7 Best Substrate for Planted Fish Tanks (2023)

Lauren Kiekbusch
aquarium substrate

Suppose you’re putting together a planted aquarium. In that case, you’ll want to provide the best environment for the plants to thrive, and substrates can help with that.

They come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but it is critical to use the best. Some people use sand, gravel, potting soil, peat, clay, and even small smooth rocks.

The best substrate for planted aquariums is essential because it can mean the difference between an average tank and a beautiful aquarium. Some plants require rich substrates to thrive, while others are column feeders.

In this article, we will discuss the best substrate for providing maximum nutrients to your aquarium plant. So, let’s start with the question: What should be considered before buying substrate for my planted aquarium?

The substrate in a planted tank should be able to store and supply nutrients to the plants. The vast majority of nutrients should be found in the gravel rather than the water column. The root system should be where plants get their nutrients and minerals.

Suppose they are planted in the shallow substrate. In that case, the roots will become entangled, and the aquarium plants will suffer from nutrient deficiencies. Your best substrate option may be a combination of Aqua Soil and Seachem Gray Coast, an aragonite-based substrate rich in the missing ingredients.

The last thing you want to do is lower the pH and soften the water, so avoid nutrient-rich substrates as much as possible. Now, my friend, we are just getting started. 

Also worth reading;

  1. How To Grow Hornwort Aquarium Plant: Care Guide
  2. How to Plant Water Lily Bulbs in an Aquarium
  3. How To Clean Algae off Live Aquarium Plants: Step-by-Step Guide
  4. 7 Reasons Why Your Aquarium Plants Are Dying: Always Check These

Top 7 Best Substrates For Planted Aquariums

We will walk you through various aquarium plant substrate options. Still, it decides which one best suits your needs. Each of these is slightly different, but each will serve a particular function. So go through the list and pick the one that brings attention to you the most.

Substrate for Planted Aquarium

Product nameSpecificationAvailable
Flourite Seachem Black Sand
  • Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 17 x 11.75 x 1.75 inches; 1 Pounds
  • Item model number ‏ : ‎ 3525
  • Date First Available ‏ : ‎ April 25, 2008
  • Manufacturer ‏ : ‎ Seachem Laboratories, Inc.
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B0018CLX3C
UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants
  • Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 16 x 13 x 10 inches; 11 Pounds
  • Item model number ‏ : ‎ UA-560B
  • Date First Available ‏ : ‎ January 23, 2014
  • Manufacturer ‏ : ‎ UP AQUA
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00HZXBC3E
Fluval Stratum plant substrate For Fish Tanks
  • Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 3 x 6 x 11 inches; 1.76 Ounces
  • Item model number ‏ : ‎ 12693
  • Date First Available ‏ : ‎ December 3, 2014
  • Manufacturer ‏ : ‎ Fluval
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B00JGQIY48
Carib Sea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand
  • Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 20 x 2 x 13 inches; 19.18 Pounds
  • Item model number ‏ : ‎ 00777
  • Date First Available ‏ : ‎ July 10, 2013
  • Manufacturer ‏ : ‎ Caribsea
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B004K80YEA
Aqua Natural Diamond Black Premium Gravel and Substrate
  • Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 12.5 x 10.63 x 2.5 inches; 10 Pounds
  • Item model number ‏ : ‎ DIAMOND010
  • Date First Available ‏ : ‎ December 28, 2020
  • Manufacturer ‏ : ‎ Pisces USA
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B08RHMYV4C
Seachem Fluorite Onyx Sand Substrate
  • Product Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 17 x 11.75 x 1.75 inches; 15.4 Pounds
  • Item model number ‏ : ‎ 3505
  • Date First Available ‏ : ‎ July 23, 2008
  • Manufacturer ‏ : ‎ Seachem Laboratories, Inc.
  • ASIN ‏ : ‎ B000I1PO4I
CaribSea Arag-Alive 20-Pound Fiji Pink Sand
  • Product Dimensions: 18 x 12 x 2 inches
  • Item Weight: 20 pounds
  • Item model number: 792
  • Manufacturer: Carib Sea
  • ASIN: B00025YVGC

1. Flourite Seachem Black Sand

Seachem Fluorite is a popular substrate for planted tanks. This fluorite is unique in that it is made of conductive clay, as opposed to most substrates. The benefits of a clay-based substrate include significantly higher iron levels than other substrates discussed in this article.

