Getting ready to create your dream aquarium setup without breaking the bank?

You can make that happen with the right substrate. The substrate can be the foundation of your aquatic decorations, as well as crucial for healthy plant growth. Ranging from affordable and functional to vibrant and luxurious, there are options for everyone when it comes to setting up their tank.

With so many substrates available in pet stores, we've put together our top 5 picks of aquarium substrates – all of which provide different benefits depending on tank design or budget.

From primed root tabs for plants' uptake nutrients to soil-based substrates for an added natural look, our selection can help you set up the planted aquarium of your dreams within any budget! Whether you choose something colorful that blends well with aquascaping elements or something completely neutral like sand or gravel, these products will ensure your fish have a healthy habitat while also taking into account your wallet concerns.

How We Picked the Best Options

Finding an optimal substrate for planted aquariums is difficult. With so many choices available, it can be overwhelming to try and pick the best ones for your tank.

Most people fail to create a thriving aquatic environment, with plants that don't look their best or even die off completely due to improper selection of substrates.

That's why we've put together a list of 5 substrates that are perfect for planted aquariums, narrowing down the options from hundreds so you can get it right the first time. Get lush plants and thriving fish with our selection of carefully chosen substrates!

Best Clay Gravel That is Compatible with UGF

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel 

Check Price on Amazon

Why We Love It

Seachem substrate comes with a range of compatible features that make it easy to use and highly beneficial for your aquatic root-feeding plants. The compatible features of clay-based substrate ensure that your plants get all the nutrients they need to grow healthily. The CO2 system helps maintain a stable pH level in your aquarium water and promotes plant growth by providing carbon dioxide directly to the roots.

The fertilizers provide essential nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are necessary for robust plant growth. Root tabs slowly release micronutrients like iron, manganese, zinc, and copper into the substrate over time.

Important To Know

The important thing to know about Seachem substrate is that it doesn't require replacement, which can save you time and money in the long run. This means that, unlike other substrates that may need to be replaced every few years, this substrate can last for the life of your aquarium.

It provides a stable foundation for plant growth by maintaining consistent water chemistry and nutrient levels over time. This stability allows plants to establish strong root systems and grow more vigorously than they would with an inconsistent or unstable substrate.

Because there's no need to replace the substrate, you won't disturb the delicate balance of your aquarium's ecosystem during routine maintenance or cleaning.

Best Aquarium Substrate Featuring Low Ammonia Release

Ultum Planted Aquarium Substrate 

Check Price on Amazon

Why We Love It

Ultum substrate for planted aquariums features low ammonia release that promotes and accelerates beneficial bacteria growth. The low ammonia release in this substrate helps to maintain a healthy environment for aquatic plants and fish. High levels of ammonia can be toxic to fish, causing them to become stressed or even die.

The low ammonia release also ensures that the aquarium stays stable, providing a healthy home for your aquatic pets. It helps prevent algae growth by reducing excess nutrients in the water, maintaining crystal clear water quality.

Important To Know

Ultum substrate takes the hassle out of setting up your aquarium with its no-rinsing-required feature. This means that you can simply add it to your aquarium without having to worry about removing any dirt or debris from it first.

The no-rinse feature saves you time and effort, making it an ideal choice for those who want to set up their aquarium quickly and easily. This type of substrate helps clarify and detoxify cloudy water by actively absorbing impurities.

Best Soil Substrate That Promotes Efficient Acid Reduction

Landen Thriva Natural Soil Substrate

Check Price on Amazon

Why We Love It

Landen substrate for planted aquariums is a popular choice amongst aquarists because of its remarkable water purification qualities. This aquarium soil is made from natural materials that effectively filter out impurities that can harm aquatic life, ensuring a healthy and thriving environment for your plants and fish.

Its ability to remove excess nutrients from the water column helps to prevent the growth of harmful algae and encourages the growth of beneficial bacteria that aid in maintaining a balanced ecosystem.

In addition, the Landen substrate has a high cation exchange capacity (CEC), which means it can absorb and release ions such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, and trace elements essential for plant growth.

Important To Know

The Landen substrate is a popular choice among aquarium enthusiasts for its rich organic matter, humic acid, and mineral trace elements. Organic matter in the substrate helps to promote healthy root growth by providing a source of nutrients for plants.

As organic matter breaks down over time, it releases nutrients into the water column that are readily available for uptake by plants. Humic acid, which is also found in Landen substrate, can help to lower pH levels and improve water clarity. It can also stimulate plant growth and boost their immune systems against diseases.

Best Aquarium Substrate That Highly Porous

SubstrateSource Crushed Aquarium Substrate 

Check Price on Amazon

Why We Love It

SubstrateSource substrate for planted aquariums has become a favorite among aquarists due to its unique design which is highly porous that provides plenty of surface area for beneficial bacteria and biofilm to colonize. This substrate creates an ideal environment that helps your plants grow while keeping your water clean and clear.

This substrate allows these organisms to thrive, which in turn helps break down harmful waste products such as ammonia and nitrites, preventing them from accumulating in your tank.

As a result, your plants can absorb the necessary nutrients from the water column without any competition or interference from other microorganisms.

Important To Know

SubstrateSource substrate for planted aquariums is made from high-quality, inert materials that do not affect the water chemistry in your aquarium. Having an inert substrate ensures that there are no sudden changes in pH levels or other chemical imbalances in your aquarium water. This stability provides a comfortable environment for your plants to thrive without any stress or shock due to fluctuations.

