By | November 1, 2017
best substrate for planted tank

Undoubtedly, setting up a planted tank can be pretty confusing right? Though a well-crafted planted tank is a piece of art, many people mess up the making process at the first place. Whenever you are planning on making a planted tank, the first thing to do is to choose the best substrate for planted tank.

There are many types of substrates for planted tank in the market right now. So, it can be pretty much confusing on what to buy. In this article, I’ll give you a detailed explanation on the substrate for planted tank, how to use them, how to choose the best substrate for planted tank and lastly, my top picks of best substrate for planted tank in 2018. I promise you, after reading this article, you won’t be confused anymore about substrates.

What is the Best Substrate For Planted Tank?

According to Wikipedia, the substrate of an aquarium is nothing but the material we use on the bottom of the aquarium. The substrate is all in all one of the most important factors for creating a healthy aquarium. It affects the water chemistry, filtration system and overall health of the inhabitants of your aquarium.
It also magnifies the beauty of an aquarium. There are many types of substrate such as gravel, river rocks, sand, play sand, aqua soil, etc. The type of substrate you need depends entirely on the type of your aquarium.
Suppose, for a normal community tank, you can either go for gravel, large rocks, sand or even a bare bottom tank. Bare bottom means that no substrate is used. For a planted tank, you should definitely go for an aqua soil such as ADA Amazonia. Lastly, for saltwater tanks or reef tanks, you will need live sand that is suited for that purpose.

Why do we need Aquarium Substrate?

best substrate for planted tank


There are thousands of reasons for using aquarium substrate. Here are some reasons illustrated for
1.       The first and foremost reason for using substrate is that they help to begin the nitrogen cycle. A colony of beneficial bacteria grows on the substrate and starts the nitrogen cycle. Although, these bacteria grow on other stuff in your aquarium too, the significant amount resides on the substrate. The substrate also serves as a medium for growing roots of live plants. Commercially manufactured substrates even provide nutrition to the plants.
2.       Substrate helps to imitate a natural environment for the fish. It is also mandatory for borrowing fishes. Bottom dweller fishes also like an aquarium with deep substrate. It also helps to calm the fishes.
3.       Substrate can magnificently change the appearance of your aquarium. It increases the appealing aspect of your planted tank. Substrate is a must for creating planted tank. Substrate helps to create the perfect miniature natural environment inside your aquarium.

What are the benefits of using Aquarium Substrate?

·         Substrate helps to start the nitrogen cycle.
·         A significant amount of beneficial bacteria grows on the substrate.
·         It creates a more natural habitat for the fishes.
·         It increases the beauty of an aquarium.
·         Substrate is a must for borrowing as well as bottom dwelling fishes.
·         Without substrate, you can’t even think of a planted tank.

What are the types of Aquarium Substrate?

best substrate for planted tank


As mentioned earlier, there are many types of aquarium substrates to choose from. Here are some of the types:
Gravel: Gravel is one of the most common substrate choices for aquariums. Almost every pet shops use gravel on their aquarium. You can use it on any type of aquarium i.e. community aquarium, turtle tank etc. Even some aquatic plants can be grown on gravel too! Gravels are further divided into many sizes, colors and shapes. The main advantage of using gravel is they are cheap and can be used on almost any type of aquarium. However, the only drawback I can think of is, they are not the most beautiful substrate choice for aquarium. If you decide to choose gravel as your aquarium substrate, check beforehand if they are treated for aquarium or not!
Sand: The next common choice of substrate is sand. It is very popular among fishes that love to borrow inside the substrate. You can buy bulk amount of play sand and use them. But be sure to treat them before using. Wash them under running water for multiple times until the water doesn’t become cloudy. It is better if you can boil them before hand to ensure no harmful bacteria are living on it.
Crushed Coral: It is not as popular as a substrate choice like sand, but nevertheless, it is also an effective substrate for planted tank. Crushed coral can raise the pH of aquarium water as well as increase the buffering capacity. This substrate is very helpful if you keep species that like hard alkaline water such as some species of cichlids.
Large River Rock: Large river rocks can be used with gravels or on their own. They offer a more natural look to the aquarium. It is a natural substrate.
Marble: Marble is far from being a natural substrate. There are colorful marbles. Though they are not natural, they can provide a colorful look to your aquarium. Marbles are really useful when you have a fish that breeds egg scatteringly. The eggs fall into the spaces between marbles. As a result, the adult fishes can’t eat the eggs. So, the eggs remain safe.
Commercial soil: If you are keeping live plants in your aquarium, you must have commercial soil. They provide the required nutrition to live plants. Plants also can grow a root system inside the soil. These aquarium soils are very elegant looking. They slowly provide nutrition to the plants. You can also use other additives with a commercial soil.

