Best Substrate For Planted Tank – Guide & Reviews

Estimated read time 11 min read

What Is The Best Planted Aquarium Substrate?

Are you looking for a good aquarium substrate for plants?

If so, you’ve come to the right place.

One of the best things about building your planted aquarium is choosing what fun plants you’ll delight your fish with. After all, this tank is going to be their forever home, so we want to make it enjoyable.

After you decide on the perfect fish and the plants you want in your planted aquarium, you’ll need to find the best substrates for planted tanks like yours.

The substrate is considered a piece of essential aquarium equipment if you plan on growing plants and choosing a substrate might be the most complicated but one of the most important decisions you make.

Luckily, we’ve broken down our favorites so you can choose the right one for your planted tank.

There’s certainly no shortage of plants, rocks, and accessories to deck your fish’s home with, but what you choose is important to the life of your fish and your planted aquarium.

By the time you finish this article, you’ll know everything you need about which plants and substrates to use.

Grab your tank; we’re getting started!


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What To Look For In A Good Planted Aquarium Substrate

What To Look For In A Good Planted Aquarium Substrate

Depending on the fish you plan on keeping or the plants you plan on buying, the best substrate for your tank will vary.

Here’s what to look for in a good substrate:

  • Won’t affect water chemistry
  • Promotes root development
  • Includes live Heterotrophic bacteria
  • High quality, long-lasting nutrients
  • Provides nutrients to root-feeding plants (if needed)
  • Lower’s your tank’s ph levels (if needed)

When shopping for substrates, keep in mind the type of plant you plan on keeping in your tank. Rooted plants require nutrients from the substrate, whereas water column feeder plants get their nutrients from the water.

Substrates come in a variety of types: marbles, aquarium gravel, aquarium sand, coral sand, and aquarium soil. Each has its advantages and disadvantages; you can find more here.

We reviewed all the best substrates for planted tanks available and found a few that stood out!

Here they are;

Top 6 Different Types Of Planted Aquarium Substrates That Promote Plant Growth

1. Seachem Flourite Planted Aquarium Substrate (Clay Based)

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel - Stable Porous Natural Planted Aquarium Substrate 15.4 lbs

Get Seachem Flourite

Flourite Black is an excellent choice for a substrate when you have root-feeding plants. I use this in my tank, and it’s promoted the growth of my plants as well as kept the tank looking clean and fresh. My plants have never looked so healthy.

I choose it because of the material: stable porous clay gravel. It’s untreated, meaning there are no chemicals added, making it safe for all of my fish. The porous nature of the clay allows the food and fish waste to readily dissolve into it, keeping my tank looking clean all year long.

The best part about Flourite Black is that it maintains the pH of my water and never disturbs the quality of the tank water, which means less work for me.

I love the sleek black look of it in the bottom of my tank, and my fish seem to too. It’s lasted for two years so far and still working perfectly. I haven’t had to replace it yet, and it will last as long as my planted aquarium does.

My only complaint would be the dust it kicks up when you first pour it into the aquarium. The water is a little cloudy for the first few minutes after adding it in, but it subsides. My tank and I haven’t had a problem with it since.


The Seachem Flourite substrate is made of clay gravel. Even though it’s not sand or soil, it’s been broken up to resemble a black sand like consistency.

At the same time, it still retains its light, permeable clay gravel structure. Its high-quality design is best used in planted aquariums with live, natural plants.

The Flourite substrate does its job of providing the necessary amount of helpful bacteria. This maintains a healthy well-balanced environment for the plants and fish.

One of Flourite substrate’s best features is that it helps filter out any unwanted bacteria that may harm the water, fish, and plants in the tank. This substrate also filters toxins from the tank, as well as almost all types of contaminants.

The Seachem Flourite is pre-washed. Yet the manufacturer recommends that you give it a quick rinse before placing it in your tank. When you rinse it, you’ll remove any traces of residual dust that may be in the bag.

When it’s time to place this substrate in your tank, it’s natural for the water to turn slightly cloudy. The water will clear up as soon as the clay gravel settles on the bottom of the tank.