This substrate is not chemically treated and has no effect on the pH, ensuring a safe environment for your planted aquaria to thrive. This Seachem product, made of high-quality natural sand, is best for planted aquariums, but it can also be used in a freshwater tank.

Fluorite substrate is nutrient-rich aqua soil that is laid at the tank’s bottom to root the plants. We recommend cleaning it before adding it to your planted aquarium to remove the discoloration in the water. It also makes the aquarium more comfortable for the fish.

Main Features

  • Quality will go lasts.
  • Clay gravel with pores.
  • It has no effect on the chemistry of water.
  • This substrate is made of organic materials.
  • It contains a lot of essential nutrients.

The things that might be bothering you: Because of fine clay particles, your tank may become cloudy during maintenance.

2. UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants

You can avoid this problem by using the UP Aqua Sand Substrate. Because it does not discolor the tank’s water, you can use it directly in your tank without washing it. This is ideal for many aquarium plants because it provides a suitable substrate for their roots to grow in.

It is dense enough to keep roots in place, but it also has enough space between grains to allow roots to spread out and absorb nutrients properly.

The substrate reduces the pH to a range of 6.5 to 7.0, completely neutral or only slightly acidic. This pH range is ideal for a wide variety of fish and aquatic plants.

There will be no clouding of the water after the tank has been filled. This is truly amazing how clear the water will be right after the tank had been filled. Because the nutrient-rich nature of this substrate has resulted in healthier plants, you can see good root development.

Another significant advantage is that this material does not need to be cleaned before use, which is not true of most other sand-based substrates.

Main Features

  • Longevity is excellent.
  • Lightweight and conductive.
  • It is a good source of nutrients.
  • Lowers the pH of the tank.
  • Because it does not leak ammonia, your tank water remains crystal clear.
  • Without rinsing, it can be used directly in the aquarium.

The things that might be bothering you: It will eventually break down by leaving a strange clay-like mass in the tank’s bottom.

3. Fluval Stratum Plant Substrate For Fish Tanks

This substrate is ideal for you if you have an aquarium for plants and betta fish and shrimp. This product is made from organic volcanic soil that is naturally mineral-rich. Volcanic soil contains many unique components that set it apart from other types of soil.

This aquarium substrate for live plants ensures the natural growth of aquatic plants by allowing the roots of the plants to spread deeply into them and absorb nutrients efficiently.

Fluval Stratum is ideal for freshwater shrimp tanks because it encourages algae and other tasty bits. As a result, shrimp will spend their days picking off these algae, and they appear to prefer it over other substrates. Another exciting feature is that its unique blend naturally lowers the pH of your tank to optimal levels.

These qualities facilitate the growth and development of nitrifying bacteria in the tank. These bacteria will aid in keeping the water’s health and cleanliness at peak levels.

Main Features

  • Soil rich in minerals from volcanic activity.
  • Plant growth and root development are greatly helped.
  • Lightweight and porous.
  • The pH ranges from neutral to slightly acidic.
  • Promotes a pH range of neutral to mildly acidic.
  • It is appropriate for live plants or shrimp.

The things that might be bothering you: Because of the lightness of this substrate, it usually takes a few days to settle down and should take time to back to the normal condition of your water.

4. Carib Sea Aquatics Eco-Complete African Cichlid Zack Sand

CaribSea’s live sand is designed explicitly for cichlid and betta tanks. It maintains the high pH that African cichlids require. Nature’s Oceans African Cichlid Substrate is a mixture of black and white grains ranging from 6 to 8 mm.

The one-of-a-kind composition captures the African Rift Lake environment. It automatically buffers the aquarium’s life and adds calcium, magnesium, carbonate, and other nutrients! The high internal porosity of Eco-Complete maximizes physical capacity, keeping your fish healthier.

It is an entirely natural product surrounded by a biofilm containing live bacteria that initiates the cycling process and removes nitrogenous wastes to provide you with a stable tank.

It contains live heterotrophic and autotrophic bacteria to maintain an appropriate organic/inorganic balance. The heterotrophs break down organic waste material to produce inorganic ammonia.

Main Features

  • Complete in terms of mineralogy and biology.
  • Eco-Complete.
  • Maintains the health of your fish.
  • Biofouling is avoided.
  • It eliminates nitrogenous waste.
  • Aids in water filtration.

