9 Best Substrates for Planted Tanks

In order to have a healthy planted aquarium, it is imperative to have the best substrate for planted tank with you. When choosing your substrate, you have to keep in mind the plants that you want to grow.

This article will review some of the best substrates in the market.

Let’s dive in..

Substrates for Planted Tanks (Video)

Best Substrate for Planted Tanks

Flourite Black
1.9 lbs.
Basaltic volcanic soil
Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate
20 lbs.Clay gravel
UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants
11 lbs.N/A
Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum
1.4 lbs.
Volcanic Soil
ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia 9 Liter Normal Type
1.9 lbs.
Japanese plant-based black soil


1. Flourite Black, 7 kg / 15.4 lbs


If you have been looking for the ideal substrate for your aquarium, you might consider starting with Flourite Black. This is a high-quality substrate that delivers vital nutrients to the plant root structure. Interestingly, this is a stable porous clay gravel that lasts long to ensure that your aquarium has attractive, plush plants. Additionally, it is specially fracted. Besides being suitable for a planted tank, you can use it in any aquarium environment. Another aspect that makes it the best substrate for planted tank is that it is neither chemically coated nor treated. It also doesn’t change the PH of the water, and it works effectively when used alone. You, however, could mix it with other gravels.


  • It does not alter the PH of the water, creating a suitable environment.
  • It delivers the plants with the ample nutrients they need to grow.
  • This substrate for a planted aquarium is manufactured to deliver long-lasting quality.
  • It is a porous clay gravel that is purely organic


  • It is a bit dense, making it hard for you to put in your plants without damaging the stems.
  • Sadly, this substrate tends to cloud your tank when it’s initially placed.

2. Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate


If you want the plants in your aquarium to have a healthy root structure, you could get yourself this substrate. It contains rich basaltic soil that has nutrients such as calcium, iron, magnesium, sulfur, and potassium among others. The substrate is biologically and mineralogically complete, eliminating algae problems. Moreover, it has no artificial paints or dyes, and it is not chemically coated. Interestingly, it has heterotrophic bacteria, which convert fish waste into food for the plants. This substrate contains porous spherical grains to allow maximum diffusion.


  • It is economically priced, making it suitable for someone working on a tight budget.
  • It contains ample nutrients such as magnesium, calcium, iron, sulfur, potassium, and 25 other nutrients.
  • It is made of volcanic soil, which enables the healthy growth of plants.
  • It includes heterotrophic bacteria that convert fish waste into organic matter.
  • It doesn’t require extra laterite because it is rich in iron.


  • It has some alkaline level of PH and it’s inert.

3. UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants


UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants is one of the best substrates that you could get yourself. It is round with a light and porous texture. Interestingly, it works effectively just by itself. You don’t need to add other components in order to have healthy and lush plants. With multiple nutrients, this substrates has minimal dust, eliminating cloudiness in the water. Its light texture makes it easier to plant the roots. Moreover, it has a PH level of 6.5, which is just ideal for aquatic plants and fish.


  • It has a light and porous texture to avoid damaging the stems when you plant
  • It contains numerous nutrients to help your plants grow healthy
  • It has a great PH level that is ideal for growing aquatic plants
  • It is designed with long-lasting qualities to support the growth of plants


  • It behaves just like sand, which makes it harder for you to clean
  • You may experience some difficulty in rooting small plants

4. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum


If you intend to improve the growth of plants in your freshwater aquarium, then you might consider getting yourself the Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum. This substrate contains a wide array of nutrients that enhance the vigor of your plants. It also contains Fluval Plant micronutrients that are an add-on to the vital micro- and macronutrients. Moreover, it has a light and porous structure, and it works well with nitrifying bacteria. The bacteria help to improve the quality of water, ensuring that your plants flourish. Besides controlling organic discoloration, this substrate also doesn’t discolor the water. It has a neutral to slightly acidic PH level.


  • It is made of volcanic soil that is filled with multiple nutrients.
  • It has a neutral to mildly acidic PH level that is ideal for the growth of aquatic plants.
  • It has a light and porous texture to enhance root development and plant growth


  • Although it can be used to shelter baby shrimp, they tend to outgrow it fast

5. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia 9 Liter Normal Type


Last on our list is the ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia. It is made of Japanese plant-based black soil extracted from decomposed leaf mulch. It is suitable for individuals who want to place a variety of plants in the aquarium. With numerous nutrients and organic elements, this substrate will see your plants grow healthy. It also helps to lower the PH of water to make it conducive for aquatic plants. It contains granules that are irregularly shaped but of the ideal size and density to help aquatic plants grow. Keep in mind that it has high levels of natural humic acid that could cause the water to cloud at the start.


