4 Best Substrate Types For The Planted Aquarium

Beginner's substrate guide for planted tank

Finding the perfect base substrate for your new planted tank is certainly one of the most complicated and important decisions you will make. In most cases, certainly, for beginners, there is only one substrate and this creates the basic building blocks for any good quality aquascape.

Through reading the information below outlining types and recommended products to use I am hoping to get you on the road to becoming a successful aquascape artist, maybe a true connoisseur of aquatic plant life or perhaps an expert in creating the supreme biotope.

It's always important to remember that just as in the beginning of our hobby (before the internet made experts of us all) trial and error is still the best way to gain experience, there are no perfect substrates, only substrates that are perfect for the user.

So take your time, try new things and don't be afraid of being innovative, find what is right for you.

Even the world's best started somewhere, don't be put off by mistakes, use them as an example of what not to do next time.

Although this is aimed at those starting out in the hobby, it may be useful to any person that comes across this article, and even though it's not going to amaze anyone with the in-depth (and somewhat confusing to most) science of the planted aquarium, it's still going to be loaded with all the basic information you will need to get started.

So let's not digress anymore and let's get to the reason you all clicked onto this article, the substrates.


ADA Aquasoil

Aquasoil is a substance designed to best imitate the natural substrate of which many river systems and lakes. This substrate has the ability to soften the water of the aquarium using particles in the substrate itself (without having to use any added chemicals might I add) therefore reducing pH levels.

The optimum PH for most plants is between 5.5 and 6.5, using Aquasoil will assist in achieving these levels.

The brand ADA I have found to produce the best Aquasoil type substrate. They produce 2 grades of soil, normal type and powder type, and a few different main varieties: Amazonia, Africana and Mayala.

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia 2

All three of these have similar composition and so we will not focus on just the one but talk about them as a whole. ADA claim that the Aquasoil substrates hold their shape and structure for long periods of time when submersed and actually used as a substrate, and this does help with the circulation of water and oxygen within the substrate. The grain sizes also do actually help with assisting in the creation of good, healthy plant roots.

What ADA claim that the product does seems like an excellent choice of substrate, but if we read and believe everything a company says, then shouldn't every company be as good as another? I think it's best to look over reviews and compile a short list of the pros and cons the masses of the Internet has conjured up;

Thumbs up

  • Simple to use.
  • Great for growing deep rooted plants and carpet plants.
  • Relatively good value for money.
  • Those that use it swear by it.

Not so good bits

  • When initially used it results in a massive ammonia spike, great for establishing nutrients but not so good as adding to an established tank.
  • Not always readily available.
  • Needs a good a aunt of time to settle as it can make your aquarium quite cloudy.

Seachem Fluorite

Fluorite is a clay based substrate that is high in iron. Due to its high iron content, it has a tendency to lack in other nutrients and is In turn not so effective for those plants with slightly more delicate roots.

Seachems Flourite is readily available in near enough all fish stores, it's honestly difficult not to see it if you browse around the local products and livestock of your chosen favourite store.

It comes in a few colours like red, black and light beige sandy colours so you can choose which is best for your design.

With it being Seachem it's a brand that here in the UK we know and love, one of the most trusted brands on any shelf, but the quality does come with a weighted price tag.

This is one thatch ace known people to use and I have to say use remarkably.

Take it off the shelf?

  • Well known and trusted brand.
  • Basic and easy to use, not over complicated with its composition.
  • Good value.
  • Variety of colours.

Put it back down?

  • The colours aren't the most appealing.
  • Won't do anything special to your plants.
  • There are better yet more expensive substrates.
  • Will definitely cloud your aquarium at first.
  • I would probably have to put another thick layer of inert substrate on top.

Carib Sea Eco Complete

Quite possibly the all round best substrate, and by best I mean I hear the best reviews about it, in person anyway.

It does contain all the necessary nutrients and minerals inside its recipe book.

If I was to personally recommend one substrate over others I would choose this, however as I stated in the introduction there isn't one perfect substrate and so circumstance dictates which one is best for the user.

My comments: I am going to have to say to take into account when choosing your aquarium substrate, otherwise writing this would have been, well, pointless really.

Eco-Complete Substrate

It comes out of the bag likes fine gravel-like substrate and like I said it seems to have everything a good substrate needs.

Should I use this?

  • One of the best.
  • Appealing artistic colours.
  • Simple to use.
  • Very good all round.

Should I walk past the product?

  • Quite expensive.
  • ​Other products are still needed to bring out its best (as with all substrates though).
  • Not always available in stores.
  • People either swear by it or defiantly fight it (just like marmite).And no I'm not a marmite lover I'm afraid, but I do love this.


Gravel and Sand

Now these are substrate types that everyone has come across they are the most basic we can use to date but I believe they still need a special mention in this article purely because everyone of all skill levels us uses some form of gravel or sand.

Although they won't do anything special on their own, some people say it's easier to use than all the others, given the correct recipe of course.

Now clearly with using either of these substrates I would say to always use a regular fertilise ring routine, whether it's liquid, CO2 or even high concentrate bottom layer substrates Assad or gravel does actually contain any specified nutrients that are added for the purpose of plants.

And I clearly know none of you want me to list the pros and cons of using the humble gravel or sand substrates.

Final Thoughts

I don't think it would be fair for me to leave the article with the basic sand and gravel comments. Yet I would rather leave it with something a little more inspirational in order to stir the thoughts and design processes in your minds.

I want to return to my introduction in saying there is no perfect substrate, only a substrate perfect for the user. By this I mean that there isn't one single substrate that should be used across all aquascapes, they all, like the plants involved, need something a little different. And really all the listed substrates are just as good as another.

Much like the hobby of fish keeping there isn't a right or wrong way of doing anything, there isn't a certain way to collect stamps or paint a miniature model, everything is subjective to yourself.

The best way forward in the hobby is to try things out for yourself, compare notes with other users and become part of a blog or well involved in a website such as this. Don't be afraid of being innovative.

Theories, sciences and methods all evolve with time and trying out new things. If you're sure something will work, try it out for yourself and don't always listen to people saying no.

You are you own limit.

Happy Aquascaping!

And most importantly special thanks to all the valued customers at Urban Jungle Manchester who bring honest reviews and frequent pictures and videos to my days.

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