What Planting Substrate is best for me?
Plant Substrate Choice
What Substrate is best for ME?
By Anthony Rae April 2012
This subject can be overwhelming for anyone new to planted tanks. So I would like to simplify the choices by talking about what is available,the benefits and problems of each type of media.
If you choose a particular brand of substrate, it is important to keep to the same brand when choosing additives or fertilisers to ensure a balanced outcome. These are generally based on some form of clay which has been pelletized and baked or covered with a polymer to hold its shape and conform to import regulations. These form a natural condition around the roots and also supply food for the plants. They can give an aquarium a very smart look but can problems cause problems if not used correctly. Aquarists using these soils will generally be looking at high lighting and automatic CO2 injection with frequent testing,amending and dosing of liquid ferts.
Natural Gravel and Sand
Inert gravels such as quartz (my favourite is from the Nepean River) are very suitable for long term growth of most plants. The best grade for plants is 2-4mm grains. Some fine rooted plants like Hairgrass,Hc and Glosso prefer a silty layer or fine River Sand. Gravel and Sand come in many designer colours and make a good top layer for manufactured substrate additives like laterite, marble and even various home made formulas based on garden soil.
Horticultural Grade Media
There is a trend for experienced aquarists to make their own mix from various raw materials. This is usually to compensate for problems encountered with other store bought products. A good planted tank dealer will show you a tank set-up using each soil type to show you the results. He may even offer a specific in-store substrate to meet your requirements.
Whatever soil your dealer recommends,ask to see a tank using it before you decide. Probably the best advice is to find a dealer with a nice display tanks and ask for advice. Try to have a budget in mind to help him put together a tank within that budget. A good substrate and very good lighting are the most important requirements for a planted tank.
Remember that growth is driven by light and supported by food. Think about what you want to achieve as well. If you are using Java Fern,Mosses,Anubias,there is no need for an expensive substrate as these plants do not anchor themselves to the bottom and are happy to attach themselves onto a piece of driftwood and rocks. If you do use aquasoil type media remember to plant thickly to avoid too much leaching in the first weeks after set-up.