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Hello! My dad and I will be starting our first planted tank and I need a lot of guidance. My dad bought a Fluval Flex 32.5 (my recommendation as I have the Fluval Flex 15). He wants to do a planted tank for the first time. He has had freshwater and saltwater tanks in the past but never a planted freshwater. Now before we set up, I've been trying to research what's needed, but I have questions.

What is the best substrate to use? We were going to use sand as I have sand in my tank and love it. I have Cory catfish and my dad intends to have Cory catfish and other bottom feeders, so ideally, we don't want anything too sharp/rough like gravel. The guy at our local fish store told us to avoid soils as they are messy, but from my research, soil will provide the best plant growth. We were thinking about doing soil in the background and sand in the foreground. Or could we just use sand through the whole tank? Not sure how well plants root into sand?

What plants are best? We will not have a CO2 cannister, but our local fish store has numerous plants that don't require it. All I know off the top of my head are Java ferns and anubias. In my research I saw a glimpse of something about water column feeders vs root feeders. Root feeders need a more nutrient packed substrate like soils. Or they need supplementation with root tabs. What are some examples of beginner friendly water column feeder and root feeders? How does that affect which substrate we should choose?

I am super new to planted tanks, so please forgive my ignorance in the subject. Every time I've thought about doing a planted tank in the past, I've become too overwhelmed with choosing the right substrate and plants. But my dad really wants to try it, so I really want to help him get this right. Thanks! :)
 

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Best substrate is probably ADA Amazonia. It isn't messy. Are ADA aquariums messy?

There isn't really such thing as a "root feeder." Aquatic plants with larger root systems usually grow in faster flowing water, which is why they need more roots to anchor themselves by. Most plants can be grown with either water column or root fertilization (or both).

I suggest this youtube channel for high-quality information on planted tanks.

Use Tropica's website (or Aquarium Co-op's website) and filter by easy plants. Those are the ones you want when you're starting out.
 

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Welcome to the forum and the hobby!

You're literally already on the website with all the information you need. This forum. Anyone immediately suggesting you hop to YouTube or some other site is really doing you a disservice at this stage because they're ignoring millions of posts, photos and tons of resources. Some YouTubers are helpful, some spread wild disinformation, some focus only on recommending items that make them money. So definitely supplement anything you're watching with lots of reading here.

The first thing to keep in mind is that there is no 'best' when it comes to anything in planted tanking. Just have to pick what will work well for you based on budget and need. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia may be best for my needs but something else may be better for yours. Same for lighting, fertilizer, plants, critters.

If you're only keeping epiphytes like ferns, anubias, moss? Sand will be fine. Those aren't plants that get stuck into substrate anyway. But if you're keeping stems or something like crypts or swords, a nutrient-rich substrate can be helpful. But it's still not a necessity - you can grow nearly anything with sand.

If it were me? I'd start reading through the Tank Journals section to see how people keep their tanks. There'll be tons upon tons of photos to get a sense of what you like and don't like. Take notes, write down questions, keep track of products you like. Do that for a couple weeks at least. And then check out the other sections as you write down questions you have or topics you want to learn more about.
 
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