The Best Planted Tank Substrates

Planted tank substrates are key to the success for any planted aquarium or aquascape. Aquatic plants are just like garden plants. They have a complex root system that aids in their uptake of necessary nutrients. These include Iron, Magnesium, Potassium, Nitrogen and many others. These nutrients play a key role in the coloration, health and growth rate of the plants in the aquarium. Nutrient rich substrates can even combat algae growth by allowing your plants to overtake the growth rate of pest plants, uptaking excess nitrates and starving algae spores.

Below we will talk through some popular and successfully proven substrates, why they work and how they price. These substrates are all market leaders in 2017 and can generally be found at your LFS or purchased through Amazon. There are many competitors in the substrate market and each company has a unique offering. Lets take a look at some popular brands.

The substrates covered in this article include:

  • Seachen Fluorite
  • ADA Aquasoil Amazonia
  • Eco Complete
  • Fluval Plant and Shrimp Substrate
  • Seachem Fluorite Black Sand

Seachem Fluorite

Seachem Fluorite is a very popular planted tank substrate. Seachem briefs this substrate with “Flourite® is a specially fracted, stable porous clay gravel for the natural planted aquarium.”. Fluorite is unusual as unlike most substrates it is made from porous clay. The advantages of a clay based substrate include much higher iron levels than other substrates in this article. Red plants will especially benefit as they utilise iron for their bright red coloration. The downside is that the clay composition can become messy. Fine particles can cloud the tank initially and upon subsequent water changes. It is a strong recommendation to lightly rinse the substrate before use to eliminate these clay micro particles and keep them out of your aquarium.

Seachem also states that “Flourite® is most effective when used alone as an integral substrate bed, but it may be mixed with other gravels.” this is an important factor. Unlike other substrates, Seachem states that it is fine to mix fluorite with other gravel substrates. This can save you money while also being able to deliver the necessary nutrients to the plants.

Advantages of Seachem Fluorite:

  • It’s Fairly well priced planted tank substrate!
  • High in Iron which is great for Red Plants
  • Easy to find in LFS
  • Can be mixed with inert gravel
  • Comes in Large Bags
  • Reputable Brand in the Planted Domain
  • Positive reviews from Amazon users

Disadvantages of Seachem Fluorite:

  • Can initially cloud your tank
  • Can cloud your tank during maintenance due to fine clay particles
  • Very high in iron and may neglects some nutrients
  • Red in color (Although other varieties have different colors, we also review Sechem ‘Black’ on this page)

Flourite_bulk fluorite substrate planted aquarium

ADA Aquasoil “Amazonia”

ADA products are renowned for being high quality and offering a product that works without headache. These products are tested, refined and even used in display tanks created by Amano himself. ADA Aquasoil is no exception with planted tank substrates. There are a few reasons Aquasoil has become so popular. The first is its dark coloration. Darker substrates help enhance the coloration of aquarium fish. Brighter substrates can wash out bright and reflective colors and are hence less popular. ADA Aquasoil also buffers the pH to stay around 6.8.

Discus, Tetra’s, Rainbows and small colorful fish are primarily from the Amazon and therefore thrive in this pH range. ADA Aquasoil is used in hundreds of tanks, and in each of these aquariums the plants GROW. ADA Aquasoil varieties are no doubt more expensive than most, if not all brands of substrate. But for minimal risk and knowing ‘exactly’ what you are going to get, it is definitely worth the premium for this planted tank substrate.

Awesome Because:

  • Amano Uses it!
  • Perfect planted substrate for shrimp
  • Dark substrate enhances fish color
  • It’s proven to work by thousands of fishkeepers

Not So Awesome Because:

  • It’s expensive! (Seriously, it’s a $40 bag of dirt)
  • Can degrade over time and lose texture
  • Lowers pH (this is a good thing for shrimp/amazon fish but not always desirable)

ADA-amazonia-substrate-normal-powder-type-freshwater-shrimp-Red-Cherry-Shrimp

Carib Sea Eco Complete

Eco complete is a popular and copy-cat style planted tank substrate. It has arrived later to the game, promises much and comes at a cheaper price. Eco complete aims at giving the end user the maximum value for their money. The ‘live’ version (Eco Complete Live) is actually very useful and offers something that few other substrates do. It comes with ‘live’ bacteria that accelerates the cycling process and helps negate the need for using live fish.

