Maintaining an aquarium is quite like aquatic gardening, especially when you have a ton of tank plants. And, when it comes to handling underwater plants, it is very essential to pick the best planted aquarium substrate.
While it may seem insignificant, picking the best planted aquarium substrate can have a tremendous impact on the tank’s outcome, either negatively or positively.
Why? Here is the thing.
The planted aquarium substrate that you pick for your tank not only enhances its visual appeal but also provides safety to the fish and plants inside. Furthermore, it helps keep the aquarium free from bacteria and germs.
With an outstanding planted aquarium substrate, you get to create a healthy and comfortable environment for your plants and aquatic pets.
Picking the best planted aquarium substrate, however, is not as easy as throwing some plants and gravel into the tank water and hoping for the best result. If you want your tank to thrive, you have to pay a lot of attention to your planted aquarium substrate.
Are you a newbie in keeping an aquarium? It is time for you to learn more about one of the aquarium’s most central features – the substrate.
And, luckily for you, I have a detailed guide that will help you pick the best substrate for planted tank. More importantly, I listed down some of the best planted aquarium substrates on the market today.
Even if you have some experience in fishkeeping and raising underwater plants, you still benefit from a little refresher. Of course, it will help you select the best planted aquarium substrate.
Table of Contents
Why is a Planted Aquarium Substrate Important?
Wondering why having a planted aquarium substrate is important for your tank? Before I unveil my top picks, let us take a quick look at the perks of having a substrate for a planted tank.
First of All, What is a Planted Aquarium Substrate?
A substrate is, in essence, a fancy label to what you use to line the aquarium’s bottom with. It can be any kind of material, from pebbles to sand. It has no particular size, shape, or type of material.
They are mainly used to help control and mimic the natural ecosystem of the aquatic plans and fish inside your aquarium.
It Creates a Natural Habitat for Your Aquatic Friends
Planted aquarium substrates are available in a variety of types to simulate the natural habitat of many different kinds of aquatic creatures. By that way, they become healthy, stress-free as well as feel comfortable while they are inside the aquarium.
Aquarium plants encounter a ton of waste fish, food leftovers, and plant debris every day. And, these things need to be removed to safeguard the tank’s overall hygiene.
And that is where the best planted aquarium substrate comes in. The best substrate for planted tank grows good bacteria that colonize the tank. Eventually, these colonies eliminate the waste aquarium products naturally, keeping the tank totally safe.
A planted aquarium substrate, of course, adds more visual appeal to your tank, as long as you add the right touches to it.
Encourage Plant Growth
Plants primarily thrive on substrates, keeping your aquarium odor-free and fresh.
Planted Aquarium Substrate Options Comparison Chart 2020
Itching buy the best planted aquarium substrate, but do not know where to start? Need a little help selecting the best planted aquarium substrate for your tank? Guess what? Here is an informative and insightful comparison chart that surely help you choose the best substrate for your planted tank.
|Product Name||Weight||Dimensions||Type of Soil|
|ADA Aqua Soil Planted Aquarium Substrate - Best Overall||16.56 pounds||23.6 by 17.7 by 3.2 inches||Japanese plant-based black soil|
|Flourite Black Planted Aquarium Substrate - Most Versatile||17 pounds||17 by 11.8 by 1.8 inches||Gravel|
|Carib Sea Planted Aquarium Substrate - Best for Plant Growth||20 pounds||18 by 12 by 2 inches||Volcanic soil|
|Fluval Planted Aquarium Substrate - Best for Live-Planted Tanks||1.76 ounces||3 by 6 by 11 inches||Mineral-rich volcanic soil|
|First Layer Planted Aquarium Substrate - Best Clay Substrate||3.6 pounds||5 by 2 by 10 inches||Pure laterite clay|
|Spectrastone Substrate - Best Budget||5.2 pounds||10 by 7.2 by 1.5 inches||Gravel|
|ActivFlora Planted Aquarium Substrate - Best for Nitrification||20.2 pounds||21.5 by 12 by 2 inches||Gravel|
|Mr. Aqua Substrate - Best for Shrimps and Betta Fish||1.85 pounds||4 by 2.5 by 9.5 inches||Gravel|
|Hermit Habitat Substrate||5. 2 pounds||12.5 by 8 by 1.5 inches||Natural gravel|
|UP Aqua Planted Aquarium Substrate||11 pounds||16 by 13 by 10 inches||Gravel|
|Carib Sea Peace River Gravel||19.3 pounds||16.5 by 10.5 by 3.7 inches||Gravel|
|Ultum Nature Planted Aquarium Substrate||2 pounds||NA||Japanese volcanic ash|
|Seacherm Flourite Premium Natural Gravel||15.4 pounds||17 by 11.8 by 1.8 inches||Porous clay|
|ADA Amazonia Light Substrate||21 pounds||39.4 by 39.4 by 39.4 inches||Rare Japanese black soil|
|Carib Sea Moonlight Sand for Aquarium||5 pounds||1 by 1 by 1 inch||Sri Lankan gravel|
What is the Best Substrate for Planted Aquarium to Buy?
