Types of Substrate:
Which substrate is right for your aquarium?
The substrate should complement everything else that you place in your tank. For instance, if you want to create a planted tank, you want a substrate that supports the roots of your plants, like soil. Likewise, if you have bottom-dwelling fish, you want a smooth, rounded substrate – a sharp substrate can injure your fish. You can also layer multiple substrates to take advantage of the benefits each one provides.
You can layer sand over soil, for instance, to give your aquarium a light-colored bottom while the soil is still able to provide nutrients to plant roots. Because of these variables, there is no single ‘best substrate’. What is right for one tank might not be suitable for another. It’s important to choose the right substrate in the beginning. Once your aquarium is completely set up and stocked with fish, changing the substrate is a difficult and time-consuming process.
What color substrate should you choose?
The debate as to which color substrate is best is older than the internet. Some claim that the color has no impact while others believe that it is best to imitate the fish’s natural environment. At the end of the day, it all comes down to personal preference. If you want a florescent green substrate, then go for it. Fish are adaptable as long as the water is good quality, the fish are well fed and the tank is maintained.
So, color is not really an issue. Using the right type of substrate is much more important. One of the reasons hobbyists prefer natural substrates is that unusual colored substrates distract you from the fish – making it harder to spot the fish and substrate starts competing for attention. Bright-colored fish on a black or brown substrate really stand out!Alternatively colorful fish over a white sand substrate look bright and happy too.
How much substrate do you need?
The general recommendation is at least 3 inches on an average. Not only will this amount be pleasing to look at, but it is also deep enough to allow plants to root without floating away. While there is no upper limit to how much substrate you should use, there are some things to keep in. The thicker the substrate, the less room there is for the fun stuff, like fish, decorations and plants. There will come a time when you need to clean your substrate. And the more of it there is, the more you will have to clean. The substrate does not have to be perfectly level. Instead, you can build up the substrate in specific areas of your tank.
By making hills, mounds and slopes you create a unique and eye-catching aquarium. This is particularly common in aquascaping. It’s like landscaping, but for your aquarium. Do remember that harmful gases build up under sand and soil, in areas where oxygen does not reach. When the substrate gets disturbed, for example during cleaning, these gases get released in the water, and cause damage to the fish. More the substrate, more such areas can form, so one needs to be careful.
Maintaining your substrate
Like everything else in your aquarium, your substrate requires tender loving care. The amount of maintenance your substrate requires entirely depends on the material you choose. Some substrates, like river rock, need to be washed before use to remove dust and dirt. Other substrates, like gravel, need to be regularly vacuumed to remove dead plant matter, uneaten food and fish poop.
And then there are substrates that need to be replaced. Plants eventually deplete soil of its nutrients. When this happens, the old soil needs to be removed and replaced with new soil, or fertilizers need to be added. Familiarize yourself with the maintenance needs of your substrate before adding it to your aquarium.
Do you need a substrate?
You don’t really NEED a substrate. In fact, you can skip it entirely. An aquarium without any substrate is referred to as a bare bottom tank. A bare bottom tank has pros and cons. For example, it limits the type of fish you can choose – any fish that hides in the substrate or scavenges through it for food is unsuitable for a bare bottom tank. Many grow out tanks, especially for Discus fish are bare bottom tanks, and it’s a hell lot easier to clean, and keep water quality top of the chart. So while most people go the substrate route, if you feel differently, then that is perfectly fine too!