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Do Aquarium Plants Grow Better in Sand or Gravel? (Unexpected Answer)

If you are wondering do aquarium plants grow better in sand or gravel then you are in the right place.

In this article, I am going to answer the same question. 

I will also tell you some tips that will help you to make a decision between the sand and gravel for your planted aquarium.

Do Aquarium Plants Grow Better in Sand or Gravel image

So do aquarium plants grow better in sand or gravel?

Aquarium plants can thrive in both sand and gravel substrate. But both sand and gravel have their pros and cons.

So while choosing the substrate for your tank, you should consider the pros and cons of both the substrate. And choose the substrate that best suits your situation or aquarium setup.

Pros and Cons of sand substrate for a planted tank

Pros and Cons of sand substrate for a planted tank image

Sand substrate is great to provide a natural aesthetic look to your planted aquarium.

There is a decent variety of colors available in the sand substrate. The most popular ones are black, white, and beige.

Sand substrates are also very cost-effective.

Sand substrate is an inert substrate which basically means that it will not change the water chemistry of your aquarium water.

Also, sand is an ideal substrate if you have bottom-dwelling fish or fish which has delicate bellies.

Because bottom-dwelling fish forage into the substrate. And if you have a rough and sharp substrate like gravel substrate then it can scratch their mouth or belly.

This can potentially cause bacterial infection and make your fish sick!

As sand has very fine particles, they hold together very tightly. So the fish poop and debris don’t get into the substrate. It stays on the surface of the sand substrate.

Which makes it very easy to remove such debris from the aquarium.

You just have to over the siphon over the surface of the sand substrate to remove the debris.

At the same time, you have to be very careful with the siphon because, as sand particles are very light, it can get sucked into the siphon.

Besides, the particles can also get sucked into the inlet of the aquarium filter and can potentially damage the equipment.

So the way around it is to put the inlet of your aquarium filter well above the sand substrate. So that it will not get sucked into the filter.

Also, while doing the water change when you add water into the tank, you should be careful and add the water slowly and carefully. Because if the stream of the water is too strong while adding the water into the tank then it can mess up the sand in your aquarium. And then it will take a while for sand to settle in the aquarium.

If you choose a sand substrate that has very fine particles like play sand then the particles will hold together too tightly. And the roots of the live plants will not be able to spread out into the substrate.

So you should always choose the sand substrate which is specially designed for an aquarium.

These sand substrates have relatively larger particles so they will not compact together very tightly. So the plants’ roots will be able to spread out into the substrate.

As sand doesn’t provide any nutrients to the live aquarium plants, it is not considered ideal for plant growth. Especially if you’ve root feeder aquarium plants that absorb nutrients through their roots.

However, to provide the nutrients to the live aquarium plants you can add the fertilizers into the sand substrate through tabs.

If you have some fish in your tank like Oscar fish which like to dig up the substrate then when you plant the live plants into the sand substrate, there is a possibility that the fish will uproot the plants.

The way around this issue is to plant the live aquarium plants between ornaments like driftwood and rocks so that the fish will not be able to uproot the plants.

Or you can use the trick shown in the video below

One of the dangers of using sand substrate in your aquarium is, as the particles can hold together very tightly it can create anaerobic air pockets into the substrate.

Overtime harmful hydrogen sulfide gas will build up in these areas and it can blow up anytime.

Now as this hydrogen sulfide gas is toxic for the fish, if it gets into your aquarium water, it can even lead to the death of the fish in your aquarium!

To avoid the formation of anaerobic air pockets, you should sift the sand regularly while doing the maintenance of your tank.

Another way to shift the sand is to add some bottom-dwelling fish in your tank. 

Now, these bottom-dwelling fish will sift the substrate in your aquarium regularly. And this will help to avoid the formation of anaerobic air pockets.

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Prose

  • Gives natural look to aquarium
  • Decent variety
  • Cost effective
  • Easy to clean
  • Doesn’t alter the water chemistry
  • Ideal for bottom dwelling fish

Cons

  • Can potentially damage the equipment
  • Anaerobic air pockets can be formed
  • Doesn’t have any nutrients
  • Can easily float in the water column
  • Plants can be easily uprooted

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Pros and Cons of gravel substrate for planted tank

Pros and Cons of gravel substrate for planted tank image

One of the most common advantages a lot of people go for gravel substrate is that gravel comes in a lot of variety.

Gravel substrate comes in a lot of sizes, shapes, and colors to choose from.

Gravel substrates are also very inexpensive.

However, some gravel substrate has very sharp edges which can scratch the mouth and belly of the fish.

This can lead to bacterial infection in the fish and can even kill them.

That’s why it is very important that you should avoid using gravel substrate that has sharp edges especially if you’re going to keep bottom-dwelling fish in your tank.

Ideally, you should go for a sand substrate if you want to keep bottom-dwelling fish in your aquarium.

Gravel is also an inert substrate which basically means that it doesn’t change the water chemistry of your aquarium water.

When you plant live aquarium plants in gravel substrate there is a lot of space between the stones for the roots of the live aquarium plants to spread out. So, unlike sand substrate, the roots of the plants will not get clogged up.

However, just like sand substrate, gravel substrate doesn’t provide any nutrients to the live aquarium plants.

So you will need to provide the essential nutrients to the live plants by adding root tabs into the gravel substrate.