Still cannot make a decision? Need more nuggets of information to help you pick the best substrate for planted aquarium? Here are some tips that help you find the best planted aquarium substrate for your tank.
- Best Overall – ADA Aqua Soil Planted Aquarium Substrate
“Rich in nutrients and organic elements, ADA is truly the best substrate for planted aquarium to date!”
- Most Versatile – Flourite Black Planted Aquarium Substrate
“Perfect for any type of planted aquarium, this substrate is a terrific option for both experienced and aspiring aquarists!”
- Best for Plant Growth – Carib Sea Planted Aquarium Substrate
“With a plethora of trace elements and nutrients, this substrate nourishes tank plants by promoting root growth.”
- Best for Live-Planted Tanks – Fluval Planted Aquarium Substrate
“Full of essential micro and macro nutrients, this volcanic soil substrate is the ultimate solution for live-planted aquariums.”
- Best Clay Substrate – First Layer Planted Aquarium Substrate
“Ideal for naturally planted tanks, this all-natural medium ensures healthy and strong aquatic plant growth.”
- Best Budget – Spectrastone Substrate
“Not only is it amazingly affordable, but it is also jam-packed with nutrients and minerals.”
- Best for Nitrification – ActivFlora Planted Aquarium Substrate
“Full of nutrients and rich in iron, this 100% natural substrate does not contain any artificial additives or dye.”
- Best for Shrimps and Betta Fish – Mr. Aqua Water Plant Substrate
“Create a healthy and happy ecosystem inside your tropical aquarium with this fantastic aquarium substrate.”
Top 15 Best Substrates for Planted Tank to Buy Online 2020
Just like buying a brand-new mobile phone or a car, you need to read reviews to find the best planted aquarium substrate. That is why I have created a bunch of reviews to help you select the best planted aquarium substrate.
1. ADA Aqua Soil Planted Aquarium Substrate
ADA Aqua Soil is, hands down, one of the best planted aquarium substrate options, in my book. Although there are tons of clay or volcanic soil aquarium substrates, ADA is quite unique compared to its counterparts.
It is, based on the mulch of decomposed leaf. And that means it is incredibly rich in nutrients and elements, making it an exceptional solution if you want lush growth for your aquatic plants.
Decomposed mulch is mostly known for creating small granules. But, the ADA aqua surprisingly has large pellets of soil created by soil lumps that were compacting.
This, in turn, creates a solution that is quick for developing root structures of the plant since they can penetrate through easily.
Moreover, they reduce the pH level as well as softer the tank’s water to make it a thriving environment for plants.
- Rich in nutrients and organic elements
- Made from rare as well as a sparse source of black plant-based soil in Japan
- Substrate is natural and nutrient-rich
- Large granules that promote quick growth of roots
- Reduces water hardness and brings down its pH level
- May cause cloudiness in the tank’s water
2. Flourite Black Planted Aquarium Substrate
While it is perfect for planted aquaria, Flourite Black can also be used in any type of aquarium environment. Since it is not coated chemically in any fashion, this neutral substrate does not change the water’s pH level.
So, it retains the water’s neutrality, meaning it is also safe for your fish.
The way I see it, the substrate is at its best when used on its own at the aquarium bed. Still, you may blend it with gravel so that you can make it a little more diverse.
There might be a bit of cloudiness on the water on your first use of the Flourite Black. In fact, you may have to use some mechanical filters to remove the water’s suspended particles.
You can reduce it, though, by rinsing the aquarium substrate to remove any dust that has formed when the clay crumbled as the item was still in transit.
