Best Substrate for Planted Aquariums: Our Top Picks

Best of Planted Substrate

I still remember the first planted aquarium I ever had the privilege of seeing. It had a black substrate with a couple of Anubias species, dragon stone, and a group of Neon Tetras. It was simple to say the least but, its presence was a nice change of pace from the reef aquariums that lined the rest of the shop. A lot has changed since then but, we have continued to see an expanding interest in planted aquariums. In my own exploration into these aquariums, I have learned that selecting the proper substrate can be crucial to ensuring excellent plant health and an overall beautiful planted tank. While more and more people enter the planted aquarium hobby, manufacturers have increased the amount of planted substrate options on the market.

Planted Aquarium Courtesy of Dennerle.
Planted Aquarium Courtesy of Dennerle.

With the increased focus on planted aquariums, new styles of these tanks have popped up and made waves across the hobby. At Marine Depot, we have increased our focus on providing the best of the best planted aquarium products. Our goal is  to help hobbyists achieve their perfect planted aquarium. Within this article we will dive into some of our best substrate options for planted aquariums. We will make recommendations based on styles such as the heavily planted jungle aquarium, and the infamous Iwagumi style. Then, We will make a suggestion for those who are looking to achieve a low maintenance planted tank. Finally, we will discuss a substrate option that makes sense for our shrimp keepers.    

Preview

Best for a Jungle Aquarium: FlorinVolcanit Rio Cafe-XF Planted Tank Substrate“This substrate is made from natural volcanic ash that has a surplus of nutrients that aid in filtration and rapid plant growth”

Our Choice for an Iwagumi Tank: Seachem Laboratories Flourite Black Sand: “Seachem’s Flourite Black Sand will be the perfect choice for a minimalist look that makes the color of the plants and rock pop while still being a great environment for the plants to grow”

A Great Option for Low Maintenance: CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate:“This product contains over 25 elements that promote plant growth, water filtration, and PH stabilization”

Our Top Pick for Planted Shrimp Aquariums: Dennerle SK Shrimp Active Planted Substrate: “This substrate is made of fully natural materials and contains elements that are essential to shrimp survival and breeding”

Our Picks:

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Best Substrate for a “Jungle Style” Planted Aquarium: FlorinVolcanit Rio Cafe-XF Planted Tank Substrate

Brightwell Aquatics' Florinvolcanit Rio Cafe-XF
Brightwell Aquatics’ Florinvolcanit Rio Cafe-XF

Heavily planted jungle aquariums have become increasingly popular and this type of aquarium can create an excellent environment for thousands of fish species. For the most heavily packed aquariums, we recommend taking a look at Brightwell Aquatics’ FlorinVolcanit Rio. The substrate is made from natural volcanic ash containing a surplus of nutrients that are excellent for filtration and rapid plant growth. This media will also lower your GH and PH into a very healthy range for a heavily planted aquarium. Brightwell mentions that this substrate is ideal for mimicking the natural environment you would find in the small streams and rivers that run through most rain forests. Additionally, this substrates fine granules are excellent for the roots of plants to grab onto and grow stronger. Each of these factors make the FlorinVolcanit Rio Cafe the best substrate for a heavily planted jungle aquarium.   

Best Substrate for a “Iwagumi Style” Planted Aquarium: Seachem Laboratories Flourite Black Sand

Seachem Flourite Black Sand
Seachem Flourite Black Sand

For those who aren’t familiar with the Iwagumi style of planted aquariums, it is a concept that was developed by the late aquascaper, Takashi Amano. Amano was also the founder of Aqua Design Amano, better known as ADA. The design is centered around simplicity with a heavy focus on just one type of stone such as Dragon rock and only a few plant species. Seachem’s Flourite Black Sand will be the perfect choice for a minimalist look that makes the color of the plants and rock pop while still being a great environment for the plants to grow. This substrate is also great for beginners as it has organic compounds that slowly release and increase plant growth. Therefore, dosing while using this substrate isn’t really required as the plants will get the nutrients they need from the sand they grow in. With this substrate’s makeup of nutrients, it is an excellent choice for an Iwagumi type scape that often features large mats of grass species.  

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Best Substrate for a Low Maintenance Planted Aquarium: CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate

CaribSea Eco-Complete Substrate
CaribSea Eco-Complete Substrate

  With so many new hobbyists diving into the world of planted aquariums, we wanted to be sure to make a substrate recommendation for a low maintenance planted tank. After some research, we decided on CaribSea’s Eco-Complete as our lowest maintenance choice. This product contains over 25 elements that promote plant growth, water filtration, and PH stabilization. These same elements also do an excellent job in getting the cycling process started for a planted aquarium. The substrate also contains Heterotrophic bacteria that helps convert fish waste into plant food. This in turn reduces the frequency needed to conduct methods of nutrient export including water changes. Finally, this substrate has an unmatched level of surface area which allows plenty of space for plant roots to grow around and beneficial bacteria to populate. For the products ability to cycle an aquarium and assist with filtration, the CaribSea Eco-Complete is our choice for the best substrate for planted aquariums in the low maintenance category.

Best Substrate for Planted Aquariums with Shrimp: Dennerle SK Shrimp Active Planted Substrate

Dennerle SK Shrimp Active Planted Substrate
Dennerle SK Shrimp Active Planted Substrate

Shrimp and planted aquariums really go hand in hand. There are only a few things in the hobby cooler than a colorful shrimp climbing on a variety of vibrant and healthy aquatic plants. In order to keep both your plants and shrimp happy, we recommend starting your planted aquarium with Dennerle’s SK Shrimp Active Substrate. This substrate is made of fully natural materials and contains elements that are essential to shrimp survival and breeding. This substrate will lower your PH down to between 6 and 6.5 as well as soften your water to make it the ideal condition for shrimp species including Crystal Red, Red Bee, Tiger Bees and Shadow. On a more simple note, the dark color of the product really provides a lot of contrast with many colorful shrimp species and makes them pop. This substrate also encourages growth of microorganisms that are a food source for young shrimp that allows them to transition into adulthood. Each of these features culminate in a substrate that is the perfect choice for planted shrimp aquariums. 

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Planted Aquarium Courtesy of Dennerle.
Planted Aquarium Courtesy of Dennerle.

Final Thoughts:

The popularity of planted aquariums will only continue to rise and the creativity of hobbyists will bring even more stunning aquariums to light. With that will come continued innovation and improved products that we look forward to offering our loyal customers. We hope this article has shed some light on the excellent substrate options for planted aquariums that we currently stock. We will continue to highlight some of our favorite aquarium products in each of their respective categories. If you are in need of any specific recommendations, or if you just want to share your aquarium with us, please reach out to our customer care team.

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