How much substrate to use in the Planted Tank?

Normally, there is no set rule on how much substrate you should use. A general preference is to use about 1.5 to 2 inches of substrate in the aquarium. This provides enough substrate for beneficial bacteria to grow on the aquarium. This amount is also preferable for borrowing fishes. It is not recommended to go more than 2 inches of depth as gas pockets may for within the substrate.
If you are planning to keep live plants, then you may need to use further more substrate. Provide more substrate where you will keep a large amount of plants. You need to plan beforehand on where you’ll place the plants. Just provide more substrates in those places.

How to choose the best substrate for Planted Tank?

best substrate for planted tank


These are the characteristics of a good planted tank substrate:
·         The substrate should be able to store nutrients and provide them to the plants.
·         The significant amount of nutrient should be in the substrate, not in the water column.
·         The substrate should slowly release the nutrient to live plants throughout a large amount of time. A good substrate contains both macronutrient and trace elements. The aquatic plants should be able to get a balanced nutrition profile from the substrate.
·         There shouldn’t be any harmful chemicals inside the substrate. Discard the substrate immediately if there is any coating or dyeing on the soil.
·         The granules should be porous and encourage strong growth of the plant roots.
·         The soil shouldn’t degenerate much with time. A good planted tank substrate lasts for more than a year perfectly.
·         Check carefully if the substrate is safe for fish, shrimp, snail, crab and other types of live stocks.
·         Before buying a particular substrate, look on the internet and do some research. See what other customers have said about it. It’ll give you a pretty good idea about the substrate.
So, whenever you are looking for a new substrate, look for these characteristics. If the substrate doesn’t meet them, look for another one. Also, it helps if you do some research beforehand. Look what other customers have said about the substrate you are thinking to buy. Some research beforehand can save you a load of money.

How to use a Planted Tank Substrate:

Before putting the new substrate to your aquarium, always wash it thoroughly in lukewarm water first. This will help to remove all the dust and other foreign objects from the substrate. It is very important to use the cleanest substrate in your aquarium.
To clean properly, at first pour all of the substrates in a large bucket. Then fill the bucket with water. Rinse the substrate several times and pour down the water. Repeat these steps several times until the water runs clear.
The next step is to spread the substrate evenly on your aquarium. You should mound more amounts on places where you’ll place the live plants. The minimum depth of substrate should be one inch.
Choosing a nutrient rich substrate is the key to a successful planted tank. As there are thousands of substrates in the market right now, it is really difficult to choose a decent one. Most of them are really poor quality and may even harm your fishes. Wikihow has a pretty good article on how to start an aquarium with live plants.
So, here are my recommended 10 (Top Picks) Best Substrates for Planted Tank. All of these substrates are effective for a successful planted tank. So, let’s get down to it!

1. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia:



As the name dictates, the ADA aqua soil Amazonia is designed to replicate the nature of Amazon in your nature aquarium. With its help, you can create an aquascape resembling the South American rain forest. This commercial soil is available in two forms: Normal form and Powder form.
The ADA aqua soil Amazonia decreases the hardness as well as lowers the pH of the aquarium water. Thus, most aquatic plants are able to absorb the nutrient that is released from the ADA soil. The ADA aqua soil granules can maintain their shape and structure for a longer period of time under water. They help on the circulation of aquarium water. With this commercial soil, you can even grow the most demanding plants easily. It also creates a friendly environment for fishes that prefer soft water.


