Best 8 Substrates for Planted Aquarium in 2020 – Expert Reviews

Adding the substrate in your planted aquarium is really important for plants and fishes

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The substrate that you choose for your planted aquarium not only improves the visual appeal of your tank but also provides safety to the plants and aquatic animals inside. You have to select the right quality of substrate to encourage plant growth and to keep the tank free from germs. Your aquarium will be healthy when you choose a healthy substrate.

Today, hobbyists have a lot of options before them when they set out to choose the right substrate for their aquariums. Different materials, colors, forms and sizes of freshwater substrates are available today. Gone are the days when sand and gravel were the only types of substrates used in aquariums.

In this article, we will tell you about the substrates that you can consider for your planted aquarium and why they will help the overall health of the plants and animals inside. Before dwelling to the top models, we will give you a brief overview of the importance of choosing the right substrate, so that you are informed about the same.

Why is a Freshwater aquarium substrate important?

If you are wondering why a planted tank substrate is very important, this is the section that you have to read. Substrates are used for four important reasons. They are:

Biological filtration purposes–Your aquarium plants need substrate as they are prone to witness a lot of plant debris, food leftovers and the waste of the fishes. These need to be eliminated to safeguard the overall hygiene of the aquarium. When you choose the right freshwater substrate, good bacteria grow and colonize on them. These colonies then naturally eliminate the waste products, thereby keeping the tank absolutely safe.

Creating natural habitat for the fishes – Substrates are available in different types to mimic the natural habitat of the different types of fishes. This will make the fishes feel comfortable when they are inside the tank so that they are stress-free and healthy.

Encourage the growth of plants–When you have a planted aquarium, it becomes imperative for you to invest in the right substrate. This is because the plants grow well on these aquatic substrates, thereby keeping your tank fresh and odor-free.

Decorative purposes – Last, but definitely not the least, a substrate is important to decorate your aquarium and make it look visually appealing to your eyes.

Choosing the right substrate for a planted tank is quite a challenge because of the sheer magnitude of products in the market today. This is why, we have compiled the best 8 substrates herewith, with a brief review of each one of them. After reading this article, you will have a clear idea about choosing the specific substrate that fits your requirements the best.

Best Substrate for Planted Aquarium

1. Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate

If you are looking for a substrate that not only decorates your aquarium but also provides nourishment to the plants, the Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate is the right choice for you. Since it is manufactured by CaribSea  Inc., a name that has been a leader in the substrate mineralogy department for many decades now, this substrate is highly credible.

Pros

  • Comes with an innovative formula for improving the root growth of the plants
  • Rich in minerals such as iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium etc. making it a natural nourishment provider
  • 100% Natural as no chemicals or artificial colors are added
  • Fish waste converted to natural food within no time, thanks to the good bacteria present in it
  • Comes in the texture of spherical grains with a lot of pores for optimal dispersal

Cons

  • Not very useful for species such as shrimps, due to the substrate’s potential to increase the pH levels in the water

 Bottom Line

The Carib Sea Eco Black Aquarium Substrate is quite popular among aquarists, because of its ease of use and nourishment to plants. Yes, there may be minor issues, but you can afford to ignore them.

2. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light Normal Type

Are you new to setting up a planted aquarium? Do you want your plants to grow well with the water remaining as clear as possible? If yes, you need to use the ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light, right away.

The black soil used in the substrate is made from a rare Japanese plant. This soil, with its natural earthy shade, not only makes the tank look beautiful but also promotes root growth of almost all water plants in aquarium. You don’t have to worry about the pH levels in your water when you use this substrate.

The organic ingredients and nitrogen content in the substrate maintain the exact acidic consistency in the water, which is suitable for the plants and tropical fishes inside.

Pros

  • Excellent visual appeal, thanks to its natural earth color
  • Very easy to set up for beginners as well
  • Visible improvement in the growth of plants; don’t be surprised when the roots, leaves and stems of your plant grow rapidly once you apply this substrate in the tank
  • Compatible with a huge variety of aquatic plants except for those that need specific water conditions

Cons

  • None at all

Bottom Line

We don’t need to tell you why this substrate is the right choice for your water tank after reading those impeccable features, do we?

3. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum

Though all substrates claim that they encourage plant growth, not all of them stay true to their claims. The Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum is a welcome change for you, though. It is made from the mineral-rich soil contents found in the vicinity of Mont Aso Volcano in Japan.

This aquarium substrate for live plants guarantees you the natural growth of aquatic plants, as it helps the roots of the plants to spread well into it and absorb the nutrients quite efficiently.

The nitrifying bacteria (good bacteria that eliminate the waste from your tank) colonize well in this substrate because of its texture. The pores found all over the substrate provide a good ground for the bacteria to grow on, thereby ensuring that the plants get enough water.

Pros

  • Fluval substrate replete with a large number of macro and micronutrients
  • Provides a compatible and safe environment for the plants and the shrimps
  • Maintains a slightly acidic or neutral pH level in the water at all times, thereby maintain a comfortable ambiance for the inmates
  • Prevents tanks from discoloration and keeps the tank water crystal clear
  • Very safe and comfortable for new-born shrimps as well, unlike most other substrates

Cons

  • Some users felt that the substrate was too light to anchor plants

Bottom Line

If you plan to bring shrimps in your aquarium, we would definitely recommend this substrate for you. Period.