  • It is made of granules of the right size to help aquatic plants flourish.
  • This substrate helps to lower the PH in the water, as well as softening it.
  • It is a viable option for those looking to place different plants in their aquarium.
  • It is comprised of rich nutrients and organic elements to promote the healthy growth of plants.


  • It falls in the higher price range, making it unsuitable for someone on a budget.
  • It could cause an ammonia spike at the initial stages

6. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum


 Key Facts
  • Brand: Fluval
  • Size; 4.4 pounds
  • Dimensions: 3 x 6 x 11 inches

 For stimulating the growth of aquatic plants in freshwater aquariums and health of species of tropical fish or shrimp; Fluval Stratum is the ideal substrate!

It flourishes the plants by allowing the plant roots easily penetrate and spread throughout the substrate


To ensure a full complement of essential macro and micro nutrients there has been an addition of fluval plant micro nutrients


It controls organic discoloration that can arise due to the usage of natural driftwood.

 Things i really like
  • It includes mineral-rich volcanic soil which is ideal for the growth of the plants
  • It promotes neutral to mildly acidic pH
 Things i don’t like
  • There are frequent complaints regarding the tank being cloudy and the substrate to be messy


Activ-Flora Lake Gems for Aquarium, 20-Pound


 Key Facts
  • Brand: Activ-Flora
  • Size; 20 pounds
  • Dimensions: 21.5 x 12 x 2 inches

 ActivFlora Planted Aquarium Substrate is a highly recommended substrate as it a Bio-Activ nutrient-enriched gravel


allows aquatic plants to achieve their optimum growth and keeps them healthy

It is best suited and designed for planted aquaria as ActivFlora gravels are naturally abundant in trace elements.

 Things i really like
  • The substrate includes non-toxic colored pigments that add colors to the aquatic environment
  • It does not alter pH level in the Planted Aquarium
  • It is natural, there are no artificial dyes or additives
  • It promotes maximum diffusion because of natural spherical grains
 Things i don’t like
  • There are complaints regarding the substrate failing to maintain water clarity


Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag


 Key Facts
  • Brand: Spectrastone
  • Size; 5 Pounds
  • Dimensions: 10 x 7.2 x 1.5 inches

 Spectrastone Shallow Creek is the best choice for Freshwater Aquariums as it does affect the PH level of the water

It has a non-toxic coating that keeps the plants and fish healthy


The gravel is designed with premium quality to provide a perfect aquatic experience!

 Things i really like
  • The creek stones provide a beautiful natural look and are perfect for air plants
  • It is affordable to buy
 Things i don’t like
  • There are complaints of size of the stones being large



 Key Facts
  • Brand: Seachem
  • Size; 7 kg/ 15.4 lb
  • Dimensions: 17 x 11.8 x 1.8 inches
  • Color: Brown

 Fluorite is the best choice as it is not chemically coated or treated and the fracted porous clay gravel does not alter the pH of the water


It does not require the use of gravel modifiers such as laterite

 Things i really like
  • It has a good life, hence does not require replacements
  • The grains are made of natural Porous clay which maintains the ecosystem of the tank
  • It does not include any kind of chemical coating
 Things i don’t like
  • It has complaints regarding clouding the water in the tank

Carib Sea ACS00832 Peace River Gravel for Aquarium, 20-Pound


 Key Facts
  • Brand: Carib Sea
  • Size; 1 pound
  • Dimensions: 1 x 1 x 1 inches

 From the pieces of Rio Negro to Srilankan gravel, this substrate is specially crafted to provide the backdrop for some of the world’s most spectacular aquatic life.


It recreates the natural river eco-system in your very own tank!

Also, it has neutral Ph, that caters to different species of fish as well as plants.

