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Best Substrate for Planted Tank – Top 9 Review

Aquarium substrate is a versatile medium with a number of uses. Many people view this material as a decorative addition to their tank. You can definitely take advantage of a substrate in this way.

With a variety of appearances to choose from, substrate is a great way to fill in your tank. Tank owners frequently use this product to complete the look of their tank. With other decorations added in, substrate produces a naturalistic visual to any aquarium.

With substrate, you can realistically imitate a fish’s natural environment. Your tank will look beautiful and your pet can swim around stress-free in a well-constructed environment.

Decorative utilizations of substrate are not the only aim of this helpful product though. While you can visually enhance your fish and your tank this is not the main purpose of substrate.

In fact, even larger benefits can be seen in substrate when we dig into its other uses. More than making your tank look good, substrate is meant to enrich your fish’s health and environment. For people with plants living in their tank, you can see even more gains.

If you aren’t sure which substrate is right for you that’s okay. Because of the crucial nature of this product, we have assembled this buying guide.

In this article, we will talk about the benefits of various substrates. With our tips and suggestions, we know you will find the best substrate for your planted tank.

Keep reading on if you want to make your planted tank flourish!

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Best Substrate For Planted Tanks Reviewed

In the next section of this post, we will give you specific products. These substrate are guaranteed to give you results!

We have gathered up the best substrate for planted tanks. Nine of the best quality items which we will explain in detail.

We will show you the pros and cons of each product so you won’t have to do any extra research!

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

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Mr. Aqua is a rich soil that will ensure strong plant growth. This product uses organic materials in combination with other high-quality substances. As a result, Mr. Aqua will provide your plant with plenty of nutrients.

The soil comes in black-hued material and will help keep the Ph of your tank low. Ph will reach levels of six and six point five. If your fish needs a higher level Ph level this might not be the substrate for you and your fish.

Quality and longevity

Mr. Aqua offers fish owners a lot of value for the cost of the product. This soil will give you good quality and longevity. The soil lasts a long time due to the manufacturing process of the soil.

Mr. Aqua heats its product in a kiln. This practice keeps the soil fresh and nutritious for over a year. In addition, this substrate is great for rooting plants.

The soil is loose and easy for tank flora to dig into. You will find your plants nicely settled in no time at all. In addition, the soil’s grainy and porous texture will help keep your tank clean and filtered to perfection. The many pores in the soil promote extra filtration!


  • The substrate can last up to 1 1/2 year
  • Great product for plants to root down into due to loose soil
  • Well priced plant soil with great value
  • This substrate will help keep your tank looking clean


  • This product is not suitable for all fish since it creates a lower Ph environment
  • Might need other substrate on top of it to keep it from floating
  • Could make your tank cloud up if you don’t prewash it

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

2. Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate

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Carib’s Eco Complete is a gravel type substrate. This rocky substrate is stocked full of the nutrients your plant needs to grow. You won’t find harsh dyes or chemicals in the Eco Complete. It is made from great organic materials that will continuously keep your ecosystem thriving.

The base of this product is volcanic rock. Nitrates and other Ph raising substances are absent from the gravel.

This substrate can even further lower the Ph for fish in need of softer water. This is because the Eco gravel is coated with a special solution that benefits your fish and plants.

Comes with bacteria colonized on it

The water solution embedded in the substrate conditions your water. The conditioning of your water will reduce the Ph level dramatically. It also eliminates trace elements from your tank. Also adding to the health of your tank is live bacteria.

The Eco Complete really is the complete package. The nice porous surface of the gravel is perfect for beneficial bacteria to grow on.

In fact, the gravel already comes with bacteria colonized on it. In these conditions, your tank will develop a great filtration system. With little effort, your tank will be extra clean after you put these rocks in. It will also cycle a lot faster!


  • This substrate won’t make you tank cloudy looking
  • You don’t have to rinse the product beforehand
  • This substrate can speed up water cycling greatly
  • Nutrient packed substrate with over twenty-five nutrients included
  • A water solution coats the substrate to help condition your water
  • Live bacteria placed on the gravel and will make your tank cleaner
  • If you want clearer water this product helps it from turning discolored


  • It is not easy to clean this substrate
  • Gravel can be a little big for smaller fish
  • Some fish could get injured by the rough surface of the gravel
  • It is not easy for plants to root in this gravel
  • This substrate cannot be used in saltwater
  • Fish that need lower Ph levels won’t do well with this item

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

3. UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants

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UP aqua is a sand type substrate that is easy to maintain. This product will keep the Ph of your tank well balanced and your plants well grown. The Aqua sand accomplishes this through a grounded mix of clay and soil.

