Fish Swimming inside an Aquarium Featured Image

Top 5 Best Substrate For Planted Tanks (2020 Review)

Aquatic plants can liven up any aquarium, but a fair bit of work is necessary for making sure your greenery never loses its color. You can achieve this by making sure your plants’ nutritional needs are met.

In addition to using fertilizer, substrates designed for planted aquariums can give your greenery a little boost. This can also prevent any discolored or droopy leaves, which definitely isn’t attractive.

However, not just any substrate will cut it in a planted tank. You need one that contains a wide range of essential nutrients to ensure your plants grow and thrive. 

It can be confusing knowing which type of substrate to use in an aquarium plant, especially as there are so many different varieties.

To save you some time and frustration, I’ve reviewed an array of substrates to help you find the best one to use in your planted tank.

After considering all the options our top picks were…

Review Summary

Best All-Rounder

Caribsea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate

The substrate is mineralogically and biologically complete, so it offers more than enough nourishment for you aquatic plants.

Caribsea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate

Out of all the substrates I’ve reviewed, this is my overall recommendation to use in a planted tank.

Caribsea Eco-Complete aquarium substrate is great for a planted tank. It provides your plants with a wide range of nutrients and elements, including iron, magnesium, and potassium. It also contains heterotrophic bacteria which transform fish waste into food for the plants in your tank.

Best on a Budget

Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 Plant Soil

Despite being low in price, Mr Aqua Water Plant Soil works fairly well in planted tanks. It’s made up of organic and inert ingredients that provide your aquatic plants with essential nutrients.

Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 Plant Soil

If you’re looking for an affordable aquarium substrate for plants, this one is a good option. 

The Mr Aqua fish tank soil is one of the best low-costing substrates for a planted tank. It’s composed of organic and inert ingredients to nourish a planted tank and keep it looking its best. The substrate has buffering qualities that soften your tank water and can last for between 12 and 18 months.

Editor’s Choice

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Normal Type Planted Aquarium Substrate

This ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia substrate is rich in organic nutrients and elements, which helps the growth of aquarium plants and is beneficial for fish and shrimp.

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Normal Type Planted Aquarium Substrate

My personal favorite substrate for a tank with plants. It’s a little pricey but is incredibly advantageous for aquatic plants.

I really like using ADA aqua soil in a planted tank as its very nutrient rich, which is beneficial for plants, fish, and shrimp. It’s derived from decomposed leaf mulch and helps reduce the water hardness and PH level in a planted tank.

Benefits of Substrate in an Aquarium 

Using substrate in your tank is beneficial for both fish and live plants. It creates a natural habitat for fish and allows them to forage for food or a place to hide. Bottom dwelling fish like corydoras also like to burrow in substrate, particularly sand.

Certain types of substrate can also improve the chemistry of your tank water. For example, coral substrate can help raise the hardness of your water, which is useful if you own species that don’t do well in soft water.

NOTE

Furthermore, if your fish are breeding, substrate provides a safe area for fish eggs. This reduces the risk of your tank inhabitants eating the eggs or any newly hatched fry. 

Beneficial to Live Plants

Now, for live plants, substrate is crucial as it gives them a place to root properly. Substrate targeted for planted aquariums also nourish your plants with nutrients. Plants with complex root systems require a hefty amount of substrate, so using too little can affect their growth and overall health.

for live plants, substrate is crucial as it gives them a place to root properly…

Finally, substrate is aesthetically pleasing in most tanks. Although you can have a tank without any substrate (bare bottom tank), they definitely don’t look as appealing as those with a substrate. 

As aquarium substrates come in a lot of different varieties and colors, it allows for a lot of creativity and customization when styling your aquarium. I really like using a mixture of black and white sand in my tanks as it provides a salt and pepper appearance.

Fish Tank Inside a Dimly Lit Room
Planted Fish Tank Inside a Dimly Lit Room

Types of Substrate for Aquarium Plants

There are a number of different substrates you can use in a planted aquarium. Depending on the specific requirements of your plants and fish, some substrates are better choices. 

Aquarium Sand

Sand is a popular substrate for many aquarists. It’s a great choice for fish that like to dig or burrow, such as corydoras.

However, if you don’t regularly stir or mix up sand in your fish tank, then toxic gas pockets can occur. Additionally, as sand is very fine, it can easily get stuck or clog up your filter.

Coral Sand

Despite being called “coral sand”, the texture is much similar to gravel. It’s made up of calcium carbonate which gradually dissolves. This dissolving process helps counterbalance any acid build-up or rotting organic matter in your aquarium water.

The substrate also raises the PH level in your tank water by making it more alkaline. If you own species of fish that prefer high PH levels, then coral sand is an ideal option.

Marbles

Although you might not think it, marbles can be used as an aquarium substrate. They’re spherical and come in a wide range of options. In breeding tanks, marbles are advantageous as eggs will land between the large gaps, which protects them from being eaten.

However, the big gaps between individual marbles can trap fish waste or food, which can pollute and affect the quality of your water.

Marble Chippings

Marble chippings are similar to coral sand as they are calcium carbonate based. However, they are more dense and less porous than coral sand. Additionally, marble chippings don’t raise the PH of your tank water as much as coral sand.

