5 Best Substrates for Your Planted Fish Tank

It doesn’t matter what kind of plants you have in your fish tank and aquarium space, whether they’re shaded plants, ones that thrive in low-light or bright conditions, or carpet plants, these organisms are going to have roots that hold them into the tank.

Of course, as with all plants, the roots are one of the most important parts of a plant since it will hold the plants in their spot in the tank, as well as being the gateway for them to absorb nutrients that keep them thriving and healthy.

On land, these roots would normally be rooted in the soil, but in a fish tank or underwater environment, this rooting substance is known as a substrate. In order for your plants to thrive, you’re going to need to look after the roots, and in order to look after the roots, you’re going to need the right substrates.

Today, we’re going to explore five of the best substrates available for fish tanks with aquarium plants, ensuring you have everything you need in order for your wild aquascape to thrive.

Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum

Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum

Starting off our list of the best substrate substances, we’ve chosen the Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum. Fluval is one of the most popular brands when it comes to aquarium products and equipment, leading us off to a good start in terms of quality, performance, and trust.

This particular substrate is available in multiple sizes ranges from 4.4-pounds to 17.6-pounds, giving you everything you need in order to fill your tank of any size. However, what makes Fluval stand out is what is actually is, and what it actually is, is volcanic soil.

This is a mineral-rich composition which is used because it encourages such a strong level of plant growth. It ensures they have everything they need to thrive in terms of nutrients and minerals. The soil itself also boasts that it’s neutral to slightly acidic, making it ideal for all kinds of aquatic plants.

What’s more, this volcanic soil can line the entire bottom of your tank and is not only suitable for plants, but also for reliant aquatic species, such as any shrimp you may keep in your tank.

All in all, this is a super-affordable solution that does everything you need it to. This substrate is ideal for aquarium beginners or experts alike and is ideal for any type of plants, any type of fish, and ultimately, any type of tank.

  • Multiple sizes available for different sized tanks
  • Neutral to slightly acidic pH level. Ideal for aquariums
  • Suitable for all kinds of plant and animal life
  • Designed to help plants thrive
  • None!

Flourite Dark 7KG Bag

Flourite Dark 7KG Bag

Another extremely affordable substrate product comes from Flourite, another widely renowned and trusted brand for aquatic equipment and products like substrate. Unlike the Fluval above, Flourite has taken the gravel approach to their substrate range.

The gravel here is made using porous clay. This is great for allowing water to circulate around the substrate, but the clay aspect remains heavy enough to ensure it doesn’t flick up into your current. This makes it ideal for rooting plants.

We love the fact that this clay is designed to give your aquarium a truly natural look that compliments any aquascape you may have. What’s more, the clay is entirely pH balanced and will make no changes to your current pH levels.

This is also due to the fact the clay isn’t chemically treated or coated, ensuring that it’s safe for all plant and animal life. While this is slightly more expensive than your typical substrate range, this product never ‘goes off’ and never needs to be replaced, so if you’re looking for an easy solution that gets the job done forever, it doesn’t get much better than this.

  • Never needs replacing
  • Not chemically treated or coated
  • Provides an entirely natural look
  • Perfect for any kinds of plant or animal life you may have
  • Slightly more expensive than typical substrates

Carib Sea Tahitian Moon Sand for Aquarium - 20-Pound

Carib Sea Tahitian Moon Sand for Aquarium – 20-Pound

While the Carib Sea Moon Sand is the most expensive substrate item on our list if you’re looking for a quality product that does everything you expect it too and helps your aquatic plants to thrive in your aquarium space.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, the Carib Sea Moon Sand is a completely balanced and pH neutral product. This means all your fish and plant life can continue to in your tank with the risk of the water becoming too acidic or otherwise. A change in pH levels can sometimes be fatal to your marine life.

What’s more, this sand is designed to be suitable for both freshwater and saltwater tanks. In short, it doesn’t matter what kind of tank you have; this sand is going to be suitable as a substrate. For a lot of tank owners, this fine sand is far better than gravel and is ideal for rooting plants of any size.

