What substrate is best for a planted tank?

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Redfish_

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Hi there,
This is my first time on this forum - I'm a relative beginner.
I'm hoping to get a 40 gallon tank and would like to plant it heavily. Since im a beginner I would like to avoid C02 injections if possible and stick to liquid. I was curious what substrate/root tabs combo would be best.
I've attempted aqua soil once in a heavily planted 5 gallon, and it cased horrible string algae outbreaks - that tank has since been dismantled, as I couldn't resolve the issue, and I'm a bit reluctant to try again, as its so expensive and I don't want to have to deal with severe algae. I've had good luck in my 10 gallon with sand and root tabs/liquid fertilizers, but that doesn't have many heavy root feeders (java moss, wisteria, bacopa, duckweed, anubias and a few other odds and ends). The aim for this tank would be an upgrade for my dwarf rasboras and pygmy corydoras, so I can have some bigger schools, and more shrimp. The tank would be low light, low current, and I would stick to plants that can cope with this (suggestions for plants?).
Did I do something wrong when I tried aquasoil? What substrate would be best?
Thank you!
 
Hello, welcome to the forum!
In my opinion the best substrate is the one that suits your fish best. Since you have pygmy corydoras then you need to keep them on a sand substrate. For a lot of bottom dwellers and corys in particular, a soft sand substrate is non-negotiable.

So what I would do, is get a good quality root tab (seachem are my favourite, but I've heard good things about API) and combine those with a fine play sand.
Play sand will need a really good wash in clean water, but the money you'll save instead of using "decorative aquarium sand" is well worth it.
For my first ever tank I used a mix of gravel and aquasoil under a thin sand layer (which probably cost me €60+) which caused issues apon issues apon issues. I personally wouldn't use anything but play sand now. I can get two 20kg bags in a garden center for €12.

For a planted tank, I'd go with 2-4 inches of play sand then space out root tabs in the areas you will be putting your root-feeding plants.
Personally I don't see any benefits to using aquasoil over sand and root tabs. Sand is far easier to keep clean than gravel or aquasoil too.
 
Thank you so much! I had never considered play sand before, it's about $8 for 20kg here which is great. I'll definitely have a lot more questions along the way as this is my first tank over 10 gallons - a little overwhelming!
 
Your location is Australia, and other Australian members have commented in the past that Australian play sand contains sharp bits of broken shell. Whether this is still true I have no idea, but I suggest you check any play sand carefully before buying. If possible, rub some between your fingers and thumb to see if there are any sharp bits. If it does, look elsewhere even if you have to buy more expensive aquarium sand.
 
Your location is Australia, and other Australian members have commented in the past that Australian play sand contains sharp bits of broken shell. Whether this is still true I have no idea, but I suggest you check any play sand carefully before buying. If possible, rub some between your fingers and thumb to see if there are any sharp bits. If it does, look elsewhere even if you have to buy more expensive aquarium sand.
The play sand I bought from Bunnings (hardware store) didn't have anything except smooth washed sand.
 
Your location is Australia, and other Australian members have commented in the past that Australian play sand contains sharp bits of broken shell. Whether this is still true I have no idea, but I suggest you check any play sand carefully before buying. If possible, rub some between your fingers and thumb to see if there are any sharp bits. If it does, look elsewhere even if you have to buy more expensive aquarium sand.
Thank you for telling me, I wouldn't have known - I would be buying from Bunnings if I buy play sand, and the reviews seem pretty good, I'll just make sure to check.
 
It's just a case of better safe than sorry, some brands will be better than others for fish tanks.
 
Thank you so much! I had never considered play sand before, it's about $8 for 20kg here which is great. I'll definitely have a lot more questions along the way as this is my first tank over 10 gallons - a little overwhelming!
Perfectly understandable to feel overwhelmed! There are so many knowledgeable and helpful forum members here that I'm sure will be happy to answer more questions in the future.
Play sand is great, I'd follow @Essjay 's advice above 😁
 
Since im a beginner I would like to avoid C02 injections if possible and stick to liquid. I was curious what substrate/root tabs combo would be best.
I've attempted aqua soil once in a heavily planted 5 gallon, and it cased horrible string algae outbreaks

The best way to avoid using CO2 is to use the CO2 in the air. Water naturally bonds to CO2 so the more mixing of air and water you have the better. The best way to do this it to have a fountain or sray bare so that water from the bottom of the tank is lifted up above the surface of the water and falls tow into th tank. The Smaller the drop of water and the long it is in the air the greater the amount of CO2 it will pull out of the air. Also the harder it hits the surface the better because come air will arrive with water into the tank. Air pumps will do the same think but for best results you what the bubbles to be as small as possible to get the air to dissolve into he water. When done well the water will have about 10 mg of CO2 in one liter of water. About 10ppm. That is about equilibrium point for mixing air and water. However in general CO2 is not the biggest issue with growing plants.

