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Are You Looking For The Best Substrate For A Planted Tank?

If so you’ve come to the right place.

If you’re one of the 7.2 million households with an aquarium, then you know how many wonderful and fun items you can decorate your tank with.

One of the best things about building your aquarium is choosing what fun plants you’ll delight your fish with. After all, this tank is going to be their forever home, so we want to make it enjoyable.

After you decide on the perfect fish and the plants you want in your aquarium, you’ll need to find the best substrates for planted tanks like yours.

Choosing a substrate might be the most complicated but definitely one of the most important decisions you make. Luckily, we’ve broken down our favorites so you can choose the right one for you planted tank.

If you want to jump to our #1 Recommendation click here to see the Best Substrate For Your Planted Tank

There’s certainly no shortage of plants, rocks, and accessories to deck your fish’s home with but what you choose is important to the life of your fish and your aquarium.

By the time you finish this article, you’ll know everything you need to about which plants and substrates to use.

Grab your tank, we’re getting started!

Substrates for Planted Tanks: What to Look for?

substrate for planted tank

Depending on the fish you plan on keeping or the plants you plan on buying, the best substrate for your tank will vary.

Here’s what to look for in a good substrate:

  • Won’t discolor or cloud your water
  • Promotes root development
  • Includes live Heterotrophic bacteria
  • High quality, long lasting
  • Provides nutrients to root-feeding plants (if needed)
  • Lower’s your tank’s pH (if needed)

When shopping for substrates keep in mind the type of plant you plan on keeping in your tank. Rooted plants require nutrients from the substrate whereas water column feeder plants get their nutrients from the water.

Substrates come in a variety of types: marbles, aquarium gravel, aquarium sand, coral sand, and aquarium soil. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, you can find more here.

We reviewed all the best substrates for planted tanks available and found a few that really stood out!

Here they are:

Top 5 Substrates for Planted Tanks That Promote Root Growth

1. Seachem Flourite Black

Substrate For Planted Tank - Seachem Flourite

Buy Flourite Black On Amazon

Flourite Black is a great choice for a substrate when you have root-feeding plants. I  personally use this in my tank and it’s promoted the growth of my plants as well as kept the tank looking clean and fresh. My plants have never looked so healthy.

I choose it because of the material: stable porous clay gravel. Its untreated meaning there are no chemicals added, making it safe for all of my fish. The porous nature of the clay allows the food and fish waste to easily dissolve into it keeping my tank looking clean, all year long.

The best part about Flourite Black is that it maintains the pH of my water and never disturbs the quality of the tank water, which means less work for me.

I love the sleek black look of it in the bottom of my tank, and my fish seem to too. It’s lasted for two years so far and still working perfectly. I haven’t had to replace it yet and it will last as long as my aquarium does.

My only complaint would be the dust it kicks up when you first pour it into the aquarium. The water is a little cloudy for the first few minutes after adding it in but it subsides. My tank and I haven’t had a problem with it since.

2. Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate

Substrate For Planted Tank - Carib Sea Eco

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The Carib Sea Eco-Complete boasts of using volcanic soil that not only allows your plants to root deep into the soil but keep them there throughout the wavy environment of your tank. It also doesn’t release any dust into the water when you first add it into your tank.

This substrate is a great choice if you’re looking for a substrate to use on its own and don’t want to worry about adding other elements to it like additional nutrients.

An important aspect in a healthy aquarium is the cycling of fish waste to organic matter which results in food for your plants which the fish then feed off of. Carib Sea Eco-Complete contains heterotrophic bacteria that promotes this healthy life cycle.

3. Mr. Aqua Fine Pet Habitat

Substrate For Planted Tank - Mr Aqua

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Another great choice for a planted tank substrate is Mr. Aqua’s Fine Pet Habitat.

If you’re looking for a tank bed material that packs a ton of nutrients as well as aiding in anchoring your plants to the bottom of the tank, then look no further. The porous material of the soil promotes healthy bacteria and aids in creating a happy and healthy environment for your aquatic life.

