Sand planted aquarium

Sand planted aquarium DEFAULT

Sand and soil

Decorative sand zones are very popular in aquascaping - be it as a stripe in the foreground or a narrowing path leading into the background and giving the layout more optical depth. The benefit of using sand as a visible substrate shows itself best in being better able to desig in more detail in the foreground. This is realized by placing solitary, smaller plants or smaller fragments of the hardscapes used in the layout in the shape of stone shards or driftwood pieces. An open sand area makes the whole aquarium look much brighter. With differently-coloured sands, many different impressions can be created: pure, white sand looks rather cool, whereas natural sand in more yellow hues creates a warmer impression.

yellow sand

A warmer impression is created when using yellow sand.

Most plant aquarists don’t want to do without the benefits of highly nutritious soil to provide an optimal supply to their aquatic plants. Decorative sanda on the other hand, are basically free from nutrients. For this reason, most aquascapes consist of both types of substrate, meaning, that the sand is only used for decorative, open areas, while highly-nutritious substrates are used in the densely-planted back of the aquarium. At the points of contact between sand and soil, two very different substrates meet each other, that are, above all, not supposed to mix. Especially for reasons of aesthetics it should be avoided to let the dark grains of a soil substrate “deface” a bright sand area. This is no easy task at all, because natural erosion and having burrowing fish and shrimp in your aquarium basically ensures that the substrates will mix at some point. We share some important tips with you regarding the care and set-up of such an aquascape using different substrates, while keeping the workload as small as possible at the same time.

Aquascape with sand

Using natural barriers

The simplest and most natural way to seperate substrates is to use the hardscape elements as barriers. This means placing pieces of wood or stones at the separating edges between soil und sand, to prevent a mixing of the two types of substrate. Strategically you best approach this method by first using bigger hardscape pieces and then arranging smaller and smaller stone pieces. These are obtained by crushing larger pieces of stone with a hammer. Alternatively, ready-to-use substrates in coarser grains can be used. These are commercially available in many colours.

ADA La Plata SandDennerle Kies Colorado

Gaps between big hardscape elements are filled with gradually smaller pieces. We’ll show you a small series of pictures about how to set up an aquascape with a sand are in the foreground:

raising the soi.

First the soil is raised in the back.


The main elements of the hardscape are placed.

More hardscape.

More, medium-sized stones are placed as barriers.

sandy area.

Now the sand is added. The area is smoothed out using a brush or sand flattener.

more stones.

More, smaller stones are added.

transition points between sand and soil

Small, direct transition points between sand and soil are still present (marked red). These gaps need to be closed by all means.

smaller stones

Gradually smaller fragments are placed. With them, tiny gaps are closed and details defined in the foreground.

tiny fragments.

At last, tiny stone splinters are added which play around the larger pieces in the sand, creating even more delicate details.

Plants are very useful as fillers as well, especially the various mosses, which are just jammed into the resulting cracks and graps. Especially in the transitional zones at the side panes of the aquarium tank, mosses are a good solution, acting as a "buffer" to prevent direct contact of stones and glass.

Moss as a filler.

Direct transitions

If sand and soil- areas meet directly (without natural barriers via stone or driftwood decoration), we recommend the use of a dividing layer, made of multi-skin sheets, pond liner or PET foil. All materials are available in hardware stores or in craft supplies and have different properties. Pond liner is black, can easily be cut to size and is wonderfully flexible. PET foil is often transparent, but a bit more rigid. Multi-skin sheets are usually transparent, very sturdy and easy to cut, given an appropriate thickness. All materials tend to show a certain buoyancy and need to be weighted down with substrate or wedged between something. The areas with soil, meeting sandy areas directly, are often planted with ground cover. After they have spread over the substrate, their roots will keep the soil granules together. At this point of time, you can remove the sheets or soil, since now the plant carpet prevents a mixing of the substrates.

PET Folie

Transparent PET foil takes care of a separation between sand and soil.

