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What Substrate and Soil are Best for Aquascape Aquarium

Aquascaping is the art of arranging plants, fish, and other elements like rocks, stones, cave work inside an aquarium, a pool, or in a pond. The term ‘aquascape’ is defined as to design an underwater environment in the aquarium.

To set up an aquarium, there are many requirements like plants, fish, stone, rocks, and substrates. Among all of them, a substrate is the most important element in setting up the aquarium. If you do not know about the substrate, let me define the true definition of the term ‘substrate’.

What is Substrate?

As land plants grow in soil and these plants take nutrients from the soil, but what about aquatic plants? Aquatic plants also use the soil to take minerals from them. This soil of the aquatic plant is called a substrate.

The substrate is ‘the soil’ which we use to fill the bottom of the aquarium to grow plants there. Soil that we called as a substrate is a special kind of soil that is manufactured for aquariums. An aquarium can not set up without a substrate.

Selection of substrate should be wisely made as many plants absorb nutrients from the soil like sword plants, cryptochromes, and carpeting plants absorb nutrients from their roots, and substrate provides nutrients to these roots.

There are some other plants like rhizome plants, floating plants, and stem plants which take their nutrients directly from the water. Therefore, it is important to choose the substrate wisely according to the selection of plants you want to keep in your aquarium.

Functions of Substrate

The different types of substrates perform similar tasks, but there is a difference in substrates in terms of plants’ nature. The main functions of the substrate are described below

1. Provide Anchor to Plant

The substrate provides an anchor for the plants. If there will be no soil, the plants cannot get hold in the aquarium. It provides a base for the roots.

2. For decoration

Substrates are found in many colors to increase the natural look. Gravels, stones, and natural-looking rocks are used to decorate the bottom part of the aquarium. It looks like a natural aquarium style and gives an aesthetic look.

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3. Home for bacterias

The substrate is also a home of many beneficial bacteria that help in breaking down the fish and plant waste and excessive food. These bacteria then turn these into nitrates on which the plants feed on.

4. Store Nutrients and Minerals

The substrate absorbs all the necessary nutrients and minerals that we provide to plants. The roots of plants take up all the minerals from the soil and grow well.

5. Keep the water clean

The substrates keep the water clean by keeping fish waste and excessive food waste at the bottom of the tank. It does not allow waste to float freely and pollute the water.

Types of Substrate

If we add common soil in the aquarium as we look that plants naturally grow in the soil, it will never work well. Natural soil indeed contains all the minerals and nutrients that are necessary for plant growth. But this soil can create a problem when it mixes with water.

The water becomes muddy. Most people sort out this problem by sealing the soil under a layer of gravel or sand. This will be helpful until you do not move any plant. A time comes when you need to remineralize the soil with fertilizers.

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Both methods cause murky water, which is difficult to clear up. To avoid these problems, manufacturers created specialize substrates which can be divided into two main types of substrate that are discussed below:

Nutrient-Rich Substrate

In nutrients-rich specialized substrates like ADA Aqua Soil and Aquavitro Aquasolum is manufactured. These nutrient-rich balls are also called ‘active substrate’ because it helps in softening of water and lower down of pH.

Most people use this type of substrate in shrimp tanks and aquariums, which also have heavy root-feeding plants. The roots of these plants can easily take up necessary minerals from the soil.

These substrates are made of organic material, so they break down over time and make the water muddy. After one or two years, these substrates need to be remineralized. These are the most expensive in the market.

Inert Substrates

The inert substrates do not have high nutrients, unlike nutrient-rich substrates. There are several brands of inert substrate found in a market like Seachem Flourite and CaribSea Eco-Complete. These substrates have high CEC (cation Exchange Capacity) and made up of clay and volcanic gravel.

These substrates do not break down over time, thus do not need to change or remineralized. These substrates absorb nutrients from fertilizers and fish waste. Plants use this substrate for growth. These types of substrates are used in a fish tank.

