Live planted aquariums require nutrient rich substrates that will both anchor the plants and provide the proper minerals and nutrients needed for growth. These substrates are all suitable for live planted aquaria.
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Best Overall: Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium
Eco-Complete has become one of the most popular substrates for live planted aquariums. It is composed of an extremely porous material that contains a wealth of nutrients as well as beneficial bacteria to support the nitrogen cycle. Among the key nutrients are iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, sulfur as well as two dozen other elements. These nutrients support robust root growth, while also promoting the development of healthy biologicals. No rinsing of the product is needed - it can be used as is in your aquarium. Eco-Complete is nitrate and carbonate free, and thus will not impact pH or carbonate hardness. This formula can be used as the sole substrate, eliminating the need for a layer of laterite as well as a regular substrate over it. It comes in two different colors (black and red), and they don't contain artificial dyes, chemicals, or paints. Sold in a twenty-pound bag.
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Runner-Up, Best Overall: Seachem Flourite
Seachem Flourite is a porous clay substrate that is nutrient rich, particularly in iron. It can be used as a stand-alone substrate without the need for additional plant nutrients supplements. It is not chemically treated and is pH neutral. Seachem Flourite comes in 15-pound bags and is available in a natural dark color, red, black, and black sand.
Seachem Flourite Red
Seachem Flourite Black
Seachem Flourite Black Sand
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Best Clay: First Layer Pure Laterite
First Layer Pure Laterite is a 100% natural laterite clay. Laterite is highly porous soil that formed from decaying rocks. During this process, the laterite absorbs large amounts of aluminum and iron hydroxides. When mixed together with gravel laterite provides an excellent medium for live aquarium plants, providing them with essential nutrients that are lacking in plain gravel substrates. Laterite should always be covered, never used bare. It should also never be used with an under gravel filter.
Laterite should first be gently rinsed, then a thin layer placed on the bottom of the tank. Approximately an inch of gravel should be added next, then mixed in with the laterite and smoothed out over the aquarium bottom. Add another layer of gravel over the top to cover the laterite/gravel mixture, and it is ready for plantings. Water may be cloudy initially but will clear within a few hours. Available in 20 ounce and 55 ounce boxes.
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Best for Live-Planted Aquariums: Fluval Plant Stratum
Fluval Plant Stratum is a lightweight porous substrate intended for use in live planted aquariums. It is formulated to support nitrifying bacteria, maintain a neutral to slightly acid pH, while not discoloring the water. It will not compact and allows roots to grow and spread readily throughout the substrate. A variation of this substrate is made specifically for shrimp tanks. The color is designed to camouflage newborn shrimp from fish, and the grain size is small enough for them to hide in. This substrate is not recommended for large or boisterous fish, such as large cichlids or Goldfish, nor is it intended for use in brackish tanks.
When using Fluval Plant Stratum, it should lightly rinse to remove loose dust. The tank will initially be cloudy; however, it is safe for fish and shrimp even during the cloud stage, and will clear in a matter of hours. It is not recommended to mix this substrate with gravel or other substrates. Fluval Plant Stratum comes packaged in 4.4, 8.8 and 17.6-pound bags. A single 4.4-pound bag is suitable for tanks under 18 inches, while an 8.8 back are suitable for 18-inch tanks, and the 17.6-pound bags will cover a 24-inch aquarium.Continue to 5 of 5 below.
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Best for Nitrification: ActivFlora™ Planted Aquarium Substrate
ActivFlora™ Planted Aquarium Substrates are specialized gravels that contain essential minerals, micro-nutrients, and heterotrophic bacteria to support healthy nitrification processes. It can be used as the sole substrate and is pH neutral Available in several grain sizes and colors for use in a variety of applications.
ActivFlora™ Floracor Red
ActivFlora™ Flora Lite
ActivFlora™ Lake Gems