Anyone ever use sand substrate for planted tanks? I've read it is too compact and will kill plants roots. I was just at the LFS and priced out some eco-complete. Way too expensive for my taste. I am looking for a cheap black substrate that is plant and bottom feeder friendly. I thought maybe gravel (works well in my other tank), but the black looks kind of unnatural.
black sand can be natural occurring although i dont think the stuff you can buy are natural. Sand works fine for plants as long as the sand stays turned. Some people poke it from time to time to turn it and others get MTS to do it, but MTS usefulness is often debated since once added, they are nearly impossible to get rid of and add to your bioload.
substrates like eco-complete and flourite are great for plants but not necessary, sand is a very good alternative and fine gravel works very well also.
The finer the grade of substrate, the more likely it will compact. That is the issue with sand. Depth also plays into this; the deeper the sand, the much more likely to compact.
I have sand in one (small) tank, I personally would never use it in larger tanks now that I have tried it. Small grain gravel (1-2 mm size) is the best plant substrate [except for those who advocate soil with gravel on top, another matter] biologically. Finding dark gravel is not always easy, depending where you live. In bulk it will be less expensive by far.
To explain the compaction issue a bit. The substrate is very important in planted tanks because there is a host of aerobic bacteria living there that work to convert organics into nutrients that the plants can assimilate. Aerobic bacteria needs oxygen, and while the plant roots produce some, it also comes down with the water. And the water is also necessary to dissolve nutrients, otherwise the plants can't use them. In nature, water percolates down through the substrate, the bacteria/biological processes cause it to heat slightly, and it then rises back into the water column. This continuous cycle is essential in planted tanks. If the substrate compacts, or is too fine for easy water circulation, this complex biological process will be hampered and sometimes stop altogether, causing a "dead" substrate and this is toxic. At the same time, the water circulation can;t bee too fast, or the processes can't function correctly and again the plants are prevented from assimilating nutrients.
The best substrate has a grain size of 1-2 mm and small gravel achieves this. I suspect this is why the enriched plant substrates are this size.
How small is your small tank? I just put sand in my 20 gal that I plan on putting corys into and I wanted to try and plant it as well. Will the "poking" method that sin was talking about work out ok, and how often would I need to do this? once a week when a do water changes be ok?
All my tanks have sand. I have a few with black sand and the rest have Pool filter sand. It is a courser sand. All my low light plants are doing good in the sand. Since it is heavier it holds the plants down better then finer sand. I have 3 12lbs bags I'm trying to sell now from down sizing from a 55 gal. to a 30 gal Bowfront tank. Here are some pictutes of my tank with sand and a picture of the sand so you can see the grain of the sand. Since I switched to sand from gravel I will not go back to gravel as I like the look of the sand. Pool filter sand is about 50lbs for about $12 at a pool supply store.
I do not turn my sand and have not had any issues with it. Stuff settles on top of the sand but it is easy to clean with a fish net. Algae on top can be rubbed in sections with you hands and it will come clean. You can not use a syphon on the bottom as the sand will get sucked up is the only draw back and cleaning the sand once you get it takes awhile. I used 5 gal. buckets and rinsed it outside. It will not come completely clean but running the filter and rinse the filter pad at the end of the day for a few days the water will clear up once the sand settles to the bottom. It's some work cleaning it but is well worth the look you get.
I prefer a material called "reef sand". It comes in several colors, and is about 1 to 1.5 mm size....
It's safe for freshwater.
2-3mm gravel is good over soil too, it's just so hard to find a good cheap substrate.
I came home to the sweet smell of rotten eggs the other day because one of my substrates went bad. Stirring is a good thing.
whoops- meant to edit. oh well.
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