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The 7 Best Substrates For Planted Tanks

Some individuals use sand, gravel, potting soil, peat, clay, or even small, smooth pebbles, or a combination of these, as substrates for their planted aquariums. Every planted aquarium must have the best substrates for planted tanks in order to provide the optimal habitat for the plants and fish. Check BestForPets' (bestforpets.org) list here.


ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia

This aqua soil is an excellent option for folks who have planted tanks with a wide variety of plants. It is inexpensive, all-natural, and most surely effective.

This aqua dirt has several advantages for your fish tank. One of our favorite features of this planted aquarium substrate is that it is comprised of earth-derived material that has been properly treated and is entirely natural.

This soil is extremely nutrient-dense and provides an ideal growing medium for aquatic plants. The granules are the appropriate size for aquatic plants to establish their roots and develop a healthy root system.

This planted aquarium substrate also reduces the pH of the water, which is beneficial for many aquatic plants. A lower pH level allows aquatic plants to absorb nutrients more quickly, allowing them to thrive.

In addition to making the water clean, adding a bottom layer, and not discoloring the water, it is an excellent choice.

This sort of substrate also aids to soften the water, which is an additional advantage.

Aqua Soil is an excellent substrate for planted aquariums with fish that thrive in softer water and lower pH.

We personally consider this to be the ideal soil for planted aquariums due to its high quality and organic composition.


  • Organic and nutrient-dense
  • Lowers pH level
  • Maintains water clarity
  • Softens water


  • Can’t be vacuumed
  • A bit more pricey


Flourite substrate

This planted aquarium substrate will last a very long time, offer nutrients for your plants, and also look fantastic in any aquarium. There are several advantages of utilizing Seachem Flourite black as a substrate.

This extremely porous clay gravel is perfect for plants and their root systems and has never been chemically processed, so you can be assured that it is completely organic.

In contrast to many other substrates, this type of substrate does not soften the water and does not affect the pH values of the water.

This one is a fantastic alternative, in our opinion, because it is rich in the nutrients necessary for plant root systems to thrive.

This is an excellent substrate for a planted aquarium, and it also functions adequately in fish tanks. It delivers appropriate nutrients for plant growth and promotes robust root development.


  • Very permeable and beneficial for roots
  • Does not influence water pH or hardness.
  • Organic and nutrient-rich


  • Must be cleaned before to addition to tank.
  • It seems better with vegetation than with fish.


CaribSea eco-complete substrate

This is an excellent choice for a planted aquarium since it has a ton of nutrients, looks cool, and provides amazing texture to your aquarium.

This substrate is composed of nutrient-rich, nutrient-rich volcanic soil. It includes iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, and more than 25 other minerals that are excellent for promoting plant development.

It produces a biological equilibrium that facilitates the evaporation of water and gives a solid foundation for root development.

Additionally, CaribSea Eco-Complete is iron-rich and does not require the addition of additional laterite. In addition, it has no synthetic chemicals, dyes, or other additions.

The second advantage of utilizing this substrate is that it includes heterotrophic bacteria that aid in the natural conversion of fish waste into organic materials that fish may consume.

In addition to not need a pre-rinse, this planted aquarium substrate will not stain the water. This is an excellent option since it promotes a healthy root system and has a wealth of minerals for plant nutrition.


  • No colorings or additives
  • Doesn’t need to be washed
  • Iron-rich and nutrient-dense


  • Not suitable for saltwater aquariums
  • Smells a bit


Mr. Aqua aquarium dirt

Mr Aqua is a handy substrate for planted aquariums that delivers nutrients for your plants, reduces pH, and is also fantastic for fish.

In addition to providing an abundance of nutrients for plants, Mr Aqua Soil Substrate also supports the growth of beneficial microorganisms. This is beneficial for both fish and plants. This is an ideal layer for plants to establish their roots.

Another advantage of utilizing this substrate is that it naturally decreases the pH levels in your aquarium, minimizing the need to treat the water.

This formula is excellent since it is made specifically for fish, betta fish, dwarf shrimp, and plants. If you’re searching for the most nutrient-dense shrimp substrate for your aquarium, Mr. Aqua is an excellent choice.

It is also an excellent choice if you intend to keep a large number of fish in your planted aquarium.


  • Promotes the formation of beneficial bacteria
  • Naturally decreases pH
  • Built specifically for betta fish and dwarf shrimp


  • Can render water murky


Fluval plant strata

If you have a planted aquarium that also contains shrimp, this is an excellent choice. It is volcanic, mineral-rich, and aesthetically pleasing. We appreciate the fact that this substrate is composed of organic, mineral-rich volcanic soil.

Volcanic soil includes several different nutrients, all of which are excellent for promoting healthy plant development, both because of the nutrients and because root systems have a solid foundation on which to develop.

