All About The Best Substrate For Planted Aquarium With Fish

Last Updated on January 18, 2022 by Fabiola L.

If you have an aquarium, it is likely that you will want to grow plants.  This is why we created this article for you to know all about the best substrate for a planted fish aquarium.  

A substrate is basically the physical material that you grow your plants in.  Plants need a place for their roots to grow and latch into.  The actual substrate can come in many forms.  

Remember, your growing medium will be spread along the bottom of your tank.  So you want something that is easy to clean.  It will not be easily accessible.  If you choose a substrate that is quick to get dirty, this will cause you a lot of problems.

If you want to clean your substrate you need to use a tank vacuum or empty all of your tank contents.  There are some other important considerations when looking for the best substrate for a planted aquarium with fish which we will cover here.

How To Choose The Best-planted Tank Substrate

Think of your tank substrate as the base of your whole system.  It is very similar to the soil in a garden.  If this is not healthy, there is no chance that your plants will survive.

It is a good idea to add your substrate and let your plants establish themselves before putting in the fish.  This will ensure that you have made the right selection for your ecosystem to thrive.  

You can wait for around a week to see how your plants do.  It is important to give them this time to get an accurate view of the situation.  

Your tank substrate can affect the PH of the tank as well.  So you need to be careful to pick the right one that is suitable for your tank’s needs.  When considering your choice, make sure to know which fish you plan to raise.  

Different species of fish require different PH levels.  Just like fish, different plants have different requirements. 

The plants you want to raise will also determine your substrate choice. According to the Southern Illinois University Plant Biology center, aquatic plants can be categorized into three main categories.  These are submergent, emergent, and floating. 

Emergent plants can be partially submerged in water.  Submergent plants need to be completely underwater.  While floating plants sit above the water.  

Emergent plants can be partially submerged in water

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If your plants get their nutrients from the soil, you need to make sure you use a planting medium that can provide this.  Plants that get their nutrients from the water do not need a growing medium with nutrients.  

Basically, there are many different factors to consider before you can pick which substrate is most suitable for you.

You may also want to think about which plants go well with the fish you want to raise.  Certain plants may not go well with some fish. 

Top Aquarium Plant Substrates

With all that being said, there are certain substrates that are better than others.  Use this article to determine the best substrate for a planted aquarium with fish.  

First, let’s do a general overview of different substrates.  Some of your options are sand, gravel, mixed soil, or a combination of all of those.  

Sand is one of the cheapest and easily available options.  If you choose to go with sand, only use a coarse grade.  Using a very fine grade of sand can cause problems in the future for cleaning your tank and keeping a balanced ecosystem.

It is recommended to use a sand grade of above 3 for your tank.  

The next substrate we will discuss is gravel.  Gravel is a great option for those who want to grow plants that are column feeders.  Column feeders are plants that get their nutrients from the water.  

Obviously, gravel will not offer any nutrients for your plants.  But, if your plants do not need this, using gravel will be best for you.  This is because gravel is easy to clean.  

You can drain your tank, rinse the gravel and continue to use it as your substrate for a long time.  Consider the size of your rocks as well.  Some fish can swallow small pebbles, causing choking or in worst-case scenarios, death.  

Often, people use gravel in conjunction with another aquarium substrate.  If you want, you can find rocks from around your house to use.  But make sure you clean them first so they do not affect the PH of your tank system.

The third option is using a store-bought mixed soil substrate.  This choice is necessary if you are going to grow plants that get their nutrients from their roots.  There are many different brands to choose from.  

Please note, if you use this option you definitely have to make sure you add the soil and plants before the fish.  Monitor the PH and nitrogen levels of your water before adding the fish. 

Find more information about How To Make DIY Rocks For A Freshwater Aquarium

Using A Mixed Aquarium Substrate

As mentioned before, you can use a combination of all three of these if you want.  This will most accurately mimic a fish’s natural environment.  You can start with a layer of sand and then put gravel on top.  

You can also mix the soil in the sand and use that at the bottom.  Make sure to use gravel as your top layer.  This will prevent the soil and sand from mixing into your tank and making your water cloudy.

Have fun when designing your aquarium substrate and plant selections.  Feel free to experiment with different combinations.  The most important thing is to do your research first.

Each plant and fish will need different requirements.  Once you have mapped out your ideas you can use this guide to select the best substrate for your planted aquarium with fish. 

Once you set up your tank, observe your plants to see how well they establish.  If it is not successful the first time around, don’t worry.  Try again and don’t worry, in time you are sure to find the right balance! 

Feel free to ask questions and comment below!

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