Dirt (soil) vs Aqua Soil or Eco-Complete

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jake72

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If your aquarium will have live stock (fish, shrimp, ...); I would avoid potting soils. Also having used eco-complete it isn't much better than inert substrate. Some folks recommend a clay base (like t-sorb) to help with cec exchnage (which is what eco-complete helps with in theory). Also unless you are going hi-tech (using co2 injection) and have extremely demanding plants I would skip soil based substrates. Here are a couple of aquariums that have inert substrate:2.jpg1.jpg

Of course a lot depends on the specific type of plants you grow as some are more demanding than others; but you can in fact get decent plant growth without expensive substrate.
 
Apr 2, 2002
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I have kept planted tanks for almost 20 years. I played around with only two products for the substrate. Inert Estes Bits of Walnut which is a fine grained gravel and Seachem Flourite. When I used the Estes I also used Laterite in the bottom 1/3 of the substrate. I also only used one Fert. in the substrate- Jobes Lush Fern and Palm spikes which cab be cut to any size.

I grew any plants I wanted and the all thrived with one exception. I did one pressurized CO2 added tank. Everything grew great there from the moment it was planted. However, once the tank was stocked it became very difficult to add some smaller type plants which took time to root. The BN pleco or clown loaches or other fish that often eat of the bottom would dislodge them before the plants could develop sufficient roots to stay in the substrate.

I have used liquid ferts in the water in all my planted tanks from day one as well. I only fertilize weekly after the water change. The Jobes get replenished at about 3 month intervals.

I love mulm- it is the best fert. there is, imo. However, mulm takes time to develop and the fancy plant substrate will work a bit faster.

Finally, I ramped up the number of tanks I kept pretty fast. That high tech tank too a lot of weekly work and after about 10 years I gave it up. I sold the CO2 system and converted the tank to other uses.

Today. all my planted tanks are low tech and they still thrive. I have a 150 for my clown loaches and redline barb where the anubias are regularly breaking the surface. I have refused, and still do, to spend my money of any of the fancy and (IMO) overpriced plant supplies. My only weakness in this respect Is that I have used mostly Tropica's fertilizers. I do have some of the single fert. liquids from SeaChem for my larger planted tanks but they get used slowly.

Here is the real truth about all of this stuff. There are many ways one can go and succeed. I do what has worked for me based on trial and error early on and the using what works in my tanks and tap water as well as all the other factors. Everybody has to find their own "sweet spot" because the is simply no one single way that is either the best or the only way to go.

Your plants will let you know if your are doing right by them because they will thrive. If they don't, then you have not found the right way yet.
 

jake72

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Jan 28, 2019
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Where did you purchase your laterite as i have problems finding such.

I have kept planted tanks for almost 20 years. I played around with only two products for the substrate. Inert Estes Bits of Walnut which is a fine grained gravel and Seachem Flourite. When I used the Estes I also used Laterite in the bottom 1/3 of the substrate. I also only used one Fert. in the substrate- Jobes Lush Fern and Palm spikes which cab be cut to any size.

I grew any plants I wanted and the all thrived with one exception. I did one pressurized CO2 added tank. Everything grew great there from the moment it was planted. However, once the tank was stocked it became very difficult to add some smaller type plants which took time to root. The BN pleco or clown loaches or other fish that often eat of the bottom would dislodge them before the plants could develop sufficient roots to stay in the substrate.

I have used liquid ferts in the water in all my planted tanks from day one as well. I only fertilize weekly after the water change. The Jobes get replenished at about 3 month intervals.

I love mulm- it is the best fert. there is, imo. However, mulm takes time to develop and the fancy plant substrate will work a bit faster.

Finally, I ramped up the number of tanks I kept pretty fast. That high tech tank too a lot of weekly work and after about 10 years I gave it up. I sold the CO2 system and converted the tank to other uses.

Today. all my planted tanks are low tech and they still thrive. I have a 150 for my clown loaches and redline barb where the anubias are regularly breaking the surface. I have refused, and still do, to spend my money of any of the fancy and (IMO) overpriced plant supplies. My only weakness in this respect Is that I have used mostly Tropica's fertilizers. I do have some of the single fert. liquids from SeaChem for my larger planted tanks but they get used slowly.

Here is the real truth about all of this stuff. There are many ways one can go and succeed. I do what has worked for me based on trial and error early on and the using what works in my tanks and tap water as well as all the other factors. Everybody has to find their own "sweet spot" because the is simply no one single way that is either the best or the only way to go.

Your plants will let you know if your are doing right by them because they will thrive. If they don't, then you have not found the right way yet.
 

Adler

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Jan 15, 2020
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If your aquarium will have live stock (fish, shrimp, ...); I would avoid potting soils. Also having used eco-complete it isn't much better than inert substrate. Some folks recommend a clay base (like t-sorb) to help with cec exchnage (which is what eco-complete helps with in theory). Also unless you are going hi-tech (using co2 injection) and have extremely demanding plants I would skip soil based substrates. Here are a couple of aquariums that have inert substrate:
I don't live in the states, I don't have the same products here. All substrate for plants are very expensive for a small bag that is why I want soil/dirt for substrate.

