Best Soil for Planted Aquarium – Top 3 Substrate Reviews with Guide, FAQs & More

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You’ll agree with us when we say that choosing the appropriate soil which will be most beneficial for your planted aquarium can be a difficult task. 

Keeping this in mind, we put all the popular soil products out there to the test in order to find out which ones work best for planted aquariums. 

Today, we’ll discuss what benefits your aquarium plants derive from the soil and how you can make an informed decision when choosing soil for your planted aquarium.

Here are some quick summaries of the three products we’ll be looking at today:

Top Pick

This great-looking soil works perfectly for all kinds of planted aquariums. This combination of stones adds a unique aesthetic and it’s also reasonably priced.

Runner Up

You won’t have to worry about monitoring your pH levels with this product and it’s incredibly easy to handle. The black color it flaunts is also quite striking.

Also Great

The small grain size of this product ensures no waste gets built up between it and it’s able to hold your aquarium plants very securely in place.

Now, let’s get a detailed look into the three products we’ve chosen for you today.

Best Soil for Planted Aquarium - Best 3 Reviews

1. Overall Best Soil for Planted Aquarium - Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular Review

This product immediately impressed us with the glossy finish on the little pebbles and their smooth polished edges. The fact that they’re so intricately polished ensures that none of your fish will get hurt like many do when people use cheap gravel that isn’t polished properly. 

This soil is a lot smaller than most of its competitors which is good because it allows your aquarium plants to get strongly held in place. Furthermore, even though it’s small in size, it still allows for good circulation which is great for letting your plants acquire all the essential nutrients that they need.

Features of Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular  – Best Soil for Planted Aquarium

  1. 5-pound bag
  2. Individual size: 2mm to 4mm
  3. For use in freshwater aquariums
  4. Brown in color
  5. Non-toxic
  • Easy to anchor aquarium plants into it
  • Does not affect pH
  • Small in size
  • Easy to handle
  • Affordable
  • Not suitable for saltwater aquariums

If you’re looking for a reliable substrate that’s easy to use and does not cause your pH levels to change, this is the product for you. It’s incredibly attractive and polished as well.

2. Best Affordable Soil for Planted Aquarium - Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel Review

This product is black in color which already makes it perfect for planted aquariums aesthetically and as for functionality, it’s also quite effective since its porous texture makes it great for holding plants in place.

The color of the product is also completely natural; it has not been altered in any way through the use of chemicals or artificial products so you need not worry about harmful toxins that could be harmful to your fish being present in this soil.

It has a very long life and you won’t have to worry about replacing it for years as it does not go bad as long as you perform regular water changes and routine cleanings.

Features of Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

  1. 15.4-pound bag
  2. Black in color
  3. pH-neutral
  4. Porous clay gravel
  5. Does not require lacerite  
  • Compatible with under-gravel filters
  • Does not affect pH
  • Long-lasting
  • Great value for money
  • Unique and attractive appearance
  • Releases quite a bit of clay dust when first taken out of bag

If you want the best bang for your back both in the short term as well as the long term, this is the product you’re looking for. Not only do you get a massive quantity, but you also get a product that lasts an incredibly long time.

3. Best Natural-Looking Soil for Planted Aquarium - Carib Sea ACS00832 Peace River Gravel Review

This fine-grain substrate is perfect for all kinds of fish keepers since it’s compatible with a very versatile set of aquariums.

It’s completely neutral and does not have any effect on the pH levels inside your tank, nor does it cause hydrogen sulfide buildup which could negatively affect your fish and plants.

This soil is at that perfect sweet spot in terms of its size where it allows aquarium plants to be perfectly held in place but also allows for an adequate flow of water throughout it so your plants are able to acquire the nutrition they need in order to effectively grow.