Aragonite 

Another calcium carbonate based substrate is aragonite sand. It slowly but continuously releases calcium carbonate to increase and maintain a high PH.

On average, using aragonite sand can raise your PH to around 8.2. It’s best used in reef or marine setups for this reason.

Soil-like Substrate

This type of substrate looks exactly like soil in color. It comes in a wide range of particle sizes, from fine grains to small balls. Soil-like substrate is normally tightly packed and contains a lot of nutrients that are advantageous for aquatic plants.

Hands down, soil-like substrate is best used in a planted aquarium. The tightly packed texture of the substrate allows aquatic plants to root properly. The wealth of nutrients the substrate contains are excellent for the growth of your aquatic plants.

Aquarium Gravel
Aquarium Gravel

How Much Substrate For a Planted Tank?

As a general rule, you should use around 2 to 3 inches of substrate in your planted tank. If you use too much substrate in your planted aquarium, then it can increase the risk of toxic gas pockets developing. In contrast, using too little substrate won’t provide enough space for your plants to root. 

Some plants like anubias and java fern can survive without substrate, so if you own these species, you can get away with a shallower layer of substrate. On the flipside, crypts and amazon swords need a deep layer of substrate to develop their root systems.

Planted Aquarium Substrate Reviews

Best All-Rounder

CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate

The substrate is mineralogically and biologically complete, so it offers more than enough nourishment for you aquatic plants.

CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate

The Caribsea Eco-Complete aquarium substrate is an excellent option for plants due to how many nutrients it provides. It’s made from rich basaltic volcanic soil that contains calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, sulfur, and over 25 other elements that are fantastic for plant growth. 

The Caribsea Eco-Complete aquarium substrate is an excellent option for plants due to how many nutrients it provides…

The substrate is mineralogically and biologically complete, so it offers more than enough nourishment for your aquatic plants. Zero artificial chemical coatings, dyes, or paints are used in the formula, which is a plus.

Caribsea Eco-Complete consists of porous spherical grains for good diffusion performance. It also features heterotrophic bacteria that quickly turn fish waste into food for your aquatic plants. In a new tank, this helps establish a natural biological balance to make the cycling process more rapid.

Easy to Use

Using the substrate is easy. All you need to do is place it in an empty tank, then add water, plants, and turn on your filter and pumps. If your tank is already set up, then mix a few pounds of the substrate each day over at least a week.

The main issue with this substrate is that it can raise the PH of your water. However, this can be counteracted by using almond leaves, driftwood, or peat moss to lower the PH of your water. 

The substrate isn’t very heavy, which can make it easy for some plants to be uprooted or more difficult for them to develop root systems.

Specs

Pros

  • Contains a lot of elements
  • Zero artificial chemicals, dyes, or paints are used in the formula
  • Highly porous
  • Helps turn fish waste into natural food for aquatic plants

Cons

  • Can raise the PH level of your water
  • Not very heavy, which can make it hard for certain plants to root well

Best on a Budget

Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 Plant Soil

Despite being low in price, Mr Aqua Water Plant Soil works fairly well in planted tanks. It’s made up of organic and inert ingredients that provide your aquatic plants with essential nutrients.

Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 Plant Soil

Despite being low in price, Mr Aqua Water Plant Soil works fairly well in planted tanks. It’s made up of organic and inert ingredients that provide your aquatic plants with essential nutrients, while also giving them a stable area to root.

The soil offers buffering qualities for softening your water and is able to increase your PH level. If you don’t want your PH to increase, you can simply add almond leaves, driftwood, or peat moss to lower the PH. A nice feature about this substrate is that it can purify the water that is discolored from using driftwood.

This water plant soil from Mr Aqua is very long-lasting and doesn’t need to be replaced for 12 to 18 months…

This water plant soil from Mr Aqua is very long-lasting and doesn’t need to be replaced for 12 to 18 months. The substrate is deep black, so it would look especially stunning in a blackwater tank.

However, Mr. Aqua’s aquarium substrates are not without its faults. Its low weight can make it hard for some plants to root in. It can also be a pain to rinse and has a tendency to make your water cloudy and discolored for a long period of time.

Specs

  • Item Size: 4” x 2.5” x 9.5”
  • Weight: 1.85 lbs
  • Type of Substrate: Soil-like substrate

Pros

  • Provides a good amount of nutrients
  • Lasts a long time
  • Can purify water discolored from using driftwood

Cons

  • Can turn your water murky or cloudy
  • Light weight can make it hard for some plants to root
  • Increases PH level

Editor’s Choice

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Normal Type Substrate

This ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia substrate is rich in organic nutrients and elements, which helps the growth of aquarium plants and is beneficial for fish and shrimp.

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Normal Type Substrate

The ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia substrate is my personal favorite when it comes to the best substrate for plants. It’s made from rare Japanese planted-based black soil that is derived from decomposed leaf mulch. 

This ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia substrate is rich in organic nutrients and elements, which helps the growth of aquarium plants and is beneficial for fish and shrimp. The soil helps reduce the PH level and water hardness in planted tanks to meet the needs of most aquatic plants.