All materials used in this product are organic and will help your plant stay lush and green. In addition, you don’t have to rinse off this product beforehand.

This is one of the positive points of the sand. It also makes for a simple set up. All you have to do is place the sand in your tank.

Good product for first-time substrate users

Unlike other products, Aqua Sand requires no extra gravel or substrate to keep it from floating in the water. It can stay well-rested at the bottom of your tank without issues.

Aqua sand has other convenient features for those who purchase it. This sand substrate will break-down by itself. There is no hassle in scooping out old substrate. You just have to replace it. And you won’t find yourself doing this often.

Aqua Sand lasts for a long time while requiring little to no maintenance. This can be a good product for first-time substrate users.

In terms of water health, the Aqua Sand also has some benefits. It keeps ammonia contained well so it won’t go back into the water. This is a problem for other organic substrates. The sand is also lightly weighted and will make it easy for your plants to burrow into.

On the whole, this is a great product that can be considered one of the best substrates for planted tanks.


  • Good for people that want low maintenance substrate
  • You will have an easy clean up with this sand
  • You don’t have to do any pre-rinsing with sand
  • The sand traps Ammonia very well
  • Plants will be able to root well in this sand
  • Long-lasting substrate
  • Good for fish of any Ph level


  • The sand breaks down and will need to be replaced
  • Not the best at storing material for plants but still decent
  • Uses inert ingredients so you might get less nutrients than other products

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

4. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum

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You can’t go wrong with this next choice in substrate. Fluval is a well-renowned brand in the fish keeping community. It not only manufactures great tanks and filters but also high-quality substrate!

The substrate for Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum is also made from volcanic material. Like the Aqua Sand, you will find a rich mix of nutrients from this volcano based gravel. You will have healthy plants and a greatly lowered Ph in your tank with the Fluval Substrate.

Some people say the size of the rock can be a little large, but they are relatively light. Your plants shouldn’t have too hard of a time trying to root. And bacteria will grow nicely on the porous surface.

This substrate is ideal for shrimps and greenery in any planted tank. Your flora will experience great growth as this is a highly rated line of substrate. It also creates a nice visual in your planted aquarium.

You will have a nice natural looking base for your plants if you choose to purchase from this brand. The soil is also extremely cost-effective for such a quality product.


  • Good choice for people who want to breed and keep shrimp
  • Great at lowering the Ph of a tank to increase plant health
  • Look nice in your aquarium and is good for people wanting a natural look
  • Good for smaller plants with trouble rooting
  • Easy to grow bacteria on the surface of these rocks
  • Great price for an effective substrate that is made by a good brand


  • Not great for bigger plants they can uproot because the gravel is too light
  • Takes some time for this substrate to properly settle in your tank
  • If your fish needs a higher Ph level this won’t be the product for you

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

5. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia

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Amazonia soil is on the pricy side, but it is definitely worth the cost. This high-end product doesn’t use volcanic ash or other rock bases to create its rich black soil. Unlike other black soil products, the Amazonia only uses plant-based material.

This one-hundred percent decomposable soil is full of great nutrients. It will keep your plants growing and your fish happy.

You won’t have to buy fertilizer to add to this product because it already has everything you need. Amazonia products only use active ingredients.

This means that everything put into the substrate contains nutrients for your plant. This creates a big contrast between the Amazonia and other products.

A great soil that will create unprecedented growth

With other brands, you usually see a mix of active ingredients and inert ingredients without nutrients. This creates a quality difference in the soil. Something else which increases the value of the Amazonia is its ability to buffer your Ph. You won’t find yourself checking the Ph levels of your tank that often. This product keeps them pretty stable.

Overall, this is a great soil that will create unprecedented growth in your tank. If you have trouble growing plants and need help this will be the substrate for you.

All in all, the Amazonia line can be considered the best substrate for planted tanks.

So consider buying from this brand if you have the money to spend. You won’t be let down by this superior product!


  • Used from organic and decomposable material
  • All the ingredients used are active and will provide nutrients
  • Will help plants that are having a difficult time growing
  • High quality product that cannot be matched by most substrates
  • You won’t have to buy extra fertilizer
  • Can be used for a number of different plants
  • Contender for the best substrate for planted tanks


  • This product can be on the expensive end
  • Takes time for this soil to properly cycle
  • Soil can’t be disturbed much if you like replanting
  • You will need to consider the Ph needs of your fish

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

6. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light

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This is another great Amazonia product that is more suited to first-time fish owners. The Amazonia Light is a less heavy-duty version of the regular Amazonia soil. Like the other Amazonia products, the Light is made up of plant materials to give your greenery the most nutrition possible.

