Is aquascaping soil good for me?


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I have a 230L tall tank. It's a community tank with a few fish (platys/one Bolivian ram/butterfly loach/etc) and invertebrates (shrimp/nerite snails). It's been going on for about a year and a half and I'm thinking about swapping the bottom substrate. It's currently using sand with a JBL substrate below it (for plants). The sand is rather light and it's super hard to keep a nice color so I'm looking at changing it. However, I'd love to also scape the tank this time around. I'm not sure what to use though because of a few potential issues.

First off, my water is a flat 7.0 PH wise. It's fairly soft already and the water doesn't really change when put into the tank, making is pretty good for the fish. I know a lot of aquascape soils lower the PH, and I don't think this would be good to lower further. I do weekly changes but once a year in summer I'm gone for 2-3 weeks and I don't want to risk the PH getting too low over that time. Maybe not a risk with a 230L tank though.

Second off, I don't really have another tank to hold all these fish for a long period. I have two smaller tanks, but I don't think it's a long term solution if the new substrate creates a mini-cycle. I do have a over the top filter though that probably handles most of the beneficial bacteria (It has about 8 or 9 different types of sponges in it and some granulates etc.) Because of the filter, I don't think I'd trigger a cycle but I don't really want to risk it anyways. The goal would be to move the fish back in once it's settled really.

Lastly, as I said above, I have invertebrates, nerite snails, armano shrimp, red cherry shrimp, etc. (So some soils are out because of that.) I don't have many bottom dwellers but I do want to add a patch of sand in the front regardless for the Bolivian ram because he tends to like running around in it.

What would be a good choice for me? Should I even bother with aquascaping soil in this situation due to the limitations I currently have? Maybe I should just get JBL Manado for the plants and then some sort of darker sand for the front? I'm hoping though to be able to use some sort of better substrate that allows better growth.

One final question. What do people use to separate the sand and substrates so they don't mix?


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