Erosion prevention

To create a more profound sense of depth, the rear substrate (here: soil) is often layered higher than the substrate in the foreground (here: sand). By using vertical barriers as described above, you can severely restrict the mixing of the two substrates. Even though the plants keep the substrae together with their roots, individual soil granules may roll onto the sandy are due to the sloping design. In this cross section the slope is clearly visible:

sloping sand and soil.

Burrowing aquarium inhabitants like shrimp do their part in making soil slide down. The remedy here, is an additional, horizontal barrier. Moss pads fixed on flat stone shards or slate are very suitable for this. Commercially available mosses that are already being sold as pads can be used splendidly for this purpose as well.

Moss pad

The moss pads are placed onto the substrate just behind the barrier made from hardscape elements. The pads or stone slabs also provide sufficient weight to keep the mosses down.

Moospad auf Soil

Care should be taken to use moss species that are as dense as possible and capable of anchoring themselves to the ground, so that the moss can attach itself to hardscape and soil particles over time. The rest of the planting can commence behind the moss pads, with ground cover, middle ground or stem plants. The layer of moss between sand, hardscape barriers and rear planting also creates a beautiful, natural transition.

For depth-effect reasons, the soil substrate of an aquascape has a strong upwards slope in the rear as well. Here it is possible to keep erosion at bay by using barriers, as well. Apart from natural remedies like cleverly placed hardscape or plants with pronounced rooting (e.G. crypts), substrate dividers made of pond liner or PET foil are better suitable for larger, open areas. Multi-skin sheets are especially suitable due to their stability. They are just stuck into the soil in an angle to stabilize the substrate like a terrace.

multi-skin sheet

Multi-skin sheets can be pushed so deeply into the substrate, that only a small part of them pokes out at the top.


If you want to maintain an immaculate look of your sandy areas, a certain amount of maintenance is needed. With time, sludge, fish excrements or plant residue collects on the sand. This should be regularly removed by siphoning it away with a hose e.G. during the weekly water change. A sufficient stock of shrimp and snails will also ensure, that as much dead, organic material is processed as well. A sand flattener can be used to easily re-model the sand to e.G. restore slopes.

sand flattener

A mild outbreak of cyano bacteria at the transition between sand and tank glass can sometimes happen. This is to be considered normal and no reason to worry. The affected sand can be removed and replaced during siphoning. A well-aimed squirt of hydrogen peroxyde, discharged onto the affected spots in the sand, will also help. Here you’ll find detailed instructions for local algae elimination with hydrogen peroxide.

Other means of separating substrates

There are other scenarios, where a separation of substrates or the use of barriers makes a lot of sense. Many manufacturers of complete substrate system also make use of various additives and layers. Often a special culture medium is used as the bottom layer, together with porous materials such as pumice or lava gravel.

substrate fertilizer

In addition, there is usually a layer of optically more beautiful gravel or soil on top, which is supposed to prevent direct contact of the lower layer with the water. To prevent a mixing of substrates, a mesh fabric can be used. The coarse mesh still allows for plant roots to reach the lower layers.



No substrate looks more natural than a sand substrate in an aquarium.

But can you have a planted tank with sand?

I am going to answer this question in this article.

So let’s dive in.

Can You Have a Planted Tank with Sand? (Is it a good substrate for plants?) image

You can use sand as a substrate for your planted tank. But you just have to add root tabs into the substrate to provide nutrients to the live plants as sand doesn’t provide any nutrients.

Is sand a good substrate for planted tanks?

Most of the freshwater fish have sand substrate in their natural habitat.

So using sand as a substrate in your aquarium is a very good way to emulate the natural habitat of the fish.

Besides, there are a lot of benefits of using sand substrate in your aquarium.

  • First of all, sand is very cheap compared to other types of substrates.
  • When you add sand as a substrate in your tank it doesn’t alter the water chemistry of your aquarium water as other substrates do ex., nutrient-rich substrates.
  • Sand is also very easy to clean compared to gravel because the uneaten food and fish poop doesn’t get trapped into the substrate. It stays on the surface of the sand so it is very easy to clean.

