10 Best Substrate For Planted Tank – (2021 Reviews)

Are you an aquarium owner with aquatic plants? Well, did you know that the plants have some sought of roots that aid in nutrient delivery to the plant? In case you didn’t know, now you know. Nutrients play a great role in ensuring that aquatic plants thrive in the best way possible. This is where the best substrate for planted tank comes in. Using a substrate in your planted tank will ensure that the aquatic plants have a healthy growth. Therefore, you should aim at getting the best substrate type available in the market. We are here to help you in doing that.

If you are having a hard time selecting the right substrate for planted tank, we have made your work easier. Go through our reviews and guide to help you pick the right one.

The Fluval plant and shrimp stratum will work great for your aquatic plants. This is a product from volcanic soil. In case you need to create a biological conditions environment for your aquatic plants, it is better if you invest in this substrate. If you have never seen your aquatic plants flourishing, just get ready for that. This substrate has a great PH level that ensures that it does not harm your plants. The best thing is that it is safe if you also have fish in the tank.

What I like

This substrate is very natural, a feature that makes many people like it. Therefore, you don’t have to worry about your water getting decolorized. It will be foggy at first but the fogginess disappears once the substrate gets down.

What I don’t like

The only major issue with this substrate type is its price. Most people might not afford the price

  • It has tiny and lighter soil granules
  • This substrate has a lower PH level that’s great for the plant
  • It helps the plants to have a healthy growth
  • The substrate ensures that there is no water discoloration
  • It is ideal for soft rooted plants in small tanks
  • It may not be ideal if you use a siphon suction cleaner

Are you looking for a substrate that’s rich in nutrients? Look no further, this specific type ensures that your aquatic plants get all the nutrients they need for proper growth. This substrate has all organic components that are crucial in ensuring that planted tanks have thriving plants. You can use this substrate on water plants with roots. It will ensure that your planted tank will always remain filtered and clean.

What I like

The likable thing about this substrate is just the soil structure or appearance. The smooth round appearance makes them resistant to breaking. It is also great for water filtration.

What I don’t like

On of this substrate’s drawback comes with its PH level. It has a very low PH level. This might be great for plants but not for fish since it makes the water too soft.

  • It is straightforward to put the substrate in the tank
  • The substrate helps the plant to develop great roots
  • It offers a lower PH level
  • This substrate will offer the plant with perfect nutrients
  • It is not available in large quantities

Just as its name suggests, you will notice that this substrate is very unique looking. The color itself fascinates most people even without seeing its performance. This substrate comes in a deep black color. That looks awesome, right? The dark color adds more attractiveness to the fish and plants in your aquarium look more attractive. Everyone who comes to visit you will like the view of your aquarium when you use this substrate.

What I like

When it comes to maintenance, you will enjoy more of that when using this substrate. You can easily utilize a gravel siphon to remove waste. Just that. Easy peasy!

What I don’t like

This Seachem substrate is dense. Do you know what this implies? Well, this means that there is a possibility of damaging the water plant’s stems.

  • The black color makes the overall aquarium look great
  • This substrate is ideal for water plants with roots
  • Besides having nutrients, it easily absorbs and holds them
  • The quality of the substrate was meant to last long
  • It is less ideal for delicate-rooted aquatic plants
  • The substrate may have dust when you use it initially

In case you need a substrate for planted tanks at a great price, we found one for you. This substrate comes o it’s users at an incredible price. Therefore, you will still work with your budget and get this affordable substrate. The best thing is that, even at an affordable price, you will still get great features and amazing quality from the substrate. Therefore, just put aside the mentality that the quality substrate type should always be expensive.

What I like

You will not have a rough time planting this substrate in your tank. Thanks to the sandpit unit that makes you set it up with a lot of ease.

What I don’t like

There is an issue in this substrates packaging. It is not strong enough to hold the quantity for a long time.

  • You can use this substrate for a long time
  • Planting it is a straightforward task
  • There is no need for rinsing it before use
  • No need of replacing it until 1-2 years
  • It has a problem with the availability
  • It comes with a weak package

For bright lovers, we found the best substrate type for you. The Hermit Habitat Terrarium Substrates is the miracle worker in case you have a planted tank. After planting this substrate in your tank, all you will be noticing is your water plants anchored in the best way possible. Do you know why this happens? Well, this substrate is in gravel form. This is the best form that a substrate can have to provide support to the plants’ roots.

