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What Substrate For Plants Works Best For You?


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Posted (edited)

Hi there,

So I am redoing my 20g high aquarium and want it to be densely planted. I am currently struggling to find a substrate that works for plants but also won't rip a hole in my budget.

The Fluval Stratum (and bio-stratum) is within my budget, but I have been told that it does not do much. If you have experience with these substrates and any other aqua soils what is your thoughts regarding them? I heard Tropica and ADA aqua soil is better but it appears to be far more expensive which frankly I cannot afford in the slightest. I also heard that I could try dirted tanks but people generally say it can cause a lot of problems if not done correctly.

So, what substrate works best for you + is cheap?

Oh, and here are some plants I am considering getting. I probably won't get all the species and I may get some others but it is a start.

Edited by Shiba
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You owe it to yourself tospend some time looking over @Mmiller2001 journal.

 

totally inert substrates no root tabs.  First iteration used cheap pool sand and currently I believe he uses Black Diamond Blasting Sand.  (BDBS)$12.99 for 50 pounds worth…. With results like he gets, I have scratched my head and wondered why bother with expensive substrate…

anubias, java moss, java fern and water lettuce has no use for substrate anyways…

The others dont strike me as needing it either though some might argue amazon sword would but I am willing to bet Mmiller would disagree..

Now my tanks don’t come anywhere near to Mmillers, but I in no way feel substrate is holding me back.  

image.jpg.493238878a4e4f85999af2fd3210f210.jpg

 

This tank is in transition.  BDBS substrate, I just removed all of the hardscape as I maxed out my dual lights to get the Samolous Parviflora to get fatter redder leaves, (its starting to work) and the rocks were getting covered by algae in 2-3 days.  I suspect Dutch Aquascaping rules evolved to get rid of hardscape so you could run brighter lighting and have more plants..

I am working on multiplying some of the plants here to fill out and am thinking of learning dutch aquascaping with this tank… which will mean reducing to 7 different species of plants…

 

In any event, there are other areas I would spend your money instead of substrate….

 

 

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On 7/8/2024 at 7:19 PM, Shiba said:

Hi there,

So I am redoing my 20g high aquarium and want it to be densely planted. I am currently struggling to find a substrate that works for plants but also won't rip a hole in my budget.

The Fluval Stratum (and bio-stratum) is within my budget, but I have been told that it does not do much. If you have experience with these substrates and any other aqua soils what is your thoughts regarding them? I heard Tropica and ADA aqua soil is better but it appears to be far more expensive which frankly I cannot afford in the slightest. I also heard that I could try dirted tanks but people generally say it can cause a lot of problems if not done correctly.

So, what substrate works best for you + is cheap?

Oh, and here are some plants I am considering getting. I probably won't get all the species and I may get some others but it is a start.

I second everything @Pepere said. I also notice that most of the plants on your list are hardy and water column feeders, either entirely or primarily. I think you could absolutely get away with inert substrate. I use mostly pool filter sand and/or gravel, and I'll put root tabs under heavy root feeders (which on your list would be the Amazon sword and the crypts).

But it's also not all or nothing. In Mrs. Goldfish's pea puffer tank, she put a layer of pool filter sand, then a layer of aquasoil, then a layer of decorative sand on top of that. You could buy a smaller amount of aquasoil and put it, either loosely or in mesh media bags, under an inert substrate in the spots where you expect to plant the sword and the crypts, say.

My next tank, whenever that might be, will likely follow the MD Fish Tanks method of using pond soil (or aquatic compost) under sand. This video, from the 12:35 point, illustrates what I mean:

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Posted (edited)

Thank you for the replies. They have been both very helpful. I greatly appreciate it.

Currently, I am just looking at the ideal water parameters for my fish and am going from there. I should've done it earlier but oh well, lol.

So I do not have a test kit that does gH or kH yet. I will get one whenever I have the chance. Now, I did look at a map (from a government site) for kH and It appears I'm in a 61-120 milligrams per liter area which is still a pretty drastic range so I can't just say that and be done. I still need a kit that tests gH and kH.

Edited by Shiba
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Okay so doing some research, I admit I am coming to the conclusion that a good gravel/sand would work out fine so long as the plants also have root tabs and fertilizer. Getting a gravel or sand would probably be much cheaper and also wouldn't change the water parameters that much, making my life way easier. I will try to continue and see if I stumble across anything that changes my mind on that.

 

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One thing I will say against gravel is that my first substrate was a chunky, coarse, rough gravel, and planting was a discouraging mess of broken stems. Maybe it was my technique -- it was my first tank, after all -- but I have found that planting in finer gravel and sand to be a lot easier, for me, anyway.