In addition to being light, non-compacting, and porous, this substrate is also a superb feature. This facilitates the growth of nitrifying bacteria, which aid in maintaining ideal water chemistry and quality.

In addition to being great for tropical fish, shrimp, and plants, this material also provides a fantastic hiding spot for juvenile shrimp.

This is the way to go if you need an excellent substrate for your plants and fish. It is completely natural and includes an abundance of plant-growth-promoting elements.


  • Organic, mineral-rich volcanic soil
  • Specifically made for shrimp and tropical fish
  • Less dense, lightweight, and permeable


  • Small bags & must purchase many


Hermit substrate

This is an excellent basic substrate that will give your planted aquarium some color and shine. One of the greatest advantages of the Hermit Habitat Terrarium Substrate is that it is blue, attractive, and gives your aquarium a splash of color.

It is entirely covered with an acrylic that will not leach into the water or produce discoloration.

Additionally, we love the fact that it’s all-natural gravel that offers an excellent basis for plant roots. This material may be used for planted, standard, and terrarium fish tanks.

This is an excellent substrate option if you need something inexpensive and attractive. It will function fine as a substrate, but will not provide any nutrients to your plants.


  • Beautiful and colorful
  • Acrylic coating to prevent leaching
  • Inexpensive


  • No nutrients
  • Replacement required every six months


UP Aqua sand

Consider UP Aqua Sand, a sand substrate for planted aquariums that is developed specifically to sustain plant growth. The wonderful thing about this material is that it resembles a mixture of sand and tiny gravel particles.

This is perfect for several aquarium plants since it provides a suitable medium for their roots to thrive on. It is thick enough to hold the roots in place, yet porous enough to allow the roots to spread out and absorb nutrients effectively.

Keep in mind that UP Aqua Sand has a pH of 6.5, therefore it is advantageous if this is the optimal pH level for your aquarium. In addition, unlike most other sand-based substrates, this material does not require rinsing prior to application.

This material also contains nutrients that should sustain plant life for an extended period of time. When it comes to substrates for planted aquariums, UP Aqua Sand is the best option.

It does not decompose rapidly, contains nutrients for your plants, and has a suitable consistency to maintain healthy root systems.


  • Excellent sand and gravel mix
  • Contains some nutrients for your plants
  • Doesn’t need to be washed


  • Deteriorates with time
  • Bags may arrive broken


In the end, BestForPets (bestforpets.org) appreciate that you picked our website among dozens of others to read reviews of the best substrates for planted tanks. Hopefully, this article has assisted you in selecting the most suitable product.


What is Substrate Used For?

Substrate can also assist in filtering out germs, poisons, and other pollutants. Substrate also prevents fish waste from floating freely around the fish tank by keeping it on the bottom.

Distinct substrates have different properties, and different substrates can assist contribute different nutrients to the water in order to maintain excellent water chemistry and beneficial microorganisms in a planted aquarium.

Additionally, a planted aquarium requires substrate for plant growth. The plant’s roots cannot develop on the glass, so they require something to cling to.

How Should Aquarium Plants Be Planted In Gravel?

The process of planting aquarium plants on gravel is simple and requires little effort. Now, you should be aware that certain plants are more delicate than others, and how you plant them in gravel depends entirely on the plant itself.

Many plants just demand that you place the plant’s roots in the gravel and lightly cover them, but be careful not to press down the gravel too much, as doing so might harm or crush the roots.

The roots of plants with delicate root systems may need to be secured without covering them with gravel, so they may grow into the gravel on their own.

How Should Substrate Be Laid?

This does not really important if you are only putting one type of substrate to your planted aquarium.

Simply determine how much substrate you need and how deep it must be, and then place it in the container.

If you are stacking gravel over sand, you should put approximately an inch or an inch and a half of sand and then gradually add the gravel. Be careful to take your time so you don’t create a massive mess.

Are Substrates Required For Aquarium Plants?

Not all plants require substrate; the optimal aquarium soil will vary depending on the plant. Some plants like sand, others gravel, and others neither.

There are several aquarium plants that may be secured to rocks or driftwood, which are not the optimal substrate. There are also several plants that float on the surface of the water without being attached to anything.

How Can I Maintain a Clean Substrate?

Cleaning substrate is not very difficult. Ensure that your planted aquarium contains a few bottom feeders and snails, since they will consume leftover food, dead plants, and algae.

In addition, regular water changes will avoid the accumulation of detritus on the substrate. Additionally, a powerful filtration system that removes the majority of particles from the water will be useful.

You should also avoid overfeeding your fish so that they do not create an excessive amount of trash. So that you can manually remove the debris, a gravel vacuum for aquariums is a must-have (our top 5 picks are detailed in this post).