What I like

The most likable thing about this substrate is its safety. There is no need to worry if you have fish in the same planted tank. It has no additional chemicals that can harm the fish.

What I don’t like

Most people aim at providing nutrients to their plants when purchasing substrates. It is too unfortunate that this substrate has no nutrients to offer the plants.

  • It enhances your aquarium view
  • This substrate is in the form of natural gravel
  • You can use it even with fish in the tank
  • It is ideal for plants that feed on water
  • It is less suitable for plants with roots

Are you looking for the best soil substrate? Then, Carib Sea Eco-Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate will serve you better. Soil substrates are very rich in nutrients necessary for plant nourishment. One of these substrates most amazing feature is its bimodal grains. By bimodal, we mean that this substrate has a combination of tiny and large grains. This is essential in helping the aquatic plants in east rooting. Aquatic plants will strong roots can easily absorb the nutrients. It leaves no nutrients; therefore, algae will not exist since there will be no nutrients left for its growth.

What I like

When you plant this substrate in your aquarium, you will notice that the aquarium will be very attractive. Thanks to its matte black color. The manufacturer is wise enough to pack the substrate while still wet. Do you know why this is important? Well, the substrate still enhances the growth off functional bacteria while still in the package.

What I don’t like

Besides all its great features, quality, and attractiveness, this substrate also has a flaw. It tends to have a bad odor when you initially open the package.

  • The package ensures that the growth of functional bacteria continues
  • It comes with a bimodal feature
  • The substrate is rich in all nutrients
  • Ensures that there is no water discoloration
  • It is relatively expensive

Aquarium gravel is the most known substrate type. This specific type is one of the best aquarium gravel substrates. This substrate comes in small size grains. It ensures that the water is safe for the fish and the plants. Do you want to know how? The substrate does not affect the aquarium water PH level. Therefore, the plants and fish will enjoy the best environmental conditions. The tiny grains of the substrate can be in different color forms. You choose the color that fascinates you the most.

What I like

This substrate has tiny-sized grain. This is very likable. This is because it is great for those with small size aquatic plant and animals’ aquarium.

What I don’t like

It is good that this comes in tiny sizes and different shapes granules. However, this substrate has a limitation. It has great grain size and shape but they are not smooth like other gravels

  • It is suitable for small aquariums
  • It does not change the water’s PH level
  • The gaps between grain allow water flow
  • This substrate offers great support for the plants
  • You need to rinse it before utilization
  • The granules are rough

Do you have rooted plants in your aquarium? We have the best suggestion for a substrate for you. This specific substrate type works well for water plants with roots. The grains of the substrate ensures that the roots system of the plants thrives in the best way. This enables the roots to be in a position of absorbing all the nutrients from the substrate. With all the nutrients, your aquatic plants will always flourish. Just the way you always wished for.

What I like

Some substrate haves no effect on the water’s PH level.  However, this substrate has a positive effect on the PH level. It enhances a low PH level that aids in softening aquarium water

What I don’t like

This substrate disappoints in some ways. You will notice that the aquarium water becomes cloudy after some time of adding the substrate. Avoid this by rinsing the substrate before use.

  • It softens the water through lowering the PH level
  • The substrate is great for rooted plans
  • This substrate is 100% natural
  • It functions for long without replacement
  • It makes the aquarium water cloudy initially

This is a great substrate for your aquarium made from volcanic ash. You can get it in brown or black color. These colors are a great combination with the fish and plants to enhance the appearance of the aquarium. You will enjoy the view you get with this substrate planted in your aquarium. In case you have a freshwater aquarium, this substrate will work well for you. For the saltwater aquarium owners, just stay away from this substrate.

The aquarium is prone to accumulate impurities over time. Using Ultum Nature Controsoil Freshwater Planted Aquarium Substrate will ensure that all these impurities are wiped off. The substrate is capable of removing impurities like ammonia.

What I like

This substrate is available in different grain sizes. The grain size ranges from 1mm to 5mm. This is the best grain size range that ensures that oxygen circulation in the aquarium is perfect.

What I don’t like

This is a great substrate, however, there is a problem with the quantity. You need too much of the substrate to fill your plant and fish aquarium. Therefore, you need to purchase the substrate n bulk.

