Help me set the record straight on gravel, please? - The Planted Tank Forum
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post #1 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-21-2012, 01:48 PM Thread Starter
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Question Help me set the record straight on gravel, please?

I did a little bit of a search through the substrate part of the forum, but most of the answers I found are somewhat vague, and scattered through the threads with a couple of conflicting thoughts. I'm hoping I can sort of aggregate the answers here.

Right now, in both of my tanks (2g, 10g) I have ordinary colored aquarium gravel substrate.

I use a gravel vacuum when changing the water in my 2g (a 2-3xwk endeavor), and it seems to pick up things rather well (There's only a betta in the tank, so there's not a whole lot unless I miss pellets that he spits back out and they sink). I haven't yet needed to change the water in my 10g, since there are no fish in there yet (Fixing that this weekend, wanted to get this sorted first), but I imagine it will become an issue eventually.

However, I feel like every single tank I see on here so far seems to have some sort of sand or dirt substrate. So I have a few questions:

1) Is is possible to have a successful planted aquarium with just gravel substrate?

2) If so, how do you clean the gravel around plants? Gravel vac, a particular fish/shrimp/whatever? Will shrimp/plecostomus/otos get everything, or will it just need less frequent cleaning?

3) I know there are as many substrate, fertilizer, and additive recommendations as there are aquarists out there, but is there any consensus on what I could do to make a gravel substrate more successful?

I expect there will be a dozen and a half different answers, but I'm hoping there is some sort of general agreement on the basics. I'm a little afraid I'm going to be chastised for a "noob question", but the truth is I am still very new to planted tanks, so information is completely welcome.

Thanks for your time!

"Aquariums are like science, art, and hypno-therapy, all rolled into one," I insisted.
"You're not putting a hundred gallon tank in the living room," my roommate replied.



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My aquascape style tends towards 'tall in the back, short in the front, lots and lots of green and stuff. And maybe a rock somewhere...'
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post #2 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-21-2012, 02:17 PM
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I have had plants in all gravel, use liquid or dry ferts and they are fine. With a 10g your going to have to make sure your water is clean so no less than once a week cleaning. I also use a gravelvac and vacuum around plants, rocks etc. I have a tank with ecco complete and fine sand and do the same thing. Plants seem to grow the same. Don't over stock a 10g, check your params and your tank will be fine. I'm sure people with more experience will chime in. This is just my experience. Good luck with your tank!
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post #3 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-21-2012, 02:18 PM
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Originally Posted by Silmarwen View Post
I did a little bit of a search through the substrate part of the forum, but most of the answers I found are somewhat vague, and scattered through the threads with a couple of conflicting thoughts. I'm hoping I can sort of aggregate the answers here.

Right now, in both of my tanks (2g, 10g) I have ordinary colored aquarium gravel substrate.

I use a gravel vacuum when changing the water in my 2g (a 2-3xwk endeavor), and it seems to pick up things rather well (There's only a betta in the tank, so there's not a whole lot unless I miss pellets that he spits back out and they sink). I haven't yet needed to change the water in my 10g, since there are no fish in there yet (Fixing that this weekend, wanted to get this sorted first), but I imagine it will become an issue eventually.

However, I feel like every single tank I see on here so far seems to have some sort of sand or dirt substrate. So I have a few questions:

1) Is is possible to have a successful planted aquarium with just gravel substrate?

2) If so, how do you clean the gravel around plants? Gravel vac, a particular fish/shrimp/whatever? Will shrimp/plecostomus/otos get everything, or will it just need less frequent cleaning?

3) I know there are as many substrate, fertilizer, and additive recommendations as there are aquarists out there, but is there any consensus on what I could do to make a gravel substrate more successful?

I expect there will be a dozen and a half different answers, but I'm hoping there is some sort of general agreement on the basics. I'm a little afraid I'm going to be chastised for a "noob question", but the truth is I am still very new to planted tanks, so information is completely welcome.

Thanks for your time!
1) Depends on the plants you have and size of gravel pebbles. A lot of members us gravel as a cap over mineralized top soils and such. Its hard to get plants established in gravel substrates.

2) You can still use the gravel vac in the tank and once you get your tank cycled you should have some beneficial bacteria colonizing in your substrate to help reduce the harmful effects of waste. The cleaners you mentioned really wont clean the waste up and actually will just add to it. they help control things like diatoms and algae.

3)Not 100% on this but if you want to be successful it would be best since your still setting your tank up to either switch out your gravel to a planting substrate or do a mineralized top soil capped with your gravel. Some use sand with root tabs and have results.

Sorry I don't have the best answers for you, there are a ton more members with better knowledge and experience than me but thought I would try to help.


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post #4 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-21-2012, 03:23 PM
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There really isn't any single "best" substrate--other than what works for you in terms of structural and aesthetic concerns.

