Expert Tips for Choosing an Aquarium Substrate

When it comes to having an aquarium in one’s home, many people think about the serenity of watching fish meander around, lulling everyone nearby into a state of calm. Of course, this does happen, but there’s a lot more to managing an aquarium than enjoying the sight of your fish. Several aspects of maintenance require precision and research for a few degrees difference in any direction can wreak havoc on the health, happiness, and sometimes even the lives of your fish.

The following will explore just one element of proper aquarium care in detail—the substrate. Of course, every fish species is a little different. This means that in addition to reading the below information, you should also ask the person from whom you’ve bought your fish if there are any specific substrate needs of that particular species as well as research that species to make sure that you’re meeting all your fish’s needs.

What Is Substrate?

Before we begin, it’s essential to outline what substrate actually is. A substrate is the gravel or pebbles you often see on the bottom of a fish tank that mimics the look of a lake or ocean floor. This material will be used to help root the plants you include to the bottom of your tank and keep them alive and healthy.

Why Do I Need Substrate?

A substrate is needed to support the plants you choose to include. Whether the plants you select absorb what they need through their roots or through the water with their leaves, a substrate that is rich in nutrients will provide them with what they need to thrive. This is because substrate works two ways simultaneously. It allows plants direct access to nutrients via their roots, but it also slowly dissolves and releases nutrients straight into the water.

Does Substrate Run Out Of Nutrients?

Yes, but relatively slowly. The average substrate tends to provide your plants with what they need for somewhere between one and two years. After that time is up, the substrate is likely exhausted, and you’ll need to get more or renew the substrate with root tabs.

How Do I Choose A Substrate?

First and foremost, you’re going to want to research the plants and marine animals that you keep in your fish tank. You need to be aware of what pH levels they are comfortable with and any other water specifics they require. Take a moment to learn about pH before you make your substrate choice. This can have a major impact on the health of the fish and plants you keep within your aquarium.
Some substrates leech more ammonia than others out of the water, so the required ammonia levels of your fish will need to be kept in mind (and you might need to supplement your water). Once you know your aquarium’s needs, you can begin to work your way through the different substrate options available to you.

What Are The Different Types Of Substrate?

There are five major types of substrates that each have their own characteristics. Substrates can be:

  • pH boosting - this is ideal only if you have fish that require high pH levels
  • Sand - this option doesn’t provide the same coarse surface for plant roots, making it harder for plants to stay rooted
  • Materialized substrates - this option tends to lower the pH level and soften the water
  • Clay-based - this option won’t change up the chemistry of your aquarium, lasts a long time, and might be the easiest substrate to manage
  • Gravel-based - this is the most common type found in fish stores or pet stores; there’s a wide variety of colors and shapes available, but the nutrient provision is incredibly low; they also won’t change up the water chemistry

What Would My Fish Prefer?

This is one of the most important questions to ask yourself when seeking out the substrate. All fish have natural preferences that mimic their wild habitats. Ensure that you research the specific species of fish you have and learn about what environments they thrive best in. Fish are far more intelligent than we previously thought. They have social and environmental needs, and when these needs aren’t met, they suffer. When fish suffer, their life expectancy decreases.

The above information should help you navigate the countless substrate options available on the market today. Good aquarium maintenance always begins with detailed research of the specific species of plants and fish you have in your tank. Every living thing has slightly different needs, and if you are tending to plants or animals, it is your responsibility to make sure they’re getting everything they require.

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