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On 7/8/2024 at 9:39 PM, Mmiller2001 said:

Black Diamond Blasting sand course 20/40 fits that bill.

It's funny that you said that. I just watched Girl Talk Fish about a minute or two ago and she suggested Black Diamond Blasting sand and I was going to ask about that. I really like the dark color.

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On 7/8/2024 at 10:44 PM, Shiba said:

It's funny that you said that. I just watched Girl Talk Fish about a minute or two ago and she suggested Black Diamond Blasting sand and I was going to ask about that. I really like the dark color.

I've never used it, but everything I've heard says to wash it thoroughly. I've even seen suggestions to run a magnet over it.

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On 7/8/2024 at 9:01 PM, Rube_Goldfish said:

I've never used it, but everything I've heard says to wash it thoroughly. I've even seen suggestions to run a magnet over it.

I don’t wash it.

On 7/8/2024 at 8:44 PM, Shiba said:

It's funny that you said that. I just watched Girl Talk Fish about a minute or two ago and she suggested Black Diamond Blasting sand and I was going to ask about that. I really like the dark color.

Here’s a recent shot of my tank in BDBS.

image000000.jpeg

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Posted (edited)

My 10g with BDBS is easiest to plant, but i had to cap it with generic fish store gravel on account of cories digging up root tabs.

My 15 has an underground filter with Landen aqua soil, capped with eco complete, capped by generic garden variety pea gravel. I haven't planted this yet but its amazing, the plants I do have in there are reaching to get their roots in the soil like ive never seen!!! My only issue with Landen is it took awhile to build kh, it seems to be absorbing any carbonate hardness I add to the water colum. (this might be an issue for certain critters to be aware of)

My 36g has straight eco complete. Its a PIA to plant in... But it has held up for an incredibly long time (8~9 years & counting) A word to the wise, if you go with EC or any inert substrate it would be highly recommended to learn in depth about water colum fertilization. This (IMO) is a huge reason why Mmiller2001 & Pepere tanks  (and to a lesser extent mine) look so good; A deeper understanding of plant nutrition than most. You won't get their results just by using any particular inert soil and root tabs.

Edited by JoeQ
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On 7/8/2024 at 10:12 PM, Rube_Goldfish said:

One thing I will say against gravel is that my first substrate was a chunky, coarse, rough gravel, and planting was a discouraging mess of broken stems. Maybe it was my technique -- it was my first tank, after all -- but I have found that planting in finer gravel and sand to be a lot easier, for me, anyway

image.jpg.7f314b7a83219c4aa787afc0a28e0586.jpg

 

This tank was my first with a bag of 3-4 mm aquarium gravel.  I use these pinsettes.

image.jpg.24ca4c529bc3250d21bef016dd3a2a00.jpg

I place the bottom of the stem just behind the tipand the metal tips protect the stem as it is inserted into the gravel.   I use a second pinsette to push some gravel up around the base, and then to grip the stem above the point the other pinsettes are grasping it and hold the stem in place as I remove the immersed pinsettes..  

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On 7/8/2024 at 11:01 PM, Rube_Goldfish said:

I've never used it, but everything I've heard says to wash it thoroughly. I've even seen suggestions to run a magnet over it.

I have used it on 2 tanks now.  I washed it, but honestly didnt see much of anything in the wash water.  I ran a strong magnet through it before washing and I didnt perceive anything on the magnet…

As I understand it though, batches can be quite variable as this product is not manufactured for Aquarium use specifically.   It is easy enough to spread it out in a non magnetic tray and run a magnet through it, and if it isnt getting the water dirty, rinsing it isnt much work…. If running a bowl full of a bag doesnt show any magnetic particles on the magnet or dirt in the water you can pretty much assume the rest of the bag should follow suit.

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On 7/9/2024 at 7:33 AM, JoeQ said:

A word to the wise, if you go with EC or any inert substrate it would be highly recommend to learn in depth about water colum fertilization. This (IMO) is a huge reason why Mmiller2001 & Pepere tanks  (and to a lesser extent mine) look so good; A deeper understanding of plant nutrition than most. You won't get their results just by using any particular inert soil and root tabs.

I just use Seachem Equilibrium to dose water changes so I have a GH of around 4-5 degrees. (My tap is 1 degree KH and GH) In addition to adding calcium and magnesium at the proper ratio, Equilibrium also adds sufficient potassium I need not worry about it and Iron…. After doing a 50% water changes I fromt load Easy Green to raise the nitrates to 25-30 ppm which is very much in excess of what the dosing instructions on the bottle calls for.   This is on my High Light CO2 injected tanks.

