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Best Aquarium Plant Substrates: Our Top Picks 2023

No aquarium looks complete without some good plants, and every plant needs a good substrate. Without the right kind of substrate, your aquarium plants won’t thrive or survive. This is what I am about to help you find today, the best aquarium plant substrate. Let’s take a look at the top five options.

Best Aquarium Plant Substrates

Top 5 Best Aquarium Plant Substrates

Here I have five great aquarium plant substrates, each of which is ideal for planted tanks in their own right. Let’s take a look to see if we can find one that is best for you.

1. Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel: Our Top Pick!

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel - Stable Porous Natural Planted Aquarium...
  • GRAVEL: Seachem Flourite Black is a specially fracted stable porous clay gravel for the natural...
  • AQUARIUM BED: Gravel modifiers such as laterite are not necessary when using Seachem Flourite Black...

Seachem Flourite Black is a fantastic product to consider for planted aquariums. It works best in planted aquariums, but technically can be used for any type of freshwater tank. This is a special type of fracted stable porous clay gravel, which means that it is especially ideal for growing aquatic plants.

It contains a good deal of micro and macro nutrients which should help to support the healthy growth of aquatic plant life. It also features an ideal density and porosity to allow for optimal aquatic plant root growth.

Although you can mix it with other types of gravel if you so wish, it can technically be used on its own. What many people will appreciate is that this substrate has not been treated or chemically coated, so it won’t alter the pH of the water.

Furthermore, it’s also designed to house a variety of beneficial bacteria for the biological filtration of your fish tank. 

Just keep in mind that you should first rinse this substrate, because it will make your water cloudy. Also worth noting is that it just looks really nice with bright plants thanks to its dark black coloration.

Pros

  • Nutrients to support plant growth
  • Ideal for planted tanks with or without fish
  • Ideal porosity for plant root growth
  • Great color contrast with live plants
  • Won’t change pH of water

Cons

  • Will make water a bit cloudy at first

If you’re looking for some beautiful black porous clay gravel that produces great contrast with your aquarium plants, this is your best option.


2. CaribSea Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate

CaribSea Eco-Complete 20-Pound Planted Aquarium, Black
  • Complete substrate for freshwater planted aquariums
  • Contains major and minor trace elements to nourish aquarium plants

Here we have a special aquarium substrate with a new formula that is designed specifically for enhanced root development. This is a complete substrate that is ideal for freshwater planted tanks, and it comes in the form of small granules, somewhat like regular aquarium gravel.

However, unlike regular aquarium gravel, this product is made with a variety of organic materials, including basaltic volcanic soil, which is very rich in a wide variety of minerals and nutrients, all of which are beneficial for plant growth.

These highly porous spherical grains allow for optimum diffusion performance, which means that root systems can easily grow and take hold, and take nutrients from the substrate.

Furthermore, thanks to the porous nature of this substrate it is also ideal for the growth of natural bacteria which help to filter the water.

Keep in mind however that you do need to pay attention to water chemistry here, because this product will make your water quite a bit harder. Other than having to rinse it first because it will make your water a bit cloudy, it is a perfectly fine product to consider.

Pros

  • Plenty of nutrients for plant growth
  • Ideal porosity for root development
  • Great for beneficial bacteria growth
  • Works well for most freshwater tanks
  • Good price

Cons

  • Will make water harder

If you have a planted tank that needs plenty of nutrients, then this is a fantastic option to invest in.


3. AquaNatural Diamond Black Premium Gravel

AquaNatural Diamond Black 10lb, Premium Gravel and Substrate for Aquariums, Fish...
  • Aquarium Safe - 100% natural
  • Promotes good bacteria growth because of its large surface area

Some people would call this extremely fine aquarium gravel, whereas others might refer to it as very coarse aquarium sand. Either way, in terms of texture and porosity, it is somewhere in between gravel and sand.

Personally, I like this, because the porosity and density of it allow for great root growth and development. It really lets rooted plants take hold with ease.

Furthermore, this sort of texture is also ideal for the growth of beneficial bacteria colonies, which help to filter the water of harmful substances. This substrate is made out of quartz crystals, which means that it is fairly neutral.

It shouldn’t change the pH of your water all that much, and it also doesn’t contain many nutrients which will change water chemistry. 

This means that for planted tanks, you may need to add a bit of nutrients or fertilizer. The really good part here is the color, which is very deep black with white accents, and will therefore contrast beautifully with your aquarium plants.