 4. Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

When you come across a substrate that has been created by a professional team, you have got to trust it with all your heart. We are talking about the Flourite Black Clay Gravel Substrate, a product of Seachem, a company that has been in the business for over 30 years now. The company is run by expert and passionate hobbyists; therefore, you can put your money in this blindly.

Though originally designed for the planted aquarium, this substrate can be used for freshwater tanks as well. The porous texture of this clay gravel has been specially designed by the company to improve the water texture inside your tank.

You can use this freshwater substrate with confidence because no chemicals, added colors or dyes are added to it. It can be used as a standalone part in your aquarium since you don’t have to add laterite along with it. To provide more stability, you may consider mixing this substrate with other gravels.

Pros

  • Doesn’t change the pH balance of the water, thereby making it safe for the fishes and plants inside
  • Compatible to be used with any kind of gravel filter
  • Very easy to set up and use
  • Even when submerged, the substrate retains its royal, black hue, which makes your tank look absolutely beautiful

Cons

  • Needs to be washed well before the first use, to remove dust that may have accumulated in it
  • It needs to be washed several times before the first use, to prevent your tank from getting discolored, according to few users. 

Bottom Line

The Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel is quite a popular choice among hobbyists. However, remember to clean the substrate thoroughly before using it for the first time.

5. UP Aqua Sand for Aquatic Plants

Most of the sand-textured substrates require frequent rinses before applying in the aquarium, to eliminate the dust and residues already present in them. However, with the UP Aqua Sand Substrate, you can be free from this issue. You can use this directly in your tank without washing it because it doesn’t discolor the tank’s water at all.

One of the important reasons why you should buy this substrate is its potential to maintain the water pH balance at 6.5. This is the level required for the healthy growth of plants and the fishes inside.

Pros

  • Looks like sand; therefore, most of the fussy fishes too are comfortable in this substrate
  • Doesn’t leak ammonia; therefore, your tank water remains crystal clear
  • Can be used directly in the aquarium without rinsing
  • Regarded as one of the best aquarium substrates for live plants, by some hobbyists

Cons

  • Problems related to damaged product experienced by a few users who shopped online

Bottom Line

We would definitely recommend the UP Aqua Sand for Aquatic Plants Substrate for the planted tank for aquarists looking to make their fishes comfortable and also encourage plant growth of the live plants.

6.Aqua N-MAR-066 1 l Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil

The Mr. Aqua N-Mar-066 1L Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil Substrate is a must-buy for you, if you give a lot of importance for the longevity of the substrate. It is made from an excellent blend of organic and inactive components, is a good fertilizer for the plants growing inside the tank.

This soil-based substrate can last for up to 12 to 18 months, giving the plants enough stability and durability. If you are using driftwood in the tanks to provide an ambient atmosphere to the fishes, you will notice that your tank water gets stained easily. Using the Mr. Aqua soil substrate will help you clean these impurities and prevent water from further damage.

Thanks to this product, you don’t have to change water in the tank frequently. The granules in the substrate have lots of pores that enable the roots to penetrate into them quite easily. One of the best qualities of this black-colored substrate is that it not only helps in purifying water but also in improving the quality of water.

Pros

  • Helps in softening the water and maintaining a pH balance of 6.6 to 6.8 to encourage optimum plant growth
  • Provides an excellent medium for the roots of the plants to spread quickly and deeply, thanks to the porous structure

Cons

  • Needs to be rinsed before using, though there aren’t specific instructions to do so

Bottom Line

Though the Mr. Aqua Soil Substrate is a good product, we feel that there are better products at a lesser price than this, that you can consider. If you have a big tank, you have to buy more than a packet of this and it may cost you a lot annually.

7.Carib Sea ACS05820 Super Natural Moonlight Sand for Aquarium

If you are looking for a substrate that not only encourages plant growth but also makes your aquarium look colorful, the Natural Moonlight substrate from the well-known brand, Carib Sea, is the right choice for you. The gravel-like substance instantly impresses you with its striking white color.

This is a 100% natural as no artificial dyes or chemical treatments have been added to it. As a result of this, it can be used in saltwater and freshwater aquariums as well. This white gravel is a part of the incredible Supernatural series of substrates from Carib Sea – a range that aims to get the best of the soil types from all places.

The white sand in this product exactly mimics the beach sands that are found in some parts of America; therefore, you will love the effect that it creates in your tank. Also, live plants grow well in this porous substrate, as it gives them a good grip and stability.

Pros

  • Very easy to plant live plants
  • High quality of sand with shine and stability, thereby providing a good grip for the plants
  • No cleaning required and very easy to use

Cons

  • Since the substrate is of very fine texture, you may have to think twice before using it in a tank that has a heavy water flow

Bottom Line

The Moonlight Sand Substrate is considered to be the best substrate for planted aquarium in the supernatural series launched by the Carib Sea brand. If the water flow in your tank is going to be gentle, this is one of the wise choices you can put your money in.