·         It is a brand new substrate manufactured from the famous ADA brand. It is completely natural as the raw materials are collected from the Mother Nature directly.
·         It reduces the pH level of aquarium water up to a level that is accepted by most of the aquatic plants. As a result, plants can absorb nutrients easily.
·         ADA Aqua soil Amazonia gives clarity to the aquarium water as well as creates the perfect condition for optimum growth of aquarium plants.
·         The granules are perfectly sized for easy plant growth and the density is ideal for healthy plant. It encourages healthy growth of root system of the plants.
·         The ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia lowers the hardness of the aquarium water, thus makes a friendlier environment for fishes that like soft water.


·         It doesn’t give the prominent look like natural gravel.
If you are thinking of setting up a planted tank and have the budget, then I’ll definitely recommend you to go for this substrate at once! Click below to check the price!

2. Eco Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate:

Eco Complete Plated Aquarium Substrate has the new formula for optimum root growth. Eco Complete Substrate offers some unique features that no other substrate in the market offers. It is formulated with rich volcanic soil that contains a rich amount of magnesium, calcium, iron, sulfur, potassium along with 25 other nutritive elements to provide the best nutrition to your aquarium plants.

Eco Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate is a complete biological solution for your planted tank. They do not encourage the growth of unwanted algae like most other substrates in the market. There is no need for laterite as the substrate contains rich amount of iron. There are no artificial elements, colors or dyes on the substrate.
The grains of Eco Complete aquarium substrate are highly porous which is suitable for ideal diffusion. There is a good amount of Heterotrophic bacteria with the substrate that helps to quickly convert fish waste into foods for aquatic plants.
The substrate is ideal for starting a natural aquarium as it helps with nitrogen cycle and speeds things up considerably.


·         It is a complete biological substrate for natural freshwater aquarium plants.
·         Contains micronutrient as well as macronutrient to provide a balanced nutrition to the aquatic plants.
·         It encourages the plants to grow a strong root system.
·         Contains Heterotrophic bacteria which converts fish waste into foods for aquarium plants.
·         The grains are ideal for optimum diffusion performance.
·         Helps with the nitrogen cycle of new aquariums.


·         Sometimes, fish wastes are visible over the black color of the substrate.

If you want to know more about the product, click on the link below:


3. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum:


It is one of the best substrates in the market for stimulating plant growth in freshwater planted aquarium. This substrate allows plants root to spread through them as well as penetrate them very easily. This substrate provides the aquatic plants a variety of nutrients which help to flourish them. Your aquarium plants will get a balanced nutrition from this substrate.
The granules of the substrate are light and non-compacting. This structure provides a friendly environment for the nitrifying bacteria, which provides the ideal water quality of aquarium plants.
Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum makes the aquarium water neutral to little acidic pH, which is ideal for most of the aquarium plant species. It is generally accepted by a large amount of fish species and shrimps too. It is definitely one of the best substrates for planted tank.
This substrate is also very great if you have shrimp in your tank. New born shrimp babies can take refugee inside the substrate and save themselves from the predators. The substrate is very attractive and offers a modern natural look to the aquarium. It doesn’t discolor the water too.



·         The substrate is rich with volcanic minerals.
·         Stimulates the growth rate of aquarium plants
·         Makes the aquarium water neutral to slightly acidic, which is ideal for most of the aquarium plants
·         It is great for shrimps too. New born shrimps can take refugee and save themselves from potential harm.
·         One bag provides 4.4 pounds of aquarium substrate.
·         Encourages the growth of nitrifying bacteria, which makes the water ideal for plants.


·         You need to wash it several times before using. Otherwise, you may get cloudy water.
As the name suggests, Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum is great for both planted tank and shrimps. If you plan to keep shrimps in your planted tank, then this is definitely the substrate to go for!
Click on the link below to know more about this substrate!