 Things i really like
  • It does not include any artificial properties such as paint or dyes
  • It has a neutral Ph, which is safe for all types of aquarium systems
  • The grain size of the gravel is perfect as it does not result in detritus build up
 Things i don’t like
  • There are frequent complaints regarding the gravel size being really small

Mr. Aqua N-MAR-066 1 L Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil

 Key Facts
  • Brand: Mr.Aqua
  • Size; 2 pounds
  • Color: Black
  • Dimensions: 4 x 2.5 x 9.5 inches

The blends of inert and organic ingredients are composed together in Mr.Aqua’s Water Plant Soil.

It provides ideal and stable rooting media


Purifies the water, while prolonging water exchange periods up with its porous granular structure that is easily penetrated by plant roots

 Things i really like
  • It provides buffering capacities for softening water in the tank
  • It is smooth, round, small sized pieces (<0.5cm diameter) and does not break up easily
  • It is non-cloudy and has a nice pH control
  • It is easy to plant in the tank
 Things i don’t like
  • The quantity is less as it does not work on tanks above 2 gallons
  • There are complaints regarding the product being overpriced as per the quantity in the bag

Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium


 Key Facts
  • Brand: Carib Sea
  • Size; 20 lbs
  • Color: Red
  • Dimensions: 13 x 2 x 20 inches

Carib Sea Eco-Complete can be simply defined as ‘confidence in a bag.’

As it does not only provide a protective slime coat for stressed fish but also eliminates ammonia, detoxifies metals, neutralizes chlorine, while also reducing nitrites and nitrates.

Above all:

It is a complete package as it offers a variety of finer grade natural gravels and sands water packed with living, water-purifying bacteria, state of the art clarifier and a perfect water conditioner


It just Requires tap water to start its magic on a new tank!

 Things i really like
  • It enhances biological filtration through millions beneficial marine bacteria
  • It can be easily used on African cichlid or marine aquariums
  • It is the most ideal choice for freshwater aquaria
 Things i don’t like
  • It clouds the water in the tank even after rinsing it

What is a Substrate?

The substrate of an aquarium is the material used on the tank bottom. It is one of the essential parts of setting an aquarium as it does not affect its aesthetic appeal


It also plays a vital part in the well-being of the aquarium's inhabitants and plants, filtration and water chemistry.

What is the purpose of Substrate in a tank?

There are several purposes of setting up a substrate in a tank,

Let’s explore them in detail below!

1. It provides a natural habitat for fish.

It creates a natural and stress-free habitat for the fish that will keep them healthy and less susceptible to diseases.


Substrates also provide a safe place for fish to lay eggs. This way hungry adult fish won't eat their own egg; hence, they will remain protected.

2. It provides biological filtration

It provides a home for beneficial bacteria that are responsible for eliminating all kinds of waste in an aquarium such as plant debris, fish waste, leftover food, etc.


A Substrate provides these bacteria colonies, a comfortable bed to live, and protect the ecosystem of the tank.

3. To keep live plants healthy.

Planted tanks need a suitable substrate as it helps to keep live plants healthy and alive by providing them the essential nutrients for their long life.

4. To maintain Aesthetic Appeal

Substrate adds beauty combined with plants, rocks, or other decors that creates a visual picturesque aquatic landscape that is soothing to watch


A dark substrate highlights the color of the fish in the tank.


It hides all the junk and debris that can accumulate as a result of fish junk and food.

How many types of Substrates are there?

There are two types of Substrates, compound, and complete substrate.

Complete Substrate is ready to use a substrate that just needs to be added to the tank, and it is all ready to grow plants and bacteria


Compound Substrate required setting up of different layers, which is called capping, before adding it in the tank.

What are the different types of Substrates?

When it comes to types of substrates, there are a variety of substrates available to pave the bottom of your fish tanks!

Let’s explore popular substrates!

  1. Sand

It is a natural and the most popular substrate as it is an ideal choice for beginners and fish who love to dig and bury themselves.

It is easily available and comes in a variety of grain sizes from coarse to fine particles.

It comes in different colors to add aesthetics to the tank.


It is one of the easiest substrates to clean!

  1. Laterite

It is known to be an ideal lower layer for planted tanks

It attracts nutrients and holds them in storage until the plants can utilize them through the root system.

  1. Vermiculate

It is known to be a fantastic substrate for planted tanks as it a mixture of aluminum, magnesium, and iron and releases potassium and magnesium, which are nutrients for plants.

It can also be mixed with laterite or common aquarium gravel to maintain the porous structure.

  1. Crushed Corals

This substrate is an ideal one for fish that require a certain pH level.

