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I am setting up a 20 gallon long low tech planted aquarium and wondering what is a good substrate for that? Also suggestions on what are good foreground low tech plants that can cover the substrate so vacuuming isn't needed.

My goal for a substrate is that it is black in color, will provide nutrients for low tech plants, pretty cheap, will be clean and not cloud the water, I want it to look good, and won't have problems with pockets of anaerobic bacteria forming.

I have been recommended eco-complete but also have researched that it has some cons but not sure.

Some people recommended black diamond blasting sand, but heard some cons on it. As well as it isn't really made for aquariums, and as a beginner I am hesitant on it.

The plants I might use will be anubias and java fern which don't use the substrate. I might use Valisneria, Dwarf sag, Anacharis, Blyxa Japonica, crypts, just any low tech plants.

I would like to cover the front of the tank with plants so I won't have to vacuum the gravel but people say it isn't easy to get a carpet in low tech. I don't need a very low to the ground carpet like gloss or baby tears, I just want a plant that grows short that can cover the entire front of the tank.
 

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Hi Aqua3,

Welcome to TPT!

A low tech tank is the easiest way to learn the basics of plant growing there are a lot of substrates and plants that will do well without CO2 and high light.

The substrate is a matter of personal taste, anything that isn't too large a gravel size can work well. Eco-Complete is certainly one choice, another is Seachem Flourite, natural gravel can work very well also but personally I like the Montmorillonite clay materials for substrates for both low and high tech tanks. All of the ones listed will require the addition of fertilizer. Gravel is of course inert. Eco-Complete and Seachem Flourite have micro-nutrients but a low cation exchange capacity (CEC) which can make it difficult for the plants to access the nutrients. The Montmorillonite clay also have an abundance of micro-nutrients but also have a high CEC and thereby can make the nutrients more readily available to the roots of the plants. My first planted tank was gravel, and it did very well but I decided to try the Montmorillonite clay materials and the growth was better so I have used them ever since. If you want a black substrate then Eco-Complete or Flourite will accommodate that requirement as will black diamond blasting grit. Don't let the fact that something isn't specifically made for aquarium deter you from using black diamond, it is inert just like gravel.

If you haven't read the 'stickys' at the beginning of the various sub-forums I would suggest you start there....they will answer a lot of your questions. Adequate lighting and fertilization are probably more important than substrate in the success of a planted tank. A "good light" does not have to be an expensive light....the plants don't care what the fixture costs they just need the correct amount of light. Fertilization does not have to be complicated, there are good products on the market that are easy to use.

As for a foreground plant for a low tech tank there are several that can do the job such a Marsilea minuta or Helanthium tenellum (previously Echinodorus tenellus).

Here was my first tank, gravel substrate, minimal fertilziation


And here is a 10 gallon low tech, no CO2, Montmorillonite clay substrate (Safe-t-sorb #7941; 40# for $6.49 at Tractor Supply) Helanthium tenellum foreground
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Hi Aqua3,

Welcome to TPT!

A low tech tank is the easiest way to learn the basics of plant growing there are a lot of substrates and plants that will do well without CO2 and high light.

The substrate is a matter of personal taste, anything that isn't too large a gravel size can work well. Eco-Complete is certainly one choice, another is Seachem Flourite, natural gravel can work very well also but personally I like the Montmorillonite clay materials for substrates for both low and high tech tanks. All of the ones listed will require the addition of fertilizer. Gravel is of course inert. Eco-Complete and Seachem Flourite have micro-nutrients but a low cation exchange capacity (CEC) which can make it difficult for the plants to access the nutrients. The Montmorillonite clay also have an abundance of micro-nutrients but also have a high CEC and thereby can make the nutrients more readily available to the roots of the plants. My first planted tank was gravel, and it did very well but I decided to try the Montmorillonite clay materials and the growth was better so I have used them ever since. If you want a black substrate then Eco-Complete or Flourite will accommodate that requirement as will black diamond blasting grit. Don't let the fact that something isn't specifically made for aquarium deter you from using black diamond, it is inert just like gravel.

If you haven't read the 'stickys' at the beginning of the various sub-forums I would suggest you start there....they will answer a lot of your questions. Adequate lighting and fertilization are probably more important than substrate in the success of a planted tank. A "good light" does not have to be an expensive light....the plants don't care what the fixture costs they just need the correct amount of light. Fertilization does not have to be complicated, there are good products on the market that are easy to use.

As for a foreground plant for a low tech tank there are several that can do the job such a Marsilea minuta or Helanthium tenellum (previously Echinodorus tenellus).

Here was my first tank, gravel substrate, minimal fertilziation


And here is a 10 gallon low tech, no CO2, Montmorillonite clay substrate (Safe-t-sorb #7941; 40# for $6.49 at Tractor Supply) Helanthium tenellum foreground
Thanks for the reply. beautiful tanks. I would probably go with eco-complete but had a question, hopefully you know the answer. I am aware eco-complete comes with beneficial bacteria and it has water in the bag to keep it alive.

Do I add that water to the tank? Or do i dispose of the water, put the substrate in and I won't have to worry about the bacteria dying off when I start aquascaping the hardscape and eventually the plants?

Also when I do add water, wouldn't the tap water kill the bacteria? I would have dechlorinator but do I just put it in once the entire tank is full. Because I most likely will have it dry when i hardscape, then put an inch of water to plant, then eventually fill it and put dechlorinator in. Would that be okay? Thanks
 

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Hi Aqua3,

If it were me I would drain off as much water in the bags of substrate as possible and set it off to the side, then add the gravel to the tank. Then fill to 1" and do your hardscape and plants. Fill with buckets treating each bucket with dechlor before adding it to your tank. Lastly, if the water you set aside isn't too nasty then add it near the end of the filling process.
 
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