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fishfanJoey 04-02-2012 11:40 AM

Substrate for live plants?
So I'm currently thinking about setting up a planted tank, which would be my first tank with live plants, but after a fair amount of research I still haven't determined what type of substrate will work best for live plants. I would like something that isn't too hard to clean if possible. What do you suggest?

Geomancer 04-02-2012 11:56 AM

Sand, or fine gravel with smooth edges (for fish more than plants). Regular aquarium gravel can work too.

In a planted tank you won't be cleaning the substrate, so they're all easy to clean ;)

You do not need an enriched substrate if you don't want to spend the cash on one (for example Eco-Complete).

The cheapest option is probably play sand, the kind kids play with in sand boxes. It's less than $4 for a 50 lb bag. The problem is it is dirty, real dirty, and requires a lot of cleaning before you put it into the tank. Very cheap though.

fishfanJoey 04-02-2012 12:02 PM

Thanks, it seems like sand is the best option. How do you clean the sand and add it to the aquarium witout causing a huge dirt cloud?

AbbeysDad 04-02-2012 12:08 PM

All sand, even pool filter sand has 'fines' - very small dust like particles of sand. The best way to clean is with a 5 gallon bucket OUTSIDE with a hose. Add a quantity of sand to the bucket and with the hose in the bucket, stir and pour off the semi floating cloud. repeat until the sand is clean, then dump into another bucket and repeat until all your sand is clean. It's gonna take awhile, but the time you spend here is far better than what you might otherwise deal with in the tank!

redchigh 04-02-2012 03:07 PM

I also like to add just a touch of soil to the substrate. Not nearly as much as most 'Soil Substrate' tanks...

Take 1/4 cup of soil* for every 10 gallons of tank volume. Add water to make a thin mud, and add to the waterless empty tank.
Add 1/2 of the sand you plan on using (about 1 inch in the front, 1.5 inches in the back), and mix with the soil as well as possible. Yes, it'll look disgusting. Add a little more water if you have to, but try to get the mixture as uniform as possible. Then add the remaining washed sand.

Plant the plants, and add a dinnerplate or saucer to the inside of the tank. When you fill the tank, be sure that the water falls on the plate.

Personally, I'm not really a fan of playsand (although admittedly, I've never tried it). I love Estes 'Ultra Reef' in black. It's safe for freshwater, and black looks awesome.

* When I say soil, I don't mean anything you'd probably buy in a store. If you can find 'fill dirt', it can work. I prefer to go dig up my own. I dig a foot or more down if I'm unsure of the purity of the soil. The more clay, the better. I break it apart and soak it in water for about a week before I use it, and skim off everything that floats. Before use I stir it up well, and then let it sit for a few hours. Pour off the excess water (leave what sinks to the bottom), and it's the perfect 'thin mud' consistancy. The larger the gravel size, the thicker you'll want the mud to be. (sands absorb water)

Adamson 04-02-2012 03:39 PM

I disagree, even if your tank is planted, you need to clean the substrate..

Savannah 04-02-2012 03:51 PM

I have black flooromax for my 10 and 20 gal. and it looks great.I would strongly suggest getting it,it really makes your fish and plants pop and it is soft like sand and helps the plants root better.I wouldn't do just plain old sand though because it is a HUGE pain to clean.I bought some took it home then realized how am I going to clean this and not lose the sand in the process,by the 5th time rinseing and draining and the water Still was dirty I gave up and just emptyed my tank threw it in the flooromax filled my tank back up and let it settle.

fishfanJoey 04-02-2012 03:54 PM

how hard is it to rinse the floromax?

Byron 04-02-2012 04:08 PM

This won't add much that is new to what's been said in this thread, but as I have tried most substrates I would highly recommend either plain coarse sand or a fine gravel. Dark rather than white, never ever use white (for the fish).

I have over the past two years reset four of my tanks using playsand, Quikrete (tan/gray) from Home Depot. This is working out very well.

Soil is something I wold not recommend as this is your first planted tank; however, the method redchigh mentioned is not quite the same as a true soil substrate.

As for enriched substrates, I have only done this once and I am not pleased. That tank is giving me more trouble with nutrients and algae than any other. And the plant growth is not any better, in fact it is not as good as my sand and gravel substrate tanks. I used Flourite; Eco-Complete is much the same so I wouldn't bother with either. The other types I have not used. But they are all expensive, my Flourite cost me $180 but for the same sized tank with playsand it was $14 with sand to spare. The plant growth is certainly not worth the difference.

A comment on cleaning the substrate, don't. Most of us with planted tanks never touch the substrate. Once it is biologically active, and provided the tank is balanced (fish load, plants, water volume, not overfeeding, regular water changes) it is the most important aspect of a healthy aquarium. You can read more on the substrate bacteria here:


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