sorry for taking so long to reply. Should I wait to change the substrate till I get my plants then? Just do it all at the same time? Thanks
I'd recommend waiting until plants arrive and just spend the day carefully redoing your set up
~move fish to tempt tank/bucket with exissiting tank water, same for filter and heater
~add plants (maybe add tiny bit more cap to hold down plants)
~fill carefully to avoid disturbing cap
~siphon or net out any floating bits of soil
~and add back heater/filter/fish.
Then monitor closely for several days at least if not a week or two, test ammonia and nitrite levels, if there are any
spikes (goes above 0 ppm) do water changes.
I have a new tank but need lights, plants, and substrate so for now I am cycling it (tank filter ad heater here). I will do a MGOPM with sand cap after the plants arrive. The plants help absorb ammonia leeched by the soil, and their roots deliver oxygen to the soil and prevent pockets of gas building that can be deadly. I won't be adding fish until the plants settled in to ensure no chance of ammonia spikes killing anything (and after its cycled of course).