The only problem with this substrate is that it comes in smaller bags than it’s competition, so if you have a large tank, you’ll have to crunch some numbers and figure out how many bags you need to buy. It can be a little pricey, but well worth it for the quality of the substrate.

People love Mr. Aqua’s substrate because it lowers the pH of the water which means less treatment. If you have the type of fish that prefer a more acidic environment, then this is the substrate for your tank.

4. Nature’s Ocean Bio-Activ Aragonite Sand

Substrate For Planted Tank - Natures Ocean

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If you’ve got fish or other aquatic life that love to burrow in the sand then Nature’s Ocean is the perfect choice for your tank.

We love Nature’s Ocean because its collected in its natural environment and packaged in its natural state. No chemicals and no additives. It’s naturally stocked with live marine bacteria that promote a healthy water cycle in your tank.

It’s ready to use as is, just add the sand, turn on your filter to start circulating the water (don’t use with gravel filters), and add your fish.

Tip: Be sure that you’re only using this sand with saltwater fish.

5. Spectrastone Shallow Creek for Freshwater Aquariums

Substrate For Planted Tank - Spectrastone

Buy Spectrastone Shallow Creek On Amazon

Spectrastone Shallow Creek’s gravel is the perfect substrate for any freshwater aquarium. They’re very natural looking and come in a variety of light nudes which aid in the aesthetic of your tank.

If keeping freshwater fish and plants in your tank, this gravel is ideal in anchoring your plant’s roots. They’re all natural, non-toxic making them a safe choice for plant life and fish. The Spectrastone Shallow Creek gravel substrate is also known not to vary the pH or water quality of your tank.

You will have to rinse these rocks until the water runs clear before inserting them into your tank which can add another step to an already long process of building an aquarium.

Best Substrates for Planted Tanks: FAQ

You’ve got questions, we’ve got answers. Keep reading for the most frequently asked questions regarding aquarium substrates.

What is Substrate?

The term substrate refers to the bottom material of your fish tank. This can be anything from rocks, gravel, sand, soil, or sometimes even a mixture of a few.

Substrates not only provide a certain aesthetic to your tank but they the fish feel more at home in their new glass pond.

Why Do I Need Substrate?

If you’re keeping plants in your tank, it’s essential that their roots have something to latch on to, since they cannot grasp the tank’s glass. The right substrate will also provide critical nutrients needed by root-feeding plants.

Depending on the type of animals you keep in your tank, adding a substrate might be necessary. Animals like snails and certain fish bury themselves in the substrate for protection and use it to find food.

If you think about your fish’s natural home–whether it be the ocean, a lake, or a pond–the floor isn’t bare, but covered in a natural substrate like mud, sand, or rocks. Adding material to the bottom of your tank will allow the fish to feel more comfortable in its new habitat.

Substrates are vital in producing beneficial bacteria and is a key player in the filtration of your tank. Some substrates provide additional nutrients or affect the pH of the tank so it’s critical that you do your research before choosing a material.

What’s the Best Type of Substrate for Root-Feeding Plants?

Aquarium soil is the best type of substrate for planted tanks due to the nutrients it packs. This type of material can vary from fine sand to tiny ball-like particles and comes in a variety of dark browns and blacks. It comes in many varieties so be sure to check with your fish and plant type before purchasing aquarium soil.

How Much Substrate Should I Use?

There’s no real maximum on how much substrate you should use in your tank, however, there is a minimum. Every aquarium should have no less than one inch of substrate.

Here’s a tip on how to achieve this: One pound of substrate per gallon of tank size should average out to about one inch of substrate.

Substrate? Check! What’s Next? 

Now that you know about the best substrates for planted tanks, you can move on to the next item on the agenda, how to find the right filter for your tank!

If you’re considering what plants to put in your aquarium, check out this aquarium plant care guide.

What’s Holding It Down_ The 5 Best Substrates for Planted Tanks