Best substrate for planted tank(5 best)

In this article “Best substrate for planted tank” we will discuss the features of 5 best substrates for planted tanks along with some instructions on of how to choose the best substrate for your planted tank.

Best substrate for planted tank

When it comes to the substrate you need to make a smart choice. You need to select the best substrate for your planted tank so that your fish has a natural environment that is very close to the wild one.

Following are the best substrate for planted tank:

  • CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate 20-lb bag
  • Best Clay: API First Layer Pure Laterite Aquarium Planting Medium
  • Seachem Flourite 15.4 lbs
  • Best for Live-Planted Aquariums: Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum
  • Activ-Flora Lake Gems for Aquarium, 20-Pound

5 best substrate for planted tank

Following are the 5 best substrates for planted tank:

CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate 20-lb bag

This substrate is one of the most popular substrates for the live planted aquarium. It is made up of extremely porous material which contains all the essential nutrients and the beneficial bacteria to support the nitrogen cycle. The essential elements include calcium, magnesium, sulphur and dozens of other elements.

It supports the growth of the roots and there is no nitrate or carbonate in it, so it will not impact the pH of the tank. It promotes the growth of healthy biologicals in the fish tank. They come in a 20 pounds bag and contain no chemicals and paints. It can be used as a sole substrate and no other substrate or layer laterite is required. It has two colours black and red.

Best Clay: API First Layer Pure Laterite Aquarium Planting Medium

It is the best laterite clay. The laterite clay is a clay formed by decaying rocks. During this process of decaying rocks, the laterite clay absorbs aluminium and iron hydroxides. It is used by mixing with the gravel. The gravel alone cannot do the work. It provides the plant with essential nutrients required for their proper growth and nourishment. 

It shouldn’t be used under the gravel as a filter. It should not be used bare and always be covered with something.

The method is very easy. First, gently rinse the laterite clay and then place a thin layer of laterite clay on the bottom of the tank. Now add approximately an inch of gravel and mix it with the laterite clay. After that add another layer of gravel to cover the laterite clay and gravel mix layer. This is now ready to provide your plant with all the essential nutrients and supplements. 

The water will be initially murky but will restore its colour after some time. It is available in 20 ounces and 55-ounce bags.

Seachem Flourite 15.4 lbs

It is a porous clay rich in nutrients. It can be used as a sole substrate and you do not need additional plant supplements for better growth of plants. It comes in different colours like black, red and black sand substrate. It has no chemicals and is pH neutral. It comes in 15-pound bags.

Best for Live-Planted Aquariums: Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum

It is made for planted tanks and is a porous clay rich in nutrients. It provides support to nitrifying bacteria and indirectly supports the nitrogen cycle of the plants. The variation of it is used in shrimp tanks. It also provides your plant with the essential nutrients to support the life of the plants. It is a lightweight substrate that is why it is on the list of best substrates for planted tanks

It maintains the pH of the tank from neutral to slightly acidic. The substrate is so designed that it can camouflage the newly born shrimp from the fish and the grain size is big enough to hide the shrimp. Initially, the water is murky but the fishes and the shrimp can survive in it. The water regains its colour in a matter of a few hours.

It is not good for brackish tanks or used in large fishes like large Cichlids, and goldfish. You need to lightly rinse to remove the loose dust from it. It is not recommended to use this substrate with other substrates or gravel. 

It is packed in 4.4-, 8.8- and 17.6-pound bags. The 4.4-pound bag is suitable for the tank under 18 inches. The 8.8-pound bag is recommended for the tank size of 18 inches and the 17.6 pounds of the bag is recommended for 24 inches of the aquarium.

Activ-Flora Lake Gems for Aquarium, 20-Pound

The Activ-Flora for Aquarium substrates is specialized gravel that contains all the essential nutrients, micronutrients and supplements to support the nitrifying bacteria in their nitrogen cycle. It keeps the pH of the fish tank neutral. It is available in several colours and grain sizes.

How can you choose the best substrate?

Days before people use the natural soil for the nutrient supply for their plants. It was good because the plants in the wild are also grown on it. People use it in their tanks by placing a layer of gravel on it. It works best when you do not move the plants.

