A planted tank has several important benefits and advantages over a tank with no live plants at all. One important choice you'll need to make is the type of substrate to hold those plants. Learn what these choices are and which substrates are best for a thriving planted tank.
In the home aquarium, live plants provide a variety of benefits beyond simply increasing the aesthetic appeal of your planted tank. In addition to boosting the oxygen content for your fish, live aquarium plants also provide your fish with a place to hide. Live plants may also help to control algae in your tank because they will be competing for the same nutrients. If you choose to cultivate a planted tank you should be aware that it will take a little more effort than simply stocking your tank with plastic plants. Not only do you need to provide adequate lighting and water circulation for your plants to thrive, but you also need to use an aquarium substrate formulated for planted tanks in order to ensure that your plants grow well and stay healthy. There are a variety of choices available when it comes to substrate for planted tanks - choosing among them is simply a matter of deciding which option best suits your particular tank.
Types of Aquarium Substrate for Planted Aquariums
Gravel - Plain, uncoated gravel can work very well in planted aquariums. Because it is inexpensive and easy to use, gravel is one of the most popular substrates for use in freshwater aquariums. The best size of gravel to use is in the one to three mm range and it should not be treated with any kind of chemicals. Treated gravel may affect water quality or contain substances toxic to aquarium fish. There are several things to consider when using gravel as a substrate in a planted tank. It is recommended that you put down a layer of peat moss or laterite under the gravel to provide nutrients for your plants. If you prefer to avoid using these substances in your tank you may choose to periodically fertilize your plants instead. Fertilizing plants is easy - simply check your local pet store for plant root fertilizer tabs and push them into the gravel near the roots of your plants. When using gravel as substrate in a planted tank, make sure the gravel is deep enough to cover the roots of your plants and to allow them space to grow.
Sand - Sand is another popular substrate in planted tanks because it gives the aquarium a natural look. There are many types of sand which can be used in the planted aquarium including silica sand, onyx sand and a variety of commercially-sold sands fortified with nutrients. Silica sands like play sand and pool filter sand can be used in the home aquarium but they can be dusty and do not provide plant roots with some of the nutrients they need to grow. Before using silica sand in the home aquarium, rinse it well to remove as much dust and dirt as possible. If you plan to use sand in your planted aquarium, try adding a layer of flourite or plant soil beneath the sand or find a fortified sand that will provide your plants with the nutrients they need.
Flourite - Flourite, made by Sea-Chem, is a type of porous clay gravel that is excellent for use in planted aquariums. Unlike regular gravel substrate, however, flourite is lightweight and does not compact easily. This type of substrate can be more expensive than sand and gravel but it never needs to be replaced - it should last throughout the entire life of your aquarium. Flourite can also be mixed with gravel, sand, and other types of substrate to provide your plants with healthy nutrients. If you plan to use flourite alone as the substrate in your planted tank you will only need about one pound per gallon. Flourite should be rinsed thoroughly prior to adding it to the aquarium because, though it typically doesn't contain any chemical coating or treatment, it can be very dusty at first.
Eco-Complete - Eco-Complete, by Carib-Sea, is a high-quality substrate specially formulated to provide plants with over 25 essential nutrients. This substrate introduces live heterotrophic bacteria into your tank to help break down waste into a substance your plants can use as food. Eco-Complete is ready to use right out of the bag - it does not need to be rinsed and it conditions your water immediately. Though somewhat more expensive than other types of substrate, Eco-Complete contains all the nutrients your plants need, so it eliminates the need for adding laterite or fertilizing your plants with root tabs. This type of substrate is available in several colors and is perfectly sized to encourage plant growth. In our opinion, the convenience of not having to rinse this substrate offsets the price.
How to Use Substrate in a Planted Tank
Before putting any new substrate into your aquarium, it is a good idea to rinse it thoroughly in lukewarm water. This will help to remove any dust or foreign objects that may have gotten into the bag of substrate during the shipping and selling process. Pour the substrate into a large plastic bucket or basin and fill it with fresh water. Rinse and drain the substrate several times until the water runs clear then carefully pour it into the bottom of your tank. Spread the substrate evenly along the bottom of the tank or mound it in certain areas where you know you will be adding plants in order to leave room for the roots. To determine how much substrate you will need for your aquarium, use these general guidelines:
• 8 pounds of silica sand per square foot of tank space for a depth of one inch
• 7 pounds of gravel per square foot of tank space for a depth of one inch
• 5 pounds of flourite per square foot of tank space for a depth of one inch
Using a nutrient-rich substrate in your aquarium is essential if you want to successfully maintain a planted tank. Because there are so many different options for aquarium substrate it is possible to choose one that best suits your needs as well as your particular tank. You may shop for aquarium substrate by price, ease of use, or quality and if you cannot decide on just one type, you can mix two or more different types together. Keep in mind that the more effort you put into cultivating a healthy planted tank, the higher your reward will be. An aquarium full of thriving plants will provide your fish with a healthy and natural environment in which to live. Healthy fish are happy fish. One way of making sure your fish stay healthy can be as simple as choosing the right substrate for your planted tank.