Help Plants Root

To make sure aquatic plants are able to root efficiently in a planted aquarium, the granules and the density of ADA aqua soil are an appropriate size. These granules also have an irregular shape to make them look more natural.

It’s important to note that the soil can cause water cloudiness due to the amount of natural humic acid it contains. With good maintenance and regular water changes, this cloudiness should eventually clear.

TIP

Due to the texture of the soil, it can be hard for certain plants to root or stay anchored.

Specs

Pros

  • Rich in organic elements and nutrients
  • Great for aquatic plants, fish, and shrimp
  • Reduces PH level and softens water

Cons

  • Can make your tank water cloudy
  • Can be difficult for some plants to stay rooted in

Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum Substrate

This planted aquarium substrate is beneficial for plants and shrimp It’s made with nutrient rich volcanic soil. It aids with the growth of plants.

Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum Substrate

This planted aquarium substrate is beneficial for plants and shrimp It’s made with nutrient rich volcanic soil. It aids with the growth of plants and allows for roots to penetrate and develop throughout the substrate.

he light, porous texture of Fluval Plant Stratum substrate also gives beneficial bacteria a place to colonize…

The light, porous texture of Fluval Plant Stratum substrate also gives beneficial bacteria a place to colonize, which further increases its effectiveness in a planted aquarium. If you own newly hatched shrimp, this planted aquarium substrate is ideal as it gives them a safe area to hide in and escape from predators.

Fluval’s soil promotes neutral to slightly acidic PH levels. If you have driftwood in your planted aquarium, then it can also help purify the water and remove discoloration.

My only gripe with this planted tank soil is that it is very dusty, which can cause water cloudiness.

Specs

Pros

  • Made from nutrient rich volcanic soil
  • Effectively grows plants and allows for proper rooting
  • Beneficial for shrimp
  • Helps remove water discoloration from using driftwood

Cons

  • Can turn your water cloudy

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

It consists of special clay minerals that are ideal for planted tanks. It also provides a stable place for aquatic plants to root.

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

Seachem is known in the fishkeeping community for their high-quality aquarium products, and their substrates are no exception. Seachem Flourite black clay gravel is targeted for a planted tank. It’s very porous and can be used as the sole substrate in a tank or mixed with other substrates.

Seachem Flourite black clay gravel is targeted for a planted tank. It’s very porous and can be used as the sole substrate in a tank or mixed with other substrates.

It consists of special clay minerals that are ideal for planted tanks. It also provides a stable place for aquatic plants to root. I really like the appearance of the Seachem Flourite Black clay gravel as its dark color makes it stand out against live plants. Seachem Flourite substrate lasts indefinitely, so you don’t need to worry about replacing it over time.

However, this Seachem Flourite Black clay gravel substrate doesn’t aid with the growth of aquatic plants, so make sure you use a plant fertilizer or combine it with a nutrient-rich substrate. Additionally, the texture of Seachem’s substrates can make it hard for certain species of plants to develop root systems.

The substrate also has a tendency to make your water cloudy or appear dirty due to its dusty consistency.

Specs

Pros

  • Attractive appearance
  • Lasts indefinitely
  • Highly porous

Cons

  • Can be difficult for some plants to root in
  • Doesn’t provide nutrients for plant growth
  • Very dusty

Summary

Let’s take a quick look at all our top picks…

Best All-Rounder

After looking at a variety of planted tank substrates, I think the best substrate to use in a planted aquarium is Caribsea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate. Substrates for planted tanks need to be rich in nutrients, which this one excels in.

It contains over 25 elements, including potassium, iron, and magnesium. The substrate consists of porous spherical grains for optimum diffusion performance, as well as heterotrophic bacteria. This bacteria helps convert fish waste in planted tanks to plant food.

The only negatives with this substrate for planted tanks is its ability to raise the PH of your water and its low weight. The latter can make it difficult for some plants to stay rooted or anchored.

If Caribsea Eco-Complete doesn’t seem like the best substrate for your planted tank, then two other great substrates for your aquarium are Mr Aqua Aquarium Water Plant Soil and ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Substrate Aquarium Soil. 

Best on a Budget

Despite being inexpensive, Mr Aqua’s substrates work well in a tank with plants by providing them with a wealth of nutrients. It can purify water stained by driftwood and does not need to be replaced for over 12 months. 

However, Mr Aqua’s substrates can be difficult for some plants to root in. Additionally, it can turn your tank water cloudy when first introduced to your tank.

My personal favorite for the best substrate for planted tanks is ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Aquarium Substrate.

Editor’s Choice

The ADA Aqua Amazonia substrate is my personal favorite when it comes to the best substrate for plants. As it’s made from decomposed leaf mulch, it contains a wealth of nutrients for a planted aquarium. It’s also beneficial for any fish or shrimp present in your tank.

ADA substrates help reduce the PH and water hardness in your tank, while also allowing your plants’ roots to develop properly. My only gripe with ADA’s substrates is that they can water cloudiness. With proper maintenance, this should pass fairly quickly though.

Share

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on email
Share on print

Share

Share on twitter
Share on facebook
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on print