Thankfully, once you have laid down the clay, it will not need any replacement in the fish tank’s entirety.
- Safe to use
- Easy to set up
- Can be used with additional gravel or alone
- Does not raise the water’s pH level
- Ideal for saltwater and freshwater aquariums
- It might make the water slightly cloudy initially
- Need some rinsing before using.
3. Carib Sea Planted Aquarium Substrate
(Best for Plant Growth)
Looking for the best planted aquarium substrate for a healthy structure for the roots? Then, consider Carib Sea as one of your options when searching for the best planted aquarium substrate.
The substrate contains fertile and healthy basaltic soil with nutrients like potassium, sulfur, magnesium, iron, and calcium. Plus, the aquarium substrate is mineralogically and biologically complete, which eliminates problems in algae.
Furthermore, it is not coated chemically and has no artificial dyes or paints. To top it all off, Caribe Sea not only provides quality plant nourishment but it also beautiful decorates the aquarium.
- Encourages healthy growth in plant root
- Contains major and minor trace elements
- 100 percent natural
- Has an innovative formula that improves plant root growth
- Fish waste will be converted instantly to natural food
- Due to its potential to increase the water’s pH levels, it might not be useful in aquariums with shrimp and other species.
4. Fluval Planted Aquarium Substrate
(Best for Live-Planted Tanks)
The Fluval substrate is perfect for planted aquariums as well as several marine life types, such as shrimps and other critters. With the soil’s nutritious mixture of ingredients, you get to help your aquatic plants flourish pretty well.
Made from superb and healthy volcanic soil, the substrate’s stratum is a wondrous medium for aquatic plants with spreading and soft roots.
The grains of the soil are light and small, allowing the roots of the plants to penetrate the substrate’s surface to establish the plant into the tank’s ground firmly.
Moreover, the porous holes in the substrate’s grains help filter aquarium water for clearness and, at the same time, harboring bacteria that can be rather beneficial.
- Rich in minerals
- Suitable for both shrimp and plans
- Stimulates superb growth for plants
- Rich in minerals
- Suitable for both shrimp and plans
- Stimulates superb growth for plants
- Can make your tank water a bit messy
- Too light for some aquarists
5. First Layer Planted Aquarium Substrate
(Best Clay Substrate)
Laterite is an amazingly porous soil that was created from rocks that were decaying. During the process, the laterite practically absorbs enormous amounts of iron and aluminum hydroxides.
And, when combined together with some gravel, it provides an excellent medium for those live tank plants, giving them tons of essential nutrients that ordinary gravel substrates lack.
Laterite must not be used bare and should be covered at all times. Likewise, it must never be mixed with a gravel filter.
Although it is often called clay, which is essentially a weathered or decayed soil. Like Flourite, this product can retain and absorb nutrients.
Additionally, it is more expensive, usually than Flourite, but it is almost 10 times richer in iron content.
- Pure and genuine clay
- Perfect gravel additive for organic planted tanks
- Ensures healthy and strong plant growth
- High iron content
- Cloudy water
6. Spectrastone Substrate
One of the top ways to create healthy and comfortable aquarium environment for plants and fish is to maintain the perfect pH levels in the tank water. And, you can achieve that when you have a proportional ratio for the alkaline and acidic content.
How to do that, though? Simple! Just use the Spectrastone Aquarium Substrate!
Not only does it maintain the ideal pH levels, but it is loaded with nutrients too. Even better, it is free from the chemical coating, meaning it is 100% safe.
And it will not contaminate or discolor the aquarium. Trust me, it also make your tank more visually appealing, thanks to its earthy natural colors.
It has the right combination of aesthetics and functionality.
- Coating is non-toxic
- Safe for freshwater tanks
- Looks stunning
- Does not make the tank water cloudy
- Does not create a pH level imbalance
- Rocks are rather small
7. ActivFlora Planted Aquarium Substrate
(Best for Nitrification)
No list of the best planted aquarium substrate options is complete without the inclusion of ActivFora. Popular and potent, ActivFlora does not contain any additives or dynes and is a natural 100% substrate.
Not to mention, it does not change the pH level of your aquarium water. To top of it all, it is rich in iron, meaning there is no need to use any additional laterite.
ActivFlora is incredibly microporous. In other words, it provides a ton of places in your aquarium for beneficial bacteria to flourish.