In my experience hair algae is caused by a nutrient deficiency the severely limits plant growth while leaving plenty of nutrients for the algae. Alage is a single cell organize. Its small size mains it need a very small quantity of nutrients to live and grow. Plants are multicellular organisms and as a result need much higher levels of nutrients. Additionally if just one of the 14 nutrients ts needed for growth is missing no plan t goth will occur. It can be very difficult to know which nutrient is missing. And using a commercial gertilizer is likely not going to solve the issue Most fertilizer vendors leave out nutrient like calcium nickel chlorine because they believe most people have them in their tap water already. Also the nutrients must be water soluble for plants to use them.. many commercial fertilizers use ingredients that don't stay soluble for very long.

With soil you have no idea how many nutrients are present. And with water changes and plant growth the nutrients in the substrate will eventually run out . When the nutrients run out you end up with algae issues.

Sand is and gravel are inert substrates they don't provide any nutrients. Beach sand is the best sind the tumbling action of the waves removes sharp edges in the grains. Avoid using crushed rock for the same reason. In tanks with these substrates people either limit the the, water changes and light in the hope the fish will produce enough nutrient rich waist to addd the nutrients that are not in their tap water.

So many people mixing different fertilizers to get good results or customizing their fertilizer by buying the ingredients and mixing their own fertilizer. Estimativve index is one fertilzieing method some people use. For fertilizer I would recommend
GLA EDTA+DTPA trace or micro fertilizer mix, and add just enough of a commercial GH booster to add one degree of hardness (GH) to your water This should insure you have enough of the micro nutrients and calcium and magnesium. Add these once a week right after a water change. If your water is already hard you might not need the GH booster. This works best if your water PH is 7.5 or less. Then the only nutrients left are nitrogen, phosphates and potassium. You can buy these separately from sachem or you can by the ingredient seperaty from many other places. In my experience small daily doses of phosphate work best
 
Perfectly understandable to feel overwhelmed! There are so many knowledgeable and helpful forum members here that I'm sure will be happy to answer more questions in the future.
Play sand is great, I'd follow @Essjay 's advice above 😁
I've already learnt so much from this forum, it's a really great community!
Thank you @StevenF, a lot of that I didn't know. I have already being adding GH to my water because the tap water is super soft here- I can't even test it properly. I think it was causing my shrimp molting issues. It seems I'll have to have a good look at what sand is available, and do some more research into fertilizers before I set the tank up.
 
There are more ways to approach a planted tank than I can count. I have done the harder to keep pants which must have added CO2. The reason one needs to add pressurized CO2 is because the type and volume of plants one has need more co2 to thrive than can be provided by any amount of surface agitation. I did one tank like this for just short of a decade.

None of my other planted tanks had CO2 added. However, all of them got Flourish Excel at the suggested dose after a weekly water change. I did not use it in the CO2 added tank. Some people will not use Excel because of what it is made from. My personal experience over 20 + years of using it in as many as 10 planted tanks at one time and never fewer than 6 for the past 15, was that it benefited the plants and did not harm any of the fish, shrimp or snails.

Over time I wanted to make my 20 total tanks less work without suferreing any decline in care etc. For planted tanks that meant a small variety of easy care plants which I could propagate over time. So I no longer needed to buy new plants as new tanks went up. And now I have jungle tanks.

So, I will offer the same advice here that I have given for a number of years. Getting into keeping live plants is no different than having to learn about anything new we undertake in life. We start off knowing little to nothing and we work our way up the learning curve. This involves hands on experience and a nu,mber of failures along the way. I suggest that you should start with the easier to care for plants that do not require much in the way of special attention or supplies.

You do not need fancy substrate, you do not need added co2, you do not need complicated fertilizer. In some cases none may not be needed at all. When you can do this successfully, i.e. the plants thrive and algae doesn't go wild, then you move up to more complex things.

I would also suggest you visit this site- it is treasure trove for planted tanks. Tropica is one of the worlds largest suppliers/growers of aquatic plants. I have used their liquid Fertilizer (now two fertilizers) for over 2 decades.
http://tropica.com/en/
 
Thank you for all the advice. I definitely only plan on keeping easy plants, as I want something I can see thrive, and I haven't kept anything difficult yet. Its great to know I can keep it simple, as I want the tank to be a fun hobby I can learn about, not a chore.
 
Aus here as well - have to say, I bought river sand from bunnings and after a good wash it leaves behind the most beautiful grains of sand, that look very natural. Just thought I’d mention it as it’s cheap like play sand, but much more interesting and decorative. And has been similarly polished by currents like ocean sand.
 
I chose gravel originally because I liked the aesthetics and it seemed like less trouble, but looking back I wish I had done sand. There are a lot of interesting fish that need sand to support their normal lifestyle.
 

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