Sandy Success: Can You Have a Planted Tank with Sand?

Most freshwater fish live in places where there is sand in their natural environment. Using sand as the substrate of your fish tank is a great way to make it look like the fish’s natural home. Compared to other substrates, sand is also quite cheap. Sand is also a good substrate because it doesn’t change the chemistry of the water in your aquarium like some other substrates do. Fish waste and leftover food will just sit on top of the sand, which makes it easy to clean. But it’s a different story when it comes to using sand for plants.

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Is Sand A Good Substrate for Planted Tanks?

Putting plants in your aquarium makes it stand out because it makes your fish tank look more natural. Your fish tank is calm and peaceful not just because of the plants, but also because of the sand. But putting them together in your fish tank might not be a good idea.

Aquarium plants do poorly in very fine sand since the sand grains are so tiny and tend to clump together, making it difficult for the root systems to get through and grow. On the other hand, coarse sand has tiny gaps between the granules and is a much better choice for a planted tank’s substrate. Even with root tabs, sand is not the best option for a planted aquarium because it does not give plants the nutrition they need.

Even though it’s not the best option for plants, that doesn’t mean you can’t put them in sand. You can still use sand with plants in a lot of different ways. Just use the right kind of sand and find out if the plant can grow in sand.

What Type of Sand Can I Use in My Aquarium?

Sand is a great addition to your aquarium, and it’s also inexpensive. But there are many different kinds of sand, and each has its own pros and cons. Here are a few types of sand you can use in an aquarium so you can decide which one you want.

1. Play Sand

Play sand isn’t dangerous and is most likely the safest choice. It is deemed the “standard” sand for aquariums and it is neither flashy nor boring. Keep in mind that this sand is a trouble to clean, so if you don’t like cleaning your fish tank, this sand will make it even worse.

2. Blasting Sand

This is a cheap way to make your tank look more natural. Blasting sand is identical in appearance to play sand and the only distinction is that the grains in blasting sand are much uniform in size and color. If you prefer more refined grains of sand, blasting sand is your best choice for your aquarium.

3. Silica Pool Sand

This special sand works well not only in swimming pools but also in aquariums. Silica pool sands, unlike play sands and blasting sands, can be bought in a wide range of colors and grain sizes. It gives you more options for customization, but it costs more than the other choices.

4. Clay Sand

Clay sand isn’t actually sand made out of clay. But clay is combined with the sand to enhance the nutrients within the substrate. This helps fish that need more minerals in the aquarium to make it more like their natural habitat.

5. Artificial Sand

Fish can get very sick from having artificial sand used as a substrate. The dyes used to make “fake” sand dissolve into the water over time and pollute it with harmful chemicals. If the look of artificial sand is so appealing that you can’t resist it, you could get away with using it in an aquarium with plants but no fish.

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What Are The Benefits of Sand Substrate?

Sand has a lot of uses and can be found anywhere wild freshwater fish live. So you might think about bringing some home for your fish friendsHere are some benefits of using sand as the bottom of your aquarium.

1. Natural Look

One of the best things about sand substrate is that it gives your aquarium a very natural look. It will make your tank look a lot more like the actual wildlife. Sand makes it look like you are taking care of a small ecosystem, not just a regular fish tank. 

2. Easy to Clean

Even though sand substrate is cleaned in a somewhat different manner than gravel, the whole process is not harder or takes more time. Sand doesn’t have any holes, so fish waste and leftover food just sit on top of it.

3. Doesn’t Need to Be Changed Often

When the sand is tightly packed, it must be replaced less often. Because the spaces between sand particles are smaller than those of gravel particles, the leftover food and fish wastes  tend to stay on the substrate’s surface instead of sinking to the bottom, in which they can decompose.

4. Burrows for Fish

It gives the fish places to hide, particularly fishes that like to burrow, and it makes the environment easier for bottom-dwelling fish that like to dig through the substrate to find bits of food. Plus, it helps cut down on reflections in the tank, which can stress fish.

5. Inert Substrate

The sand in your aquarium shouldn’t affect the PH level because most kinds of sand are inert. Even aquarium-safe silica sand is pure enough that it has a pH level of around 7.

6. Many Colors to Choose From 

There are a lot of different colors and shades of sand substrate to choose from. There are white, black, brown, and many other colors of sand. This gives you a lot of options to choose from for making your aquarium look just right.

