Hemianthus micranthemoides growing as a underwater "lawn" or "carpet" in regular Seachem Flourite

Substrates Choices

by Bing Sheng (December 2004)

There are many choices out there for the aquarium hobbyist. Much of the choice comes to aesthetics and what kind of "feel" you are trying to achieve for your aquascape but there is also a functional component that will be discussed here.

No substrate!

A bare tank is not very aesthetically pleasing but it does have its place in the fish keeping world. A bare bottom tank is useful for quarantine/hospital tanks and breeding. They are easy to keep clean, medicate as necessary, and keep sick fish isolated until returning to the community tank. If you are interested in breeding or you notice spawning behavior in your community tank, you might also consider a bare bottom tank. Fish eggs and fry are like tasty snacks to the other fish in a community tank! If you have nice plant growth and many hiding spots they *might* survive but paired parents or small fry can be removed to a bare bottom tank and fed baby food until they grow large enough to be relocated. We recommended having a spare tank handy for such contingincies and they can sure come in useful in emergencies.

Basic Aquarium

If the primary goal is a simple, easy to maintain fish tank then good news-- almost any substrate will work for you. We have two grades (fine and coarse) of plain washed gravel, natural stones, and a rainbow of colored choices. We also have a number of special substrates (discussed below) that would work well and will allow more options as you advance in the hobby. Let your imagination run wild! A note about depth of your substrate. As an aquarium keeper, you will have to do periodic water changes and gravel vacuuming. The more gravel you have, the more surface area for biological filtering but also the more wastes that can collect. An anaerobic bacteria condition can also develop with too much gravel. We can help you decide depending on your particular set-up.

Planted Aquarium

Here, I only want to give an overview of the substrates available for planted aquaria. A more in depth discussion will be available in the Aquatic Plant section of the Library. Substrates specifically designed for the planted aquaria can be enriched with fertilizers as well as macro- and micro-nutrients. They might also be composed of material reflecting the natural environment from around the world. For example Flourite is an iron rich, clay based substrate that might be found in the tropical rainforests. Plant substrates can also be chosen to accomodate the types of plants you want to grow- perhaps root penetration is important for you chosen plants, or maybe your selected plants need a lot of iron. These substrates come in many natural colors, and can be mixed to achieve your desired results.

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