Best Aquarium Substrate for Plants – Buying Guide

If you have an aquarium that contains plants and shrubs in the water, then you’re probably already aware of the fact that all plants must have a healthy root system in order to thrive in their environment. More specifically, this root system is present within the substrate that you put in the tank. Substrate is classified as the material that’s placed at the bottom of the tank, and it’s responsible for creating the breeding ground for aquarium plants to grow.

Substrate has the ability to affect not only the plants of your aquarium, but it also affects the fish tank’s chemistry, filtration, and even the overall well-being of the your tank. It also adds an aesthetic appeal, so your tank can look more natural and comfortable for your fish.

Substrate can come in many different types, and they can all function differently. Because of that, it can be difficult to find the right one for your aquarium in particular, so here is some helpful information regarding substrate as well as some of the best aquarium substrate for plants on the market.

Different Types of Substrates for plants


Sand is able to offer many benefits for your aquarium, but you should make sure that the sand is produced from a coarse texture. Sand substrates can come in a variety of different color shades and textures, so you should consider which one will work for your specific needs.

Multi-substrate for plants

Multi-substrate is defined as a substrate that contains multiple different types of particles. For instance, multi-substrate products usually contain a mixture of sand, aquarium soil, and even gravel. These substances can be placed in layers, or they can be mixed in with each other in order to offer a more complete look.

floating aquarium plants


Gravel is classified as a substrate that has larger particles than other types, and they offer more airflow in between the small pieces of gravel than other substrates. Given the fact that there’s more airflow, gravel is more susceptible to collecting dirt, debris, and waste in between the gravel pieces. Because of that, you’ll need to clean gravel more than other substrates.

On the positive side, gravel is able to look more natural and create a more accurate depiction of what your fish’s natural habitat was like. You should also consider the fish that you’re housing if you want gravel, since some fish consume pellets and may confuse the food pellets with the small pieces of gravel.

Complete substrate

Complete substrates are able to act as all of the other substrates do, but they add more nutrients to the water as a difference. Since they contain nutrients, this type of substrate is highly recommended for you if you have fish that like to eat from the bottom of the tank (1).

Marble chippings

Marble chippings are also a great type of substrate that you can use for your aquarium. They are similar to coral sand, in that they are based with calcium carbonate. But they differ from coral sand because they’re heavier and don’t contain as many pores. By having a more dense weight, you don’t have to worry about the chipped particles floating in the water after they get picked up from the bottom of the tank by the fish.

Soil-like substrate

You may also find it beneficial to use a substrate that resembles soil. Aquarium soil is available in either dark, gray, or black colors usually, and it’s beneficial because the particles can either be fine or larger. Aquarium soil is usually tightly packed and is able to give your aquarium plants a variety of different benefits (2).

Why is Substrate Necessary?

Having a certain type of substrate for your aquarium is required for your tank because it helps your fish feel more at home. Not only that, but it’s also needed if you plan on having any live plants in your aquarium. In addition to that, substrate for your aquarium helps the overall quality of your water in the tank, since it’s able to offer filtration.

More specifically, aquarium substrate is able to offer biological filtration, since it gives good bacteria a place to attach to in order to eliminate any waste, dirt, debris, or other chemical substances from the water. Not having the right substrate for your tank, or even not cleaning it properly, can lead to many negative effects, since the substrate has the ability to trap dirt, debris, and other substances that can potentially be very harmful. Given that, it’s important to keep your aquarium substrate clean (3).

Factors to Consider Before Choosing substrate for plants

Size of particles

It’s important to consider what size the particles are because they have to look natural and go along with the decor of the rest of your tank. If your tank is small and you have smaller fish, then you won’t want to buy substrate that has particle sizes too large. This is also an important feature to consider because of the health and cleanliness of your tank.

More specifically, the larger the particles are of the substrate, the higher the chances are of dirt, debris, and other harmful substances to get trapped and accumulate in between the particles. On the other hand, if you have substrate that is tightly packed, then there will be a lack of oxygen in the substrate, which leads to your substrate eventually releasing hydrogen sulfide if not aired out.


You should consider purchasing a substrate that comes in a natural color that your fish are going to feel comfortable with. There are many different colors for you to choose from, but your fish will most likely be more comfortable with a natural color, since natural bodies of water don’t typically have brightly colored substrate at eh bottom of lakes, rivers, ponds, and streams.

But you may want to purchase a substrate that’s a brighter color if your fish are brighter in color. Having a bright substrate can make your aquarium look bright and happy, and the bright substrate can even bring out the color of the rest of the fish. Overall, simply consider which color would work best for your fish tank in particular (4).