But is sand a good substrate for a planted tank?

A lot of people don’t consider sand ideal for planted tanks.

And they are right!

Because, the thing is, live plants require nutrients to grow. And sand doesn’t provide any nutrients to the plants.

But you can provide nutrients to the plants by adding root tabs into the sand substrate.

Root tabs are basically small tablets that contain fertilizers.

And when you add them in the substrate near the roots of the live plants, the root tabs will slowly release the nutrients into the substrate. The roots of the live plants will absorb these nutrients and grow in the tank.

8 Best Aquarium Plants for Sand Substrate

What type of sand can I use in my aquarium?

types of sands

Ideally, you should use the sand which is specially designed for aquariums.

I recommend Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand. You can check it out at Amazon here.

And you should avoid any other type of sand which is not made for aquariums such as play sand.

The reason you should not use any other type of sand for example Play Sand because it fit very tightly into the aquarium. So it suffocates the roots of the live plants and they don’t spread into the substrate.

Besides, as these types of sands are very tightly packed into the aquarium, there is always a risk that it will create toxic gas pockets in the substrate.

And these gas pockets can burst at any time in your aquarium. And the gases released from these pockets are harmful to your fish. It can even cause the death of the fish in your aquarium.

Can Aquarium Plants Carry Disease?

What are the benefits of sand substrate?

betta fish tank with sand substrate

There are several benefits of using sand as a substrate in your aquarium.

  • First of all, sand is very cheap. You can get sand for the substrate of a 10-gallon tank for as low as about $15 – $20.
  • Sand doesn’t alter the water chemistry of your aquarium water. Like other non-inert substrates which raise the pH and hardness of the water when you add them in your aquarium.
  • The uneaten food and fish poop produce ammonia in your aquarium. Ammonia is very harmful to fish. A high ammonia level can even lead to the death of the fish in your aquarium.  That’s why it is very important to remove the uneaten food immediately after feeding the fish in your aquarium. Also, remove the fish poop from your tank regularly.  Removing debris from the aquarium can get a bit tricky if you use other types of substrates like a gravel substrate because the debris can get trapped into the substrate. But if you use sand as a substrate in your aquarium then the good part is that the uneaten food and fish poop doesn’t get trapped into the substrate.  It stays on the surface of the sand substrate which you can easily remove by hovering the siphon over the sand substrate.
  • A sand substrate is great to emulate the natural habitat of fish. Many freshwater fish have sand substrate in their natural habitat. So when you use sand substrate in your aquarium the fish feels like they are at home.

These are all the benefits of using a sand substrate in your aquarium.

So does this mean that sand is the perfect substrate for an aquarium?

No! Almost everything has its benefits and drawbacks and we are going to talk about the drawbacks of using sand substrate in your aquarium now.

How to Keep Aquarium Plants Alive Before Planting?

What are the drawbacks of using a sand substrate in a planted tank?

shrimp tank with sand substrate

We have already talked about the benefits of using a sand substrate.

However, there are also some drawbacks of using sand substrate in a planted aquarium.

I will also tell you the solution for every drawback of using a sand substrate.

1. Toxic gas pockets

The most lethal drawback of using cheap sand like Play Sand for the substrate of your aquarium is toxic air pockets can build up in such substrates.

This is because when you use cheap sand like play sand as a substrate for your aquarium it gets very tightly packed in your aquarium which creates pockets.

In these pockets, anoxic bacteria build-up which releases hydrogen sulfide gas.

Now, this gas is very harmful to the fish in your aquarium.

And when the toxic gas pockets blow up the gas gets released into the water of your aquarium which can even cause the death of the fish in your tank.

2. No nutrients

Live aquarium plants require nutrients for their growth. And sand doesn’t provide any nutrients to the live aquarium plants.

Besides, sand has a low Cation Exchange Capacity (CEC).

CEC is basically the substrate’s ability to absorb and hold the nutrients.

