Aquarium Plant Substrate

Lime-free substrates are made up of inert quartz granules and will not affect water quality in any way. This medium is ideal for supporting roots and should be used as a main substrate.

Pea gravel is the most commonly available aquarium substrate, although it is best used as a top layer in planted aquariums. Smaller grades can be used as a good supportive rooting medium.

Lime Soil Aquarium

and labeled as lime-free substrate and usually available in grades of 0.04-0.12 in (1-3 mm). In smaller aquariums, or tanks with few plants or simple designs, quartz gravel Is the best option for a sole substrate. It makes a better alternative to pea gravel due to its inert nature and smaller grade size, which provides a better support for plant roots.

Sand Fine-grade sand can cause problems if used as the sole substrate in an aquarium. Over time it will compact, preventing water movement and causing anaerobic conditions, which result in stagnation and the release of toxins. Stirring the sand gently and regularly will prevent this problem, although most plants do not appreciate constant disturbance. However, due to its small size, sand is very effective at distributing heat in a localized area, such as around a heating cable. If the sand layer is not too deep (about 1.6 in/4 cm), convection currents from a heating cable will ensure a small amount of water movement through the substrate, allowing useful anaerobic conditions to develop without stagnation. When using sand, be sure to choose a completely inert form. Many commercial sands contain traces of lime or calcareous materials, although most of the products sold by aquatic retailers are safe. Silver sand is commonly available and suitable for the aquarium.

Laterite/clay substrates Clay-based substrates, often called laterite, are usually available as a substrate additive, reflecting the fact that only a small amount is needed. These substrate additives are usually very fine, sometimes even powdery, and reddish colored. They release a number of nutrients, including iron, over a long period. Clay-based substrates are best used as a layer toward the bottom third of the substrate or mixed in with the lower half of the main substrate. This is where the fine roots absorb the nutrients.

Nutrient-rich substrates Certain planting substrates are specifically designed for aquarium plants. Most of these substrates are laterite-based but contain additional organic and mineral materials that release a number of nutrients over long periods of time. Special planting substrates are available as additives and as main substrates. Use additives in small quantities, either as a thin layer or mixed with the main substrate.

Soil-based substrate Generally speaking, beginners should avoid using soil in the aquarium, as results can vary wildly. However, more experienced aquarists find that soil can be one of the best long-term planting substrates. It contains large amounts of carbon and iron, both readily used by aquatic plants, as well as a number of other nutrients that are slowly released or retained by the soil. If you do decide to use soil, a 1-1.5 in (2.5-3.75 cm) layer of soil used as a

Lime-free substrates are made up of inert quartz granules and will not affect water quality in any way. This medium is ideal for supporting roots and should be used as a main substrate.

Pea gravel is the most commonly available aquarium substrate, although it is best used as a top layer in planted aquariums. Smaller grades can be used as a good supportive rooting medium.

How Make Plant Substrate

Soil can make an excellent planting medium, but use it with care.

base layer and main substrate, topped with 1 in (2.5 cm) of fine gravel, will suit most aquariums. The safest strategy is to use only sterilized potting mixture - not garden soil - to prevent contamination.

Due to the breakdown of organic matter within the soil, low levels of C02 are constantly released. In many planted aquariums with a soil substrate, additional C02 fertilization is not needed and neither are additional substrates or iron fertilization.

During the first few weeks of soil use, the aquarium may experience a high release of nutrients and organic matter.

Soil can make an excellent planting medium, but use it with care.

substrates are variations or combinations of nutrient-rich and inert substrates. Ready-made mixes are fine for aquarium plants and offer an easier alternative for beginner aquarists.

Peat is often promoted as a partial substrate for aquatic plants. Much like a combination of soil and nutrient-rich substrates, peat is very high in organic matter and provides plants with a wealth of nutrients. However, it tends to release some nutrients quickly, which can encourage algae, so it may not be suitable for long-term use.

Large-grade and sharp substrates are not particularly suitable, nor are colored substrates as they have a smooth surface that hinders the growth of useful bacteria.

Substrate heating

As we have seen, the substrate is slightly warmer than the main body of water in natural rivers and streams. The currents produced as a result of the temperature differences help to move nutrients

Although plants should be able to cope with this, it can occasionally cause problems or produce dangerous conditions for fish. For this reason it is a good idea to wait a few weeks before introducing any fish, and to filter the water using carbon or carry out regular water changes.

Although potting mixture can become an excellent planting medium, and using even small amounts of nutrient-rich substrates may be more expensive, it could be argued that specifically designed substrates are a safer and more predictable option than soil substrates.

Other substrates

In addition to these common substrates there are some other, less-often used substrates available for aquariums and aquarium plants. Many "brand-name"

Substrate heating

Aquarium Substrate Heating
Above: A heating cable can be fixed onto the base of the aquarium with suction cups. Depending on the cable power, leave a gap of about 2-4 in (5-10 cm) between the loops.

Silver sand is used to support the heating cable and distribute heat evenly. It compacts in the aquarium and contains little oxygen.

A nutrient-rich substrate, such as this red clay-based material, releases nutrients slowly at a constant rate.

Use only a thin layer.

Lime-free gravel is inert and will not affect water quality. It makes a good top layer and an ideal rooting medium.

The low-wattage heating cable will create a slow-moving circulation of water, carrying nutrients around the substrate.