The substrate, when compared side by side with ADA Aquasoil has a very similar chemical breakdown. In fact the two are almost the same. Eco Complete is widely accepted and on Amazon has been rated 4.5/5 by over 600 reviews. I would recommend Eco Complete if you are more budget conscious but still want a substrate with the same mix of more premium substrates. Its its proven to work and it is great value for your hard earned dollar.

Awesome Because:

  • It’s very well priced in the market!
  • Very similar makeup to ADA Aquasoil chemically
  • Looks like Aquasoil too!
  • Can be purchased ‘Live’ to help cycle the aquarium

Not So Awesome Because:

  • Harder to source than bigger brands
  • ‘Live’ bacteria may not be wanted and is thought to contribute to algae (Only in live version)

lg_12989_FS31740i

Fluval Plant and Shrimp Substrate

Fluval sells its new plant and shrimp substrate describing that it is the perfect substrate for shrimp and plants. Fluval claims that this substrate has been engineered specifically for shrimp. The logic is that the size of the particles allows the fry to hide IN the substrate until they are large enough to come out and fend for themselves. There is almost no scientific backing behind Fluvals claims. Personally this seems like a marketing ploy than a revolutionary product, however the substrate has been used in numerous invert aquariums with great success.

What we do know is that Fluvals plant and shrimp substrate lowers pH, doesn’t cloud the water and is excellent for plants. It may or may not be engineered specifically for shrimp, but we do know it will grow your plants. Its light, porous and full of nutrients. If you can pick this up for a lower price than other substrates then it may well be worth your time. Fluval has a good reputation and is definitely known to produce high quality products.

$_35 fluval_stratum_plant_substrate

Awesome Because:

  • It’s made for shrimp! (Awesome!)
  • It’s dark in Color to enhance shrimp coloration
  • Perfect size for substrate plants (Like HC & Glosso)
  • Its a very reputable brand
  • Comes in smaller bags for nano tanks

Not So Awesome Because:

  • It’s expensive and very similar to Aquasoil
  • ‘Shrimp Specific’ engineered substrate seems to be more of a marketing play than an actual advantage.

Seachem Fluorite Black Sand

Seachem Fluorite Black Sand is another substrate developed specifically for the planted aquarium. Similar to standard fluorite it is made of a porous clay substance but with two clear differences. The substrate is a charcoal black and the particle size is much smaller. The black substrate will saturate the colors of the fish and plants in the aquarium. But the fine nature of the particles will result in debris building on top of the substrate and will be noticeably visible. This substrate will likely require more maintenance than other substrates and is something to keep in mind before purchasing.

It is highly recommended to wash this substrate before use. Seachem supports this and states it can take another 2-12 hours for the aquarium to clear completely. The substrate also has a highly likelihood of clouding the aquarium upon maintenance due to the small particle size. But the small size makes Seachem Fluorite Black Sand a great addition for inverts and digging fish.

The mineral composition of this substrate is complete and is ready to grow freshwater plants out of the bag. However, the black Fluorite contains just 20% of the iron levels of red Fluorite. It also has lower levels of potassium and magnesium which are arguably very important for plant growth. Sodium and calcium concentrations are much higher in the black sand which may also increase the hardness of the water. Seachem states the sand will not change the pH of the water but fails to mention whether the calcium will have effect on the waters gH.

Advantages of Seachem Fluorite Black Sand:

  • Reputable brand
  • Dark composition will enhace fish and plant colors
  • Sand is excellent for inverts and digging fish
  • Nutrients suitable for growing plants

Disadvantages of Seachem Fluorite Black Sand:

  • More likely to cloud the tank during maitenance due to particle size
  • Lower potassium and magnesium levels than red fluorite
  • Very high levels of calcium and sodium present

Radion XR15FW Freshwater Light Review

The Radion XR 15 FW is a LED light sold by Ecotech Marine. The first thing that strikes you is that Ecotech Marine primarily produces saltwater products. We know the majority of Ecotech’s R&D is spent working with corals and marine fish species. Does this make the XR15FW a highly researched product or just an attempted market capture by Ecotech?