While regular Amazonia and the Amazonia Light soil share similarities, there are some differences. Amazonia Light is made specifically to stop nutrients from leaving the soil and escaping into the water. It also inhibits algae growth in your planted tank.

Perfect as a top layer substrate

Both products greatly reduce Ph levels, and both materials contain nutrients that will make your plants grow. Yet, as the name suggests, the Amazonia Light is a little light on the nutrients.

With a reduced amount of nutrients, this makes it easier for beginners to use this product. You will have less cloudiness in the tank and, as a result, less algae growth.

This soil can be used on its own. However, the company recommends putting this on top of its regular Amazonia soil for better growth outcomes. You can create a composite substrate with the Amazonia soil on the bottom and the Amazonia Light on top. The nice powder-like texture of the Light makes it perfect as a top layer substrate.


  • The soil dissolves on its own
  • You will have a lot less algae growth in your tank
  • Less problems with nutrients leeching with this product
  • Still gives you a great variety of nutrients for plants
  • The Amazonia light is good for more delicate plants


  • Might need to use it with other Amazonia substrate
  • Replacement needed because of soil decomposing
  • Less nutrients than other Amazonia products

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7. Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

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The Flourite Black is another high-quality gravel substrate. This product is made of clay and creates a unique and stylish look for your planted tank. One of the biggest draws to this product is its longevity.

With Flourite, you won’t have to keep replacing the gravel. This product will never disintegrate and can stay in your tank for years and years. Your plants will be able to set roots and grow without being disturbed by a substrate replacement. The only real issue with this product is the lack of nutritional value.

Able to absorb and store nutrients

Flourite doesn’t come with much to feed your plants. You will have to buy fertilizer or root tabs. The root tabs might be your best option really. While there are not a lot of natural nutrients provided, Flourite is able to absorb and store nutrients. They do this better than most substrates. In this way, your plant will grow well when the right nutrients are added.

Keep in mind that Flourite lacks any water conditioning so it won’t help with your Ph levels if that is something you are looking for.

Though there are no extra features included, Flourite does has a nice porous surface. You will be able to colonize plenty of good bacteria to keep your tank clean.


  • Equally effective when used alone or with another substrate
  • Can last a long time in comparison to other substrates
  • You will not have to replace this substrate
  • The surface of this gravel is great for good bacteria growth
  • Looks great in your tank and makes your plants stand out
  • Good material for storing nutrients in so your plant can feed


  • Need a thorough rinse before it is put in the tank
  • Does not contain many nutrients
  • Can be considered a rough substrate careful which fish you put in
  • You will have to purchase nutrients to add to the gravel
  • Not the best choice for plants with fragile roots

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

8. Flourite

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This is another Fluorite product that may fit your needs. You will find many similar attributes of the Black Flourite in this product. Both substrates last for a long time and won’t need replacement. You will also find that both substrates lack much nutritional value but can retain nutrients well.

While they share common features, regular Flouride does differ in some ways. The shape and the look of this Flouride is what sets it apart.

In comparison to Black Flourite, regular Flourite has a rounder and softer appearance. If you are worried about the sharp edges of the Flouride Black consider going with this option.

Your fish is less likely to injure itself on this gravel substrate. In addition, if you are looking for a more natural look in your tank, try this product out. It has earthy tones and will blend in better with other decorations meant to imitate a natural habitat.


  • Nice earthy tone that is good for people that want a natural tank look
  • Good at holding on to nutrients so your plant can grow
  • Great for bacteria growth
  • Softer edges and rounded appearance
  • Your fish isn’t as likely to get injured on these rocks
  • Lasts longer than other substrate


  • Make sure to rinse these before putting them in or your water could get cloudy
  • You won’t find any nutrients in this product
  • You need to purchase nutrients so your plants will grow

Check Price and Reviews on Amazon

9. Flourite Black Sand

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We will end this list with a final Flourite product. Out of any of the Flourite substrates mentioned, Flourite Black Sand allows plants to root the best. The soft sandy material will make it easy for plants to dig into its surface and strongly anchor itself in.

This is Flourite Sand’s biggest advantage over other products. So we highly recommend this item to anyone who has trouble getting their plants to root.

Flourite sand also gives you a great porous surface to work with. Nutrients will be able to reach your plant’s roots at a fast pace. Other needed substances will be able to reach your plant as well. This is because of the loose material of the sand.

You will find that Flourite sand is compact enough for your plants to stay in place. But it is also movable enough for your roots to grow fast and reach nutrients even faster.