And guess what? Actually, it has living bacteria colonies in it, making it really easy and quick to start cycling your aquarium.
- Will not change the water’s pH levels
- Rich in iron
- No artificial additives or dyes
- Includes colored non-toxic pigments
- Has natural spherical grains that promote max diffusion
- May sometimes turn the water cloudy
8. Mr. Aqua Substrate
(Best for Shrimps and Betta Fish)
They do not call Mr. Aqua as one of the best planted aquarium substrates for nothing. Packed with essential nutrients, this substrate has all ingredients to make your aquatic plants grow and remain healthy.
Moreover, the aquarium substrate promotes strong development in the root, helping aquatic plants thrive in the tank’s wavy environment.
Mr. Aqua is highly porous and light, creating an environment that helps promote the growth of the tank’s healthy bacteria.
Another thing I like about it that is effective for 1 year to 18 months. After using it for 18 months, you can supplement it with some additional nutrients.
And, did I mention that it can control and maintain the tank’s pH level?
- Long lasting
- Made up of inert and organic ingredients
- Prolongs the exchange periods for water
- Dark color
- Longer lifetime value
- Nice texture and consistency
- Buffers pH
- Full of important nutrients
- Binds phosphorus
- A bit pricey
- Easily stirs up
9. Hermit Habitat Substrate
Want to add more bright colors to your aquarium? Why not check out Hermit Habitat Substrate as you browse the net for the best planted aquarium substrate?
With its gorgeous shades of blue, this aquarium substrate, no doubt make your aquarium look breathtaking.
And, though it looks synthetic, this substrate is actually all natural gravel with no toxic additives. Even better, it provides a terrific and solid base for your aquatic plants to root.
But, on the low side, this aquarium substrate offers little no nutritional value to your plants. So, it is best suited for plants that mainly get their nutrients and minerals from the water or other sources.
- Coating is non-toxic and 100% acrylic
- Creates a colorful and beautiful environment
- Will not discolor your aquarium
- Great for normal terrariums and fish tanks
- Add shine and color to your fish tank
- Has to be replaced twice a year
- No nutrients
10. UP Aqua Planted Aquarium Substrate
UP Aqua is, without trouble, one of the top substrates for planted aquariums in market nowadays. Unlike other substrates, there is barely any dust released as you put it in your tank. That is why there is no clouding on the tank’s water when it is filled.
I really find it impressive how crystal clear the water of the tank is after setting up this aquarium substrate.
Of course, the aquarium substrate provides a ton of nutrients and minerals to the aquatic plants. And, you do not need another substrate or extra component to support your tank’s small ecosystem because it is a stand-alone.
The substrate has enough nutrients for the aquatic plants to develop healthily grow.
- 6.5 pH value
- Easy to rinse
- Does not break down easily
- Lowers the tank’s pH level
- Provides excellent nutrients
- Porous and light
- Minor delivery issues
11. Carib Sea Peace River Gravel
There is nothing quite like the Carib Sea Peace River Gravel. As a matter of fact, it is one of my personal favorites and a contender to the title of the best planted aquarium substrate.
From Sri Lankan gravel to Rio Negro pieces, this aquarium substrate is specially made to provide the breathtaking backdrop for some of the most awe-inspiring underwater life in the world.
As an added plus, this aquarium substrate has a neutral pH level as well as caters to a variety of species of plants and fish.
To me, it is an exceptional substrate that can make your aquarium better in a lot of ways.
- Recreates natural ecosystems of rivers
- Made in the United States
- pH neutral
- No dyes or paints used
- Safe for all kinds of aquarium systems
- No artificial properties like dyes or paint
- Gravel size might be too small for some
12. Ultum Nature Planted Aquarium Substrate
Made from volcanic ash in Japan, this andisol-based aquarium substrate is simply incredible and easy on the eyes. Available in either stunning brown or black, this substrate surely helps bring out the gorgeous different shades of your plants and fish.
Although, it is not for saltwater aquariums, its levels are undoubtedly ideal for several freshwater plants, shrimp, and fish.
Also, the substrate helps absorb impurities inside your aquarium, such as ammonia.
The substrate’s formula also eliminates the need for rinsing. And, when using properly, the substrate will not cloud the tank’s water.
As soon as you put this substrate into your aquarium, you will notice a significant improvement in the health of your fish or plants.
