I am getting a 55 gallon tank soon and I want it to be ligtly planted. I am confused about the substrate stuff. Does my entire bottom have to have substrate or can I have mostly gravel and just have substrate where I will put the plants to grow?
It will spread out if you try to pile it. I'd suggest sand over gravel as it is easier to keep clean and looks more natural.
Sounds from post #1 like there may be a confusion over terms. Substrate is the material on the floor of the tank, be it sand, gravel, dirt, mixes of peat, etc. The plants grow in the substrate, and a host of important bacteria colonize it.
To grow plants you do not need any special substrate. Particle size can make a difference, if it is too large. But otherwise, almost any substrate will work.
I have used various gravels over the years, and sand, and an enriched substrate (one specially made for plants). The latter was not worth the money in my view. Sand works fine, I use play sand as it replicates the sand in Amazon streams. I have fine gravel in one tank, but the rest are now play sand.
Byron is right, substrate is just the sand/gravel etc that is on the bottom no matter what it may consist of. If you mean some sort of enriched dirt, it is not needed. If you try to put one type in one area and another elsewhere, it will end up mostly mixed up anyway so it's easier to just use one type for everything, and sand does a great job overall. Gravel works but it requires more work to keep clean.
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