7. Sand is Cheap

Sand is also very cost-effective, which is another important benefit. Most of the time, a bag of sand will cost much less than other aquarium substrates. If you’re on a tight budget, this may be a good choice.

What are The Drawbacks of Using a Sand Substrate In a Planted Tank?

Using sand as the bottom of an aquarium has some pros, but it also has some cons. You should think about the pros and cons to decide if it’s right for you. Here are some reasons why you shouldn’t use sand in your aquarium.

1. Plants Can’t Anchor Well

Plant roots can’t spread out very well in sand substrate because it is so fine. This makes it hard for them to get food, and the fish will be able to easily uproot. If you want to use sand to grow live plants in your fish tank, it’s important to choose plants with small root systems.

2. Filter Can Get Damaged

Due to its fine particle size, sand substrate poses a risk of causing damage to some of the aquarium equipment. Sand grains, for instance, can easily clog filters and pumps. When using sand, be careful not to let it get into the moving components of your aquarium.

3. Sand Floats Easily

Another thing that could be bad about sand can easily float around in water. If your fish like to dig or burrow in the substrate, this could be a problem. Sand can enter their gills quickly and make them sick.

4. Can Make Your Aquarium Cloudy

If your fish tank is not properly set up the right way, the granules of  sand substrate can get everywhere. Due to its small size, it can float around in the tank. It is also easy for fish to stir up, which can make the water look cloudy.

5. Difficult To Set Up

Sand substrate can also be hard to set up, which is another big problem. If you don’t pay close attention, it’s easy to make a big mess. Make sure that before you put the sand in your aquarium, you need to give it a good rinse.

6. It Doesn’t Have Any Nutrients

Sand substrate doesn’t have any nutrients because it isn’t alive. This means that you’ll need to add fertilizers to the aquarium if you wish to grow aquatic plants. This can be a big problem if you want to build a planted aquarium that looks natural.

7. Can Easily Form Anaerobic Pockets

If the sand substrate is too deep, anaerobic pockets can form. These small pockets can form beneath the sand and release hydrogen sulfide into an aquarium, which is toxic to aquatic life.

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How Much Sand Should Be In a Planted Tank?

No matter what kind of sand you choose for your aquarium, you must clean it before you put it in the tank. Everything you put in your tank should be clean and rinsed well. So, you can get rid of any harmful things in the sand before they get into the aquarium.

After a good cleaning, use about such a pound of sand for every gallon of water, or try to keep the sand depth at 2 to 3 inches all over. If  the plants are grown in sand that isn’t deep enough, its roots will get tangled up and the plants in the aquarium won’t get enough food. But if you dig deeper than 3 inches, the sand can create pockets without oxygen that can harm your fish and plant roots.

Make sure you don’t put the vacuum too deep into the sand when you’re cleaning it, since the sand naturally keeps leftover food and fish wastes on the surface. This is also to keep from stirring up the sand, which causes the water to look cloudy. But make sure to stir up the sand every so often to make sure it doesn’t form pockets where there isn’t enough oxygen.

How to Plant The Live Aquarium Plants In a Sand Substrate?

The sand in the bottom of your aquarium doesn’t feed your plants or keep them in place well. But you can still plant your aquarium plants in the sand if you do it the right way. Here’s a step-by-step guide for planting in sand.

1. Check The Sand Depth

If you want to use sand substrate in your planted aquarium, you shouldn’t put it more than 3 inches deep. This is done so that anaerobic pockets don’t form under the sand. A dangerous thing about anaerobic pockets is that they can kill most plant roots.

2. Attach The Plant to a Stone

Since sand substrate doesn’t hold aquarium plants well, you need to anchor them to something to keep them from floating away. You can use small stones or pebbles, and then use rubber bands or fishing line to hold the plant in place.

3.Bury The Plant-attached Stone

Find out how deep you should bury your plants before you do it. For example, you shouldn’t bury the rhizome part of a plant in the sand substrate because it will start to rot and kill the plant. It can be planted right where the rhizome is above the sand, and the roots will find their own way into the sand or whatever they are tied to.

4. Put a Root Tab Under The Plant

Sand substrate doesn’t have any nutrients on its own, so over time, your plant will run out of nutrients. Putting a root tab under the plant is one thing you can do. The nutrients that plants need to grow will be in the root tabs.