- Naturally softens and acidifies aquarium water
- Formulated for freshwater shrimp, tropical fish and planted aquariums
- Lower your tank’s ammonia content
- Keeps pH stable
- Long lasting
- Might take many bags to fill the aquarium
- Not suitable for saltwater tanks
13. Seacherm Flourite Premium Natural Gravel
Seacherm Flourite is such a fascinating surprise. Before I installed it in my aquarium, I did not have any lofty expectations of it. Amazingly, though, it transformed my aquarium into a verdant aquatic jungle.
I also have to trim it every other week.
So far, this aquarium substrate has been excellent and impressive. While it is not as popular as the “black” edition of Seachem Flourite, it is still a wondrous substrate rich in nutrients, especially iron.
It can be used solo without any nutrient supplements for the plants. Even better, it is pH neutral and is not chemically treated.
All in all, this aquarium substrate is a terrific solution that can make your aquatic plants look more gorgeous and absorb a ton of nutrients.
- 100% natural porous clay
- Perfect for any freshwater environment
- Rich in nutrients and minerals
- Safe and healthy
- Great standalone solution
- It may cloud your aquarium initially
14. ADA Amazonia Light Substrate
With its striking natural color and glowing customer reviews, Amazonia Light indeed makes a terrific choice when looking for the best planted aquarium substrate. Although it is available in one color, it still adds more appeal and style to any planted tank.
ADA Amazonia is made from a rare and one-of-a-kind Japanese black soil, which improves the growth of aquatic plants. Likewise, it is consisted of several organic materials and has the ideal level of nitrogen to create the perfect mini-ecosystem.
With its ability to keep the aquarium mildly acidic that is also ideal for most tropical plants and fish. To me, it is an excellent aquarium substrate for newbies who want to make their tanks more hospitable and beautiful for their fish.
- Rich in nutrients
- Made from a rare black plant-based soil in Japan
- Ideal for newbies
- Ammonia content is low
- Maintains healthy pH level in your water tank
- Use organic materials
- Natural color
- Expensive compared to other best planted aquarium substrate options
- Tanks will turn cloudy in the first couple days of using
15. Carib Sea Moonlight Sand for Aquarium
I love the Carib Sea Moonlight Sand! Not only does it promote plant growth, but also makes your tank beautifully colorful as well. With its stunning white color, this gravel-like option will instantly impress any aquarist.
The Carib Sea Moonlight is 100% natural. So, it is safe to use for both freshwater and saltwater tanks. And, its white sands wondrously mimic the beach sands in some parts across America.
Since it gives them stability and an excellent grip, live plants also thrive in this porous aquarium substrate.
- Fantastic color contrasts, thanks to its striking white color
- Made in the United States
- No paints or dyes used
- Ideal for saltwater and freshwater aquariums
- Premium quality sands add shine and stability
- Easy to use
- No cleaning needed
- Ideal for growing plants
- The fine texture is not ideal for aquariums with massive water flows
How to Choose a Aquarium Substrate – Buying Guide
Having some problems deciding which aquarium substrate is best for you? Heed these tips, so you can narrow down your choices and options.
The first thing you should consider when looking for the best planted aquarium substrate is the material of the substrate. While it seems an insignificant decision, the well-being or even life of your aquatic friends heavily depends on it.
So, look for the best aquarium substrate that does not hamper the lifestyle of your fish.
It may be the least of someone’s concern, but it nevertheless makes sense to pick a substrate that make your tank rather colorful and visually appealing.
Level of pH
Find out what pH level is ideal for your fish and plants before you buy a planted aquarium substrate.
Nutrients are indeed an important consideration, especially since they are mainly responsible for the growth of your aquatic plants.
Not every substrate today is suitable for the saltwater aquarium. So, before you buy one, do your homework and find out if it is compatible with your aquarium.
My Top Pick
You cannot go wrong with ADA Aqua Soil. For years, it has been rated by experts and aquarists as the best planted aquarium substrate, thanks to the numerous benefits that it offers.
It is incredibly rich in nutrients and minerals, helping the aquatic plants inside your tank flourish.
Furthermore, it is so easy to maintain the ideal pH level of your tank’s water with this planted aquarium substrate. And, even if it is not its best asset, it does look pretty enticing inside your aquarium.
Truthfully, it costs a bit more than other planted aquarium substrates. Even so, it is absolutely worth every cent.