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There are about a million combinations you could use. 😄 For instance you could use garden soil capped with sand and gravel, or you could use just gravel, or you could use just sand, or one of those prepared substrates like Fluval Stratum. Some things to consider are whether you’ll be getting fish that like to dig, and what kind of aesthetic you’re going for.

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With 180 gallons, there's nothing you can't do!

First, think about the kind of fish you want in there and what they need. Do they need floating plants for cover? Do they need dim or bright lights? Will they eat or uproot plants? Do they need to root around in the substrate? That can help narrow down your search. There are some plants that like low light, some that need strong light, some that want to be planted in the substrate, some that don't. Some that need CO2 injection to flourish, some that don't.

Or you could go with a geographic region: SE Asia, S America, Africa, India? Each would be a slightly different ecosphere that you could attempt to recreate. You could even create a paludarium, only partly filled with water, with one or more islands of dry land. 

Or you could start with a large and compelling piece of hardscape. A beautiful rock or piece of driftwood that could house dozens of epiphytes like java ferns or anubias.

If you like the look of plants with roots, like crypts, swords, and carpeting plants, you might want substrate on the thicker side, around an inch or two. It doesn't have to be fancy. Pool filter sand or Black Diamond would be fine if you get trumpet snails to burrow and aerate it and use root tabs to fertilize the plants. Having a sandy texture is important to a lot of different fish, from cory cats to gephagus to apistos and more, so be thinking about what the fish might need in terms of substrate.

Just like with decorating a room, it can help to do some research on pinterest or instagram to look at planted tanks that make you go "wow!"

Good luck, and enjoy the journey!

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