5. Keep the Plant Well Fed

After you’ve done the steps above, you’ll have a beautiful aquarium with plants in it. But that’s not all. Make sure to always give your plants more root tab nutrients when they run out. Root tabs usually last a few months before you need to put another one on. 

How Do You Fertilize Aquarium Sand

Sand doesn’t have enough nutrients to grow plants on its own, so you might need to add fertilizer to it. You can use root tabs to feed the sand in your aquarium. Here is a step-by-step guide to fertilizing the sand with root tabs in your aquarium.

1. Ensure the Root Tab Won’t Float

Tablets of root tabs usually stay on the ground and don’t float. Root tabs that come in a capsule, on the other hand, can have air pockets in them. Pierce the capsule with a pushpin then squeeze the root tab while it’s submerged to prevent it from floating away.

2. Bury the Root Tab In The Sand

To bury the root tab in the sand, you can use  a tool like planting tweezers or your own fingers and push an entire root tab into the sand. Make sure you don’t take the fertilizer out of the capsule to keep it from dissolving in the water column.

3. Don’t Put Too Many Root Tabs

Set up a grid of about one tab every 5 to 6 inches so you can cover the whole substrate. If you have a lot of plants in your fish tank, you might need to place additional root tabs every 10 cm or less.

4. Replenish Used Up Tabs

Nutrients are used up over time, so they need to be replaced regularly. For healthy growth, many aquarists recommend putting additional root tabs about once a month to keep building the nutrient base in the sand. 

Should You Add Soil Under the Sand?

Sand doesn’t have any nutrients in it, so planting your plants in it might not be a good idea. It also doesn’t hold the roots well, so the plants in your aquarium will just float to the top. But there is a way to use the sand’s beauty while keeping the plants healthy and firmly planted.

Many aquarists say that the sand should be put in a layer thick enough to cover the dirt.  This will make the sand substrate keep the dirt out of the water in your aquarium. This can help your plants get the nutrients in the dirt without letting the nutrients get into your water and change the conditions, which could hurt your fish.

Dirt in an aquarium can be good, but bear in mind that it can also increase the ammonia levels in the water when they are first put in. This can be a problem in tanks that have just been set up because it can cause spikes in ammonia, which is not only bad for the fish but also a big reason algae grows.

Which Sand Is Best for Planted Tanks?

Even though most plants don’t do well in sand, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try. Some companies sell sand products that some aquarium plants can grow in. Here are some plant-friendly sand you can use in your aquarium.

1. Caribsea Super Naturals

Caribsea’s Super Naturals looks exotic, is easy to care for, and has soft, fine grains that keep your tank from getting clogged up with waste. Because the sand is inert and stable, it won’t change the pH level of the water in your fish tank. Some aquarists, on the other hand, have said that the fine grain could mess up the filters and pumps.

2. Caribsea Cichlid Mix

This excellent sand is made to look like the natural environments of African Cichlids. The sand also acts as a buffer, lowering the pH and making the water more like the cichlid’s natural habitat. But if you’ve never had an aquarium before, this sand might not work if you don’t prepare it right.

3. Flourite Black Sand

Some aquarists say that this black sand from Seachem is the best substrate you can get, whether you are just starting out or have been doing this for a long time. The beauty of Flourite Black Sand is that it makes your tank look clean and beautiful. In addition, the best thing about this sand is that you may never have to keep replacing the substrate because it doesn’t break down.

4.  Stoney River Aquarium Sand

This aquarium sand is bright white, has a coating that isn’t toxic, and won’t change the pH or chemistry of the water in your tank. This product is liked by many aquarists because it is basically “living sand.” This means that bacteria and other tiny creatures have moved into the sand.

5. Black Diamond Blasting Sand

This Black Diamond Blasting Sand might be the best value of all the sand products. Even though it’s cheap, it still looks high-end and premium, just like the known brands of aquarium sands. But they might not be easy to find in stores near you, and they might be very dusty, so you might have to wash them a lot before placing them in your tank.

6. Aqua Terra Aquarium Sand

This high-quality, all-natural substrate is a great place for good microbes to live and gives plants something to hold on to. It also helps the filtration process by giving nitrifying bacteria more room to live on the surface. The 100% acrylic coating is non-toxic and will not change the chemistry of your water.