This question is tough to answer. What we do know is that Ecotech makes very good products. So good infact that starting a marine aquarium without one of their Vortech pumps is akin to driving with a blindfold on. So we can safely assume that in terms of quality Ecotech is bang on the money. I was lucky enough to test drive one of these units and I was impressed by how refined and finished this product really is. But this is expected for a product that costs more than $300USD. Lets take a look at some of the functions that make this product unique.



15fwThe Radion XR 15 FW utilizes 15 4w high output LED’s. Its challenging to put this in perspective of Metal Hallide or T5 fittings but we can assume its an equivalent of around 2-300 watts. Considering theRadion XR 15 FW is only 7×7 Inches and 1.5 Inches thick, this output is very impressive. At the same time however, it’s a very limited size unit. Unless you have a cube sized tank or plan on purchasing multiple units it’s use becomes quite limited.

The colors are broken up into neutral white, deep blue, blue, green, hyper red, indigo, uv. The vast spectrum of colors will definitely aid in supplying the plants with light very similar to sunlight. Looking at the graph shows a strong spike in blue and magneta levels. These are important in aiding rapid growth in aquatic plants. I feel Ecotech has hit the nail on the head with the spectrum, taking care to match nature. If that isn’t enough you can change specific light wavelength intensities and durations.

Personally the bracket that comes with the light is not attractive. And if we want to be pedantic, the whole light unit is fairly boring without much character. This is partially made up for by the phone application. It’s fairly intuitive (although it takes a lot of getting used to) and allows you to adjust all lighting parameters at any time. ‘Ecotech Live’ allows this efficient broadcasting over network.

All in all the XR 15 FW will produce a very strong light that has a wide range of applications. It will use up to 60% less power than older efficient setups. It has removable lenses that can be adjusted for deep or shallow aquariums. And it is sold by a company with a very good reputation. Unfortunately the unit is very expensive. This is only made worse by the fact the unit is square and may be unsuitable for a longer aquarium.



Takeaway: If you have a cube style aquarium, you are a fan of LED technology and enjoy the idea of smart phone app integration this may be the light for you. Purchase it and never look back. I was not disappointed in the trial and can assure you will receive value for money on this long term investment.

The top 5 best Aquascaping Plants

An introduction to the best Aquascaping Plants

Ever wondered what are the most popular, easily cultivated and best looking plant species. Look no further. We cover the top 5 Aquascaping plants from substrate to background. These plants are on their aesthetics and their ease of use. The vast majority of these plants require higher lighting, we will soon explore suitable plants for low lighting.

Dwarf Baby Tears | HC | Hemianthus Callitrichoides

HC2 HC

Dwarf Baby Tears, also known as HC is a classic. HC is  possibly the most popular of all aquascaping plants. It’s unique ability to carpet the entire aquarium with a bright green makes it an excellent contender for any aquarium. It is fast growing and will spread on its own accord. However, HC needs strong lighting and CO2 injection to produce those magical carpets you see in award winning aquariums. HC is the best choice for undulating aquarium styles such as Iguami. It can give the effect of grassy hills & paddocks. A unique and excellent plant choice.

 

Rotala Green

rotala

Primarily a background plant, Rotala is a diverse addition and is praised primarily for its fine leaf structure and fast growing nature. Rotala is also exceptionally easy to propagate. Stems can be cut off and replanted, only to begin regrowing days later. Rotala has fine leaves, these give the aquascape more visual depth and size. There are many types of Rotala that appear in varying degrees of greens and reds at varying sizes. Rotala Green is a clear winner and can be used in strong to weak lighting setups. Easy to propagate, easy to care for Rotala Green is number 2 on our list.

 

Christmas Moss | Xmas Moss

christmas
Whether you love or Moss it will always be used in aquascaping. Christmas Moss is fairly common and still possibly the greatest addition to any aquascape. It is incredibly easy to grow in both high and low light setups. All moss have the unique ability of consuming the aquariums nitrates at rapid rates. Christmas Moss is no different, it will clean the tanks water while growing into a beautiful natural cover for rocks and substrates. The very fine leaves of Christmas Moss make it a key player in making new rocks and driftwood look ‘natural’. Easy to use and cheap to source it is a definite yes in any aquascape.