It buffers to stabilize and enhance the pH as they usually push the pH up to 7.6

  1. Aragonite

It is known to be the favorite substrate as it has a Ph raising character

Also, it plays a vital role in contributing to the overall functionality of the aquarium.


It is one of the most common and popular substrates as it is less complicated and ideal for all types of fish

It has smooth edges like pebbles and does not cause any damage to the fish.


It allows you to get creative by achieving any substrate design that you want because it comes in multiple sizes and colors!

  1. Soil

Soil and water mix together, so it is essential to buy substrate soil from the fish store that is specially formulated.

It is recommended for planted tanks as soil provides nutrients to the plants in the tank.

  1. Marbles

They are used as substrates in tanks as they are spherical and flat.

Also, they can be used for decorating the tank.

They are considered to be an ideal substrate for breeding tanks as they have significant gaps that can protect the eggs of the fish.

How to choose a substrate?

 Choosing the right substrate is as important as selecting the best fish for your tank


There are certain aspects that you should take into account before buying a substrate.

It is essential to take a look at the following;

The Particle size of the Substrate

Substrates vary in terms of particle sizes as some are fine grains similar to sand while some are large particles identical to rocks.

The size can impact the health of the fish as well as ease of cleaning.


It is essential to research beforehand which particle size is appropriate to the needs to species of fish you are planning to add in the tank.

Color of the Substrate

There are a variety of colors to choose from when it comes to buying a substrate as they range from natural shades to neon-colors

Choosing the color of the substrate usually depends on one's personal choice


It is also essential to know that the color of the substrate enhances the color of the fish or vice versa.


A dark color substrate will make light color fish stand out while a bright color substrate won't.

Impact on the Fish

Substrates have an impact on the fish as well as plants; therefore, it is crucial to do some research before buying substrate for your tank

The reactivity of Substrate with water

Some substrates can lower the pH level of the water, while some can raise it.

Some species of fish require higher pH while others don’t.


The right kind of substrate should be chosen as per the specific needs of the fish.

Do planted tank require different substrates?

Planted tanks require special care and conditions as compared to an unplanted tank.


It is important that the substrate used in planted tanks are of high quality and standards as low-quality substrates have a lower life expectancy and tend to break down really fast.


Aquatic plants tend to grow best in soft substrates as opposed to hard gravel and rocky substrates

What is the best substrate for planted tanks?

All the best substrates are listed above.


All you have to do is choose the one that is specific to the needs of your species of fish, as well as other tank requirements such as the filtration system that you are planning to set up.

It is essential to go through each product carefully to understand what each type of substrate does for your tank’s overall environment before putting them in the tank.

How to maintain the substrate in a tank?

Maintenance of substrate is as essential as maintaining fish or water

Choosing the type of substrate will play a significant role in the ease of cleaning

A substrate with large particles will be easier to clean and rinse as compared to an excellent grained substrate

Some Substrates such as gravel will require daily maintenance, while others will need to be replaced.


It is important to be aware of the maintenance needs of the substrate before buying!

How to layer substrate in a tank?

If you think that all you have to do is just layer down the substrate in the tank, then stop right away!

Because it is a bit more than that!

Let’s explore the steps one by one,

  1. Rinse the Substrate

    It is essential to it rinse the substrate before using it

    Even though most of the Substrates today don't require pre-rinsing, but it is better to be safe and clean than sorry

  2. Layer down the substrate

    Lay down 3-4 inches of the substrate on the bottom of your tank

    To avoid clouding use an old dinner plate on the substrate dump the non-chlorinated water onto the plate instead on directly into the substrate

Then simply fill the tank with water

  1. Add plants or rocks

    It will depend on the type of the plants that you are planning to add in the tank

As carpeting plants or live pants will have to be attached or placed deep inside the substrate

Then add rocks as you like, and all your beautiful fish!

Can be fish be added right after layering down Substrate?

In the case of most of the substrates, they can be added immediately


In the case of fertilized substrates, they take time to settle in, which means that they may contain nutrients and chemical compounds that spike up ammonia and nitrite levels that creating a suitable environment for the fish


Which makes it uninhabitable for the fish for the time being


It is recommended to wait at least a few days and check nitrite and ammonia levels before adding fish in the tank.

How often should a substrate be changed or replaced?

