The picture above shows farm tanks in a shop in Japan. Inert coarse sand is used in holding tanks due to frequent uprooting of plants for sale.
When it comes to substrate, we are faced with a dazzling array of choices. For details on the different types of substrates, please go here. When it comes to making a choice, there are basically 3 key parameters to consider: ease of management, impact on plant growth and cost. One must ultimately prioritise what matters more.
|INERT SUBSTRATES||COMMERCIAL AQUASOILS||DIY SOIL SUBSTRATES|
|Easy to manage, Cheap but mediocre impact on plant growth.||Easy to manage, Great for plant growth but expensive.||Cheap, Great for plant growth, but harder to manage.|
For people that are just starting out, and are uncertain of what type of aquascape they will build into, or where they will want to place certain plants, using an inert substrate allows plants & hardscape to be moved about easily without much mess. For new active aquascapers, the important part is that this approach encourages experimentation & learning. This is the default choice for many planted shops for their holding tanks - where plants are frequently uprooted to be sold. It is also much easier to keep clean.
If you are building with an aquascape in mind:
When there is some expectation of permanence and getting optimal plant growth is a priority, aquasoil / dirt with cap can be used in planted areas, with cosmetic sand in areas that are not fully planted to match hardscape settings. Mixing substrates means more work during setup, and also to keep the layers separate during replanting.
Beginners that intend to replant a lot will do better in inert substrates. This also makes moving hardscape easier. Dutch style aquascaping that requires very regular topping and replanting may also consider using inert substrates.
Are you prepared to dose every other day? Is regular dosing a chore? If yes, use aquasoils/ garden soil /dirt. When combined with root tabs, this combination allows more leeway in water column dosing.
Even expert growers such as Tom barr who dose their water column with nutrients very regularly still make use of aquasoil.
Many delicate carpets grow better in finer substrates. Hemianthus callitrichoides "Cuba" the a delicate foreground plant featured here. The red plant is Alternanthera reineckii mini, and it grows far better in soil-based substrates than inert ones.
For detailed care guide to aquarium plants above and more, click here.