While this sand substrate is effective as a substrate, what really sets it apart from the rest is the beautiful aesthetic appeal. Once you apply it into your tank and add the water, the sand seems to glisten and sparkle, as some tank owners have described as being like diamonds.

This is an incredibly unique touch that you simply won’t get with other substrate products. The only downside is, for the best results, it’s been suggested that you wash the sand before you put it into your tank, just to make sure it’s only sand you’re using.

Apart from this small drawback, this moon sand is the ideal substrate for any aquarium, especially when it comes to helping your plants and aquatic life thrive.

  • Beautiful diamond sparkle once it’s been installed into your tank
  • pH neutral, so the sand is suitable for all tanks, both freshwater, and saltwater
  • Available in a large size to fill most fish tanks
  • Black colored for producing an appealing and striking aesthetic
  • Requires washing before you put into your tank
  • Slightly more expensive than other substrate options

Nature’s Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Live Sand for Aquarium (10-Pound)

Nature’s Ocean No.0 Bio-Activ Live Aragonite Live Sand for Aquarium (10-Pound)

If you’re looking for a super-affordable substrate option, there may not be any need to look further than the range offered by Nature’s Ocean. Available in multiple sizes and pack sizes, ranging from 10-pounds all the way through to 40-pounds, this is a great choice if you’re looking to create a balanced tank where you animal life can thrive.

Easily the biggest benefit this tank provides is the fact that it actively helps to remove harmful chemicals and gasses that you may find in your fish tank. These gases and chemicals include ammonia and nitrate, some of the most harmful to most fishes and animal life.

However, these chemicals are essential for healthy plant growth, which is why it’s such a great benefit that the substrate absorbs it and then allows the plants to absorb it themselves. Using this substrate then gets even easier.

Although you may want to wash it before adding it to your tank, there’s really no need to, and you can just add it in as soon as you get it. Nature’s Ocean provides an Instant Cycling guarantee, so you can jump straight into using your product without messing around.

This is a super affordable option that’s suitable for all budgets and fish tanks. If you’re looking for a simple yet high-performance that gets the job done, Nature’s Ocean has got you covered.

  • A simple yet effective substrate solution
  • Absorbs ammonia and nitrate which is essential for plant growth
  • Maintain the pH level of your tank
  • Instant Cycling guarantee
  • None!

Carib Sea Peace River Gravel for Aquarium (20-Pound)

Carib Sea Peace River Gravel for Aquarium (20-Pound)

The final substrate product we’ve chosen takes us back to the Carib Sea brand and their awesome River Gravel range. This is a much more natural design than their Moon Sand design, but still harnessed the benefits and features that the other provides.

Ideally, you’re going to want to use this gravel to design a natural, river-like environment for your fish, since this is what it represents. The gravel is completely neutral, as it should be, and doesn’t introduce any unwanted chemicals to your tank, and doesn’t affect the pH levels.

Thanks to the fine grain size of the gravel, there’s also a reduced risk of harmful detritus building up which typically could cause problems for the life within your tank. Of course, as we’ve come to expect from Carib Sea products, this gravel range doesn’t have any paint or dyes that could harm your aquatic life.

This gravel is really amazing stuff. It’s ideal for allowing your plants to stay rooted into the bottom of your tank, yet there’s enough room for the water to flow, ensuring your plants are able to access the minerals and nutrients they need to thrive.

  • Beautiful river-gravel aesthetic
  • Doesn’t affect the pH levels of your tank
  • Doesn’t come with any paints or dyes on the gravel
  • An affordable substrate solution
  • None!


As you can see, if you have a planted aquarium fish tank, there are plenty of quality, high-performance substrate products out there for you to use. It doesn’t matter what kind of tank you want, or what kind of aquascape you’re trying to create, any of the five lines we’ve listed above will be ideal.