Here is the thing, the method nowadays is not very good because it causes murkiness in the tank. After all, when you mix soil in water it will be a mess. Secondly, the soil soon runs out of nutrients and you have to change it and it is a laborious job. Moreover changing the soil can also cause a disturbance in the fish tank. Lastly, you cannot estimate the level of nutrients in the fish tank or in the soil you are going to add in the aquarium.

Easy Root Tabs is made up of clay and nutrient-rich topsoil. It contains all the nutrients to support the growth of the plants. When the experts see that people are having difficulty in maintaining the environment of the aquarium, they invented specialized plant substrates to help them. 

The specialized plant substrate is organic and is used in fish tanks to support the growth of plants. One of the kind is the active substrate which normalizes the pH of the fish aquarium and also softens the water of the tank.

After some time people realize that the specialized plant substrate is not the best substrate for the planted tank because it soon runs out of nutrients and makes the water murky. You need to change the substrate with time. The last choice you have left is the nutrient-rich substrate that is available in the market, which is quite expensive but they are the best substrates for planted tanks.

The next type of substrate is the inert substrate. They contain very few nutrients that sound bad at first but read carefully. For example, if you bought rainbow gravel for your fish tank and wanted to add floating or rhizome plants which feed on the water column then you just need to add all-in-one fertilizer daily to supply macronutrients and micronutrients to your plants. 

But if you want to shift to a heavy root feeder plant such as Amazon sword then you need to simply add root tabs to convert your inert substrate to nutrients rich substrate. Large gallon tank is required for big plants.

In case you are using rhizomes or floating plants then they absorb nutrients from the water column. You need to feed them well with the nutrients from Easy Green.

Like aquarium gravel, they do not break down in the aquarium freshwater over time and you don’t need to replace them. They are made up of volcanic clay which usually has higher cation exchange capacity. This means that they can hold nutrients better so that the plants feed on them and they do not get dissolved or wasted in the aquarium. 

There are several brands of inert substrates. As they are inert substrates they do not impact colour, pH and other parameters of the water, which makes it the best substrate for planted tanks.

If you use very fine sand then it is very difficult for the plant to interact with the particles and penetrate them. If you use coarse sand then it is better because it provides pockets between the particles. Similarly, if you use river rocks then it would leave large spaces between the substrates and it would be difficult for the plant to grab onto.

Planted tank buying and maintenance are not easy and care should be taken so that your betta fish thrive in this environment. The planted tanks are best because it gives the fish the natural environment for feeding, mating and playing. 

They do not feel like they are detached from their natural environment. You need to make sure that the tank is running smoothly for your fish and keep an eye on the tank in case of any emergency.


In this article “Best substrate for planted tank” we have discussed the best substrates for planted tanks and what are the features a good substrate should have in it.

Feel free to ask anything about “Best substrate for planted tank” in the comment section below.

FAQ; Best substrate for planted tank

Frequently asked questions of “Best substrate for planted tank” are:

Do you need a special substrate for aquarium plants?

The most important thing is the substrate should not affect the parameters like pH, the alkalinity of the water. Crushed corals and shells will change the pH and make it slightly acidic which is not good for your aquarium.

Is sand or gravel better for planted aquariums?

Gravel is best for your aquarium fish because it allows the water to flow through it. The sand is not the best choice because it doesn’t allow the water to flow through it in your freshwater or saltwater aquarium.

How deep should a planted tank substrate be?

The depth of the substrate should be 3 inches. It is best because the plants will fix their roots in it and will not float with the pressure of water. There is no upper limit of the gravel.

Can live plants grow in sand aquariums?

Yes, most of the live plants can grow in the sand aquarium but you need to add nutrient fertilizer to fulfil the needs of the plants because the sand doesn’t provide enough nutrients. The dwelling fish with barbel organs is a great choice for such aquariums.

Can I put sand over the substrate?

Yes, you can put sand over the substrate. It is a matter of taste. When you add sand mix it well unless you put a physical barrier between them.

Which is easier to clean sand or gravel?

Gravel tanks are easier to clean and maintain. It is easy to clean debris without picking up the gravel, while in case of sand it is very difficult.


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