 8. Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums

The pH levels in the water are perfect when the acidic and alkaline content is in the right ratios to make it comfortable for the plants and aquatic animals inside. Therefore, when you buy a substrate for a planted aquarium, you should be sure that it doesn’t alter the water’s pH level one bit. The Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular Substrate is an example of a good substrate that is safe for your planted and freshwater tanks.

The gravel sizes of the substrate are neither too large nor too big. They come with a chemical-free coating as well. Hence, you can rest assured that this substrate won’t discolor or contaminate the tank water. The pebble-sized gravels make your aquarium look awesome.

Don’t be scared to buy this product when you have plants. This substrate contains stones & pebbles that form the perfect base for air plants. The natural colors of the substrate give an earthy feel to your tank.

Pros

  • Doesn’t cause any imbalance to the pH levels of the water
  • Provides excellent visual appeal
  • Doesn’t make the water look cloudy at all

Cons

  • Some people faced shipment issues when they shopped online

Factors to consider while buying an aquarium substrate

Aquarium substrate gives a lift to the whole interior space and most aquarists would rather have one laid out at the bottom of the tank than leave it bare – despite the fact that the latter (i.e., bare-bottom) makes for easy and time-saving clean-up. Moreover, the substrate is needed if an aquarist decides to have a planted aquarium as it will serve as some sort of nutrient reservoir.

If you have been wondering about the factors you need to consider while buying a planted tank substrate, then read on.

  • Material: The substrate material is of great significance and should be the first factor to weigh in on; for one, the life/well-being of your fish may depend on it and then, the effort and time devoted towards monitoring the conditions within the tank could either be reduced or increased as a result of the type of substrate used. Again, you should consider buying a substrate that would allow your fish some good degree of freedom and will not hamper its lifestyle. For instance, fish species with burrowing tendencies will appreciate a sand substrate better than any other.
  • Chemical reactivity: This is another vital aspect that you cannot afford to overlook as different substrate types react differently with the water in the aquarium. While gravel does not have any significant effect on the pH of the water, others like aragonite substrate can create an alkaline pH as the value [of the water pH] gets pushed up. Hence, you will need to buy a substrate that is well-suited for your fish species or aquarium set-up – whether marine or freshwater.
  • Ease of cleaning: Substrates also vary with respect to how easy they are to clean and maintain – though a good filtration system contributes immensely to the process. By the way; sand substrate is known to be the easiest to clean of the lots that you could possibly use.
  • Aesthetics: While this may be the least of anyone’s concern, it does make sense to select a substrate that will make the aquarium somewhat colorful. There are a number of colored substrates that can help you actualize this.

How to DIY planted aquarium substrate at home

Several aquarium substrates are readily available at the store, but for one case or the other, there are a few aquarists that want to make planted aquarium substrate at home. And, the truth is that such it remains as effective as the conventional ones, especially as it presents the plants with a surface required to take root.

It is for those that may be interested in making a DIY planted aquarium substrate that we have elected to put forth this write-up.

Making a DIY planted aquarium substrate

  • Materials required: Garden soil, Pottery clay, Baking tray, Strainer, Stirring rod and Container.

Procedure:

  • Collect the top layer of the soil into a container, breaking up whatever clog that you may see. Add water to the container to about 2.5 – 5 cm above the soil level. FYI; you should stir the soil as you add water to ensure good saturation. This should then be left for 2 days.
  • Drain the water from the mixture after 2 days; add water again and leave for another 2 days.
  • The saturated soil should then be spread unto the baking tray and allowed to dry out under the sun.

N.B: You may, however, need to turn back the dried soil into the container, add water and leave for 2 days before draining again to spread unto the tray; this would help to suppress the effects of the fertilizer that may be present within the soil.

  • Sieve the dried soil with the aid of the strainer and then put it back into the container.
  • Now, add pottery clay – it should be one-tenth of the quantity of the soil – therein and mix with warm water, stirring to achieve a paste-like form.
  • With the soil substrate ready, the next step is to pour into the tank. But before then, you must have spread potassium chloride over the bottom of the tank.
  • Create a layer of gravel over the soil substrate, and gently add water (refill) the aquarium without agitating the (soil) substrate thereof. You can thereafter add your plant, making sure it is rooted therein.

Bottom Line

Though the Spectrastone Shallow Creek Substrate is definitely not our first choice for planted aquariums, we still see no reason why you shouldn’t try it out. It is affordable and easy to use as well. So, you could try it to see how it works on your tank.


Conclusion

Like we already told you, it is never going to be easy for you to choose the best substrate for your planted aquarium, thanks to the hundreds of options before you. We hope our review of the 8 top products in this article will give you an idea of what to buy. The idea behind this article is to clear your confusion as much as possible. We hope we have done justice to it.

Matt Hook
 

Matt hook has been a passionate aquarist since he was 5 and now he is professional aquarist. Through this blog he plans share his knowledge to beginners. Feel free to contact him if you have any queries.