4. Seachem’s Flourite Black:



Flourite Black is specially manufactured gravel for planted aquarium. Its granules are very stable as well as porous. It has an appearance that best suits any natural aquarium environment. You can mix it with other substrates or gravels inside the aquarium, but you’ll get the best output just by using Flourite Black alone.
You don’t need to add any laterite if you use this substrate. There are no chemical harmful elements in Flourite Black. It will not change the pH parameter of aquarium water. Although the Flourite Black package comes pre washed, it is a good practice to wash it thoroughly before placing in the aquarium. It will remove any residual dust from the substrate.
When placing the substrate, try to do it very gently. The less you disperse the water, the less cloudy it will be. After setting up the substrate, you may see a slight cloudiness in the water. It is normal and expected to clean up within 2 to 12 hours.
One bag of Seachem’s Flourite Black is sufficient for a 10 gallon tank to make a substrate of 2 inch depth. Although setting up a planted tank can be pretty confusing for beginners, with the right substrate like Flourite Black, half the job gets completed. With a good substrate business, the required maintenance becomes minimum. You can get a more detailed review about Flourite Black here.



·         This is a premium substrate for planted tank. It provides all the essential nutrient to aquatic plants’ roots and encourages optimum growth of plants.
·         The substrate is specially manufactured with porous granules which is very stable too. These granules promote easy root growth of the plants.
·         Though it has the special appearance that suits any planted aquaria, you can use it on other types of aquarium too!
·         Flourite Black substrate doesn’t need any replacement like other substrates in the market. It will continue to provide nutrition to the aquarium for the whole life of aquarium.
·         There is no chemical coat or harmful elements inside this substrate. So, it is perfectly safe for your aquarium plants and fishes. Moreover, it doesn’t change the pH of aquarium water like most other substrates.


·         You need to rinse it thoroughly before using in the aquarium. Otherwise, the water will remain cloudy for a long time.

If you are interested about this substrate, click on the link below to learn more!


5. Mr. Aqua Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil:



Mr. Aqua’s Water Plant Soil is specifically manufactured with organic as well as inert elements that provide all the essential elements to a planted tank system. It works as a stable as well as ideal media for plants to establish their root system. The soil helps to soften the water and decreases the pH little bit which makes the ideal condition for aquatic plants. It keeps the pH between 6.6 to 6.8. The soil continues to release nutrition to the aquarium plants for 12 to 18 months.
Mr. Aqua’s water plant soil also helps to purify the aquarium water. It is great for removing stain caused by driftwood. The porous granular structure of the substrate encourages the plants for growing long lasting root system.
One bag of Mr. Aqua’s soil can cover up to 12×6 square inches at 1 inch depth or 6×6 square inches at 2 inches depth. The substrate is black in color, which enhances the look of the planted aquarium.


·         Made from organic and inert ingredients that release essential nutrients to the aquarium plants.
·         The substrate is very long-lasting. It can continue to release nutrition for up to 12-18 months.
·         This substrate purifies the water from driftwood stains.
·         One bag of substrate can cover up to 6×6 square inches of floor at 2 inches of depth
·         The substrate is black in color which enhances the look of the aquarium.


·         You’ll have to gently set up the substrate in the aquarium. You must wash it several times before placing inside the tank. The less you disperse the water while putting the substrate, the less cloudy it will be.

So, if you are interested about this planted tank substrate, then click on the link below to learn more about it!


6. ST International Aqua Soil for Aquarium Plants:

ST Aqua soil is specially manufactured for aquarium plants. It is designed with special elements that make the soil nourished with rich nutrients for aquatic plants. It is safe for all kinds of livestock such as fish, shrimp, crab, snail etc. The granules are very long lasting and continue to provide nutrient for a long period of time.
The soil has a pH range between 6.7-7 which is ideal for aquatic plants. Also, there is no need for prewashing the soil.