I put hygro "bold" cuttings in five different substrates: sand, sand over dirt, fluorite, polished gravel and--don't laugh--a bunch of those glass gems folks use to fill up the bottom of flower vases.

They all rooted, they all sent out healthy new growth.

Think about what you want to accomplish, what look you like, and what you have access to/can afford. Work from there. Only cavaet--the finer the stem of the plant you're working with, the finer the substrate should be if you don't want it floating up a million times before it roots.
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post #5 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-21-2012, 03:42 PM
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Originally Posted by Silmarwen View Post
I did a little bit of a search through the substrate part of the forum, but most of the answers I found are somewhat vague, and scattered through the threads with a couple of conflicting thoughts. I'm hoping I can sort of aggregate the answers here.

Right now, in both of my tanks (2g, 10g) I have ordinary colored aquarium gravel substrate.

I use a gravel vacuum when changing the water in my 2g (a 2-3xwk endeavor), and it seems to pick up things rather well (There's only a betta in the tank, so there's not a whole lot unless I miss pellets that he spits back out and they sink). I haven't yet needed to change the water in my 10g, since there are no fish in there yet (Fixing that this weekend, wanted to get this sorted first), but I imagine it will become an issue eventually.

However, I feel like every single tank I see on here so far seems to have some sort of sand or dirt substrate. So I have a few questions:

1) Is is possible to have a successful planted aquarium with just gravel substrate?

2) If so, how do you clean the gravel around plants? Gravel vac, a particular fish/shrimp/whatever? Will shrimp/plecostomus/otos get everything, or will it just need less frequent cleaning?

3) I know there are as many substrate, fertilizer, and additive recommendations as there are aquarists out there, but is there any consensus on what I could do to make a gravel substrate more successful?

I expect there will be a dozen and a half different answers, but I'm hoping there is some sort of general agreement on the basics. I'm a little afraid I'm going to be chastised for a "noob question", but the truth is I am still very new to planted tanks, so information is completely welcome.

Thanks for your time!
1) Yes, see picture below.
2) I let my 'cleaning crew' (Corys, Otos, SAE) do the cleaning. I clean the glass and do 50% water changes weekly. I do not 'Vac' my substrates.
3) A good well balanced fert (I used Seachem Flourish Comprehensive; Seachem Excel; a Seachem Flourish Tab under the roots of the root feeders like Crypts, and DIY CO2 in the tank below. The substrate is natural fine gravel.
4) Adequate light

45 Gallon Tall; Natural Gravel; Seachem ferts; DIY CO2

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post #6 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-21-2012, 05:26 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks to everyone who responded! You've all been helpful

I guess my biggest hangup on using "soil" is, I don't want it to get muddy...? I don't really understand how that works, I guess. Does it cloud up initially? Affect the filter? That sort of thing.

Seattle_Aquarist, is is possible to be successful without CO2? And thanks for the fertilizer reccomendations, I'll look into them.
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post #7 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-21-2012, 06:40 PM
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Pet store gravel is often epoxied, meaning more difficulty for roots to attach.

Getting back to the hobby and up to speed.
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post #8 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-22-2012, 12:41 AM Thread Starter
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Yeah, it's the colored stuff, so it's coated in some way. The aponogetons I have rooted like crazy, but everything else is sort of just... held down by the friction of the gravel on the sides, I suppose. I've decided I'm going to try getting a sad substrate down under the gravel. It'll be a bit of work, and I'll have to somewhat deconstruct my tank, but I think I was going to wind up doing so anyway.

Thanks for all the input guys

"Aquariums are like science, art, and hypno-therapy, all rolled into one," I insisted.
"You're not putting a hundred gallon tank in the living room," my roommate replied.



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My aquascape style tends towards 'tall in the back, short in the front, lots and lots of green and stuff. And maybe a rock somewhere...'
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post #9 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-22-2012, 01:25 AM
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Almost all substrates can cloud the water, even epoxied gravel.
Each substrate has some special way to reduce the clouding, but it basically comes down to rinsing before use, and carefully filling the tank with water so as not to stir up the new substrate.

Play sand gets rinsed so much you throw away up to half the bag because of the fines.
Pool filter sand is so clean that I just dump it in dry, right out of the bag. Then put a few inches of water in the tank, swirl it around and drain that, just once, and it is clean.

Safe-T-Sorb and similar products can make the water muddy looking, but it took only 2 rinsings (again, in the tank) for the Safe-T-Sorb to quit making mud. Then fill the tank, and the water had only a slight haze. Then next day it was clear.