If you’d prefer to speed up the clarifying process further, try Clarity. It’s one of the most trust-worthy water clarifiers available. It’s suitable for both freshwater and marine tank water.

Another feature that makes the Seachem Flourite substrate one of the best on the market is the innovative mesh bottom found inside the bag. It makes it easier to rinse the clay gravel substrate right inside the bag itself, saving you time and effort.


Seachem Flourite substrate is made of clay gravel, which has a porous surface. This provides plant roots enough space to spread out and develop in a healthy, natural way.

Even though the Seachem Flourite has a light, permeable surface, its gravel settles completely on the bottom of the fish tank. it doesn’t float to the top or drift in the water.

Plant Nutrition

Seachem Flourite substrate is rich in minerals and nutrients to keep your plants healthy.

Plants need to find a place for their roots to take hold of. Substrates offer a nice base for the live plants to help strengthen the roots, and ultimately, the entire plant. It also boosts their growth and helps them stay rooted in one place.

Seachem Flourite Pros and Cons


  • Made from specially fracted porous clay gravel
  • Rich in minerals and micro-nutrients
  • Doesn’t require replacement
  • Boosts healthy plant growth
  • The bag comes with an inner mesh bottom for easy rinsing inside the bag
  • Free of chemicals or dyes


  • May create a thin layer of film on your plants

2. CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate (Black)

CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black

Get  CaribSea Eco-Complete

The Carib Sea Eco-Complete boasts of using volcanic soil that not only allows your plants to root deep into the soil but keep them there throughout the wavy environment of your tank. It’s Iron-rich and eliminates the need for laterite also doesn’t release any dust into the water when you first add it into your tank.

This substrate is an excellent choice if you’re looking for a substrate to use on its own and don’t want to worry about adding other elements to it like additional nutrients.

An essential aspect of a healthy planted aquarium is the cycling of fish waste to organic matter, which results in food for your plants, which the fish then feed off of. Carib Sea Eco-Complete contains heterotrophic bacteria that promote this healthy life cycle.

What are the Features of Eco-Complete?

Eco-Complete is rich in microorganisms that quickly establish balance to encourage your plants’ fast growth while creating the perfect environment for your fish and other aquatic animals.


Because this substrate is made of volcanic soil, the black color will immediately create a contrast to show off the colors of your aquatic plants. The grain size aren’t identical in shape, as some particles can be as small as sand particles, while others might be as big as gravel. Nevertheless, the particles tend to hold the roots well, providing your plants with all the necessary nutrients.

When you open the bag, you will notice that the particles are wet, as they have been washed to encourage the growth of bacteria. You can also see the little nooks and crannies where the bacteria will grow.


Eco-Complete is made of natural volcanic soil, which looks attractive but is also packed with essential nutrients that encourage the growth of the root systems in your planted aquarium. These nutrients promote the fast growth of your aquatic plants while keeping your fish healthy.

At the same time, they prevent the growth of algae, which compete with your plants for the same type of food. The nutrients are all naturally sourced because this substrate doesn’t contain any artificial dyes or additives that can affect your fish and plants’ health.


The smaller particles settle at the bottom of the aquarium, allowing the roots to grow and expand quickly. Eco Complete promotes faster plant growth as the root system doesn’t have to work hard around the large granules to suck out the nutrients.

Beneficial Bacteria

With other types of substrate, you might take weeks, and even months before you can enjoy the full benefits of the healthy bacteria. This won’t be the case if you choose Eco-Complete because it’s pre-cycled. This means that you will already have some good bacteria the minute you add Eco-Complete into your planted aquarium.

This doesn’t mean that you don’t need to cycle this substrate. You still need to let the bacteria grow before you can depend on Eco-Complete, but the substrate gives you a good head start.

Bimodal Grading

Since Eco-Complete is made of small and large granules, the particles will arrange themselves thanks to the bimodal grading. The smaller particle will sit at the bottom of the aquarium while the larger particles stay on top. This will eliminate air pockets, as the smaller particles will fill the gaps in the soil.

The Pros and Cons of Eco-Complete

Here are some of the pros of Eco-Complete.