 Provides more nutrition than other Flourite products

Another good thing about Flourite sand is that it provides more nutrition than other Flourite products. You shouldn’t have to buy fertilizer or other additives for this product. Still, it doesn’t hurt to have them on hand. Eventually, the nutrients will run out.

Liquid fertilizer can be a good option to add to your sand. Nutrition lost happens with most substrates though so it’s not something to worry about.

Unlike other sand substrates though, the Flourite sand will not disintegrate. It lasts for a long time and won’t need to be replaced. For this reason, anyone looking for a good sand substrate should consider this product. As a sand-based material, it is the best substrate for planted tanks!

Overall, you will find that the sand is easy to clean and maintain. The small grain size can make this kind of substrate more convenient than other types of plant bases.


  • Can retain nutrients well like other Flourite products
  • Has great nutritional value
  • Looks awesome in any tank
  • Nice loose sand that will make it easy for your plants to feed
  • Great for plants that are harder to root
  • Any plant type will work with this sand
  • Lasts for a long time and won’t need replacement
  • Very easy to use and maintain so could be good for beginners
  • Contender for the best substrate for planted tanks


  • Will run out of nutrients and will require liquid fertilizer
  • Make sure to rinse this off before you put it into a tank
  • Could get cloudy water if you don’t rinse well enough
  • A lot of inert material used in this product so their might a little less nutrients

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The Importance of Substrate in Planted Tanks

One major benefit is produced on the surface of your substrate. With the right water care practices, substrate can become the site of beneficial bacteria growth.

Good bacteria can help filter your water and transform toxic substances into nutrients. These nutrients can then be used by your plants as a means of sustenance. In this regard, substrate is extremely important for people who put plants in their tank.

Substrate not only improves your water quality but helps feed your tank plants. This process will help your plant stay alive in the water longer.

Perfect landing place for plant roots

Substrate also achieves this aim with another ability. With the amount of materials available, tank substrate is the perfect landing place for your plant’s roots.

The varying surfaces of substrate will help your plant set firm roots in any tank. These roots prevent plants from floating aimlessly in the water and wilting.

Roots are the only way plants can take in nutrients. In planting flora in substrate you can give roots direct access to nutrients. Some substrate is able to store key nutrients for plants, and release them to the plant.

Overall, without substrate, most plants would cease to thrive and grow to their full potential in tank water.

Types of Substrate Commonly Put in Tanks

As we mentioned previously, substrate comes in many varieties. A number of materials are crafted to generate this unique product. As you can imagine, each of these different types of substrate serve a different purpose.


Gravel is the most common of all substrates. It is usually bought by beginner fish tank owners in local pet shops. Though this material is equally useful to people of all experience levels.

Gravel in fish tanks is made smooth enough and small enough to keep your fish free from harm.

These small rocks come in plenty of forms. You can find ultra colorful gravel or more muted gravel. Gravel that is rounded or gravel that is roughly shaped.

You can also find bigger pieces of this product or gravel that is micro-sized. The range in this product makes it extremely popular.


Another popular option for planted tanks is sand. Sand substrate is not only great for planted greenery in your tank, but it can also be good for certain fish. For example If you have a pet that enjoys digging into the bottom of a tank try sand.

Fish that like to cover themselves up, will be equally suited to this medium. This also applies to fish who like lower Ph levels. Sand easily balances out Ph in a planted tank.

Some types of sand substrate, like coral sand, have the ability to balance out the chemistry of your water. This can be helpful if you need to adjust the Ph of your fish’s water.

The only problem with this medium is the possibility of filter blockage. Small bits of sand might get stuck in the filter. So if you get sand make sure your hardware can handle this substrate.


Marble is another kind of substrate you can purchase if you want to affect the Ph level. But it isn’t nearly as efficient in planted tanks as sand substrates.

Marble has other beneficial qualities. It can be especially good if you want to breed fish in your tank. The gaps this material creates will help protect and house fish eggs in the water well.

Soil substrate

Moving on, the last kind of substrate we will introduce you to is a complete substrate. Also commonly referred to as soil substrate. This type of substrate is considered to be a top-choice substrate for planted tanks.

Soil substrate is a great way to give your plants the nutrition they need. This substrate type is well compacted. This will help your plants root well without any issues. Most people with planted tanks choose this type of substrate for good reason.

Substrate Combinations

Some people even choose to combine substrates to create an even better base for their plants. Putting gravel or sand under or over your soil base can help plants grow even better.

You can even create three layers for optimal growth.

How you choose to set up your substrate is up to you though. You might want a more natural look with sand and some soil. Or maybe you want your fish to stick out in a colorful tank filled with neon gravel.

