River rock substrate - Tropical Fish Keeping - Aquarium fish care and resources
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post #1 of 7 Old 03-20-2012, 05:16 PM Thread Starter
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River rock substrate

Hey everyone, I'm new here and pretty new to planted aquariums. I just got a new aquarium set up and decided to make it planted. My wife is pretty picky about the looks of things and wanted to set it up with river rocks (larger stones) instead of gravel. The tank has only been up for two weeks and I haven't seen any problems with it yet but after reading through this forum, I'm wondering how the plants will take to the larger stone substrate. Any opinions on this? Are there certain types of plants that do well and others that don't? I don't have a complete list of plants that are in there, I just kind of bought what I liked to look at, but I know that it's mostly amazon sword, anubis, and cobomba (if i got those names correct).

One issue that I have with using smaller gravel is that the tank holds three african clawed frogs, and they have a tendency to ingest small rocks, which can cause them serious digestive issues. Thanks for any input!
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post #2 of 7 Old 03-20-2012, 06:50 PM
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How large of river rocks are we talking?

There can be two issue (and more) with substrate. One is pockets of gasses forming, you should not have that problem with large rocks. The second would be plants and their roots. If there isn't enough smaller rocks for the roots plants could have development problems. But having said that each plant is unique and i have seen plants grow in marbles provided the correct nutrients.
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post #3 of 7 Old 03-20-2012, 08:53 PM Thread Starter
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I would say they're about an 1-1.5 inches long and about a half inch thick.
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post #4 of 7 Old 03-21-2012, 10:17 AM
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like mentioned, it depends on how big the stones are. Golf ball sized might be a bit much But as a rule of thumb, you just vacuum the stuff from the surface of the gravel of a planted tank. This allows some detritus to fall between the cracks, and will eventually fill some of those voids, and provide a naturally nutritious substrate for the plants.

Another option might be sand, if the frogs can manage that better, but I have no experience with those guys.

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post #5 of 7 Old 03-21-2012, 01:38 PM
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Why not a base layer of sand for the plants to root into then cover it with an aesthetic layer of the river rocks?

"Going low-tech planted is liberating, a feeling similar to running through the sprinklers naked with a bottle of jack daniels." - Kangy

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post #6 of 7 Old 03-21-2012, 04:43 PM
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The substrate is extremely important for the health of the aquarium. You need some sort of "gathering place" for waste so the various bacteria [not talking about nitrifying bacteria here] can break it down. This is crucial for the biological system, and also provides nutrients for the plants.

The pebbles you mention are too large to provide a good biological bed. They can be used "on top" but not as the sole substrate. Plants will also find it next to impossible to root in these, especially the sword; Echinodorus develop very large extensive root systems, and they must have a substrate of sand or fine gravel. The largest "gravel" would be what is called pea gravel, or Birdseye, as the gravel particles are roughly the size of green peas. I have tried this pea gravel and found the substrate-rooted plants (crypts, Vallisneria) did not do as well in it as they do in the finer gravel and sand, but it should work for swords.

Kangy is going in the right direction. I would suggest a base layer (about 2 inches) of fine gravel or pea gravel, then sprinkle the pebbles over it after you plant the main plants (swords and cabomba from your list; Anubias by the way should be attached to rock or wood, the rhizome should not be buried or it can rot). River rock (pebbles and slightly larger sizes) scattered on top can create a very authentic and lovely river habitat. I have something along this line in my 90g, photo attached; gravel is a fine dark mix. And for another example, the second photo is of a Central American stream layout from Peter Hiscock's book Aquarium Designs Inspired by Nature; gravel here is natural (tan/buff mix) pea gravel. You can also get pea gravel in the dark identical to my tank.
Attached Images
File Type: jpg 90g Jul 31-11.jpg (70.8 KB, 27 views)
File Type: jpg CA stream aquascape.jpg (67.4 KB, 26 views)

Byron Hosking, BMus, MA
Vancouver, BC, Canada

The aquarist is one who must learn the ways of the biologist, the chemist, and the veterinarian. [unknown source]

Something we all need to remember: The fish you've acquired was quite happy not being owned by you, minding its own business. If you’re going to take it under your wing then you’re responsible for it. Every aspect of its life is under your control, from water quality and temperature to swimming space. [Nathan Hill in PFK]
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post #7 of 7 Old 03-21-2012, 11:32 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks for all the information! It's been a big help, I'm going to switch to a fine gravel substrate and use the river rocks on top as decoration.
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