Also, as the stones of the gravel substrate are heavy, they will not get into the inlet of your aquarium filter and can not damage it, unlike sand substrate.

Also, unlike sand substrate, the live plants can be easily anchored into the gravel substrate. And so the fish in your aquarium will not be able to easily uproot it.

As there are a lot of spaces between the stones of the gravel substrate, debris, uneaten food, and fish poop can get trapped into the gravel substrate.

So you’ll need to vacuum the gravel regularly while doing the regular maintenance of your aquarium.

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Prose

  • Affordable
  • A lot of variety available
  • Will not damage your equipment
  • Does not changes the water chemistry

Cons

  • Need to vacuum the substrate regularly
  • Not ideal for bottom dwelling fish
  • Does not provide any nutrients to plants

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How to choose the best substrate between sand and gravel for your planted tank?

sand and gravel

So as we have seen above, sand as well as gravel substrate have their advantages and disadvantages.

So whether sand or gravel is a better substrate for your planted tank really depends on your particular situation.

Now I will go through a few situations and recommend whether sand or gravel would be a better substrate for that particular situation so that you can get an idea.

Let’s start with the important one!

If you want to keep some bottom-dwelling fish in your aquarium then ideally you should go for a sand substrate.

Because if you choose a rough and sharp gravel substrate then it can scratch the delicate belly or mouth of the fish which can later cause bacterial infection. And it can ultimately lead to the death of the fish.

Sand is a very soft substrate so it will not hurt the bottom-dwelling fish.

However, if you want to keep gravel substrate with bottom-dwelling fish in the tank then just make sure that the gravel substrate is not sharp and rough. You can go for pebbles.

On the other hand, if you don’t want to keep bottom dwelling fish in your aquarium then you should go for a gravel substrate.

Because sand can be difficult to maintain.

You have to be very careful while adding water in your tank because the sand can easily get disturbed and float throughout the tank.

Also, with sand substrate, there is a possibility that anaerobic air pockets can build up which are harmful toxic to your fish.

Besides, as sand is very light weight, it can get sucked up into the inlet of your filter which can potentially damage it.

However, with a gravel substrate, you will have to keep up with the vacuuming of the substrate. Because uneaten food, fish poop, and debris can get trapped into the gravel substrate.

If these things remain in the substrate then it will produce ammonia in your aquarium. And ammonia is toxic for the fish. It can even kill your fish.

As far as the aesthetic look of your aquarium is concerned, it is really a personal choice.

So whether you should choose sand or gravel really depends on your personal choice.

However, you should also consider the other factors that I have just mentioned before choosing the substrate.

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Best sand substrate for aquarium plants

Now I will recommend a couple of sand substrate for your aquarium.

These sand substrates are specially designed for aquariums.

So their particle size is relatively large compared to other types of sand like play sand.

This basically decreases the possibility of forming anaerobic air pockets in your aquarium.

Seachem black sand

If you want to have black sand in your aquarium then this is the substrate for you.

It comes from a very reputed brand.

you can check its latest price and reviews on Amazon here

Caribsea supernaturals

If you want natural-looking sand for your planted tank then this is the sand for you.

You can check its latest price and reviews on Amazon here

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Best gravel substrate for aquarium plants

There is a lot of variety available when it comes to gravel substrate for aquariums.

You can choose from a lot of sizes and colors and give your aquarium a unique look.

And that’s why I don’t have any specific recommendations for you.

However, while choosing the gravel substrate just make sure that the gravel is not sharp and rough.

This is especially important if you are going to keep bottom dwelling fish in your aquarium.

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How to plant aquarium plants in a sand substrate?

How to plant aquarium plants in gravel substrate

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FAQ

What aquarium plants can grow in sand?

There is a lot of variety of plants available to plant in a sand substrate.

You can plant easy plants such as Java fern and Cryptocoryne wendtii in your sand substrate.

You can also plant fast growing plants such as Jungle Vallisneria and Amazon sword in the sand substrate.

Also, you can plant red aquarium plants such as Ludwigia repens and red variation of Cryptocoryne wendtii in your sand substrate.

I have written a detailed article covering different types of plants you can plant in your sand substrate. You can read the article here.

Can I plant aquarium plants straight into gravel?

Yes, you can plant aquarium plants straight into the gravel substrate.

Just make sure not to bury the plant too much into the gravel.

Only bury the roots of the plant. If you bury the plant too much then it will rot.

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How do you anchor aquarium plants in sand?

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

However, if you have some fish like Oscar fish that likes to dig the substrate then these fish will most likely uproot the plants from the sand substrate.

So, in this case, you can use the trick shown in the video below to fix the issue.

Will Vallisneria grow in sand?

Yes, you can plant Vallisneria in a sand substrate. But as sand doesn’t have any nutrients that plants require to grow, you will need to provide the nutrients by inserting root tabs into the sand substrate.

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Conclusion

Aquarium plants can thrive in both sand and gravel substrate.

But as both of these substrates don’t contain any nutrients that plants require to grow, you will need to supplement the plant nutrients through root tabs.

Besides, whether sand or gravel is better for your planted tank really depends on your particular aquarium setup.

So, you should go through the pros and cons of both of these substrates I have mentioned above. And then make the decision depending on which substrate suits best for your particular aquarium setup.

I hope you found this article helpful.

If you do, please share it

Happy aquascaping!

Related articles:

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