddy for about a week, until it started to clear. Was too scared of putting the filter on for fear of ruining it. Then I started wondering if the water would go muddy every time water is changed, and it seemed more dirty than gravel, as you can vacuum gravel. Doesn't seem as if it would be safe for fish if water keeps going muddy.

Also what happens to fish excrement with substrate? It seems to be too dirty to me, and thinking of going back to gravel again. Wondering if aquascaping is more for experts and substrate isn't for me?
What happens to fish poo if you use substrate and no gravel on the top? Is it difficult to keep clean?
If I did put gravel on top of substrate, can't fish poo still go through the gravel? How do others keep it clean?
Maybe I can come to a compromise by having gravel but planted pots and those plants that grow on wood? If anybody has tips for a compromise with a planted gravel tank that would be great, thanks.
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post #2 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-11-2020, 08:59 PM
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Do you have names of actual products you were sold?
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Last edited by DaveKS; 05-11-2020 at 08:59 PM. Reason: Typo
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post #3 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-11-2020, 09:47 PM
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Substrate is a generic term to describe whatever is on the bottom of the tank, be it sand, gravel, or a commercial product like ADA, Flourite, etc. Personally I think the commercial substrates are glorified gravel and not worth the cost. I don't like gravel as it locks you into constant gravel vacuuming. Sand over dirt is messy, and dirt looses it's nutrients quickly. I prefer about 4" of pool filter sand and use root tabs as required. With PFS, corries, and Malaysian Trumpet Snails I've never had to touch the sand.

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post #4 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-12-2020, 12:28 PM Thread Starter
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OK, think you knew I meant the dirt type substrate to grow plants in, as opposed to sand or gravel.
I didn't keep the packaging to remember what the make is, but the big bag that was used by a store for their dirt type only without gravel on the top, planted aquarium, was like balls, and the other looks more like loose dirt. Maybe using the other bag was what caused the problems?

You're saying that you can grow plants in sand, as long as you use root tabs?

So if vacuuming is a problem with gravel, then are you not supposed to clean up fish poo from sand or dirt type substrate? Do snails eat the fish poo, or what happens to it when it gets to the ground?
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post #5 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-12-2020, 09:13 PM
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Originally Posted by CharLee44 View Post

You're saying that you can grow plants in sand, as long as you use root tabs?
You can grow most any plants in sand (or gravel, or other inert substrate) with or without root tabs. Most aquatic plants can get nutrients from the water column. I like active substrates, and will probably switch all of my tanks over to them over time, but they are a bit of a different beast. They all have pros and cons, but they all will grow plants if you properly maintain the tank.

Nothing good happens fast in an ecosystem.
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post #6 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-12-2020, 10:24 PM Thread Starter
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Ok thank you. I was told in a store that if I want plants to grow then I would need soil type substrate. Seems as if I wasn't getting good advice then, and could have stayed with gravel.
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post #7 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-12-2020, 11:09 PM
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You're saying that you can grow plants in sand, as long as you use root tabs?
So if vacuuming is a problem with gravel, then are you not supposed to clean up fish poo from sand or dirt type substrate? Do snails eat the fish poo, or what happens to it when it gets to the ground?
Look at my avitar - 4" of pool filter sand. With Corries and Malaysian Trumpet Snails, I never touch the sand substrate (haven't in like 8 years) and it never looks dirty. Now I also feed high quality food so there's less waste. I use a modest dose of liquid fertilizer and some root tabs for the Amazon swords that are heavy root feeders.

Tank On, Mike-
60g Marineland Community, Finnex Planted+ 24/7, Silica (pool filter) sand.
10g, 29g, & 37g fry grow out tanks, 110g stock tank.


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post #8 of 8 (permalink) Old 05-12-2020, 11:14 PM
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While you certainly could have, I like to think that salespeople at shops have the best of intentions and I hate to throw LFS guys under the bus when I don't know the exact conversation that was had. But there is definitely a tendency for employees to talk over their knowledge level (this is probably true in in pretty much any industry). And our hobby is not small engine repair or something with absolutes. A jigsaw puzzle only goes together properly in one exact way, whereas a number of variables can be less than ideal and an aquarium still remain a healthy environment for fish and plants. My advice would be to ride out the soil, you might decide down the road that you love it.

Nothing good happens fast in an ecosystem.
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