Plant Heater Cabels

The low-wattage heating cable will create a slow-moving circulation of water, carrying nutrients around the substrate.

Silver sand is used to support the heating cable and distribute heat evenly. It compacts in the aquarium and contains little oxygen.

A nutrient-rich substrate, such as this red clay-based material, releases nutrients slowly at a constant rate.

Use only a thin layer.

Lime-free gravel is inert and will not affect water quality. It makes a good top layer and an ideal rooting medium.

Aquarium Plant SubstrateAquarium Plant Substrate

Right: The shy horse-face loach (Acanthopsis choirorhynchus) will spend hours either hiding or scavenging on the substrate for food particles. This feeding activity will help to keep the substrate free of accumulated debris.

around the roots of the plants. Similar currents can be created in the aquarium using a substrate heating cable. Placed at the base of the substrate, it produces a very gentle heat that raises the temperature of the surrounding substrate. This heat rises through the water in the substrate to the surface and â– cooler water is drawn down through the substrate so the circulation begins again. The substrate around the heating cable should be fairly dense so that the heat is distributed quickly and the cable is supported and held firmly in place. A very fine substrate such as sand is ideal for this purpose.

A heating cable does not need a thermostat and can be left on continuously. The heat output and power consumption are very low, so the overall aquarium temperature should not be significantly affected. Substrate heating is not a vital part of a good planting substrate, but where thin layers of nutrient-rich substrates are used, the currents produced by a heating cable will significantly improve the distribution of the nutrients.

Maintaining the substrate

A good substrate will require little maintenance and is often best left undisturbed for the majority of the aquarium's life. Once an aquarium is well established and if the fish and plants are healthy, it is a major disruption to alter the substrate. It is therefore important to choose the correct substrate right from the start.

Over time, organic waste and debris will collect in the substrate, making it denser and creating anaerobic conditions (see page 47). In a well-planted

Anaerobic Bacterial Well Water

aquarium, the majority of organic debris will be broken down by bacteria and the resulting nutrients are taken up by plant roots, which in return release small amounts of oxygen into the substrate and help to prevent stagnation. So the substrate in a well-planted aquarium may actually last longer than a substrate without the benefit of dense planting. However, a buildup of organic debris in

Planted Aquarium Gravel
Above: Thoroughly washing gravel substrates is vital to remove dust and debris that will cloud the water. Soil and nutrient-rich substrates do not need to be washed.

Left: In open areas, cleaning the gravel (here with a siphon device) can remove large amounts of debris. In a well-planted tank, you need only clean the top layer in this way.

Planted Aquarium Substrate

Above: Larger-grade aquarium substrates allow water to pass easily between the grains, preventing stagnation, although too much water movement in the substrate can be detrimental to good plant growth.

the uppermost layer may not be broken down very quickly and plant roots are not present in sufficient quantities in this area to keep the substrate oxygenated. Regular gentle stirring or siphoning of the top layer will help to remove debris and keep the substrate clean and healthy. Only the top layer should be regularly disturbed; the deeper substrate contains the dense plant roots that will not appreciate the disruption.

If the main substrate, or substrates, are very fine - about 0.08 in (2 mm) -they will compact over time, reducing the water flow. This in turn allows toxic gases (produced by the breakdown of organlcs) to build up. These gases will damage plant roots, so that they are unable to release oxygen and stagnant areas of substrate are created. But a certain amount of anaerobic substrate is not necessarily a bad thing (see the panel opposite). Where fine-grade substrate is used, check the density every few months by pushing a finger down through the substrate. This should be possible with only a little resistance. If it becomes difficult, gently disturb and loosen the deeper substrate.

The nutrient-containing elements of a substrate will diminish over time and will need to be replaced. Most nutrient-rich substrates will last for about three years before they begin to run out and

Above: Larger-grade aquarium substrates allow water to pass easily between the grains, preventing stagnation, although too much water movement in the substrate can be detrimental to good plant growth.

become ineffective. However, this does vary depending on a number of factors, such as the quantity and type of plants, additional fertilization, the quantity and waste from fish, water conditions, etc. When the substrate needs replacing, the plants will need to be removed and replanted. This process will be damaging for some of the plants and you should take great care, closely following the guidelines for replanting (see page 55).

The COMPLETE guide to Aquariums

The COMPLETE guide to Aquariums

The word aquarium originates from the ancient Latin language, aqua meaning water and the suffix rium meaning place or building. Aquariums are beautiful and look good anywhere! Home aquariums are becoming more and more popular, it is a hobby that many people are flocking too and fish shops are on the rise. Fish are generally easy to keep although do they need quite a bit of attention. Puppies and kittens were the typical pet but now fish are becoming more and more frequent in house holds. In recent years fish shops have noticed a great increase in the rise of people wanting to purchase aquariums and fish, the boom has been great for local shops as the fish industry hasnt been such a great industry before now.

Get My Free Ebook


Responses

  • BERTO
    Do soil substrate need to be washed?
    5 years ago
  • Charles
    How to make plant substrate?
    5 years ago
  • adalfredo
    What are the three layers of substrate in a aquarium?
    5 years ago
  • CELENDINE
    Do you need a substrate heater for plants?
    5 years ago
  • josephine
    How to make aquarium plant substrate?
    5 years ago

Post a comment