Driving myself crazy trying to choose a substrate.

  • #1
I've just bought my largest tank yet and I want to use a different substrate in it.

At the moment I have small river pebbles in my tanks and they look lovely, but none of my plants ever thrive in them - except one, which has gone berserk!

Yesterday, I bought some red volcanic rock pebbles as I read that it has beneficial nitrifying bacteria and is also good for plants. Plus, I think the colour will look fantastic.

They're smooth so I'm not concerned about my cories but I thought I'd put a layer of gravel over the top as well. I have always used smooth pebbles in my tanks.

I've been washing and washing and washing the volcanic rock though and the red water just never stops, which I definitely don't want for the tank.

Should I just cut my losses and choose a different substrate? Or is this a good choice?
  • #2
Have you just tried soaking it for a few days?
  • Thread Starter
  • #3
Have you just tried soaking it for a few days?
That's the plan now. I'm sure it will all rinse clear - eventually!

Mostly I just want to be sure that it's a good choice.
  • #4
Cories love sand. And sand is easier to keep clean.
  • Thread Starter
  • #5
Cories love sand. And sand is easier to keep clean.
I've read that but have also read lots of conflicting reports about it! I'd love to put sand in the aquarium, it looks lovely. I read the it can compact under pressure though and that's not great for plants?
  • #6
it can compact, but each water change just poke your finger around in the sand or get a sand moving fish like, corydora catfish, bristlenose pleco, cichlids or even Malaysian trumpet snails.

It is fine for most plants I've had no trouble with sand, I've used sand for about 5 months, no problems.

Make sure the filter intake is a good 2 inches from the sand or it will suck sand up and then clog up and the motor will burn.
  • #7
I've read that but have also read lots of conflicting reports about it! I'd love to put sand in the aquarium, it looks lovely. I read the it can compact under pressure though and that's not great for plants?

I have either Black Diamond sandblasting sand or pool filter sand, depending on what look I wanted, in all ten tanks. Plants do just fine. I do have Malaysian trumpet snails to prevent compaction.
  • #8
I use river sand in all my tanks and have not had a problem with plants, they grow fine.
  • #9
Sand alone isn't good at growing plants because it has almost no nutritional value, but with the addition of a few root tabs it works very well in planted tanks, especially sand with larger grains because the plants can really root down.

I used sand in my first planted tank along with root tabs from MarcusFishTanks and I've had a great success growing plants like jungle val, amazon sword, pennywort (not a root feeder), dwarf sag and crypts.
  • #10
I have no problems with just sand without root tabs, but with liquid fertilizer. Most plants can take in nutrients via roots and leaves, although many if not most (given most plants in the hobby are marsh plants) strongly rely on uptake via the roots. Liquid fertiliser finds its way in the substrate where roots take in.

In most of my tanks I use ADA La Plata sand which has grain sizes of 1-3mm and would work very well with river pebbles. There are cheaper alternatives to ADA La Plata....in fact, all alternatives are cheaper than ADA La Plata, but since sand can be (re)used forever, I didn't mind the investment. You can also mix a few different sands for the aesthetics.

PS "Beneficial bacteria" / archaea don't come with volcanic rock but will populate your tank regardless.
  • #11
Plain sand is great for planted tanks, larger grained sand will not compact.

Root tabs leach into the water column, and water column fertilizers leach into the substrate. Most substrate are not very good at "holding" on to nutrients, sand included. Any plant will utilize any form of fertilizer you give them so long as the fertilizer is chemically in an available form for plants to uptake. I personally dose the water column and use nutrients in the substrate.

The same could be said about plain gravel or all the inert "Planted Tank" substrates sold by the big companies (Flourite / Eco-Complete).

Substrate is a minor factor in the success of planted tanks - basically any substrate you choose plants can thrive in it so long as their light / nutrient / CO2 needs are met.

I would recommend you choose a substrate you like the looks / characteristics of.
  • Thread Starter
  • #12
Thank you everyone!

I've decided to go with a "half-and-half" look - the red lava rocks merging into black sand. I have eight albino cories so that will look amazing. I'll put the big plant into the lava rocks as it spreads out across the whole tank.

It will look awesome, I'm super excited
86 ssinit
  • #13
I’ve used the red lava rock. 20lbs in a 90 Tank was red for weeks!! Don’t know how much it helped. Removed after a year. Now I use the smallest size gravel I can find. 1/8” peices. Grows plants fine. I don’t like sand cause it can get into everything. Pain to vacume and rough on impeller’s.
  • #14
Please update with pictures once you've got it all sorted out! Sure that'll look super neat!
  • #15
Black diamond and red lava rock? I've done the same - it looks flipping amazing!

Substrate is sort of controversial but in 10 yrs of experience I've used all the substrates; lava rock, sand, clay, soil, gravel, even barebottom! Colomn feeders like anubias do fine with none. I've never had a plant not grow in any substrate. Recently I found a plant with a 6" root in my goldfish tank - even with burrowing fish and play sand only!

As Chanyi said, use what works best for you - I like sand and once made a planter; I glued lava rocks in a rectangle, filled with fine gravel, capped with sand and it looks amazing. Burrowers can't get through it but roots can. Might wanna try it sometime :)

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