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Hello all. This is my first post on this forum. So I would like to introduce myself to everyone. I just recently was able to get back into the hobby. I have moved around for work quite a bit so keeping tanks become difficult. When I moved from Ohio to Northern Kentucky for work i lost all my tanks unfortunately. So for the past two a half years I have been waiting for the right tank and deal. I would not settle for anything less than 180g. Since moving to the Tampa this past November all i had been able to find were 125g. Luckily this past week after years of searching i found a great deal on the 180g i currently have sitting in my living room empty. I am really trying to plan everything out on this tank before I do anything. I have not yet even decided on the fish I will be keeping. I do know however it will be a planted tank. I have had a planted tank in the past but they were not as well thought out. I am a member on MFK, under the same user name. I wanted everyones suggestions on the substrate to utilize. I am thinking of doing a hill or a bank in the aquarium. I was thinking of doing 2 inches of fluorite with a sand top layer. My other option would be to do all three inches in fluorite. I want a carpet look in some areas of the tank. So I wanted everyone opinion on what works best in your opinions. Also I wanted everyone's opinions on substrate heaters. Are they work it? I thank you all in advance for your assistance.
 

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In general, anything that goes in the substrate is not great for a planted tank. Heaters, filters, etc. As they generally don't play nice with the root systems. Though i'm sure some people have used them with success.

As for substrate, I would not recommend mixing normal fluorite and sand. The small grain sand will eventually find its way down into the larger grained fluorite and you will end up with just sand/fluorite mix in about a year. If you like the sand look, fluorite does make a black sand that gives you the size of sand but the CEC of fluorite. I don't know what your preferences are for color, but there is a red fluorite and a black fluorite, sand you can get in a whole variety of colors, although pool filter sand is by far the cheapest option. There is also black diamond blasting sand which is another cheap option if you like black sand.

People grow carpeting plants in all kinds of substrate, but i'll let someone who has more experience make specific recommendations for that.
 

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do not mix flourite and sand

get a ton of black diamond blasting sand and call it a day IMO
 

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In Canada, I find river rock in the craft section of dollarstores. I find colors which compliment my substrate. I add full stones then smash the rest for a great texture to the scape. If you have the time, you can make a great transition from sand to large stones. You smash some of the stones down to near nothing. Looks very nice. I like dirt bottom covered in sand or fine gravel with this method. You could also incorporate rocks from the wild. Just grab a six pack and a hammer and let loose.
 

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Substrate heaters aren't worth the effort, use tube heaters.

Plants will grow in anything. Really they will. I got tired of the slightly confetti appearance of the gravel+safeTsorb substrate so went with ADA's Amazonia a few months ago. If you want dark then go with that blasting sand, if a natural tan/brown then look into SafeTSorb and if really pale go with pool filter sand as it is screened to a uniform size and not as likely to compact and go anaerobic. If you like the appearance of the commercial planted tank substrates then get one.

Sand will sift down under the flourite as soon as you shift it a little, not worth the effort. Separating areas and using the plant substrate where plants grow and sand for decorative purposes is great so long as you have a good plan for separating the two materials. See Green Machine and ADA videos for how they do it. One sees a lot of picking dark bits out of pale sand though, fish and shrimp don't care if they make a mess of your design or not.

If you are positive where hills need to be and you will leave them until tank is again stripped down and completely empty then building a barrier with something like pond foam and rocks would work. Some people are good enough to with plastic barriers to shore up the hill. I have old substrate inside bags sewn of fiberglass window screen mesh then 2" of ADA Amazonia on top and in front to make up a ~4" slope. In the middle of the tank are good sized rocks that add to the illusion of a slope.

Some people put styrofoam down to build up slopes. Seems like it could backfire big time if the substrate wasn't quite heavy enough. Haven't seen evidence of disaster but have read a couple accounts. Some use eggcrate, if substrate slides then it gets exposed. My fiberglass mesh bags haven't reappeared yet, only been 6-7 months so I have hope the Amazonia sticks to it well enough to keep the slope.
 
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