Features of Carib Sea ACS00832 Peace River Gravel

  1. 20-pound bag
  2. Brown in color
  3. Individual size: 1mm to 3mm
  4. Polished for smoothness
  5. Can be used in both freshwater and saltwater aquariums 
  • Does not contain any chemicals or dyes
  • Has no effect on pH levels
  • Inexpensive
  • Helps create a natural aesthetic
  • Detritus-resistant
  • Smaller particles tend to dissolve and make the water cloudy

If you’re going for a natural aesthetic for your planted aquarium then this is definitely the soil you should go for. It discourages waste build-up and is also quite budget-friendly.

best soil for planted aquarium

Buyers’ Guide

What is the best type of soil for planted aquariums? 

There are many different types of soil you can opt for when setting up a planted aquarium. Mainly, aquarium substrate is divided into two categories: aquarium sand and aquarium gravel.

Aquarium gravel is by far the most popular variation of aquarium soil for planted aquariums. It’s not very complex and is very easy to handle. It differs from regular gravel in that it’s smoothed out so your fish can’t hurt themselves if they come into contact with it. It also doesn’t move from its place in your aquarium so you can securely plant your aquarium plants into it.

Aquarium sand has many variations such as coral sand and soil-like substrate.

Even though it’s called coral sand, we think it should be called coral gravel since its appearance is a lot closer to gravel than sand. It’s made of calcium carbonate and it gradually dissolves into your tank with the passage of time. You may think of this as a strange or bad thing but it actually has a practical purpose. The calcium carbonate dissolving into your tank’s water raises its pH which is a very clever way to counteract the lowering pH levels in your fish tank due to decaying matter such as dead leaves on your aquarium plants, etc.

Soil-like substrate is, by far, the best option you can opt for if you have a planted aquarium. The soil usually is dark-grey or black in color and holds a lot of nutrients for your aquarium plants. It is tightly packed and you can easily plant your aquarium plants into it so they don’t get dislodged.

What are some factors to consider when buying soil for planted aquariums? 

There are several factors you can think about before buying soil for planted aquariums which can help you narrow down your search to the product which would be most appropriate for your planted aquarium. Some factors to consider when buying soil for your planted aquarium are:

  • Particle size

Particle size is a very important factor to consider for all kinds of aquariums but they are especially important when you’re getting soil for a planted aquarium. Make sure the soil you’re getting has individual particles that are small enough so that they can effectively hold the roots of your aquarium plants in place.

  • Color

This has more to do with the fish in your planted aquarium than your aquarium plants. You’re going to want to choose a soil that has a color that will complement the colors of the fish you have and really enhance them.

For example, if you have dark-colored fish, you might want to get soil that is light-colored so your fish’s colors are accentuated and vice versa.

  • Type of Aquarium Plants you Have

You need to do your research and decide on what type of plants you’re going to have in your aquarium before you go out and buy soil for them.

It’s essential that you know how the plants you have obtain their nutrients.

Some plants get their nutrients from the water and these plants are known as water column feeders. Other plants get their nutrients from the soil, these plants are known as root feeders. 

It’s very important that you know whether the plants you have are water column feeders or root feeders. You don’t want to invest a ton of money on expensive soil that is rich with nutrients only to find out that the aquarium plants you have are water column feeders.

How do I wash soil before adding it to my planted aquarium? 

You can wash soil by first adding it to a bucket and then rinsing it with water repeatedly until the water runs out clean. Please note that the water you rinse the soil out with has to be dechlorinated first. Under no circumstances should you rinse your soil with water that has chlorine in it as chlorine is toxic to fish.

What’s the best way to safely add soil to my planted aquarium? 

Soil is fairly straightforward to add to a planted aquarium since it’s the first thing that’s added to an empty aquarium when it’s first being set up. Start by adding the washed substrate to your aquarium and then proceed to apply the rest of your equipment to your planted aquarium.

Can I immediately add fish and plants to my aquarium after adding the soil?

No. If the soil you’ve bought has a lot of nutrients and chemical compounds in it then you should wait at least a week before adding any fish or plants to your planted aquarium. This process is known as cycling and it allows beneficial nitrifying bacteria to be born inside your aquarium which help in biological filtration. If you were to add your fish and plants immediately, your fish might start suffering from ‘new tank syndrome’ which is characterized by fish refusing to eat the food you give them until they starve themselves to death.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can I use regular soil in my planted aquarium? 

There are definitely ways in which you can utilize regular soil and make adjustments to it to make it appropriate for your planted aquarium. Plain, old, regular soil which you get from your garden, however, would not be appropriate for your planted aquarium as it would fill the aquarium with all kinds of harmful bacteria and even pests like snails or beetle larvae.

Can soil be toxic to my fish? 

As we discussed earlier, soil can definitely be harmful to your fish if you don’t wait the appropriate amount of time for the nitrogen cycle to take place before adding your fish to your planted aquarium.

Another instance of soil being toxic is when small soil particles compact and lead to areas in the planted aquarium which lack oxygen. These areas can eventually release a compound known as hydrogen sulfide which is extremely toxic to fish.

What type of soil should I get if I have an under-gravel filter?

As the name suggests, you would need aquarium gravel if you’re going to utilize an under-gravel filter in your planted aquarium. Aquarium sand would not be as effective as it would have a tendency to fall into your under-gravel filter and clog it up.

How do I clean my soil using a gravel cleaner? 

Gravel cleaners are fairly simple to use but the main thing to keep in mind is that you should never be too forceful with your aquarium soil. Allow the gravel cleaner to move the soil and don’t try to ram the gravel cleaner down into your substrate. Being too aggressive while cleaning can cause your aquarium plants to become dislodged and it might also stress out your fish.

How do I clean my soil if I don’t have a gravel cleaner? 

If you don’t have a gravel cleaner, you can just use your hand. With aquarium sand and even gravel, a simple swipe of the hand during water changes is enough to kick up the waste and debris so that it gets swept up by your aquarium’s filter.

If you want to do a thorough cleaning, you’re going to have to empty your aquarium, take your gravel out and rinse it thoroughly with dechlorinated water. 

Can I replace soil in my planted aquarium with a different one without displacing my aquarium plants? 

You can try but it would be quite difficult and time-consuming. You can do this by slowly adding your new substrate and slowly removing your old substrate at the same time until it’s completely replaced. You will have to place your fish in a separate aquarium while you’re doing this as it would be very stressful for them if they’re in the same aquarium. 

My water is getting cloudy after I added my soil for my planted aquarium. What should I do? 

Absolutely nothing. This is actually a good sign; it means that your aquarium is starting to become a home to nitrifying bacteria. These are beneficial bacteria which play a very important role in neutralizing toxins inside your planted aquariums. Just wait a couple of days and the cloudiness will go away on its own.

How can I control changing pH levels that happen due to adding soil to my planted aquarium? 

Firstly, you should definitely have pH test kits in your home when you’re adding soil to your planted aquariums so you are able to monitor any drastic change in pH. You can increase pH levels in your planted aquarium by adding crushed coral or dolomite chippings to it. You can decrease the pH level by putting peat moss into a mesh bag and adding it to your filter. 

Is soil necessary for growing aquarium plants? 

It depends on what type of plants you have in your aquarium. Some plants derive nutrients from the soil and thus, need soil in order to thrive but others don’t require soil at all. For example, Java Fern does not need soil; its roots can be tied to a rock or a piece of driftwood and it will grow effectively.

Can I add more plants in my soil in my already established planted aquarium?

Yes. You can quite easily add plants to your already established planted aquarium by securely planting them into the soil. They will grow just like regular plants. Just be sure not to disturb your fish too much while you’re adding new aquarium plants.

Final Verdict

Soil can be the main source of nutrients for many of your aquarium plants so it makes sense why many fish keepers put a lot of thought into what soil they’re going to opt for for their planted aquarium.

After a lot of debate, we had to choose the Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular as the best one out of the three. It’s incredibly easy to handle, it comes at a modest price and it’s enriched with all kinds of nutrients which will help your aquarium plants grow.

And with that, we’re at the end of our post for the best soil for planted aquariums.

Give us feedback and let us know what soil you’re using for your planted aquarium.

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