This is important because if the substrate has a low cation exchange capacity like in the case of sand, it will not absorb and hold the nutrients to provide to the live aquarium plants.

The fix for this problem is root tabs!

Root tabs are nothing but small tablets of fertilizers. 

You have to insert the root tabs near the roots of your live aquarium plants.

The root tabs will slowly release fertilizers into the substrate. And this way, plants will get and absorb the nutrients from the substrate.

Besides, providing fertilizers to the plants using root tabs is very convenient. Because you just have to insert the root tabs after every about 2 months. And it will slowly release the fertilizers for the next two months.

3. Algae growth due to excess liquid fertilizers

As I mentioned earlier, sand has low cation exchange capacity so it is unable to attract or absorb and hold the nutrients.

So when you add excess liquid fertilizer in your are planted tank, the liquid fertilizer will not get absorbed by the sand substrate.

Now algae can take advantage of this excess liquid fertilizer and grow in your aquarium.

So what should you do if you noticed algae growth in a planted tank that has sand substrate?

There could several reasons for algae growth but if you think it is due to excess liquid fertilizers then you should cut back on the liquid fertilizers and clean up the algae from your tank.

And you will not notice algae growth again in your aquarium.

6 Best Aquarium Plants to Prevent Algae

4. Roots of the live aquarium plants suffocate

When you use cheap sand as a substrate for your aquarium like play sand it gets packed very tightly in your aquarium.

And when you plant the live aquarium plant in the sand substrate, the roots suffocate because they don’t have the space to spread out in the sand substrate.

Now this problem can be easily solved by using a good quality sand substrate i.e. the sand specifically designed for aquariumslike Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand (Check it out at Amazon here) instead of using cheap sand substrate like play sand.

5. Sand getting into the inlet of aquarium filter

Another problem many aquarists face when they use sand substrate in their tank is the sand the inlet pipe of the aquarium water sucks up the sand.

Now this problem can be easily fixed by adding a filter sponge before the inlet of the aquarium filter.

Also, you should keep the inlet at least two to three inches above the substrate.

Are Aquarium Plant Fertilizers Safe For Fish?

How to plant the live aquarium plants in a sand substrate?

You can easily plant the live aquarium plants in your sand substrate by burying the roots of the plants into the substrate.

Now if you have some freshwater fish like Oscar fish which like to dig the substrate then they will uproot the plants that you’ve planted in the sand.

The solution to fix this problem is to get a bottle lid and split it and make a cross-cut on it.

Now insert the roots of the live plants through the lid. And bury the lid into the substrate.

Now your fish will not be able to uproot the plants.

If I’ve not explained the trick well then you should watch this video for clarification.

If you are fuzzy about this trick then watch the video below.

Recommended sand substrate for planted aquarium

  • Cream color sand – Caribsea Super Naturals Aquarium Sand (Check reviews and latest price at Amazon here)
  • Black color sand – Flourite Black Sand (Check reviews and latest price at Amazon here)

Recommended root tabs for planted aquarium

  • Seachem Flourish Tabs – Check reviews and latest price at Amazon here
  • ThriveCaps – Check reviews and latest price at Amazon here


axolotl tank with sand substrate

Is sand or gravel better for a planted aquarium?

Both sand and gravel are not considered ideal for planted tanks.

This is for the reason that live aquarium plants require nutrients for their growth. And both sand and gravel don’t provide any nutrients to the live aquarium plants.

However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t have a planted tank with sand or gravel.

You just have to provide the nutrients through root tabs.

Besides, there are a few similarities between sand and gravel such as both are very cheap.

And both are inert substrates so they will not alter the water chemistry of your aquarium water.

Besides, both come in different sizes, shapes, and color variations.

However, you will see more variations in gravel compared to sand.

Some gravel has sharp edges which can damage the fish in your aquarium especially the bottom-dwelling fish and the fish with a delicate belly.

On the other hand, sand is a very soft substrate which makes it ideal for bottom-dwelling fish.