The best-used pairs or layered aquarium substrates

1. Gravel and Sand

It is known as the most common aquarium substrate. This combination of substrate gives a natural feel and can be found in different sizes and colours. They usually come in ‘Inert Type’.

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2. Limestone, Marble, Oolitic aragonite, Crushed Coral

This combination of substrate raises pH and KH in the aquarium. This substrate is recommended for saltwater tanks. It shows dirt in the tank clearly due to its light coloration.

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3. Peat

It is the decomposition of plant matter. It contains nutrients for plant growth. It also prevents algae growth. It gives a tea-like color to the aquarium. You can find this product here.

One Layer type Aquarium Substrates

1. Clay

Clay is a biological water purifier and has a very good CEC. Clay plays an important role as it extracts the ammonia from the water and provides the ammonia to the roots of the plants. An example of this type of substrate is Flourite with a high amount of iron.

2. Akadama

It is volcanic clay that is also called a red ball. It can retain water and nutrients. It provides good circulation of water and lowers down the pH and KH of the water.

Best Substrates for Aquascape Aquarium in Market

Manufacturers make specialized ready-made substrates that are easy to use. There are many brands and types of substrates available in the market. Here we will explain some best substrates. - For all your creative needs!

ADA Aquasoil Substrate

ADA Aquasoil substrates imitate the natural soil like river systems and lakes. It softens the water of the aquarium using its particles and lowers down the pH of water.

It has a natural and all in one colour that gives a natural look to the aquarium. These substrates do not break down over time and maintain their shape and structure for a long period. This substrate is best for tropical fish and plants.


  • Great substrates for root plants
  • Natural color provides a beautiful look.
  • Maintain a low pH in water.


  • Cloudy tank due to high organic content

SeaChem Flourite

SeaChem Flourite is a clay-based substrate that has a high amount of iron. Due to the availability of high iron, there is a tendency to lack of other nutrients. It is not recommended for those plants to have delicate roots.

It comes in three colors (red, black, and light sandy color) that give you the choice to select the color according to your designed aquarium. This substrate is easy to use and does not have a complicated composition.


  • Very easy to use and no complications in composition
  • Found in different colors


  • Not affordable for everyone because it is expensive

Carib Sea Eco-Complete

The Carib Sea Eco-Complete substrate alone has potassium, calcium, magnesium, iron, sulfur, and other 25 elements. It is simply the best substrate for the aquascape aquarium. This substrate enhances root development.

This substrate is not only good for plant growth, but it is also beneficial for fish. It has porous grains so that the waste absorbs in the layer of substrates and does not float on water.

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This substrate contains heterotrophic bacteria, which are very beneficial for the tank. These bacteria convert fish waste into natural food and nutrients.

However, there is one main disadvantage of this substrate that it cannot maintain the pH of water due to the combination of the nutrients.


  • Combination of nutrients
  • Porous grains
  • Contain heterotrophic bacteria
  • Beneficial both for the plant as well as fish


  • Cannot maintain the pH level in the water

Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum

Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum is mineral-rich volcanic soil. If you want to fill your aquarium with plants, fish and shrimps, then this substrate is the best option for you. This substrate is manufactured with volcanic soil that contains all the essential nutrients and minerals. The volcanic nutrients help the root to grow well.

This substrate has a light and porous texture that is helpful for bacterial growth in the tank. These bacteria will help in maintaining the clean water in the tank.

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This substrate is helpful for shrimps because it has the size of particles that are best for the growth of baby shrimps. Baby shrimps can easily hide in these particles until they are large enough to come out.


  • Rich volcanic soil
  • Light and porous
  • Good for shrimps


  • It is more expensive than other substrates.


In markets, there are many different kinds and characteristics of substrates available. Every substrate will prove the best substrate for your aquarium if you choose wisely according to plants, fish, or shrimps variety. So take your time and choose the best one.