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Mixed substrate aquascaping


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So... to my wife's horror, I bought a 20 gallon long. 🤣  This time around, I wanted to utilize sand for the aesthetic, however I'm not fond of it as a plant substrate.  I've seen some folks recommend zones and barriers to have distinct areas for the sand separated from areas of other substrate (in my case, Fluval Stratum), however I tend to like to pack in plants EVERYWHERE and zoning really doesn't work well with this.  I've seen some folks put down a layer of substrate with mesh on top before placing sand, but I will be actually transitioning everything from my established 10-gallon over to the 20 long, so some plant roots are already really long.

I know I need to expect there to be a mixing of substrate over time, however do you guys have any good suggestions?

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I've been watching MD Fish Tanks videos on YouTube for a while now, and he does  a mixture of aqua soil, sand and small gravel in the areas he is going to plant and then caps everything with a layer of sand. Basically, his base mixture is all the different substrates from previous tank builds. I am going to try something similar on a tank I am going to be setting up soon. the mixture with aqua soil gives the nutrients for the plants to grow, and can also supplement with root tabs and liquid ferts as well. 

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This is my favorite subustrate. I just put down a layer of aquasoil/sand/gravel mix and then cap with cosmetic sand. If it’s light colored sand you might get some pieces of aquasoil popping up occasionally but I don’t have too much trouble with it. I discovered the method on MD Fishtanks YouTube channel. I think he has done 20-30 tank this way and they look great. 
Also you can consider trimming the excess roots. I was unsure about this until I saw a video of Takashi Amano setting up a tank. He was trimming trimming roots so now I’m trimming roots. 

On 9/23/2021 at 9:21 AM, Andy's Fish Den said:

I've been watching MD Fish Tanks videos on YouTube for a while now, and he does  a mixture of aqua soil, sand and small gravel

Beat me to it!

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On 9/24/2021 at 6:18 PM, Martin said:

Wow!  I am always blown away by the ingenuity of others.  That's really cool @Atitagain.  Alternatively, I heard of some people putting down a mesh in between the two substrates.  Anyone have luck with that?  I just foresee the mesh coming up or some other problem like that.


You can see a little of the plastic craft canvas has been exposed by snails and fish excavating. This tank has been set up for over 6 months. 




Here, I filled a pond pump bag with lava rock, to increase surface area for beneficial bacteria, and to act as a barrier between the fine gravel on the left, and the river rock on the right.

Under the river rock (and half the bag of lava rock) is a UG filter that only covers the right 1/3 of the tank. There's a pond pump with adjustable flow that pulls water through the UGF, and a 4' long 1/4" ID hose that sends the water down a waterfall on the other end of the tank.

The nylon pump bag is functioning more like the nylon window screen mesh that I used to use in my tanks to separate a layer of lava rock that was under soil, back in the 80's and 90's.

Since then, Diana Walstad introduced me to the idea of using food safe plastic trays, or glass pyrex, to put dirt in for dirted plants.

Much easier to trade out plants if needed, makes rearranging the landscape easier, keeps fish from pulling out plants, and if you sew the canvas to create a planted "jack in the box" it saves plants from turtles, too.

@Atitagain took my idea that Diana inspired, and made it better (unless you have turtles. Needs to be a little sturdier for turtles).

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