In my low light, non co2 injected fish bowl i raise nitrates to around 15-20 ppm.

I say around since API test kit for nitrates are not terribly precise…

I really do need to discipline myself to buy dry salts for fertilizing and figure out how to do it as I know it will be much cheaper and I am pretty sure I am dosing significantly higher trace minerals dosing the Easy Green to the levels I do.  The chief benefit to the Easy Green for me is simplicity.  In a 29 gallon tank, 1 pump adds 1 ppm of nitrate.  I simply count the pumps to raise nitrate from what it is after water change up to where I want it…

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On 7/9/2024 at 8:07 AM, Pepere said:

image.jpg.7f314b7a83219c4aa787afc0a28e0586.jpg

 

This tank was my first with a bag of 3-4 mm aquarium gravel.  I use these pinsettes.

image.jpg.24ca4c529bc3250d21bef016dd3a2a00.jpg

I place the bottom of the stem just behind the tipand the metal tips protect the stem as it is inserted into the gravel.   I use a second pinsette to push some gravel up around the base, and then to grip the stem above the point the other pinsettes are grasping it and hold the stem in place as I remove the immersed pinsettes..  

I guess it was a technique thing, then. Thanks for that tip, I'll definitely use that next time!

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On 7/8/2024 at 10:20 PM, Mmiller2001 said:

I don’t wash it.

Here’s a recent shot of my tank in BDBS.

image000000.jpeg

That's actually really nice.

I'm presuming black sand made for aquariums would be just as fine?

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Posted (edited)
On 7/9/2024 at 9:55 AM, Mmiller2001 said:

Yes, just way more expensive.

I'm looking at a 50-pound bag of BDBS at the Tractor Supply website. It's only 13 dollars. It says there are some at my local Tractor Supply and I'm tempted to get it. Had decent reviews. Half of them that I read were people who used it for aquariums and the people who did had minimal problems with it. One person said that the one bag they got had some glass in it. 🤔 Nobody else complained about that though. Even he said he bought it before and didn't have any problems. Just that one time.

Edited by Shiba
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On 7/9/2024 at 9:03 AM, Shiba said:

I'm looking at a 50-pound bag of BDBS at the Tractor Supply website. It's only 13 dollars. It says there are some at my local Tractor Supply and I'm tempted to get it. Had decent reviews. Half of them that I read were people who used it for aquariums and the people who did had minimal problems with it. One person said that the one bag they got had some glass in it. 🤔 Nobody else complained about that though. Even he said he bought it before and didn't have any problems. Just that one time.

Just make sure it’s the course 20/40 grit. Or course. Don’t get the red labeled bag.

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Posted (edited)
On 7/9/2024 at 10:05 AM, Mmiller2001 said:

Just make sure it’s the course 20/40 grit. Or course. Don’t get the red labeled bag.

That's the only thing. It didn't specify the grit.

Just says "medium"

What does it mean if it has the red label?

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Posted (edited)

I use the medium since it is the coarsest my Tractor supply carries.  I don’t know what mesh size that works out to…

https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/black-diamond-medium-blasting-abrasives

 

image.jpg.03533cf9b98e6aa8ed18a02572fbd540.jpg

A little coarser might be nice, but it has worked well for me.  It is coarse enough for water to easily flow through my ugf plates and out my Easy Lift risers.  I get a good 5 inches of head out of the risers…

 

very easy to plant stems into it.  Rooted plants as well.

Edited by Pepere
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On 7/9/2024 at 10:47 AM, Pepere said:

I use the medium since it is the coarsest my Tractor supply caries.  I don’t know what mesh size that works out to…

https://www.tractorsupply.com/tsc/product/black-diamond-medium-blasting-abrasives

 

image.jpg.03533cf9b98e6aa8ed18a02572fbd540.jpg

A little coarser might be nice, but it has worked well for me.  It is coarse enough for water to easily flow through my ugf plates and out my Easy Lift risers.  I get a good 5 inches of head out of the risers…

 

very easy to plant stems into it.  Rooted plants as well.

That was the one that I was looking at. I think I will buy it. Very cheap and looks good.

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Went to manufacturer website.  The medium is likely 28 50 mesh. 
 Mesh refers to the openings per inch in the screen.

so, since there are 25.4 mm per inch, 20 40 mesh  would as a rough approximate, allow particles between a half ml and a ml pass through it.  The mesh filament itself takes up some space.

28 50 will be a bit finer but have considerable overlap.  The coarsest particles will be a bit finer, and the finest particles will be finer than the finest particles in the 20 40 mix, but there will be a lot of particles that would be equally at home with either mix…

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