Planted Substrate Information Overload

r_e_g

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My new 40g breeder will be my first tank with stem plants so I've been reading a LOT about substrates and my head is spinning; I'm starting to stress over making the "right" choice. ADA Aquasoil seems to be revered about all others but I'm trying to decide if it's the best for ME. I'm planning to grow fairly easy plants such as Vallisneria, Cabomba, watersprite, and water wisteria as well as possibly some moss and Anubias on driftwood. pH out of the tap is ~8 and KH and GH are both 8. I'm not going to start with a CO2 system but it might be an option down the road. How much is the substrate actually going to matter with the plants I'm considering? I have no immediate desire to grow carpeting plants or to make everything grow as quickly as possible but I do want a lush tank.

The alternatives I've been researching include Fluval Stratum, Ecocomplete (which I have in my shrimp tank and don't find especially attractive, plus it gets bad reviews), Turface, Flourite, Controsoil, Brightwell Aquatics, sand, etc. and I have no idea what to choose. I know that I'll need to use fertilizers if I don't get a nutrient rich substrate but I'll have to do that eventually with any substrate I choose. I'm kind of worried about substrates that will reduce KH and lower my pH because the pH of my tap water is so much higher. I have no intention of using RO/DI with this tank. I like the idea of using a high CEC substrate and fertilizing it or even just sand and fertilizers. I've been reading about the risk of anoxic zones in a sandbed though so now I'm afraid to do that even though sand is probably my first choice after all (though I hear Malaysian trumpet snails could help). I want to be able to replant, plant cuttings and have bottom dwellers without getting huge clouds of fine particles. I have no issues with needing to dose fertilizers as long as I'm not spending a tremendous amount on them.

Many thanks for any help!! Choosing substrate is my last major decision before I actually buy plants and set this tank up so I am eager to just pick something already.
 

Wraithen

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Go with the ada. Cap it with some sand. It's not necessary with your plants, but when the bug bites you, you will have the options for more advanced plants. It will also help your plants grow a bit better. You didnt mention cost so have at it!

To have anorexic sand youd need over 4 inches. It's an unlikely scenario anyway.
 

CraniumRex

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You can't go wrong with ADA; that said, based on a low-tech set up and relatively undemanding plants you've listed (with many being column feeders) I don't think you could go wrong with an inert substrate like sand. I have tanks with gravel and tanks with sand and much prefer the sand. I have never used ADA but like you have read about it as a wonderful substrate so maybe I can't give you a fair comparison, but with root tabs for the heavy root feeders and EI dosing of liquid ferts coupled with excellent light I get very good growth with just sand.

The danger of sand tends to come from what type. Play sand, while aesthetically pleasing to me (and very easy on the wallet) is not uniform size and tends to compact over time, leading to the types of dangers buildup of gas you have referenced. I have Estes black sand in 4 of my aquariums and I just love it. It doesn't get sucked up when I clean, I can SEE to clean (a benefit and a curse but then it makes me do very regular vacuuming) and between kuhli loaches and root growth the danger of toxic gases is minimal. I do stir it up from time to time but it never compacts. It also doesn't fly around the tank like some finer sands, wreaking havoc with HOB impellers.

I also prefer how my fish look on the darker substrate. It's a bit stark (why oh why don't they make a darker brown/nearly black type of sand??) but many of my fish (Bolivian rams especially) colour up so much more nicely on the black than even a fine darkish gravel like CaribSea Peace River. I tried Fluorite in one tank and while it looks nice, it clouds up every time you plant, or move a plant, or basically blink at it. Took over 8 months to really settle out and frankly I haven't seen a great growth benefit compared to my other tanks.

The other benefit to the Estes is I didn't have to rinse it for 2 hours (I didn't rinse it at all) to keep it from clouding the tank and it does not affect pH in any way.

As you've said, even a nutritious substrate will eventually deplete. Up to you if you would like to wait the 2 or so years and then feed, or just start now. I'm curious if any dirt in the tank you choose would especially benefit your column feeders, anyway. Wisteria it would for sure, not sure about the others. I have read more than once that most stem plants consume both from the roots and the column, but primarily take in nutrients through their leaves.
 

Piaelliott

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Quite honestly, I have all the stem plants you have and they grow just fine in sand. I have PetSmart black sand (like Estes), Quikcrete medium sand and ecocomplete (which I don't like). The plants grow just fine with root tabs and redecorating is easy. The tank with Malaysian trumpet snails grows the best plants. I don't see that the ecocomplete us better than regular sand.
 
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r_e_g

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Wraithen said:
Go with the ada. Cap it with some sand. It's not necessary with your plants, but when the bug bites you, you will have the options for more advanced plants. It will also help your plants grow a bit better. You didnt mention cost so have at it!