  • The substrate is packed with 30 necessary nutrients and microorganisms that maintain the health of your plants.
  • Thanks to the bimodal grading, the smaller granules will settle at the bottom, allowing the roots to grow faster.
  • The substrate is pre-rinsed and pre-cycled, so it can be used immediately in your aquarium.

Here are some of the cons of Eco-Complete.

  • Eco complete contains fewer nutrients than the ones found in ADA Aqua soil. You can add root tabs to Eco Complete if you want to grow nutrient-hungry plants.
  • Cleaning the substrate can be a little challenging since the smaller particles might be siphoned out while using a gravel vacuum.

We also compared Eco-Complete to a few other popular brands of substrates available;

3. Mr Aqua Fine Pet Habitat (Good Layer Based Substrate)

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

Get Mr Aqua Fine Pet Habitat

Another excellent choice for a planted tank substrate is mr aqua aquarium soil.

If you’re looking for a tank bed material that packs a ton of nutrients as well as aiding in anchoring your plants to the bottom of the tank, then look no further. The porous material of the soil promotes healthy bacteria and aids in creating a happy and healthy environment for your aquatic life.

The only problem with this substrate is that it comes in smaller bags than it’s competition, so if you have a large tank, you’ll have to crunch some numbers and figure out how many bags you need to buy. It can be a little pricey, but well worth it for the quality of the substrate.

People love Mr Aqua’s substrate because it lowers the pH of the water, which means less treatment. If you have the type of fish that prefer a more acidic environment, then this is the substrate for your tank.

4. Nature’s Ocean Bio-Activ Aragonite Sand (Lack of Essential Nutrients)

Nature's Ocean Bio Activ Live Aragonite Aquarium Sand- Pink Reef Sand 20 LB.

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This is a premium freshwater active substrate made from baked soil granules. It’s designed to lower the PH and KH levels in the water to create the perfect environment for your plants, fish, and dwarf shrimps. The substrate maintains a healthy environment in the aquarium with various nutrients.

Further reading: Another substrate similar to ADA and just as good is Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum Review

What are the Features of ADA Aquasoil?

With traces of decomposed leaf mulch, it is rich in organic nutrients that promote the root systems’ growth.


The substrate has a rich dark brown color, which contrasts beautifully with the colors of the plants and fish in your aquarium. This substrate is made of Japanese plant-based black soil, unlike other imitation products.


Aqua soil is extremely rich in organic nutrients and necessary elements that nourish the plants in your aquarium. The composition of the soil encourages the transformation of fish waste into food for the plants, keeping them alive and healthy. At the same time, as the substrate maintains a healthy environment in the aquarium, so your fish and other aquatic animals will feel and look extremely healthy.

Using this substrate, you will be able to enjoy fast-growing plants and healthy fish and shrimps. It creates a balanced environment where all the living organisms live in harmony.

Tip: Make sure when completing water changes, that you don’t suck up too much soil as you can remove some of the good nutrients that have built up over time.


Plants can successfully suck the nutrients to grow fast in your aquarium when you add this substrate. Since it’s made from 100% natural ingredients, you will witness an overall improvement in your aquarium’s condition as the plants grow fast, and the fish stay alive.

PH Buffer

When used with a depth level between 1 and 3 inches, it lowers ph levels in your aquarium. This is excellent for different types of fish and shrimps that can be extra sensitive to the PH level.

Ammonia Spikes

Just like any other type of substrate, you need to be extra careful while adding Aqua asoil for the first time. One of the limitations of this type is that it needs time to cycle, so you will experience higher levels of ammonia before they decrease to create a healthier environment for your fish and plants. It’s recommended that you let the substrate cycle before adding any fish to your aquarium.

The Pros and Cons of ADA Aquasoil

Here are some of the pros of Aqua soil.

  • This is an active substrate with tons of nutrients.
  • The granules promote explosive plant growth.
  • It buffers the PH level, making the process of monitoring your planted tank less time-consuming.

Here are some of the cons of Aqua soil

  • This substrate needs time to cycle. Otherwise, it will increase the level of ammonia in your planted tank.
  • The granules stir up quickly. If you’re likely to move your plants a lot, this substrate might not be the right one for you.