  • It is great for freshwater aquariums
  • The substrate requires no rinsing before use
  • You can choose from a variety of 2 colors
  • The substrate comes at an affordable price
  • You need a large amount to fill your aquarium
  • Not great for saltwater tanks

In case you need a unique aquarium gravel substrate, this is the best choice for you. The Carib Sea ACS00832 Peace River Gravel for Aquarium will never disappoint you. If you want to create a great environment for your aquatic animals and plants this is the best aquarium to use. Your fish will always stay stress-free which will make a great improvement in their growth. Your plants will also receive the nourishment they deserve.

What I like

The only thing that fascinates most people is the price. I mean, no one wants to spend too much on a substrate when there are affordable substrates in the market.

What I don’t like

Each substrate comes with its drawbacks. For this substrate, the problems are the small gravel. In case you use a gravel vacuum for a long time to clean the substrate, they end up getting sucked.

  • The price of this is user-friendly
  • The appearance of this substrate looks natural
  • It is ideal for small aquariums
  • This substrate has a moderate PH level
  • This substrate is of very high quality
  • The substrate can make the water cloudy in the beginning

Buying Guide

It is a great thing to have aquatic plants in your aquarium. The problems come in when you want to select the best substrate for these water plants. This leads you to think of the aspects you should consider since there are dozens of substrate type which can serve different aquariums and plant types. We did the research and came up with the following aspects to guide you in buying the substrate. 

Grain size

You need to know that different substrate types available in the market have different grain sizes. Therefore, it is important to know which grain size is ideal for your aquarium and plant type. However, there is a general grain size guide that will work for most aquariums and plants. We recommend that you stay away from substrates that have very fine grains. Substrates with fine grains will not offer perfect support to the plant’s roots. The best plant substrate grain size to choose from is from 1 to 3mm.

Chemical reactivity

When you hear the words ‘chemical reactivity’ the first thing that should come to your mind is the PH level. In simpler terms, when we say chemical reactivity, we are refereeing to the PH level of the substrate. Too high or too low the PH level is not great. Most substrates that are not in gravel form an alkaline PH level. Therefore, you should take into consideration how the substrate reacts with the aquarium water. Go for a substrate with PH levels that is ideal in case you have fish in the tank


It is also important to look into the material of the substrate. The most know material used in substrates is sand, gravel, and baked clay. All these materials will serve different aquatic plant types. Sand and gravel substrates have no nutrients to offer to the water plants. This makes them not ideal in case you have plants with roots. Use them if you have plants that get the nutrients directly from the water. The baked clay or soils are great when it comes to the provision of nutrients to the aquatic plants. 

Cleaning simplicity

Remember that your aquarium accumulates dirt with time. This makes the substrate prone to having dirt and debris. In that case, you need to clean them at the point where they accumulate wastes.  This is where the ease of cleaning is essential. You should look for a substrate that is easy to maintain overall. You can go for the types that allow you to use a gravel siphon to siphon out the debris in the substrate. Also, look for the type that allows you to use it for a long time without replacing. 


When considering this aspect, you should ask yourself just a single question. How do I want my aquarium view to look like? What most people don’t know is that substrates add up to the overall view of your tank. Do you want a colorful aquarium? Well, you should consider going for a substrate that will enhance that look. The overall color combination of the fish, plants, and substrate adds the aesthetic value of the tank. Black or bright colored substrate may look great depending on your preference.

Nutrition level

Remember that we said that baked clay or soil form substrate offers nutrients to the plants. However, they have different nutrition levels. Now that brings you to consider the nutrition level in case you want to purchase a soil oy clay-form substrate. Get a substrate with the greatest nutrients percentage. The best substrate should be capable of enhancing the growth of beneficial bacteria that in return enhances the ecosystem of your aquarium. High nutrition levels also aid in ensuring that your plants have a healthy growth.

Is Sand Or Gravel Better For Planted Aquarium?

Most people view gravel and sand and similar substrate type. However, they are different in their ways. Determining the best depends on the user’s preference since each has its advantages and disadvantages. You should consider the fish and plant type you have to determine which the best fit is.

