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OK guys, I am new to aqua-scaping and this site. My first project will be a 55 gal cube where I want to build up a Lava rock hill/cliff in one corner. I want to use larger lava rock stones stacked 2 - 3 high with small plants growing between the rocks. I also want to use Miracle Grow Organic potting soil as my substrate. My thought was to build up the potting soil in the corner behind the rocks.

I am thinking that I am going to run into some issues doing it this way (settling, dirt coming out between the rocks, etc). Can any of you veterans advise me to the problems I will run into and how to avoid them?
 

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You could go with plants like anubius, bolbitis, or java fern, and not have to worry about the substrate at all, they will grow directly on the lava rock.

Otherwise... maybe use something like those coconut coir basket liners to create a vertical barrier so you can stick some dirt behind it, and some sand or gravel betwixt the dirt and the lava rock to try and create a vertical 'cap'.

I'd be pretty hesitant, though. You can easily add a much larger amount of dirt to your tank, and this might cause problems.
 

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Lol if you only get plants that can't be planted into the dirt, I don't see why you would need the dirt. My advise is to cap the dirt off with a solid type of substrate like black sand or something. Eco complete would be good. When you cap a small layer of sand over dirt, you will avoid the dirt flapping and whirling everywhere.
 

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Ive done something like this with my (current) first tank, and can suggest some tips, though as I've learned more after putting it in place, I worry I've stored up problems for later.

I used a mix of banking techniques: Epo Putty to stick the big bits together and stabilise them against slippage; a small layer of pea gravel in between round the base, then aquatic soil, topped with fine gravel. Very small pieces of slate or acrylic sheets (found via a model railway supplier) can also be tucked in to further shore up fine substrate slippage.

The worry: I now have a very deep section of substrate, which can risk build up of bacteria that cause hydrogen sulfate pockets, which can be lethal to livestock if the pop. The pea gravel reduces the risk a bit. Ensuring no deep rooted plants go near that area is another thing to avoid (in case you ever have to remove them) . Also avoid any fish that might be enthusiastic diggers, and generally try not to disturb it.

I'd not do this again, to be honest, until I've learned a bit more about working with deep substrates.
 
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