 



Needle Leaf Java Fern | Microsorum pteropus Narrow

needleleaf

Forget Java Fern, the big bushy leaves and very fast growth rates will dominate the aquarium and plague the tranquility. Needle Leaf Java Fern on the other hand is amazing. The thin leaves make that much difference. They can be stunning when attached to driftwood and allowed to grow sporadically into open water columns. They make for a very natural look. Unlike standard Java Fern they grow much slower and smaller. But like Java Fern they only need a low amount of light to keep healthy. They will also thrive in high lighting setups. Consider this plant as it is a great addition to any aquarium.

 

Anubias | Anubias Barteri

anubias

Anubias has and always will be a winner in the hobby. It is perfect in decorating wood and hardscape giving the aquarium a natural feel. It grows slowly, does well in all lighting conditions and can be easily propagated. It is also low priced and can be found at most fish specific stores. Pick up some Anubias for your aquarium, you will not regret it.

Best Aquascapes of 2014

Here is a brief breakdown of some of the best competition winning aquascapes of 2014. These artists combine knowledge, skill and patience to produce some of the most beautiful aquascapes this world has ever seen. This is truly aquascaping at its very best.

Aquatic Garden

aquascape1

Wolinksi Gregoire produces this jawdropping scene that looks like it could be from Avatar. Jagged floating rocks are gently speckled with live moss giving the scene a perfect contrast. These rocks form ‘windows’ on the left and right which look like passages into another world.  The 82 Gallon masterpiece houses Green Neon Tetras, Eleocharis acicularis ‘Mini’ substrate, coral moss, weeping moss and many more. It is a delicacy of fine plants and brings together the best aspects of aquascaping. Whats more impressive is the seemingly low light setup used only 140 watts of lighting coming in at just 1.7 watts per gallon. It just goes to show aquascapes are not judged on the quality of their setup but the attentiveness of their artist.



The Flamboyant

aquascape3

Fabian Kussawaka unveils this beautiful aquascape coming 10th place in the annual AGA competition. At 48 gallons this aquascape mimics a stunning natural Japanese Garden. The Bonzai red ‘tree’ in the center is absolutely stunning carefully crafted with Bacopa sp Red. Other notable plants include Rotala Walichi & Green in the background, Flame moss, anubais on the wood and fine stands of Helanthium tenellum in the foreground. Cardinal Tetras have been used with an excellent complimentary effect. All in all a fabulous relaxing and thoughtful piece.

BedRock

aquascape4

Cheak Swee Lim engages the audience with a truly natural and unruly aquascape. Aquascaping attempts to capture nature in its raw form. This aquascape does exactly that. Wild spurs of Needle Leaf Java Fern sway and dart into the open water. HC, Pennywort and Pearl Grass give the  substrate a natural and layered feel. Using three different substrate plants gives the impression these plants were not placed but grew here by ‘accident’. This aquascape really shows off nature in the highest form. A truly remarkable scape that must be absolutely stunning in the flesh.

Hidden Place

aquascape6

 

Paquale Buonpane mimics a natural forrest with this breathtaking aquascape. The amount of thought, dedication and time put into a production piece like this is mindblwoing. The simplicity of the plants is mind blowing. The vast majority of the trees are comprised of weeping moss, java moss and fisdens fontanus. This aquascape also uses modest lighting coming in at just 1.5 watts per gallon. The aquascape houses a small number of neon tetras which can be seen schooling at the front of the image. A very interesting concept of tree covered mountains has been executed very well. This is a glimpse of aquascaping really pushing the limits of imagination.

Journey

aquascaping competition winners

Michael Wong produces this calming aquascape at just under 65 Gallons. With over 3 watts per gallon, CO2 diffusion, 2 undergravel filters and ADA accessories this is a powerhouse aquascape. The fine needle leaves of Rotala Verticillaris in the back of this aquascape really emphasises the size of this piece. This is further complimented by the school of small neon tetra swimming across the ‘valley’. Although a consistent theme, Michael has managed to produce a stunning valley framed by two jagged mountains. The attention to detail is astonishing, aquascaping like this takes time, foresight and patience.

Unnamed

aquascape8



Last but not least is Siak Wee Yeo with this mesmerizing moss covered fantasy land aquascape. The arches in the rocks and height of the scape is incredibly difficult in achieving shape and stability. The moss, needle leaf java ferns and natural curves of the gravel substrate set this apart from other aquascapes. A truly fantastic achievement, it is interesting to imagine where aquascaping will take us next.