When Can Fish And Plants Be Added?

This is everything related to the nitrogen cycle. The nitrogen cycle enables the growth of bacteria in water, which aids in the removal of pollutants.

In order for these bacteria to colonize the substrate, you should wait around six weeks before adding fish to the aquarium. You must wait until at least one nitrogen cycle is complete.

Buyer's Guide

Substrate may appear to be a non-essential component of a planted aquarium, however this assumption is typically incorrect.

There are several advantages to utilizing substrate in your aquarium, so let’s discuss them all today.

One of the most important advantages of employing substrate in planted aquariums is that it promotes plant growth. Unless they are artificial plants or floating plants, you will not be able to place live plants in your aquarium unless you have substrate.

In order to build a healthy root system, plants require substrate. Their roots are incapable of adhering to glass or acrylic, nor can they absorb nutrients from these materials. If you intend to keep plants in the aquarium, a quality substrate is an important must.

Substrate aids in simulating the natural habitat of the fish in your planted aquarium. Fish want to live in their natural environment, which clearly does not include a glass tank, but you may help them by providing a basic substrate.

River fish, lake fish, marine fish, and coral fish do not inhabit settings with glass substrates. This helps fish feel at home, decreases stress, and enables them to carry out their everyday activities.

Numerous fish like excavating substrate, creating tunnels, and foraging for food in substrate. Without substrate, fish cannot engage in their usual behaviors.

Substrates prevent excrement and fish waste from floating in the environment. Yes, it is necessary to periodically clean the substrate, but at least it prevents these undesirables from floating in the water and polluting it.

Diverse Forms Of Substrates

There are several varieties of substrates, each of which has somewhat different qualities and is best suited for a certain use.

Let’s go on to discussing the various substrate options for your planted aquarium.

Aquarium Sand

Sand is an extremely popular substrate used in aquariums, second only to gravel in frequency.

If you have fish or other animals that prefer to burrow, seek for food, and bury themselves in sand, sand is a fantastic alternative.

Sand is a natural component of seas, coral reefs, and riverbeds. Small sand particles might block filters if they are stirred up excessively. Sand is also acceptable for plant growth.

Aquarium Gravel

Today, gravel is perhaps the most popular substrate used in aquariums. This material helps to simulate the natural surroundings of a number of natural ecosystems. It performs adequately in terms of plant growth.

Small gravel particles are nevertheless a suitable substratum for aquatic plants that require a healthy root system.

This type of gravel is far smoother than that found on the street, since smoother gravel particles will not harm your fish.

Desert Sand

Coral sand is an excellent choice for aquariums featuring marine or coral-dwelling fish. This is similar to a mixture of sand and gravel, as it resembles large sand grains but little gravel grains.

This substance tends to dissolve in water over time, increasing the pH. Coral sand is good if you have fish that require a higher pH level in the water.

Marble Fragments

This final substrate is also acceptable for usage. This material closely resembles coral sand, but contains more calcium carbonate.

This is a fantastic substitute for coral sand because it is less costly. It’s rather porous, so it works well for plants, and it also filters out some of the water.


Soil is an ideal substrate for a planted aquarium. This material is often packed quite firmly and is ideal for aquariums with a high plant density.

It contains several nutrients essential for plant growth. Its dense composition makes it perfect for plants with robust root systems.


We are not talking about typical marbles, but rather ones that resemble flat, spherical pancakes.

These are ideally suited for ornamental uses, although they may also be utilized for plant development.

However, they are devoid of nutrients and will have no effect on the water.

How Much Substrate Should You Use In An Aquarium With Plants?

By far, the ideal substrate for a planted arrangement is soil or a soil-like material. The reason for this is that compacted dirt or soil-like substrates are the most stable and thick of all substrates, making them an ideal medium for plant root development.

Furthermore, soil-like substrate has far more nutrients than other substrates, which plants require to grow large and healthy.

As a general rule of thumb, you should have at least one inch of substrate. Now, there is no exact maximum, but anything greater than 2 or even 2.5 inches is unnecessary.

1 inch of substrate is sufficient for tiny plants to build a healthy root system. In order to get a 1-inch substrate bed in your planted aquarium, you will need to utilize 1 pound of substrate every gallon of water.

Author Image

Dr. Deborah Fletcher

Deborah R. Fletcher, DVM, is a skilled veterinarian with more than 15 years of experience dealing with companion and exotic animals. She has experience caring for a variety of animals, including household cats and dogs, reptiles, birds of prey, and even primates. Dr. Fletcher is a valuable part of the BestForPets team, where she contributes to their aim of providing pets and their owners with the finest possible treatment and services.

Veterinarian (DVM) Dr. Deborah Fletcher


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