An inert substrate allows for more control over the nutrients and fertilizers you add to your tank. You can easily adjust and monitor the nutrient levels without worrying about any interference from the substrate. An inert substrate also contributes to a cleaner and clearer aquarium.

Best Aquarium Substrate Made with Clay-based Material

Aqueon Plant and Shrimp Aquarium Substrate 

Check Price on Amazon

Why We Love It

The clay-based material in the aqueon substrate is rich in essential nutrients that are vital for plant growth. It also has a porous texture that allows water and oxygen to circulate freely, promoting healthy root development. The clay-based material in this substrate helps maintain the pH balance of the water in your aquarium.

It acts as a buffer by absorbing excess acids and releasing minerals, which helps keep the water chemistry stable and suitable for your aquatic plants and fish. This not only enhances their growth but also contributes to their overall health and well-being.

Important To Know

Aqueon substrate for planted aquariums is apart from others with its spherical design. The round shape of each particle helps maintain its structure over time, which makes it an ideal choice for aquarium plants.

The uniform size and shape allow for better water flow through the substrate bed, promoting healthy root growth while minimizing anaerobic pockets that can cause plant rot and foul odors.

This type of clay substrate maintains its shape and structure, ensuring that your plants remain rooted in place instead of floating away or becoming uprooted due to tropical fish activity or other disturbances.


Setting up an aquarium can be difficult and time-consuming. It’s hard to get the aquarium looking just right, and even harder to make sure all the plants are healthy.

You know you need a good substrate for your aquarium, but it's often hard to find information about what type of substrate is best for your particular setup. And if you're not an expert, it can be impossible to figure out which type of substrate will work best for you.

Fortunately, with substrates for planted aquariums, you don't have to guess - we provide all the information you need! Our detailed FAQs guide will help you easily choose the best substrate for your tank and ensure your plants thrive in any environment.

Do plant aquariums need special substrate?

Yes, plant aquariums need special substrates to provide the necessary nutrients and support for healthy root development. Substrates made from materials such as clay, gravel, sand, or rock can provide plenty of surface area for beneficial bacteria and biofilm to colonize, creating an ideal environment for your plants.

Is sand or gravel better for a planted aquarium?

It depends on what type of plants you have in your aquarium. Sand is better for softer, slower-growing plants, while gravel is better for hardier, faster-growing plants. Both types of substrate will provide plenty of surface area for beneficial bacteria and biofilm to colonize and create an ideal environment for your aquatic plants.

How often should you change fish substrate?

It depends on the type of aquarium plant substrates you are using. It’s recommended to change or clean your substrate every few months to prevent the buildup of waste and debris. 

Sand or gravel should be rinsed with dechlorinated water to remove any unwanted particles. Rock substrates can simply be vacuumed as needed. It’s important to use the correct vacuum for your specific substrate to avoid damaging it.

Can fish survive without substrate?

Most fish can survive without substrate, but some species require it for their well-being. A substrate is important for providing hiding places and grazing spots for bottom-dwelling fish. 

It also provides beneficial bacteria with a place to colonize, which helps break down waste products in the water column and keeps your aquarium clean and healthy.

How do you set up a substrate for a planted aquarium?

The first step is to add the substrate to your aquarium. You should use enough substrate so that it’s at least two inches deep in the tank. After that, you can add plants and decorations as desired. 

Make sure to leave space between each item to allow for the circulation of oxygen and water throughout the tank. Once everything is in place, fill the tank with dechlorinated water and you’re ready to go!

What is the purpose of the substrate in a planted aquarium?

The purpose of the substrate in a planted aquarium is to provide nutrients, support, and an environment conducive to the healthy development of plant roots. The substrate can also act as a buffer by absorbing excess acids and releasing minerals, which helps keep your aquarium clean and supports the long-term health of the inhabitants.

The substrate can provide a place for beneficial bacteria to colonize, which helps break down waste products in the water column and prevents algae growth. It provides hiding places and grazing spots for bottom-dwelling fish. All of these factors work together to create an ideal environment for your aquatic plants.

Can I mix different types of substrate in my planted aquarium?

Yes, you can mix different types of substrate in your planted aquarium. This is a great way to provide a range of nutrients and beneficial bacteria for your plants.

However, it’s important to make sure the different substrates have similar physical characteristics so they don’t disrupt water flow or interfere with each other in any way.

How do I properly clean substrate in a planted aquarium?

The best way to clean substrate in a planted aquarium is to use a gravel vacuum. This device sucks up debris and waste from the bottom of the tank, leaving your substrate clean and free of excess organic matter. 

Make sure you use the correct size and type of vacuum for your specific substrate so you don’t damage it.

Can substrate impact the growth of my plants in a planted aquarium?

Yes, the type of substrate you use can have an impact on the growth of your plants. Different substrates provide different levels of nutrients and beneficial bacteria, so it’s important to choose a substrate that is right for your plants.

Can substrate affect the pH of my aquarium water?

Yes, the planted tank substrates can affect the pH of your aquarium water. Different substrates have different properties and can raise or lower the pH in your tank. It’s important to choose a substrate that is appropriate for the type of fish you are keeping, as some species require more acidic or alkaline conditions than others.


As you can see, choosing the best substrate for your planted tanks depends on many factors. You need to consider the cost, the type of plants you want to grow, and what sort of look you are trying to achieve. The five planted tank substrate options in this blog post cover all those areas, so take your time in making the decision.

It’s important to remember that with any of these options, you should research the best methods for planting and maintenance before jumping into it. Also, keep in mind that some nutrient-rich substrate options require more frequent water changes while others are less so.