The majority of these scapes were entered in either the AGA 2014 Competition or the IAPLC Competition here Check them out for more details and even more beautiful aquariums.

And make sure to follow AquariumInfo on Facebook here for more photos, updates and write ups on the latest Aquascaping Products & news.

 

Vortech Quiet Drive Review | Worth Upgrading?

Ecotech Marine have released their latest advancement in marine technology. The MP10 , MP40 and MP60 are the most popular solutions for replicating natural currents in the industry. The new advancement in this range includes the MP10QD the MP40QD and the MP60QD. QD Stands for Quiet Drive technology. Having owned an MP40 the motor can be heard at times winding up and down. This is especially noticeable on a quiet setup during the night. The new quiet drive technology claims to reduce motor noise by up to 90% . This in itself is a huge breakthrough for the company. Not to mention the pump is fitted with a variety of other advancements. These include 6 extra continuous operation modes, feeding mode, night mode and sync with Ecosmart live.



Is It Worth the Upgrade?

mp40wqd

Vortech MP40wES Is it worth the upgrade to the Vortech Quiet Drive MP40wQD?
This is one of the biggest questions on every reef fanatics mind. The MP40wQD is the real winner here. The pump has had a complete redesign increasing its maximum output by a whopping 40%. The pump is more efficient now fitted with a new propellor and higher quality bearings that may make this a worthy upgrade. The pump is priced at $349 which is $50 lower than the initial sales of the MP40. The MP40wQD comes with all the features at a very fair price tag. If coming from a MP40wES the upgrade may not be worth it. Personally moving from a working MP40wES to a MP40wQD the new unit is definitely quieter with more power.  However the majority of the time I have the unit on a lower setting. In my honest opinion $349 ($200 after selling the old unit) could be better spent on coral or monitoring hardware. Moving from an MP10wES however may prove a huge upgrade. MP40wQD will now be able to handle aquariums up to 500 gallons in size. For SPS tanks the MP40wQD is more affordable and outputs 50% higher flow rate than two MP10wES units. Thats some food for thought.

Vortech MP10wES Is it worth the upgrade to the Vortech Quiet Drive MP10wQD?

The Ecotech Marine MP10w ES has the option of upgrading to the Quiet Drive MP10wQD with only a change in controller. This offers noise reduction, efficiency changes and boosts in maximum flow. The Ecotech Marine MP10w ES is not renowned for being especially loud. This is mainly due to its small size. On my nano aquarium, I hardly notice the pump – especially when factoring in the hum of the return flow. Unless there is noticeable noise or lack of flow from your MP10wES, the upgrade may be mainly superficial. Unless buying a new pump outright, money from upgrading a fully functional MP10wES can be better spent elsewhere. If flow is an issue, remove your inhibitions and purchase the MP40eQD without hesitation. It is easily the best built, highest functioning piece of technology I have ever had the pleasure of using.

vortechquietdrive

MP60wES Is it worth upgrading to the Vortech Quiet Drive MP60wQD?

To put it simply, Yes. I was fortunate enough to physically see and hear the difference between the two controllers. It is astounding how changes in hardware and software controllers can have such an impact on this pump. Unlike the MP10wES the MP60wES is a noisy beast. The pump is noticeably loud on quiet aquarium setups. The aquarium I viewed the demonstration had an underground filtration room and the tank was whisper quiet. There is a noticeable hum and gradual increasing whir when the MP6-wQD delivers strong flows to the aquarium. When the MP60eQD was (eventually) installed, the pump was noticeably quieter. So much so that we had to check the controller to ensure it was on full throttle. To put it simply, this is an upgrade definitely worth looking at.

 

TL;DR

MP40wES Owners should hang on to their pump and hold off purchasing the Vortech Quiet Drive MP40wQD until there is an issue or they plan on buying a new one. They won’t notice a huge difference except noise.



Ecotech Marine MP10w ES Owners should save their money purchasing the Vortech Quiet Drive MP10wQD unless a fraction reduction in noise is desirable. MP10wES owners should consider purchasing the MP40wQD is they require more flow as it is a brilliant pump.

MP60wES Owners should purchase the upgrade as soon as they can get their hands on it. Personally, the noise difference between the standard and Vortech Quiet Drive MP60wQD controllers was night and day.