What plants you have will ultimately determine which set up will work the best for you. Some plants have more specific substrate needs than others.

Amount of Substrate to Add

Planted Tank

The amount of substrate added into your tank will depend on a few factors. One important consideration is the size of your tank. The bigger your tank is the more substrate you will have to purchase.

At a minimum though, and this goes for any tank, make sure you put in at least one inch of substrate.

For planted tanks, you want at least three inches of substrate. If you want an even more concrete number, most people use the following formula.

For every one gallon of water, you will need to add in around a pound of substrate. With this, you can pretty accurately estimate the exact amount of substrate to add into your tank.

This isn’t a foolproof method though. The shape of an aquarium also has some impact. Tanks can be longer or wider and this will also affect the amount of substrate required.

Three inches of substrate in a wide tank will amount differently to three inches in lanky portrait tank. And then there is your plant’s need. This should be the biggest metric of measurement. If your plant has to root itself deeply you will need to get more substrate into your tank.

Choosing the Best Substrate for Your Planted Tank

The quality of your substrate is crucial for planted tanks. You do not want to put your greenery into low-grade material. In addition, the substrate should fit the needs of your plant. What substrate your tank will require depends heavily on your plant’s disposition.

Many plants use roots as a means to feed themselves. Thus, a nutrient-rich substrate is considered a great option for many planted tanks. Also, if your plant needs to root deeply into something then soil is definitely a plus.

Still, the best material can depend on the type of planted tank you are building. Not all plants have the same demands.

Composite Substrate

The water in your tank should also be a factoring quality when looking for a substrate. Some material works better in saltwater. Other substrates are only meant for freshwater tanks. Consider this when you make your product choice.

Lastly, you should think about how you want to mix and match your substrate. Some people just prefer to put soil substrate down by itself. This method can make for a perfectly simple setup.

But as we talked about before, layering substrate can also be beneficial. If you put gravel or sand substrate on top of the soil you’ll keep your soil from floating into the water.

This type of layering is known as a composite substrate. If you think your soil is too loose, or notice it coming apart try out this method. Sometimes it can take experimentation with multiple substrates to find the best one!

Color And Your Substrate

Color is something else to consider when deciding to purchase substrate. Some people argue that unnaturally colored substrate is indicative of a lower quality product. This isn’t the case at all.

Many fish owners debate over colored substrate. In reality, the color of the substrate you get all depends on your preference.

What you want to do with a fish tank matters the most in this choice. If you are trying to recreate your fish’s natural environment then go for a more earth-toned substrate.

If you want something a little more colorful and fun than that’s fine as well. There are plenty of multicolored gravels and rocks to pick from.

Just make sure the substrate you use is right for your plants and your tank. Your plant and your fish’s health is more important than any aesthetic look you might be going for.

Maintaining Your Substrate

Tanks need to be cleaned out thoroughly to keep your fish healthy. This also includes the substrate in your aquarium. The level of cleaning for each substrate differs substantially. How much you put into your tank can also make this process longer or shorter.

Keep in mind that certain substrates will need to be rinsed down before they go into your tanks.

Material such as gravel can be lightly suctioned with a vacuumed. All of the dirt and waste left in-between the gaps of gravel need to be removed. If you chose to use sand as a substrate clean up shouldn’t really be an issue though.

Waste doesn’t get as easily trapped in sand. But if you do see some debris you can use a small net to get rid of it. Really, you don’t want to disturb the surface of your substrate too much. There are a lot of good bacteria growing at the base of your tank.

Some substrate will have to be replaced eventually though. This is true for soil-based substrate. The nutrients in your soil-based substrate will eventually get used up. You could replace the soil completely, but there is an easier option.

To replenish the nutrients on the surface of the soil use some liquid-based fertilizer. You can also add in root tabs for extra nutrients. This option is a lot less of a hassle overall.

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Substrate is a product that comes in a variety of mediums, shapes, and sizes. Each substrate offers its own specialized properties and uses. Substrate not only makes a tank look more complete but helps improve the ecosystem of an aquarium.

Which substrate you will need is contingent on the plants and fish in your tank. Some substrate is better suited for planted tanks than others.

Hopefully, through this article, we have enriched your understanding of planted tanks and substrate. With this valuable knowledge, you can confidently purchase substrate. And with all the great options we have provided you are sure to find the best substrate for planted tanks!

With our tips and tricks. we hope you will be able to properly maintain your aquarium and its plants to the fullest!

Aaron Boyd
Aaron Boyd

Hello, I’m Aaron Boyd, the proud owner and author behind Aqua Movement. I hope my article was able to answer your questions. If you want to learn more about me, click the home icon above.

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