To have anorexic sand youd need over 4 inches. It's an unlikely scenario anyway.
Thank you. I forgot to mention cost but it is a consideration; $100+ is a lot for substrate that I'm not entirely sold on. I decided to go with sand for this tank and if I get the urge to try Aquasoil, I'll try it in a much smaller tank to keep the cost down.
 
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r_e_g

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CraniumRex said:
You can't go wrong with ADA; that said, based on a low-tech set up and relatively undemanding plants you've listed (with many being column feeders) I don't think you could go wrong with an inert substrate like sand. I have tanks with gravel and tanks with sand and much prefer the sand. I have never used ADA but like you have read about it as a wonderful substrate so maybe I can't give you a fair comparison, but with root tabs for the heavy root feeders and EI dosing of liquid ferts coupled with excellent light I get very good growth with just sand.

The danger of sand tends to come from what type. Play sand, while aesthetically pleasing to me (and very easy on the wallet) is not uniform size and tends to compact over time, leading to the types of dangers buildup of gas you have referenced. I have Estes black sand in 4 of my aquariums and I just love it. It doesn't get sucked up when I clean, I can SEE to clean (a benefit and a curse but then it makes me do very regular vacuuming) and between kuhli loaches and root growth the danger of toxic gases is minimal. I do stir it up from time to time but it never compacts. It also doesn't fly around the tank like some finer sands, wreaking havoc with HOB impellers.

I also prefer how my fish look on the darker substrate. It's a bit stark (why oh why don't they make a darker brown/nearly black type of sand??) but many of my fish (Bolivian rams especially) colour up so much more nicely on the black than even a fine darkish gravel like CaribSea Peace River. I tried Fluorite in one tank and while it looks nice, it clouds up every time you plant, or move a plant, or basically blink at it. Took over 8 months to really settle out and frankly I haven't seen a great growth benefit compared to my other tanks.

The other benefit to the Estes is I didn't have to rinse it for 2 hours (I didn't rinse it at all) to keep it from clouding the tank and it does not affect pH in any way.

As you've said, even a nutritious substrate will eventually deplete. Up to you if you would like to wait the 2 or so years and then feed, or just start now. I'm curious if any dirt in the tank you choose would especially benefit your column feeders, anyway. Wisteria it would for sure, not sure about the others. I have read more than once that most stem plants consume both from the roots and the column, but primarily take in nutrients through their leaves.
Thank you. Interesting about the stem plants taking up a lot of nutrients from the water column. I'm just diving into aquatic plants so I have a to learn. I started looking around for Estes sand under its various names last night but it was going to be somewhat costly once shipping was factored in and my LFSs don't have it. I ended up buying some pool filter sand today and I'm so excited. I don't mind if it takes a while to wash it. I have a shaded area with a hose to wash it and I love manual labor when it's related to setting up a tank.
 
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r_e_g

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Piaelliott said:
Quite honestly, I have all the stem plants you have and they grow just fine in sand. I have PetSmart black sand (like Estes), Quikcrete medium sand and ecocomplete (which I don't like). The plants grow just fine with root tabs and redecorating is easy. The tank with Malaysian trumpet snails grows the best plants. I don't see that the ecocomplete us better than regular sand.
Thanks! I just got some Quikcrete pool filter sand. The fact that I have sand makes me really want to get cory cats again. When I was setting up a tank for them about around 2006, I searched high and low for small smooth gravel and couldn't find any. I ended up buying 20 lbs of the smallest, smoothest gravel I could find and spent many hours manually picking out all the sharp rocks and bits of sea shell. I even somehow got my younger brother to help out. "Gravel sorting" is a bad word in my family now ha ha. No matter how much time I have to spend washing this sand, it won't be worse than that!
 

Wraithen

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I used nat geo sand. It wasnt prohibitively expensive. I wanted black though so there weren't a lot of options other than bdbs. I only had to rinse it once just to get the smallest particles gone.
 

Piaelliott

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r_e_g said:
Thanks! I just got some Quikcrete pool filter sand. The fact that I have sand makes me really want to get cory cats again. When I was setting up a tank for them about around 2006, I searched high and low for small smooth gravel and couldn't find any. I ended up buying 20 lbs of the smallest, smoothest gravel I could find and spent many hours manually picking out all the sharp rocks and bits of sea shell. I even somehow got my younger brother to help out. "Gravel sorting" is a bad word in my family now ha ha. No matter how much time I have to spend washing this sand, it won't be worse than that!
I got the medium sand which is finer than pool filter sand. It was so clean that I didn't wash it at all, Home Depots web site specifically says it is for aquariums.
 
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