Continue checking the information here about all the substrates. There are worse things than a bit of hazy water. There are some substrates that produce ammonia for about a month after they have been submerged. If you are running the tank already, with fish and shrimp, you cannot put them back into the tank until the ammonia goes down.
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post #10 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-22-2012, 02:01 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for the extra info, Diana. Is there a list somewhere on the forum of substrates that produce ammonia for a while? That would be horrible if I used one and had no idea

Edit: Strike that, I found a link to a pros-cons list on the forum. Thanks again!

"Aquariums are like science, art, and hypno-therapy, all rolled into one," I insisted.
"You're not putting a hundred gallon tank in the living room," my roommate replied.



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My aquascape style tends towards 'tall in the back, short in the front, lots and lots of green and stuff. And maybe a rock somewhere...'
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post #11 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-22-2012, 03:40 PM
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Earlier you asked about running a tank with no CO2.

Plants need a long list (about 16) elements to live. If they are totally deprived of one, they die. If one is in short supply that limits their growth to the supply of that element.
If you are going to short your plants of CO2, then gear the lights and fertilizer schedule to match the low CO2 that enters the water from the air, and comes from decomposing matter in the tank.
Have a look in the Low Tech forum for more ideas.
For a lot more info about this idea get Diana Walstad's book, Ecology of the Planted Aquarium.
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post #12 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-22-2012, 05:14 PM Thread Starter
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Do fish not add any amount of CO2 as well? I had actually never really heard of supplying CO2 to a tank before the last few days, so it never really occurred to me that it was a thing that might be required. Someone else recommended that book to me as well, actually, and I think I might go ahead and get it as soon as I've got a bit of spare cash.

"Aquariums are like science, art, and hypno-therapy, all rolled into one," I insisted.
"You're not putting a hundred gallon tank in the living room," my roommate replied.



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My aquascape style tends towards 'tall in the back, short in the front, lots and lots of green and stuff. And maybe a rock somewhere...'
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post #13 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-23-2012, 01:12 AM
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Do fish not add any amount of CO2 as well? I had actually never really heard of supplying CO2 to a tank before the last few days, so it never really occurred to me that it was a thing that might be required. Someone else recommended that book to me as well, actually, and I think I might go ahead and get it as soon as I've got a bit of spare cash.
You get a little bit of C02 from the critters in the tank, but not enough to matter. For low-tech tanks, the primary source of C02 is thru the gas exchange that happens naturally (or unnaturally with the help of increased water flow) at the surface.

There are hundreds of ways to set up a planted tank--each method and style is going to have it's own quirks, including benefits and drawbacks. No one way is necessarily "better" than any other--except as it fits what you're trying to achieve. That's part of the fun.

I've never bothered running C02 because I simply don't want to deal with the high maintanance. And, so far, I feel I've barely scratched the surface of what's possible with low-tech tanks. 'Sides, it's kinda fun provin' all the "you can't grow that without C02" folks wrong time after time after time.
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post #14 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-23-2012, 01:45 PM Thread Starter
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I've never bothered running C02 because I simply don't want to deal with the high maintanance. And, so far, I feel I've barely scratched the surface of what's possible with low-tech tanks. 'Sides, it's kinda fun provin' all the "you can't grow that without C02" folks wrong time after time after time.
That's a large part of it, I suppose--the desire to noooooot have an extra piece of equiptment to break down and transport next time I move (Yay college life), but the additional bonus of being able to prove people wrong is always a big draw for me. (One of my new years resolutions was to be less competative... hah!)

After looking at a bunch of the info I've seen on here, I think I'll probably stick to low-tech, CO2-system-free tanks for a while, until I reach a point where I'm more stable in my situation, you know?

"Aquariums are like science, art, and hypno-therapy, all rolled into one," I insisted.
"You're not putting a hundred gallon tank in the living room," my roommate replied.



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My aquascape style tends towards 'tall in the back, short in the front, lots and lots of green and stuff. And maybe a rock somewhere...'
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post #15 of 20 (permalink) Old 09-23-2012, 02:25 PM
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You can have a successful planted tank with gravel. I have a 75 g planted tank that has done well but if I could go back in time I would have used something else. I use the EI dosing method as well as flourish excel, flourish root tabs and injected co2 system.

I have amazon swords that have gotten very large and done well. I have also got crypts, vals and wendtii that have done well. Recently been more diligent about my dosing and cleaning schedule so I have added a few more plants which are doing well.

I usually just gravel vac around the plants and it doesn't seem like a big deal. Most of the plants have very well established root systems and I can confirm this bc I moved 2 years ago and tore everything up as well as replaced the actual tank a year ago and moved a few plants around a few weeks back. To think that gravel will somehow make plants not root is wrong. I suppose some plants may not do as well but mine have been well.

So I guess my main message is it can be okay if u have plants that tend to root well and be hardy but if I could have a do over I would use something made specifically for plants. Just understand the limits of gravel substrate. You won't have a carpeted aquascape for example. Good luck!
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