·         Specially designed for aquarium plants.
·         Formulated with special elements that nourish the soil with essential nutrients.
·         Perfectly safe for fish, shrimp, crab and snails.
·         Keeps an ideal pH value of the aquarium water ( 6.7-7 )
·         You don’t need to wash the soil before using in the aquarium.


·         Doesn’t offer a very natural look to the aquarium.

If you are curious about this substrate, click on the link below to know more!


7. UP Aqua Sand for Aquatic Plants:

UP aqua sand is specially manufactured for aquatic plants. It maintains the pH level of aquarium water at 6.5. This is the ideal environment for crazy plant growth. The soil doesn’t easily break down too. So, it lasts for a longer period and continues to provide essential nutrition to the aquatic plants.
The soil suits perfectly well in a planted tank. It doesn’t float on the water or make it cloudy. One bag of UP aqua sand is enough for a 20 gallon tank. Each bag contains about 11 pounds of substrate.


·         Keeps the pH level of aquarium water at 6.5 which is ideal for aquatic plants.
·         You don’t need to wash the soil before using in the aquarium
·         Doesn’t breakdown with time. So, it lasts longer than most other aquarium soils.


·         Some customers have found the pH level to get lower at 6.2 instead of the advertised value 6.5.
UP Aqua sand can be a very fascinating substrate for planted tank. If you want to know more about this product, click on the link below!


8. Decorative Ornamental River Pebbles:

Polished gravel is the most common form of aquarium substrate. It is used in almost every aquarium shops throughout the world. Though they are not suitable for planted tank, they suit with most other types of tanks easily.
You can use them on community fish tanks, discus fish tank, and turtle tank or for decoration purpose. They are completely safe for fishes and other livestock. There are many sellers in Amazon who sell these types of Polished Gravel in very cheap price. Here is a good package for Polished Gravel. It also comes in mixed color and shapes.

9. Carib Sea Tahitan Moon Sand for Aquarium:


With Carib Sea’s Sand, you can easily re-create a beautiful piece of nature in your home. This substrate does most of the hard work for you. It also reduces the amount of maintenance work.

The Carib Sea Brand got inspiration from Rio Negro’s spectacular view and tried to re-create these awesome natural pieces in an aquarium. Carib Sea’s Moon sand is specially manufactured to create some exotic looks like Sri Lankan stream of rubies and sapphires, tropical islands engulfed with volcanoes etc. It;s top class features has made it one of the best substrates for planted tank.


·         This substrate maintains a natural pH in the aquarium water which is safe for all types of aquarium plants.
·         No chemical coatings or paintings are used while manufacturing this substrate.
·         The color of the substrate is black which creates a great contrast with any type of aquascaping.
·         Carib Sea’s Moon sand is completely manufactured in USA.


·         You need to properly rinse it through clear water for some times before using in the aquarium.

Click on the link below to know more about this substrate:

10. Spectrastone Special Black Aquarium Gravel:

Black aquarium gravel is a very popular choice as aquarium substrate all around the world. The rich black color makes a good contrast against any type of aquarium you have. It enhances the look of aquarium too.
Though as a gravel, it is not suitable for a planted tank. But, some low demanding plants may be grown with this substrate. But of course, you need to dose aquarium plant fertilizer regularly.


·         This black gravel doesn’t alter the pH level of the aquarium
·         It is perfectly safe to use in any type of freshwater aquarium
·         There is no chemical coating over the gravel.
So, if you want to get a pretty basic but good aquarium gravel, this will be a good choice for you! Click on the link below to learn more!

Final Thoughts:

Actually, there is no one perfect ultimate substrate for planted tank. The best substrate for planted tank really depends on what type of aquarium you have, what kinds of aquatic plants you are keeping, how much plants are there, types of the planted tank (low tech or high tech) and so on.
Finding the best substrate for planted tank for you may need some trial and error. But when you find the one that suits your tank perfectly, your planted tank will take on a whole new level then. That’s why, it is definitely worthwhile to choose the best substrate for planted tank.
Comment below if you have any questions and I’ll get to it as soon as I can!


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