Planning for your first planted aquarium but not sure where to start? With planted aquariums, substrate plays a big factor, if you don’t have the best planted tank substrate, your plants will suffer. It’s as simple as that.

Luckily, for you us here at Petcademy found the best products in the hobby and are glad to share them with you. These products have a ton of reviews to back up our claim on them. Let’s take a look.

1. CaribSea Eco-Complete (Popular Planted Tank Substrate)

Key Features
Full of nutrients, great for plant growth
Contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium sulfur, and 25 other nutrients.
Does not need extra laterite
No artificial dyes or chemicals
Contains heterotrophic bacteria (Helps convert fish waste to organic matter)

Review

This substrate is an inert substrate and doesn’t alter water parameters. It’s packed with tons of nutrients to make sure your plants thrive. What’s great is don’t have to add other substrate, chemicals, or fertilizers.

This is one of the best substrates for your aquarium because its formula promotes enhanced root development. With the substrate packed with magnesium, iron, calcium, potassium, sulfur, and 25 nutrients/elements – CaribSea says this substrate is similar to what can be found in Costa Rica or Hawai’i.

This substrate isn’t perfect for just your planted aquarium, it’s great for your wallet! If you look at other planted substrates you’re looking to spend around $20 for 10 pounds. With Eco Complete you’re paying just a little over $1 per pound. Great if you’re looking to start a large planted fish tank.

Pros
Does not need to be rinsed (Make sure to not stir while filling up your tank!)
Cheap and effective, great if you’re on a budget!
Made of volcanic soil
Great for root growth
Does not need extra laterite
Cons
Substrate is inert
(May not be a con as some people may have trouble balancing pH or other parameters)

2. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia (Best for High-Tech Planted Aquariums)

Key Features
Contains rich organic ingredients
Nitrogen content promotes aquatic plant growth
Makes water mildly acidic
Made from fine substrate granules

Review

This aqua soil was made popular by Takashi Amano. A little on the pricier side but many people prefer to purchase this if they have an ADA tank. Not only is it a highly known brand, it’s all natural and rich in nutrients. It’s also an active substrate, it lowers pH.

Another great feature is the size of the granules. Any plants would happily settle their roots in and thrive. This makes it one of the best planted substrates on the market. The cheapest? No, but for the price of around $2 a pound you definitely get what you pay for with what this substrate has to offer.

Pros
Doesn’t need to be rinsed (Don’t stir while filling up your tank!)
Organic
Rich in nutrients
Helps lower water pH
Cons
Expensive for larger aquariums
(Recommended all planted tanks need at least 1lb per gallon of water)

3. Fluval Plant & Shrimp Stratum (Best Shrimp Tank Substrate)

Key Features
Mineral rich volcanic soil
Strongly stimulates plant growth
Promotes mildly acidic to neutral pH
Best for planted shrimp tanks

Review

If you’re looking at having a planted aquarium, not with fish but with freshwater shrimp this is the best substrate to do so. It’s substrate is also natural but instead of being your average soil, it’s made from volcanic soil. What’s so great about this type of soil? The nutrient qualities are beneficial for encouraging growth for plants and their root systems.

The texture of this substrate is porous, allowing beneficial bacteria to thrive within. It also promotes a pH level just below neutral (6.5) – perfect for most freshwater shrimp species. Another benefit this substrate gives to a shrimp aquarium is it allows baby shrimp within the soil until they are of age to look after their self.

Pros
Provides a high amount of minerals
Promotes growth in plants and their root system
Buffers pH
Very porous
Cons
Expensive for larger aquarium projects

4. Seachem Fluorite

Key Features
Specially fracted/porous clay gravel
Inert substrate
Provides essential nutrients for healthy plants
Promotes strong rooting of plants

Review

This substrate is also an inert substrate. Many enthusiasts claim this to be the best aqua soil for their tank. Why? This substrate will last you a lifetime and allow your plants to thrive with its porous clay gravel. It’s also organic, as it hasn’t been treated with any chemicals.

Pros
Organic
Lasts a lifetime
Porous qualities
Cons
Tank will be cloudy for a few days
(Use a plate or slowly fill your tank up to lessen haze as much as possible)
$2 per pound

5. UP AQUA Soil for Aquatic Plants

Key Features
Doesn’t need to be rinsed
Neutral pH value of 6.5
Doesn’t break down easily
No clouding (as long as you don’t stir it up when filling with water)

Review

This substrate is another popular choice and for a reason. It doesn’t stir when setting up a tank, provides many nutrients, and it’s texture. Throw it in a tank and fill it with water, be careful not to stir it up too much as it could become cloudy when filled. Place a plate at the bottom of the tank and let the water hose hit the plate. This will make sure your aquarium isn’t cloudy when filled.

Along with being easy to use, this substrate provides a great environment for plants to thrive. This is all thanks to it’s porous and nutrient rich properties. It’s similar to the Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum substrate as it buffers the pH level to a range of 6.5 to neutral, it isn’t however a product made from volcanic soil.

Pros
Buffers pH to 6.5 (neutral)
Lasts a lifetime
Porous & light
Nutrient rich
Cons
One report of bag having rips upon arrival

Purpose of Planted Tank Substrate

Just a brief recap if you’re just getting into the aquarium hobby. Substrate is the material that covers the bottom of your fish tank. An example everyone should know is gravel. Other examples include, rocks, potting soil, sand, or even a combination of 2 or more listed. Every planted tank needs substrate…Why? Not only does it help with beneficial bacteria, plants need substrate for their roots to grow. Preferably one that’s rich in nutrients.

Some substrates are designed to release or absorb nutrients in the water. Some species need a certain water parameter to thrive. Leading us to types of substrate, active or inert.

Active Substrate vs. Inert Substrate

To put it simple:

Active substrate alters water chemistry.

Inert substrate won’t alter water chemistry.

Benefits of Substrate in a Planted Aquarium

Aside from being a place for beneficial bacteria to thrive, planted substrate holds a few other purposes being in a fish tank. They allow plants to grow and thrive in an aquarium. Without substrate where would the roots of plants grow? The glass? I don’t think so. Other than free floaters or plants that are able to grow on driftwood or rocks, every other plant needs substrate.

Substrate also holds onto free floating feces or food waste so they aren’t suspended in the water. This is more of an aesthetic benefit, but in planted fish tanks this is the best event that could possibly happen. Why? The nitrate from the debris absorbed into the substrate will fertilize your plants!

Frequently Asked Questions

If you have other questions please feel free to contact us or drop a question below!

Can I use topsoil for planted aquariums?

We highly recommend using any type of aqua soil listed above. If you’re on a budget you could use topsoil with a layer of gravel to keep it from floating but with this method you can’t re-use your soil and there’s the possibility of soil getting stirred leading to your tank becoming muddy. In the end, what saves you money?

What’s the best substrate for planted tanks with freshwater shrimp?

shrimp-tank-substrateWe highly recommend you use Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum. Since shrimp are a little more on the sensitive side, their usual water parameters must stay close to neutral pH. Since this substrate buffers the pH in the range of 6.5 to 7 it keeps the water parameters from fluctuating too rapidly = Perfect! Also the design allows baby shrimp to hide until they are a bit older to take care of themselves.

Final Thoughts

With the number of different aqua soil substrates on the market it’s a tough decision trying to determine which is the best substrate for a planted tank. We hope this guide helped you find the substrate you were looking for and gave you other knowledge that helps you in the aquarium hobby.