Best Aquarium Substrate For Plants Reviews​

1. Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum


You’re highly recommended to check out this Fluval substrate because it’s classified as aquarium soil that’s produced from the same soil that’s located around volcanoes. Because of that, this substrate is able to offer your aquarium plants vital vitamins and minerals. Not only that, but this substrate has the minerals that are known to help promote strong plant growth.

In addition to these benefits, this aquarium soil is able to bring waters that have acidic pHs down to a more neutral chemical balance. This aquarium substrate is suitable for use in aquariums that have plants as well as shrimp, since this soil substrate can benefit shrimp in addition to the plants.


  • Comes in a bag measuring 17.6 pounds
  • Suitable for both plants and shrimp
  • Contains volcanic soil, so it’s rich in minerals


  • More expensive than some of the other substrates on this list

2. Mr. Aqua Fine Pet Habitat Water Plant Soil


This Mr. Aqua substrate is highly recommended for you to check out because it contains soil that has organic and inert ingredients. Because of that, this aquarium soil is able to provide our aquarium plants with the vitamins and minerals needed in order to growth in a healthy condition.

Not only that, but this products is also recommended for you because it’s able to last for long periods of time, since it can last up to 12 to 18 months. Given that, you’re only required to change the substrate in your aquarium once per year, provided that you keep it clean. Not only that, but this soil is able to prolong the periods of time that you go without changing the water in the tank.


  • Black soil makes aquarium look more natural
  • Able to anywhere from 12-18 months
  • Substrate particles measure 2mm


  • Previous customers complain that the substrate particles were packed too closely together

3. U.P. Aqua Sand for Aquatic Plants


You should consider purchasing this U.P. Aqua product because it’s classified as a darker aquarium sand that’s able to present a more natural look for fish that are used to bodies of water that have dark sand. Not only that, but this sand is able to offer a pH value of 6.5, which is beneficial for the water in your aquarium.

Furthermore, this U.P. Aqua sand is recommended for you because you aren’t required to rinse it before using it. Because of that, you can simply install the sand directly from the bag into your aquarium. The sand particles in this substrate are also beneficial for you because they won’t break down after being in the water for long periods of time.


  • Presents a pH value of 6.5
  • You aren’t required to rinse before using the sand
  • Sand particles are small and won’t pack closely together


  • A few customers had received a broken bag in the mail

4. Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel Natural Planted Substrate


This Seachem substrate is presented as a black gravel, which is beneficial because it’s a texture, size, and color that most fish are probably already accustomed to from natural bodies of water. Not only that, but this gravel substrate is defined as a porous clay substance that’s able to offer your aquarium water the filtration that it needs in order to foster healthy living conditions for your fish.

This substrate also won’t decompose or soften when it’s placed in your tank for long periods of time. Because of that, you can use this substrate at the bottom of your fish tank for up to a few months. You are required to clean gravel more than other types of substrate though, since it has more spaces in between the particles.


  • Affordable
  • Natural color
  • Can be mixed with other gravels


  • Requires cleaning more often

5. Carib Sea Eco Complete Planted Black Aquarium Substrate


This aquarium substrate is recommended for you to consider because it contains major and minor trace elements in order to provide nutrients for your plants to grow effectively. Not only that, but this product is recommended because it’s able to encourage heathy plant growth, since it promotes healthy root formation.

Moreover, this product contains planted complete aquarium substrate, so it’s able to offer all of the minerals and nutrients that your plants need in order to grow and maintain a healthy state. It also comes in a bag that measures 20 pounds, so you have a large amount of substrate to use for long periods of time.


  • Darker color
  • Complete planted substrate
  • Contains major and minor trace elements


  • More expensive than other substrates


Overall, each of these substrate products gives you the ability to create the perfect environment in your fish tank in order to grow healthy plants. Not only that, but the substrates included in this list are able to easily be setup, since they simply get laid on the bottom of the tank, and they all offer the conditions needed in order for plants to have an effective and healthy root system.

Since each of these products gives you various different benefits, you should consider purchasing one of the products from this list. But it can be difficult to choose the best one for your needs. Consequently, you’re most recommended to purchase the best aquarium substrate for plants, which is product #1: Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum.

This aquarium substrate is highly recommended for you because it’s able to offer you the best benefits out of each of the products included in this list. More specifically, this substrate comes in a 17.6-pound bag, so it’s able to last for a long period of time. Not only that, but this aquarium substrate is classified as a substrate soil that’s produced from volcanic soil. Given these benefits, you should purchase the Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum on the market.

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