The things that might be bothering you: Can easily be sucked into the filter machine, so let the sand settle for a few hours before turning on the filter.

5. Aqua Natural Diamond Black Premium Gravel and Substrate

Aqua Mr. Aquarium On our list, the soil is the least common substrate for planted aquariums, but it should not be overlooked. It contains a proprietary blend of organic and inert ingredients that provide all of the elements required for healthy plant growth.

The substrate is lightweight and porous. This feature creates an environment that encourages healthy bacteria, which are necessary for the tank’s environment especially.

Mr. Aqua’s substrate is popular because it lowers the pH of the water, requiring less treatment. This is the substrate for your tank if you have fish that prefer a more acidic environment.

This is beneficial to both your fish and your plants. This is an excellent bottom layer for plants to establish their roots because it contains a wealth of nutrients.

Main Features

  • Full of vitamins and minerals.
  • Lowers the pH.
  • The goal is to encourage root development.
  • It’s ideal if you have a Betta or a Dwarf Shrimp.
  • This product has an excellent overall lifetime of 12-18 months.

The things that might be bothering you: There is a lot of dust in the beginning.

6. Seachem Fluorite Onyx Sand Substrate

It is best suited for planted aquarium tanks, but it can be used in any aquarium setup. This substrate works best as a stand-alone integral bed. The aquarium substrate is abundantly carbonate-rich, which is primarily beneficial to plants that use bicarbonate.

This is deep black sand that has been enriched to aid plant growth and reduce the need for fertilizers. It has good water penetration for bacterial colonization and plant growth. It may be preferable if you require chemical assistance with pH or kH.

Onyx Sand works best when used alone as an integral substrate bed, but it can also be combined with other gravels. Laterite and other gravel modifiers are not required. For the best results, we recommend washing it in mesh before adding it to the tank.

Main Features

  • The black coloration is stunning.
  • It includes plant nutrients.
  • Dense enough to keep your plant down.
  • This is suitable for all creatures.
  • There is no toxic effect.

The things that might be bothering you: Water may become discolored and take some time to settle, especially after water changes.

7. CaribSea Arag-Alive 20-Pound Fiji Pink Sand

CaribSea’s Fiji pink sand has a small grain size and helps to simulate a marine environment for your fish. This sand contains many beneficial bacteria that will keep your fish and plants healthy and help in biological filtration.

Mineralogically, this sand contains many calcium and carbonates, which are essential elements for coral growth. This, combined with its biological filtration properties, makes it ideal for use in saltwater reef tanks.

Carib sea Arag Fiji pink sand has a grain size of approximately 0.5 mm to 1.5 mm, resulting in high porosity with a low resistance to burrowing, injectability, and enhanced diffusive flux properties.

This substrate contributes to an increase in pH to around 8.2, which may be harmful to fish that prefer more neutral waters. This sand is designed to be cycled in your tank, helping to reduce waste and keeping your fish and plants in a safe and sanitary environment.

Main Features

  • Enhances the appearance of fish tanks.
  • Allows for a powerful filtration mechanism.
  • Millions of beneficial bacteria will present.
  • pH can be stabilized.
  • Algae growth is controlled.
  • It gives your tank a distinct and eye-catching appearance.

The things that might be bothering you: It must be washed before being placed in a tank for the first time.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is sand or gravel better for a planted aquarium?

For most freshwater aquariums, gravel is a better option. They also come in various colors, allowing you to personalize your tank and match it to your fish. Sand does not allow water to flow as freely as gravel does.

How often should you change the aquarium substrate?

You should change the substrate every 18 months or whenever you are in danger of getting into trouble by keeping the PH at a high level.

What kind of filter should I use for a sand aquarium?

Use a pre-filter made of foam or a sponge. A coarse sponge will help prevent sand from entering your filter’s intake while not interfering with the filter’s flow.

How thick should aquarium sand be?

Simplified Reefkeeping author Robert Metelsky recommends a thickness of 1-3/4 to 2 inches, which is about the average depth used in most saltwater aquariums.

Final Words

An aquarium necessitates a perfectly balanced environment, which can be challenging to achieve; as a result, you must find a suitable substrate. When you provide excellent microorganism(s) for your aquarium water, the substrate will keep your water clean and maintain a pH level.

Today each type of substrate has its own distinct features. They are portable, user and environmentally friendly, and easy to use.

Leave a Reply
Related Posts