Gravel substrate

Do you have a freshwater aquarium? Then, the gravel substrate will be a great choice for you. With gravel substrate, aquarium water flows easily through it. Therefore, there will be a very minimal accumulation of bacteria, debris, and waste in the gravel substrate. They are also very easy to clean. You should not leave the gravel for too long without replacing or cleaning. This might not hurt your fish. It also causes the aquarium water to be cloudy due to the accumulation of molds. The best thing about the gravel substrate is its weight. Filters cannot remove the gravel therefore your filter will not end up clogged. Gravel substrate is also available in a handful of colors. Therefore, it will also serve the purpose of decorating your aquarium.

Sand substrate

Unlike in the gravel substrates, you should not expect perfect water flow through any sand substrate. The sand substrate is great for fish species that like burying and digging themselves into the substrate. The sand substrate has a fine particle that a fish can easily dig into. A sand substrate is also perfect in creating a great environment for fish to live in. When used in aquariums, they emulate the riverbeds or lake nature. This is a great environment for your fish to live in. It is great in ensuring that the fish is stress-free and has great growth. You don’t need to change the substrate after a short period. Food particles, waste, and debris will remain on top of the sand substrate.

You will know whether to use sand or gravel substrate depending on the aquatic plants and animals you have in your aquarium. Some aquatic animals depend on the sand to aid in their digestion system. They will, therefore, need the sand substrate that they can eat and ensure that the digestion is superb. In case you have goldfish, gravel substrate should be a great option. When goldfish happens to eat sand, it may cause blockage in its intestine.  Plants with roots and those without also need different substrates. Both sand and gravel are better in their ways. Be confident that you have chosen the best.

How To Set Up Substrate For Planted Aquarium

You should make sure that you get the substrate that’s ideal for your aquarium size. This will make setting it up a very straightforward task. You should also consider the plant type to determine the set-up depth. You will find some substrate types are very complex in terms of setting up. However, you can still get substrates in the market that are very easy to set-up. Here I a step by step guide on how to set up substrate for planted aquarium.

  • Setting the aquarium stand; make sure that your aquariums stand is very stable. Choose a spot where to put the aquarium stand.
  • Rinsing the substrate; some substrates comes pre-washed while others still rinsing. However, it is always good to rinse even the pre-washed substrate. This ensures that your water doesn’t get cloudy
  • Put the substrate in line with the base of your tank. For rooted plants make the depth bigger but for plants without roots just let the depth be shallow. 
  • Add water to the fish or plant tank. In case you have a filter, you can set it up at this point
  • Determine the PH level of the water. Make sure that it is suitable for both aquatic plants and animals.
  • Set up the aquarium lighting. The lighting is also great for the growth of aquatic plants.
  • Bury the roots of the aquatic plants deep in the substrate; big plants should be at the deeper side while the small ones at the shallow front side of the substrate.
  • Add any other embellishments
  • Introduce the fish slowly after some time

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: Do I need to replace the substrate?

A: Yes. However, the replacement period of the substrate depending on the substrate type you have. Some substrates require replacement after a very short period while others have a very long replacement period. Soil and gravel substrates have great longevity. You can stay for a year or two without replacing the gravel and soil substrates.

Q: What amount of substrate do I need?

A: This will depend on the aquarium size and the depth you want to set up the substrate. For shallow substrate depths, you will need a small quantity that in deeper substrates. However, do not put too much substrate. A large quantity increases the PH level. 

Q: Why is substrate important?

A: Most people can underestimate the importance of substrate in aquariums. However, it has too much to offer both to you and for the aquarium plants and animals. Most substrates have nutrients that help in the growth of the aquatic plants. They also aid in supporting the growth of the root system of the plants.

Q:Which substrate should I use for rooted plants?

A: Rooted plants feed through the roots. Therefore, they need a substrate with the necessary nutrients. Aquarium soil substrates are very rich in nutrients. This makes them great for plants with roots. The roots easily absorb the nutrients for the plant to consume.

Final Words

Your aquatic plants need the best substrate for planted aquariums. You should know that there are different types of substrates in the market. Each substrate is great in its way. Therefore, trust that you have the best there is in the market. Substrates are great in ensuring that your aquatic plants get the nutrients they need to have a perfect growth. By now, we know you have decided on the substrate to buy. Trust us, you can never get enough of any of the 10 substrates we reviewed today. You will enjoy their attractiveness and also the perfect growth of your aquatic plants and animals.

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