Pros

  • Looks fantastic
  • Doesn’t change pH or water chemistry
  • Ideal for root growth
  • Great for the growth of beneficial bacteria

Cons

  • Has to be rinsed thoroughly first

If you’re looking for some stunning black aquarium gravel, this is one I always recommend!


4. GASPRO 2.5lbs Pebbles

GASPRO 2.5lbs Pebbles for Indoor Plants, 1/5 Inch Pea Gravel for Fish Tank,...
  • 【Perfect Size】These carefully selected gravels are about 1/5 inch on average and vary slightly...
  • 【Widely Used】 These decorative gravels are a great addition to your indoor plant, fish tank,...

If you are looking for aquarium gravel that is white and light yellow in color, then this is a good option to consider. Personally, I really like this color for freshwater planted tanks, because it looks very natural.

The reason why this gravel looks so natural is because it has actually been collected from real riverbeds out in the wild.

Furthermore, this gravel has not been treated or coated in any way. It does not contain any harmful materials whatsoever. Thanks to this, it should also be relatively neutral, and it shouldn’t change the pH level or water chemistry too much.

Although it may be a bit dirty and require washing before you put it in the tank, it really shouldn’t change water parameters very much. I also like this option because it has a great texture for the development of plant roots and nitrifying bacteria colonies alike.

Pros

  • Looks very natural
  • Several colors and sizes to choose from
  • Not treated or coated
  • Ideal for planted tanks with fish
  • Should not change water chemistry very much

Cons

  • Needs rinsing
  • Doesn’t contain nutrients for plants

This is a great product to consider if you just need some really basic and classic aquarium gravel for your plants and fish.


5. AquaNatural Sugar White Sand Substrate

AquaNatural Sugar White Sand 10lb Substrate for aquascaping, Aquariums,...
  • Triple washed and kiln dried - this is one of the cleanest aquarium sands available, no toxins, no...
  • 0.5 - 1mm in size - it has a dense composition and zero fines so does not blow around in your tank

If you’re looking for a white substrate, this slightly off-white sugar white sand substrate might be right for you. I personally like the white color because it tends to contrast very well with the red and green aquarium plants.

Something else I like is that this product is ethically and sustainably sourced in New Zealand, so you don’t have to worry about it doing any damage to the environment.

This is 100% natural sand that has been triple washed and kiln dried, so it should not contain any foreign substances or even cloud up your water.

This is by far one of the cleanest aquarium sands you can get, and it does not contain any toxins whatsoever. Thanks to this, it should also not change the water chemistry, including the pH.

At the very largest, these grains are one millimeter in diameter, which means that the sand is quite dense. This should be ideal for the growth of root systems, while also preventing the sand from blowing around the aquarium.

Pros

  • Great color for many purposes
  • Ideal for root growth
  • Totally natural – triple washed
  • Should not change water chemistry
  • Fairly affordable

Cons

  • Not ideal for plants that prefer gravel over sand
  • Doesn’t contain nutrients for plants

If you want your colorful fish and aquarium decorations to really stand out, white substrate like this is always a go-to option.


Aquarium Plant Substrate Buyers Guide: What to Look Out For

Here are a few things that you should always pay attention to when choosing the proper substrate for your aquarium plants.

Type of Substrate

One of the most important things to pay attention to here is the type of substrate you choose. There are three main types of aquarium substrate, including gravel, sand, and soil.

Although soil is fantastic for growing plant matter, it makes tanks really cloudy and it’s generally not the best for many types of fish either. Therefore, I’ve chosen only sand and gravel substrates today.

Aquarium habitants picking up grains of fish food from substrate in heavily planted tropical fish tank

Although sand can look nice, it tends to be best if you have a lot of bottom feeders, whereas gravel tends to allow for the best root development of plants, and is also ideal for housing nitrifying bacteria. I would personally always recommend gravel over everything else. However, this also comes down to personal preference.

Water Chemistry

Something else to look out for is whether or not the substrate in question contains nutrients for your plants, or if it is neutral.

Substrates that contain nutrients for your plants, as well as minerals, will allow for faster and better plant growth, but they also change the pH level and water chemistry. This can be dangerous if you have sensitive fish.

Therefore, always pay attention to the exact nutrients contained inside of the substrate, and in many cases you may want to go for something completely neutral that will not change water chemistry.

It really depends how sensitive your fish are and in what ranges all of the different water parameters need to be.

Appearance

Usually the appearance of something is not the first thing I would consider when choosing a product, it is quite important when considering substrates for aquariums.

After all, the substrate is a big contributing factor to the overall aesthetic appeal. I always try to go for something that will produce a lot of contrast together with my plants.