In nature aquarium, a substrate is the most essential element. It provides an area for aquatic plants to spread their roots. Unlike in the past, thriving aquarium are commonplace thanks to technological advancements such as lighting systems and CO2 systems.

A substrate system is an environment where roots of plans coexist with microorganisms in a mutually beneficial relationship. This system is an important substrate in which aquatic plants grow roots. The substrate system consists of nutrients, soil, and microorganism. A good example is ADA substrate system.

The nutrients are essential to the plant’s roots and promote microorganism development. Microorganisms decompose organic substance into minerals.  The plants use the minerals as nutrients.  Solid features such as gravity and hummus provide a suitable environment for the growth of aquatic plants’ roots.

A substrate is an important requirement in long term maintenance of aquarium balance. The plants absorb nutrients from the soil and the fish breath oxygen produced by plants during photosynthesis. The substrates also get their fertility from fish excretion.

Building a substrate system

Before building a substrate system, there are several things you should know. You can enhance aquatic plants growth using powder substrate type. This type is added on top of normal soil. It is also advisable to keep the substrate warm. If the aquatic plants are not growing well due to low temperature it is prudent that you install a heater in the substrate system.

During the initial stage, water tends to get discolored and cloudy quite more often at this stage. You should therefore change it quite regularly.

It is imperative that you add nutrients additive to your substrate system. After keeping the substrate for a long time, nutrients get become depleted. Additives such as Multi Bottom replenish the nutrients in the system.

It is worth noting that you should only acquire products for sustaining the living organisms from reputable stores. More important you should learn how to keep fish in aquarium.

Basically, a substrate is a layer or substance where a process occurs. In an aquarium, the substrate system includes materials used to make an aquascape base layer. In the recent past, establish manufacturer have released in the market products that enhance plants growth. The two main types of substrates are

  1. Complete substrate- This substrate is added into an aquarium. It comes ready for planting
  2. Compound substrate – It requires capping

Uses of Substrate

What are the uses of substrates?

  • Substrates store and supply vital nutrients and minerals
  • They harbor beneficial bacteria
  • They provide support to roots
  • They are a natural decorative layer

Examples of Substrate materials in the market include:

The beneficial bacteria break down excess food, plants and fish waste into useful nitrates for the plants. With an excellent substrate system, the process takes place at an optimum rate. The system also minimizes compaction in the aquarium bed as well as reducing movement of nutrient-rich water. Ultimately, it prevents a build-up of hydrogen Sulphide pockets which are hazardous to both plants and fish. Suitable substrates should draw nutrients from the water column and thus helping to rejuvenate the substrate layer. This also gives substrate longer life.

Complete substrates

There are various types of complete substrates. One of the most common is ADA Aqua Soil. You simply pour this substrate in the tank and plant. Ammonia spike present for the first 2-3 weeks feed bacteria.

Compound substrates such as Tropical have produced fantastic results. There is a slight difference between the use of complete substrate and compound substrate. In a compound substrate, a thick layer of substrates is added on top of the aquarium base. The layer may be much denser at the back of the aquarium. Lime free gravel is the place on top to prevent the substrate from cloudness the aquarium water column. A shallow column of gravel can be used at the tank from for aesthetic purpose.

Substrate system set up

In an aquarium substrate system, substrates layer thicker at the back of the tank. Decorative sand is used at the front to enhance visual appeal. It also increases the surface area of the aquarium base creating more planting area.

Several substrate additives are added to the substrate layer to help the aquarium in different ways.

While gravel is a substrate, it is not recommendable to use it solely in a planted tank. Using various sizes of gravel creates a natural effect.


A high-quality substrate requires minimal maintenance. You only need to vacuum once in a week to remove additional detritus and also rake the sand to ensure it stays clean and fresh.