It depends on the quality of the substrate that you are using

As some of the substrates have a high life expectancy and don't need any replacements

It is however highly recommended to water change weekly and continue with other regular maintenance of the tank, so that keeps the substrates maintained as well.

How to replace an old substrate with a new one?

While replacing the old substrate with a new one, it is recommended to take it out in sections using a siphon as it makes the process easier

A new layer of the substrate should be added and should be given time to settle in the tank

Buyer's Guide

How much gravel do you need?

With gravel, the ideal level is a deep layer of 2 inches/ 5cm. You will need to compare it with the weight of your substrate.

How do I clean my substrate before adding it to the aquarium?

This depends on the substrate, but the best way is to place a small quantity in a bucket and spray it with water using a hosepipe.

How can I keep my substrate clean?

The best way to keep it clean is by constantly using a gravel cleaner.

Why does colored gravel increase the PH level in the aquarium?

This is because colored gravels are made from white dolomite, which is rich in magnesium and calcium.

How can I use a gravel cleaner?

Using a siphon-powered gravel cleaner, you need to put your thumb on the end of the hose and insert it in water. Remove your thumb severally to enable the hose to be filled with water, then lower the hose in a bucket, and remove your thumb.

How do I replace my old substrate with a new one?

To replace the old substrate, you don’t have to strip down the aquarium, you could just siphon it out.

What diameter of the substrate is ideal for my tank?

It depends on the type of plants you want to keep. Those with larger grains leave more gaps, while those with fine particles leave minimal space.

What texture should I look for in a substrate?

It is advisable to choose a substrate with a light and porous texture to avoid damaging the stem when you plant.

Is coral sand ideal for use in my fish tank?

Coral sand is calcareous and it only hardens the water, and it increases the PH level to more than 8.0.

How deep should silver sand be?

Silver sand has fine particles and it may stagnate when a deep layer is used. The recommended height is about 1-inch/2.5cm.

How much should I expect to spend on a substrate?

There are different substrates in the market, all priced differently. Ensure to carry out an extensive research to find the highest quality of substrate at a fair price.

Is using a gravel cleaner ideal when I have a costly substrate?

If you intend to use a gravel cleaner, there is a likelihood that you will suck out the expensive substrate.

What is an inert substrate?

Inert substrates are those that don’t alter the PH of the water. They are good for plants and fish that do well in soft water.

How is sand in the tank cleaned?

You can gently stir the water using your finger, and use a siphon to suck out the particles of sand.

Is it okay to use different grain sizes?

Yes, you can. It is a mixture that looks quite natural.

What is a substrate made of?

There are those made of volcanic soil, clay gravel, and plant-based black soil among others.

What does my substrate contain to help plants grow?

A substrate contains numerous nutrients.

Can I grow different plants in my tank using one substrate?

Yes, you can.

Is it advisable to siphon when using porous substrate?

No, beneficial bacteria may be sucked up.

Related Questions

How much Substrate is required in a tank?

 There isn’t any limit to how much substrate should be filled in the tank

It is recommended that it should be at least leveled up to 3 inches so that it provides enough space to the roots of the plants to settle in a tank.


One can use a substrate to add aesthetic appeal in the tank by making hills or slopes

Is it important to use a Substrate?

Adding a substrate is not a thumb rule

You can skip adding a substrate if you don’t want to add an aesthetic appeal to your tank


If you plan to have a bare bottom tank, but that will have its own pros and cons to handle, including adding those fish that are suitable for such environments.

Is sand or gravel better for planted aquariums?

For planted aquariums, gravel is a better choice as compared to sand. Gravel allows water to flow that prevents amoeba and bacteria buildup, as compared to sand.

However, it depends on the species of the fish and the type of the plants that you are adding in your aquarium too as some require sand to flourish.

How deep should a planted tank substrate be?

The depth of the substrate will depend on the type of the plants you are planning to add in the tank as some plants require a deep sand bed to flourish while some don't!

It is, however, recommended that to have at least a depth of 6 inches.

How much is a gallon of substrate?

The general rule thumb is to use between 1 to 2 pounds of substrate per gallon of water. It is recommended have a layer of one to two inches when the substrate is placed into the aquarium.

Is sand a suitable substrate for plants?

Sand is an excellent substrate for decorative purposes, but in the case of plants, it is not recommended as it won't provide all the nutrients necessary for the growth of plants.


Other Useful Posts:

Contents show

Leave a Comment