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. The market is filled with substrates, they are all different but aim to fill the same void. Lets take a look at some popular brands.

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 as suggested is unusual in the fact it is a specially formulated ‘clay gravel’. The advantages of a clay based substrate are the extremely high iron levels. Red plants are able to especially benefit as they utilise iron for that bright red coloration. The clay composition can become messy, however. Fine particles can cloud the tank initially and upon water change. It is a strong requirement to lightly rinse the substrate before use to eliminate micro particles. Seachem also adds that “Flourite® is most effective when used alone as an integral substrate bed, but it may be mixed with other gravels.” an important factor. Unlike other substrates, Seachem states that it is ok to mix fluorite with other gravel substrates. This can save you money while also being able to deliver the necessary nutrients to the plants.

Awesome Because:

  • 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

Not So Awesome Because:

  • Can initially cloud your tank
  • Can cloud your tank during maintenance
  • Too high in iron and neglects some nutrients
  • Red in color (Although other varieties have different colors)

Flourite_bulk fluorite substrate planted aquarium

ADA Aquasoil “Amazonia”

ADA products are renowned for being high quality and offering a product that works. 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. Of course the most important fact is it works. 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)


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. 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, after looking at its breakdown is very similar to Aquasoil. In fact the two are almost the same. As far as what I can see, Eco Complete is widely accepted with fairly positive response. Although there is some speculation that the substrate is the cause of excess algae in the aquarium. I would recommend Eco Complete if you are more budget conscious but still want a substrate with a copy-cat mix of more premium substrates.

Awesome Because:

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

Not So Awesome Because:

  • Not as widely used, therefore less trustworthy
  • Harder to source than bigger brands
  • ‘Live’ bacteria may not be wanted and is thought to contribute to algae


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 made specifically for shrimp. They believe 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. I’m not 100% with the scientific proof behind this and upon further inspection this substrate is almost exactly the same as ADA Aquasoil. In fact it has a very similar makeup, lowers pH, doesn’t cloud the water and is excellent for plants. It may or may not benefit your 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 it may well be worth your time. Fluval has a good reputation and usually produces 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
  • Infact its essentially the same as Aquasoil
  • Not exactly sure what aspect makes it WAY better for shrimp

7 thoughts on “The Best Planted Tank Substrates”

  1. I have used JBL contrasoil and JBL products for my planted Aquarium. I have noted that when I use ADA step 2 and step 3 (Green Brighty Liquid fertiliser) the plants in my aquarium pearl at a much higher rate when compared to other liquid fertiliser products.

    I can think only of one reason and that is the ADA liquid fertiliser is of high quality. Though I have not used any other ADA products for the Substrate I surely intend to use them when I strip this tank of mine which is about 1 year old. Thinking ADA may be the right choice.

    1. very true..I too have a planted aquarium and used JBL substrates and when I used ADA step 2 and 3 the plants started to pearl within few minutes…it must be the high quality of ADA…now I wonder what if I had used ADA substrate…I plan to strip my 5 by 2 by 2 feet tank which is now about 2 years old and redo the entire tank..planning to buy ADA substrate and grow dwarf hairgrass as fore ground and with rotellas green and red and alternentha reinicki in the mid and back ground with moss on woods and few hydrocotyle around…

  2. Thank you for such a well written review of these products. I’ve been looking for something all night from a more objective view of each of these products.

  3. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. Do you have any information as to using eco complete and organic soil together? The soil would be under the eco complete.

  4. Thanks for this I’m formation. .I’ve just bought a new tank and I want it to be as beautiful as my imagination can take it..I’ve bought Ada Amazonia for this reason..I’ve never used anything but basic gravel so this is exciting and a little scary as I will be putting my fish from another tank in it and I’ve grown quite fond of them…
    Thanks again and my fingers are crossed…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *