Category Archives: substrate

Is this the best aquarium substrate in the world?

It was only a matter of time before Tropica created a substrate that is PERFECT for growing plants.

Let’s face it, there’s no other company in the world that I would trust more than Tropica to create a product that grows plants better than anyone else. I mean, you only have to look at their plants to know about their attention to detail and quality. Others might come close but they are the leaders.

So let me introduce to you the new Tropica Aquarium Soil in both normal and powder grain size. This substrate is designed to be used on its own, no topping is required and nothing needs to go underneath it. Simply place on the bottom of your tank, and then plant directly into it, then fill with water. Easy as A,B,C.

The two types refer to the different grain sizes. Normal is 2-3mm in diameter and powder is a touch smaller at 1-2mm. So why have two sizes? Well normal is ideal for bigger tanks, and by bigger I mean 100L and up. If you have a smaller tank then choose powder as it looks better with the smaller grain size. In addition to that (and what I like to do) is if you have a 100L tank, use the normal type as your substrate and then use a smaller powder bag (available in 3L) and pour it around the bottom of your wood and rocks. This gives a really lovely transition and is very subtle.

And one more thing. The powder type is more suitable for smaller foreground plants as the grain size is better at anchoring them down and stops them from floating to the surface.

In terms of how much you need, 1 x 9L bag is suitable for 60L of water.

So all in all, I’m very excited about this substrate and know why even though it’s new in to us has already sold well.

Gravels and Substrates in a Planted Aquarium

So what are they all about? Nearly all plants need a type of gravel or substrate to grow in. It’s required to anchor plants down and in some cases to provide nutrients to the roots of plants. It’s also used aesthetically so when we look at our aquarium – it looks nice! Below I summerise what the difference between the two are and how they are used.

Gravel. There are hundreds of different types of gravels available to hobbyists and similarly the same with substrates but what is the difference between the two? Gravels are very much what you expect them to be. Rock particles which have a diameter of 3-25mm – if you’re wanting to use it for your planted aquarium, the ideal size is 3-5mm. Any smaller than this (i.e. if you use sand) and you can get pockets of anaerobic areas where there’s insufficient water flow.

Gravels come in all sorts of shapes and sizes but contain no nutrients; some need washing and some will only need rinsing depending on the instructions. Some will effect your water parameters (such as pH). On the whole I recommend you opt for natural gravels – one which hasn’t been dyed in
any way. Unipac do a great selection of natural gravels. Be careful with gravels that look natural but are in fact coloured glass. Whilst they are safe for use within planted aquariums, fish which burrow or that skim along the gravel like corydoras will ware their barbels down. Natural gravels
will not have that sort of effect. You can see our range of gravels here.

Substrates. A substrate is very similar to a gravel but there is one fundamental difference and that is the nutrient content. Substrates have minerals and nutrients embedded in them thereby providing plants with all the goodness they need from day one. This is the major advantage over gravels.
 Substrates are produced in different colours and each will have a different effect on the water. On the whole most tend to lower the pH levels, along with KH (carbonate hardness) and GH (general hardness). This makes them ideal for using in planted aquariums as plants prefer slightly acidic
water conditions where the pH is just under 7 (6.8 is perfect). Substrates rarely require topping which means that once you place them in your aquarium, you won’t need anything else on the base – typical examples of this are Eco Complete, Seachem Flourite and Naturesoil. Plants can be planted
directly into the substrate with relative ease. The picture above demonstrates this perfectly – the dark coloured substrate (Naturesoil in this instance) has been used and plants become established quickly, grow rapidly, healthily with no algae.
 As technology improves more and more manufacturers are realising the importance of substrates. The most popular type that is currently available is called NatureSoil by world famous Aquascaper Oliver Knott. If you want your plants to have the best start, this substrate comes highly recommended. Not only that but it’s perfect for beginners to experts and requires no topping and sets your water parameters to the ideal levels. However if you do have a particular gravel that
you want to use, opt for Tropica Plant Substrate. Place this on the bottom of your aquarium and simply top with your chosen gravel.

Sloping Of A Planted Aquarium Substate

In a planted aquarium, having the right slope on your substrate can mean a lot. In the past hobbyists would place their substrate on their tank base and make it pretty flat. This was kind of alright, but made creating an illusion of depth a lot harder than what it should be.

After studying a lot of the aquascapes which world leading aquascaper Takashi Amano produces, he slopes the substrates a lot. Some shockingly so especially in his larger tanks I have seen in excess of 8-9″ at the back and maybe 1″ at the front. So why exactly does he do this?

The main reason is for scale and creating depth. In aquariums we are always working with limited space and whilst a lot of planted aquariums have good height to them, depth (front to back) is often limited and forgotten. This is a real shame as depth makes a huge difference to an aquascape and makes things a lot easier when creating an aquascape. In the example picture below you can see how much substrate has been used – there’s probably about 7″ at the back and this needs to be accounted for when planning how much substrate you really need. Calculations are normally based on a 2-3″ depth all over so adding 7-8″ at the back requires considerably more. But you can already see even from the side angle, it makes placing rocks easier for starters (a lot more substrate to bed into) and it also allows you create that illusion of depth immediately. Not only that but planting stem plants in deep substrate is a piece of cake and there’s no chance of them uprooting.

One thing worth mentioning when sloping substrates which contains shrimp – they have a tendency to move the substrate around as they clean it. Over time, the slope may flatten out so make sure you have a rake which allows you to move the substrate back to where it should be. Of course, if you have lots of plants in your tank and they root quickly, there shouldn’t be a problems.

You can view our range of substrates by following this link.