Proper way to change substrate in an established tank?

preserveomelette

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Hi everyone, I'm new to the forum.

I'm still relatively new to the hobby; I've had a 10 gallon tank for a betta for almost a year now. I believe I have a good understanding what it means to take adequate care for him, and he is still doing well. The tank is established and the water parameters 0 ppm ammonia and nitrites, and 10 ppm nitrates. The tank is mainly decorated with artificial decorations with some gravel. However, as of now, my family is planning to change the decorations and substrate in the tank. We plan to move to real plants rather than artificial, and we want to use sand as our substrate. I'm glad we're making changes, but then that raises several questions for me.
What will happen to the bacteria that the tank has, and what is an effective way to change the substrate without disturbing the cycle? Second of all, what plants are best for a betta tank, and how do I maintain said plants? I'm not really sure where to begin.
 

Deanasue

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Great questions! I would put as much of the old substrate in a panty hose and leave it in the back of the aquarium on top of the sand to maintain your beneficial bacteria. Be sure to keep it in tank water why you switch it out for sand. You can remove it after about 6 weeks. Regarding plants, you can use just about anything with bettas. They like to sit in floating plants so they can get to the top for air quicker. I would recommend some floating anacharis for that purpose. I usually have amazon sword and anubias in my tank. Water lettuce ( big type, not dwarf) is also great to float and grows long beautiful roots that the bettas like to play in. Just be sure to weed them out and not let them take over the entire top of the tank or they will block light for other plants and also use too much oxygen. I let them cover about 1/2 the top. Good luck! Send us pics. :)
 

Byron

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Welcome to TFF. :hi:

In an established aquarium, bacteria will be living on every surface, in what we term the biofilm. Most of the talk about bacteria is centered on the nitrifying bacteria species that convert ammonia to nitrite and nitrite to nitrate. But this is only the tip of the bacteria iceberg. The filter tends to hold much of the nitrifying bacteria, but there is a sizable colony in the substrate, and there are other species of essential bacteria in the substrate primarily. So you are correct in thinking the substrate is the primary bacteria bed.

There is obviously no way to "keep" any of the substrate bacteria when changing over the substrate. But it should not cause a problem with the cycle, especially with a single Betta in a 10g tank, and with live plants. These plants will easily handle the ammonia, and not produce nitrite or nitrate in doing so. However, as a precaution, keep the filter wet in tank water; this will preserve most of the bacteria, the nitrifyers primarily.

Bettas appreciate floating plants, leaving some open water between them or their leaves. Lower plants that are planted in the substrate are up to you; plants requiring lower light work best when you have floating that will shade the lower area (this too the Betta will appreciate). Java Fern and Java Moss can be attached to wood or rock or other decor, and these are low light plants. Water Sprite is a superb floating plant, and similar are Frogbit and Water Lettuce.
 

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I agree with the above members, I do what is called a planted or silent cycle when I start a new tank. Basically you make sure you have enough plants to handle the ammonia created by the fish, with one Betta this will be relatively easy. Care for floating plants and ferns is easy. They draw what they need from the waste in the water your fish produces and any leftover food that decomposes in the tank. You can add products like flourish if you wish. If you decide to add plants that take what they need from the substrate (rooted plants)you can use plant root tabs which you place close to the roots of those plants. Floating fast growing plants are the most important because they use the most ammonia quickly. Enjoy your Betta :fish:
 
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preserveomelette

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Good luck! Send us pics. :)
Thanks! Will do. So do I just vacuum all the gravel out on a single day and then put the sand, or take it out in parts? I still have the filter where most of the bacteria should be so should I keep it in there as well?
 

Retired Viking

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Yes you can change it all at once just make sure you have those fast growing floating plants in the tank to absorb the ammonia.
 
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preserveomelette

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@Retired Viking @Byron @Deanasue
So if I plan to take it out all at once, I need to have some live plants ready? Should I also do a water change since there might be uneaten food and ammonia(?) in the gravel? Plus, will the tank have to re-cycle again?
 

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Thanks! Will do. So do I just vacuum all the gravel out on a single day and then put the sand, or take it out in parts? I still have the filter where most of the bacteria should be so should I keep it in there as well?
Yes, keep your filter media wet in tank water in a bucket. Then place it back in filter and turn it back on when tank is filled again and dechlorinated.
 
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preserveomelette

preserveomelette

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Yes, keep your filter media wet in tank water in a bucket. Then place it back in filter and turn it back on when tank is filled again and dechlorinated.
I don't mean to be persistent, but you mean I do a massive water change to suck up all the gravel? Do I keep some aquarium water too? Most of all, when do I place the plants?
 

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Do you have a filter on/ in the tank?

If you do have a filter in the tank, just drain most of the water out and put it in a clean fish bucket with the fish and filter media. Tip the gravel out and put clean (washed) sand in. Add the old water, fish and filter. Top up with some clean dechlorinated water. Turn everything back on and your done.

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Plants will grow just as well in gravel or sand. So if you don't mind the gravel, then leave it there and just add some live plants.

You need light on the tank for live plants. What sort of light is on the tank and what sort of globe does it have?
Look for numbers and a letter on the globe (something like 4500K).
 

Byron

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Thanks! Will do. So do I just vacuum all the gravel out on a single day and then put the sand, or take it out in parts? I still have the filter where most of the bacteria should be so should I keep it in there as well?
Just to be clear...you want to change the entire substrate over at one go. So the Betta will be in a temporary "tank" in water siphoned from the existing tank. Move over the filter, it doesn't need to be on necessarily, just submersed in the temporary tank. Then drain out all the water, and remove the existing gravel. Add the washed sand. Add the decor and any rooted plants (rooted in the substrate if you intend these), fill with tap water using a conditioner, move the filter over without rinsing, add the floating plants. If everything is the way you want it, move over the Betta.
 
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