THE MOST OVERLOOKED PART OF YOUR AQUARIUM
The most overlooked part of the planted aquarium, or any aquarium.
Let me back up. Before I tell you what the most overlooked part is let’s go to our goals. What do we want a we want a good looking aquarium. We want a balanced aquarium.
We want something that is full of large plants. We also want an aquarium that is relatively easy to maintain. We also want an aquarium that looks great and can grow a large amount of species.
I have a quote that I say almost every day. "People in life don’t get what they want because they don’t know what they want."
I’m going to stick with aquariums but that can be transferred over into many different parts of your life.
So if we want a large full plant aquarium that is relatively easy to maintain and can grow all kinds of species and not be a lot of work. Let’s figure out the best way to do that. THIS IS WHAT WE WANT.
This is where everything changed for me with the planted aquarium. This is my old 125 gallon aquarium in my family room. This was my first dirted tank.
This was the start of it for me. In this article we are going to be talking about aquarium substrate. It is by far the most overlooked part of the planted aquarium.
But before we dive in to how I like to use dirt in my substrate. Let’s just set the substrate for a plant a tank aside for a minute and just talk about a regular aquarium. Where does the beneficial bacteria live in your aquarium? Your first answer might be your aquarium filter. Well true beneficial bacteria lives there. That is a limited amount of service area.
The beneficial bacteria lives primarily in the gravel, sand, whatever you have as a substrate or bottom layer of your aquarium.
So whether you have plants in your aquarium or not. The nitrifying bacteria that convert Ammonia to Nitrite to Nitrate all primarily live here. At least more so here than anywhere else. So we want to make sure we take good care of this area.
You can recall the old under gravel filter days. Where this concept held true. The under gravel filter used to pull all of the matter down to the lower level of the substrate. The beneficial bacteria could live here.
I have found that over an inch of gravel works best. Because more nitrifying bacteria can live on the surface area of that gravel.
As a note. I have been to master fish breeders houses. While they try to run a limited amount of substrate. They do run a handful on what is primarily a glass bottom aquarium. Because they understand the benefits of substrate, or how it works when there is a lack of substrate. Now before we talk about my favorite type of substrate.
I want to touch on how you can grow simple aquarium plants in playing gravel. Now understand that you are never going to get the robust growth as you would with a premier substrate. However there are aquariums that can be successful with either route tabs or just all water column feeding plants.
Plants that do not absorb nutrients through their routes will obviously do fine in this kind of a set up. Naturally we sell all kinds of plants like this, Java Fern, Java Moss, Anubias and Bucephalandra all come to mind.
YES- You can have an amazing looking aquarium without a special substrate, but understand that your "Pallet of Plants" will be limited. Even with the craziest lights and the best liquid plant fertilizer... if a plant eats at its roots and you aren't feeding it there... then it isn't eating.
(NOTE: While I "Can" eat a noodle through my nose. It's much more efficient in through my mouth.
But never the less, if you want to do a planted aquarium with NO Dirt or good substrate. You can use plants that can be tied to the driftwood or rocks of your aquarium. One could also do a bunch of neat things with floating plants as well.
(A quick note: with floating aquarium plants. They will tend to grow much faster in your tank. Because they are floating, they will have more access to light AND more access to CO2 from the atmosphere. Floating plants like Wisteria, Water Sprite and Hornwort all are RAMPANT Nitrate absorbers. So if you are running a heavy fishload. This would be a nice way to get balanced without a good substrate as you are letting the plants that can survive at the surface do the work for you.)
If you were to ask me "Hey Dustin- I'm not doing Dirt man and I have plain gravel. What would you do?" Here is what I would tell you.
Run with plants that require NO Nutrients in the substrate. Start with Anubias, Java Fern. You could also mix in Elodea or perhaps even some water wisteria or water sprite.
Here is the tip. If you are just starting out. ALWAYS START with SUPER EASY TO GROW STUFF. You might have your eyes on something fancy, but make sure you are going the easy stuff before you try the more intermediate plants.
Next up- THE DIRTED TANK!
If you like this type of content please consider sharing this on you social media channels or leave us a comment with your thoughts on the topic or what you want us to write about ! Until next time.