Also, the debris is very easy to clean if you have a sand substrate because it doesn’t get trapped into the substrate like in the case of gravel.

The debris just sits on the surface so you can easily remove it by hovering siphon over the surface.

Gravel also has some advantages over a sand substrate. 

As gravel is very heavy, while cleaning the substrate, it doesn’t get sucked up into the siphon as sand does.

Also, because gravel has very large particles it doesn’t get into the inlet pipe of a filter or pump like sand does which can potentially damage your equipment.

Overall, both sand and gravel have some similarities and some advantages over the other.

So whether sand or gravel is good for your aquarium really depends on the setup of your aquarium. And the aesthetic look you are going after.

13 Best Aquarium Plants For Gravel Substrate

What is the best substrate for a planted tank?

The best substrate for a planted tank is the substrate that provides a lot of nutrients to the live aquarium plants to grow.

Here are some of my recommendations for nutrient-rich substrates:

  • CaribSea Eco-Complete – Check reviews and latest price at Amazon here
  • Fluval Plant and Shrimp Stratum – Check reviews and latest price at Amazon here

Do guppies prefer sand or gravel?

Guppies spend most of their time in the middle or top part of an aquarium.

Guppies don’t mind whether you use sand or gravel as a substrate for your aquarium.

So it is just your personal choice whether you want to use sand or gravel as a substrate for your guppy tank.

10 Best Live Plants For Guppies

How long till sand settles in an aquarium?

It can take anywhere between a couple of hours to a couple of days for sand to settle in your aquarium.

Exactly how much time it will take to settle really depends on the size of your tank. And the quality of the sand i.e. the particle size of the sand. The large particles will settle quickly compared to very fine particles.

52 Best Freshwater Aquarium Plants For Beginners

Is black sand good for aquariums?

You can use black sand as a substrate in your aquarium.

The good thing about using black sand as a substrate in your aquarium is it makes your aquarium pop. It makes the plants and fish in your aquarium pop.

6 Tips to Take Care of Live Plants in Aquarium (For Beginners)


Overall, you can have a beautiful planted tank with a sand substrate.

The only drawback of using sand as a substrate for your planted tank is it doesn’t provide any nutrients to the plants.

So, to provide the nutrients, you will have to insert root tabs into the sand substrate in your aquarium.

I hope you found the article helpful.

If you do, please share it

Happy aquascaping!

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The material sitting at the bottom of your fish tank is known as the substrate. You need an excellent substrate for your planted aquarium to ensure the plants thrive, and the tank is comfortable for your fish.

Sand makes a suitable substrate for fish tanks because it will not allow water to flow through it easily, and it mimics the natural environment of the river and seabeds where your fish live.

Even so, when choosing sand for your fish aquarium, ensure it is not the very fine variety. This is because it will allow water to drain quickly and leave your plant roots suffocated.

Moreover, this means you have to keep replenishing the water in your fish tank, and this will prove cumbersome for you.

Here are other tidbits that will prove essential when using a sand substrate for your fish tank.

Preparing the Fish Tank

Irrespective of the sand type you pick for your aquarium, you should prepare it before adding it to the tank. Measure about a pound of sand for one gallon of water or aim for a consistent sand depth throughout.

You should then clean the sand to get rid of excess dust that will cloud your aquarium’s water for a long time.

You ideally should add the sand to an empty and dry aquarium. Adding sand to a water-filled tank stirs up its particles and leaves you with cloudy water.

If you get some cloudiness when adding your water to sand, this should not worry you as it clears in a few days when the sand settles.

Should You Add Dirt Under The Sand?

When establishing a planted aquarium, you should have the right conditions in it for your plants to thrive.  Sand, however, contains no nutrients for your growing plants.

As such, it is best to add another material like dirt from Carib Sea Eco Complete to provide the needed nutrients for your plants.

You will place the sand in an adequately thick layer over the dirt. This way, the sand will provide a barrier against the dirt and your aquarium water. In so doing, nutrients from the dirt will not leach into your aquarium’s water and derange its parameters, thus affecting your fish.

