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What Type of Soil Should You Get for Your Planted Aquarium?

Ideal Soil Options for Freshwater Planted Aquariums San Diego, CA

There’s an entire subset of the aquarium hobby specifically dedicated to aquatic plants. It’s known as aquascaping, and it involves caring for some of the most gorgeous tanks you’ll ever see. Aquascaping enthusiasts know there’s a lot more to caring for plants than just clean water and a reliable source of light. Freshwater planted aquariums not only look better. They also provide a more natural and healthier ecosystem, which is why seasoned fish keepers always recommend caring for planted tanks. A good rule of thumb is to provide at least 50-60 percent plant coverage in a tank. The plants you choose will dictate the type of substrate that will work better for your aquarium.

Substrate Nutrients and Structure

The two main factors to consider when evaluating substrate are related to what it’s made of and the potential for facilitating plant nutrition. For the most part, aquarium substrate consists of inorganic sand, gravel, and rocks of various sizes. As the most popular substrate, medium-sized gravel is often bundled with aquarium starter kits, but it’s not the best substrate to grow plants in. Nutrient-rich substrate features a special media treated with minerals and organic compounds that are beneficial to plants.

Best Substrate for Rooted Plants

Not all aquatic plants require soil, which is the correct name for substrate that’s rich in nutrients. Plants such as Amazon Swords, which belong to the Echinodorus genus, grow in habitats where the underwater soil provides most of their nutritional needs, and these are species that require substrate from volcanic origin. This kind of soil will usually be hidden under a lush plant growth, and you can always mix it with sand and gravel for aesthetic purposes. If you’re going to mix, it’s better to just “accent” around smaller areas with a gravel substrate.

Inert Substrates

Aquarium soil will break down and disintegrate over time. This isn’t a disadvantage at all because it lets you know rooted plants have reaped all the nutritional benefits. There are a limited amount of plants that feed from the water column instead of from the bottom—Anubias, Java ferns, and some mosses. In these instances, inert gravel is a better choice. This kind of substrate is meant to last for the life of the aquarium, and it will prove beneficial to the ecosystem in terms of promoting water oxygenation. If you only have floating plants, inert substrates are the way to go. However, the more colorful and lush-looking aquariums use plant soil substrate. There are people who use terrestrial plant soil, but we’ve found this older method to be extremely messy, and the silts stay in the aquarium and on plant leaves for extended periods.

Multi-Layered Substrates

Planted tanks with a variety of species will benefit more from a substrate formed by a base layer of sand, a layer of soil, and a top layer of inert gravel. When you have a substrate that’s a single layer of soil, there’s a chance the water will be get cloudy with particles as the organic compounds break down. This can be avoided with a multi-layered substrate that allows rooted plants to firmly take hold while getting the nutrients they need for healthy growth.

For all of your planted aquarium needs, reach out to Aquatic Warehouse today. We’re located in Kearny Mesa, or you can order the supplies you need from our website and have them shipped to your home. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to call one of our friendly and knowledgeable aquatic experts today at 858-467-9297.


Contact Information

  • Address: 5466 Complex Street Suite 204
    San Diego, CA 92123
  • Phone: (858) 467-9297
  • Email: sales@aquaticwarehouse.com
  • Working Days/Hours: Mon - Fri / 10:00 AM - 7:00 PM
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    Sunday / 11:00 AM - 6:00 PM


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