Do Aquatic Plants Need Soil To Grow?

No, many plants can grow in inert substrates like sand and gravel as long as nutrients are provided at the root level using root tabs or other methods. There are also many species of plants that don’t require substrate at all and pull all the nutrients they require from the water column. These are call rhizome plants, Java Fern and Anubias are great examples of this.

Further Reading: Controsoil vs. ada amazonia

Here is a great video from DMichaels Fish Den about using this soil, it’s part one of a two-part series and worth the watch if you are considering using ADA as a substrate.

6. Spectrastone Shallow Creek Gravel (Best Inert Substrate)

Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular for Freshwater Aquariums, 5-Pound Bag

Get Spectrastone Shallow Creek Gravel

Spectrastone Shallow Creek’s gravel is the perfect substrate for any freshwater planted tank. They’re very natural looking and come in a variety of light nudes which aid in the aesthetic of your tank.

If keeping freshwater fish and plants in your tank, this gravel is ideal in anchoring your plant’s roots. They’re all-natural, non-toxic making them a safe choice for plant life and fish. The Spectrastone Shallow Creek gravel substrate is also known not to vary the pH level or water quality of your tank.

You will have to rinse these rocks until the water runs clear before inserting them into your tank, which can add another step to an already long process of building a planted tank.

Can You Use Aquarium Gravel For Plants?

Yes, lot’s of aquarium plants can grow in gravel, but you will need to fertilize at the root for any heavy root-feeding plants as gravel lacks many nutrients.

FAQ – About Aquarium Substrates

About Aquarium Substrate

You’ve got questions; we’ve got answers. Keep reading for the most frequently asked questions regarding planted tank substrates.

What Is Considered A Substrate?

The term substrate refers to the bottom material of your fish tank. This can be anything from rocks, gravel, sand, soil, or sometimes even a mixture of a few.

Substrates not only provide a particular aesthetic to your tank, but the fish feel more at home in their new glass pond.

Why Do I Need Substrate?

If you’re keeping plants in your tank, their roots must have something to latch on to, since they cannot grasp the tank’s glass. The right substrate will also provide critical nutrients needed by root-feeding plants.

Depending on the type of animals you keep in your tank, adding a substrate might be necessary. Animals like snails, and certain fish bury themselves in the substrate for protection and use it to find food.

If you think about your fish’s natural home–whether it be the ocean, a lake, or a pond–the floor isn’t bare, but covered in a natural substrate like mud, sand, or rocks. Adding material to the bottom of your tank will allow the fish to feel more comfortable in its new habitat.

Substrates are vital in producing beneficial bacteria and are a crucial player in the filtration of your tank. Some substrates provide additional nutrients or affect the pH of the tank, so you must do your research before choosing a material.

What’s the Best Type Of Substrate For Root-Feeding Plants?

Aquarium soil substrate is the best type of substrate for planted tanks due to the nutrients it packs. This type of material can vary from fine sand to tiny ball-like particles and comes in a variety of dark browns and blacks. It comes in many varieties, so be sure to check with your fish and plant type before purchasing aquarium soil.

How Much Substrate For A Planted Aquarium And How Deep – Calculator

There’s no real maximum on how much substrate you should use in your tank. However, there is a minimum. Every planted tank should have no less than one inch of substrate.

Here’s a tip on how to achieve this: One pound of substrate per gallon of tank size should average out to about one inch of substrate.

To help make things easier for you below is a table of how much substrate you’ll need for a few standard tank sizes.

Tank Size       Pounds of substrate to achieve 1-inch depth.Pounds of substrate to achieve 2-inch depthPounds of substrate to achieve 3-inch depth
10 Gallons10 lbs20 lbs30 lbs
15 Gallons15 lbs30 lbs45 lbs
20 Gallons20 lbs40 lbs60 lbs
30 Gallons30 lbs60 lbs90 lbs
55 Gallons55 lbs110 lbs165 lbs

SubstrateCheck! What’s Next? 

Now that you know about the best substrates for planted tanks, you can move on to the next item on the list, how to find the right filter for your tank!

If you’re considering what plants to put in your planted tank, check out this aquarium plant care guide

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