How to Add Aquarium Dirt under Sand?

Adding aquarium dirt under your sand is in no way an easy process. Doing it wrong, on the other hand, is not an option since it will harm your planted aquarium rather than benefit it. Here are some steps you can follow when adding the dirt to your aquarium sand:

  1. Place a half-inch layer of dirt in your dry fish tank. When doing this, be careful that the dirt does not touch your tank’s sidewalls.
  2. Cover this dirt with approximately two inches of sand.
  3. Slowly fill up your tank with water such that the dirt will remain undisturbed.

What Plants Will Grow in A Sand Substrate?

Not all plants will do well in sand substrate, but there are few really good beginner plants, that you can plant in sand. Here are few examples:

– Amazon Sword

Amazon Sword Plant

Amazon sword thrives best in a sand substrate of at least 2.5 inches in thickness so that its roots will be firmly held in place.

This plant has large green leaves that will provide many hiding spots for your fish. It thrives in water temperatures of 60-84 degrees Fahrenheit, PH levels of 6.5-7.5, and hardness ratings of 8-15dGH.

– Crypt

Cryptocoryne lutea is a slow-growing plant species that offers texture to aquariums in the back and midgrounds. When planting the crypts in your fish tank, ensure you thoroughly wash them beforehand to avoid introducing diseases in it.

Most people worry that the plant’s leaves will melt when grown in water. This should not be a hindrance since the shoots remain in the sand and will re-grow in a few weeks.

– Vallisneria

This is among the easiest plants to cultivate in your aquarium. The Vallisneria send out runners after every 5-6 weeks that will grow into new plants. The plants have a dense carpet and can grow quite tall, making them ideal for providing hiding spaces for your fish.

– Water Sprite

This is a fast-growing species for fish tanks of at least 10 gallons. The water sprite reaches maximum heights of 12 inches and thrives in water temperatures of 20-30 degrees Celsius. The plant is nonetheless not an ideal choice for fish tanks with snails since these destroy it.

Can Sand Damage Your Filters?

Sand can ruin your filters if it gets sucked into it. This often happens when cleaning the filter, adding decorative plants, and changing water since these all disturb the sand at the tank’s bottom. The sucked sand, in this case, will damage your impeller, wear down the filter’s parts and clog the filter.

Potential Problems with Sand Substrate

Once you add sand to your aquarium, the substrate brightens it and will benefit many fish species. Even so, there are several drawbacks to using sand substrates for planted fish tanks. Here are some of the common ones:

  • Sand cannot be vacuumed well
  • Sand can develop air bubbles because of anaerobic bacteria in it
  • In very fine sand, plants will not grow
  • Sand clouds your aquarium’s water when not properly cleaned
  • It can damage your aquarium’s filter impeller

Wrapping Up

You can choose between play, blasting, and silica pool sand for your aquarium. Play sand is inexpensive and comes in several colors and textures for an attractive tank.

Blasting sand has a more consistent grain size and color and is more refined compared to play sand but is also more expensive than the latter.

Silica pool sand is mostly used for swimming pools, but it also makes an excellent choice for aquariums. Though more expensive compared to blasting and play sand, the sand comes in several grain sizes and colors. This allows you to customize your fish tank to match different elements.

Now that you know how to incorporate sand into a fish tank, you are assured of a beautiful planted aquarium where your fish will thrive. The sand also offers an inexpensive option for sprucing your tank and will last for ages.


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Planted aquarium sand

What do you think about this. Write. Andrey Tseglik, xartymyandex. ru This story, my best friend persuaded me to tell.

5 Things I Wish I Knew About Substrates for Planted Aquariums

Come on, it's okay, you're fine anyway. Our dear Alisonka, I see a slight bewilderment on your face, so let us explain everything. By the way, drink, drink, delicious wine. Yeah, I sipped another sip of wine, which I drank probably for the third time in total, but it was noticeably different in taste. Dear, probably, piper.

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