I have kept planted tanks for almost 20 years. I played around with only two products for the substrate. Inert Estes Bits of Walnut which is a fine grained gravel and Seachem Flourite. When I used the Estes I also used Laterite in the bottom 1/3 of the substrate. I also only used one Fert. in the substrate- Jobes Lush Fern and Palm spikes which cab be cut to any size.
to be more specific I only want to add a small layer of dirt/soil, I will have plants but do not know how many and having all substrate for plants will most likely cause algae bloom which i do not want. the rest will be inert substrate like J jake72 recommended

my idea is as follows (from bottom layer to top layer):
1. small lava rock
2. 0.5 inch of dirt/soil in the middle or places where I know there will be plants
3. inert substrate
 
Apr 2, 2002
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@ J jake72

I have not set up a new planted tanks in ages. I actually have 32 partial boxes of laterite that are likely about 18-19 years old. Aquarium Pharmaceuticals became API an dthey do not sell it any more. All I can fish is bridhtwell Aquatics Powdered laterire. A tad pricey.


@ A Adler

Estes was an aquarium gravel, It was coated . Ichose it becaues I loked the color and the size if the gravel was pretty small which is better for plants. This is inert substrate.



I had this 3 inches deep I fertilized with some Jobes Plant Spikes and the build up of mulm. I also did/do ferts in the water.
 

fishorama

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Jun 28, 2006
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I've been afraid to add any soil, even slow growing plants need to be moved or dug up at some point. I don't want to deal with the mess of soil everywhere or the likely algae blooms. Dark soil even if it doesn't cause algae blooms will show in a negative way on light colored capping substrate.

Be aware that over time the finer dirt/sand will work its way down under even fine lava rock. The colors may mix in a less the wonderful way.

I have black eco (not the sand) in 1 tank now. I like it for the color & ease of planting. I've used the same eco for 20 years now. My other tanks have coarse sand. I use root tabs including Jobe's Palm & Fern stick pieces,

Have a look at DIY root tabs using dry ferts & terra cotta potter's clay to "spot amend" some plants rather than the entire bottom of the tank. I haven't actually done it, but I do have the stuff to try it. The clay can cause some clouding if you move the plants. It's better under swords or crypts that rarely need moving.

So, as others asked, what plants do you have or want? Stem plants need more attention & are better with water column ferts.
 

Adler

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from I'll the reading I've done I will drop the idea of dirt, now the problem is to find inert substrate... might have to buy it online. And then use root tabs for plants. So new questions can I break tabs into smaller pieces and scatter it through the substrate or will that make the tab useless? anyone done this before?
 

fishorama

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Jun 28, 2006
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If you have gravel yards near you they may have a fine gravel or coarse sand you'd like. Big box hardware stores often sell pool filter sand as, of course, pool supply stores. Shipping on substrate can be expensive.

A few root tabs are easy to break, many are not. I would not put them all over before planting just near the plants' roots after. You can always add more as you get more plants but too much may cause algae issues.

A word on Osmocote +, some people like it. I was disappointed when I move a couple plants & some came to the surface of the substrate. It looked bad (little whitish balls) & then I had algae with filter water movement.
 
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dougall

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(You can always collect sand from beaches or rivers or wherever too, just be sure to rinse well, and maybe disinfect with plain bleach before rinsing more and heavily dechlorinating)

When it comes to root tabs, be sure they contain all the nutrients that you need them to, cut them up as you like.. if you cannot snap them like spikes, use a razor blade.

Osmicote+ works fine, as noted it can make things ugly if it does not stay buried, and it will float if allowed.. the 'balls' can be physically removed by vacuuming or with tweezers (or hand if you have thinner fingers than I do) but it gets to be a pain.

My normal rule of thumb is that you cannot over fertilize in the substrate, but roots will burn if they are on the root tabs so I will put them a ways away from where I plant.


Making your own as Fishorama said does work well.. as long as you can get the salts needed for the nutrients.. there's a 'recipe' on AC that may be the one being suggested.. it works pretty well . And you can make them as small or as large as you like.
 
Apr 2, 2002
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And now a warning.

Jobes Plant Spikes (the fern and palm ones) are an excellent way to go, unless you are one of thiose folks who like to swap out plants regularly. About the worst thing one can do accidentally in a planted tanks using Jobes is to unearth them so they can get into the water table. When this happens you will be well on your way to earning your MBA. In this case that means Mastered By Algae.

As fishorama noted. the spikes are very easy to cut into smaller pieces in a variety of sizes/ Smllaer plants need smaller amounts and big plants need more. Also I will often use multiple smaller pieces around something like an large sword plant or a stand oc crypts. This means the fertilizer is spread around the root system.

The Jobes are a slow release type of fertilizer. I mormally add them about every 3 months. The other part of this is that I also use the Tropica ferts which go into the water. Years back I remember the knock down drag out fights over substrate v.s. water ferts. Tom Barr basically settled this issue from me when he explained that it is actually a combination of the two that will generally work best. Of course this assumes one is planting in the substrate. I have a tank or two exclusively planted with anubias and java ferns. They do not need substrate ferts.
 
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