7. CaribSea Super Naturals Moonlight Sand

This sand makes your aquarium look nice, and its natural color goes well with your colorful fish. The color of this sand is not made with dyes or paints, and it is also neutral, so it won’t change the way the water works. However, this sand seems to have an oily residue that needs to be completely washed away before you can use it in your tank.

Recommended Root Tabs For Planted Aquarium

Sand doesn’t have as many nutrients as other mediums, so you may need to use root tabs to help them grow. But there are a lot of root tabs on the market, and you might not know which one to pick. We’ll talk about some of the best root tabs for your planted aquarium in this list.

1. Seachem Flourish Tabs

Seachem Flourish Tabs are the one of the best root tabs planted aquariums that is usually what most aquarists would recommend. They are inexpensive and have all of the trace minerals and vitamins that plants need. While these root tabs shouldn’t have much of an effect on the PH of aquarium water, they could potentially change the acidity of extremely soft water.

2. Aquarium Coop Easy Root Tabs

Extra iron and calcium, which plants need to grow, are in these tabs. They also have red clay in them, which keeps nutrients from washing away too quickly. It also serves as an anchor when roots are planted deep into substrates such as sand and shale rock, where they might not be able to get a hold because there isn’t enough oxygen in the sedimentary layers below.

3. API Root Tabs

Organic carbon can be found in API’s Root Tabs, making them a great choice for fast-growing stem plants in your planted aquarium. This provides the additional nutrition that woody plants require in order to increase their production of cellulose and lignin, the structural compounds found in their stems. Organic carbon also provides an additional benefit to the plant life in your aquarium by allowing them to take in more iron.

4. NilocG Aquatics Thrive Caps

Since Thrive Caps are more effective than most root tabs on buffered water, they come highly recommended by aquarists for use in planted freshwater aquarium. This root tab also  contains trace amounts of both iron and copper, making it an excellent algae control in aquariums. Thrive Caps root tabs have everything an aquatic plant needs to flourish, so you won’t have to worry about any nutrient deficiencies that could otherwise lead to slowed growth or even death.

5. Easy Life Root Sticks

You can use Easy Life Root Sticks if you wish to nourish the roots of plants in your planted aquarium without having to worry about nutrients leaching into the water. It is made of clay, and it has a lot of iron in it. No need to fret about the root sticks rotting too quickly in water because the nutrients are released slowly over time.

6. Osmocote Live Plant Tabs

This is a great choice for aquarists who want high-quality plant food that won’t break the bank. A single root tab can last up to 4 to 6 months so you don’t need to worry about the nutrients leaking into the water column in your planted aquarium. The Osmocote Plus root tab is especially helpful for plants like Amazon swords that get most of their food from their roots.


Is Sand or Gravel Better for A Planted Aquarium?

When compared to very fine-grained sand, aquatic gravel is preferable for plant growth because it allows oxygen-rich water to circulate to the roots, facilitating nutrient absorption and reducing the risk of root rot says. Meanwhile, aquarium gravel lacks the nutrients that soil for aquariums would have.

Will Capping Gravel with Coarse Sand Damage Planted Tanks?

That if your sand particles are too big and sharp, they are likely to harm your plants and hurt or irritate your bottom-dwelling fish. However, using coarse sands can prevent formation of anaerobic pockets which are more deadly to the fish.

What Is the Best Substrate for A Planted Tank?

You should useaquarium soil, like UNS Controsoil as well as Aquario NEO Soil, as the substrate for your aquarium plants. The substrate is typically a nutrient-rich clay-based medium that promotes optimal plant growth.

Can You Aquascape with Sand?

Sand can be used as a noticeable substrate in aquascaping, with the main benefit being an increase in design flexibility in the foreground. However, the roots of plants have a hard time penetrating and spreading in sand because of its density.

Do Guppies Prefer Sand or Gravel?

Sand is very fine, so it’s not likely that it will get stuck in the mouths of your fish or in your filtration system. It’s also easy to change and not likely to get dirty or full of food.

How Long Till Sand Settles in An Aquarium?

Sand granules are light and will move and float around in the water because of this. Some aquarium experts say that the sand can take up to a maximum of seven days to settle.

Is Black Sand Good for Aquariums?

Black sand looks beautiful and feels high-quality at the same time. It is also not coated with chemicals and never needs to be replaced, which can be great for aquariums.


Even if the bottom of your aquarium is sand, you can still have plants. But you’ll have even more problems if you use sand instead of gravel in your aquarium. Like how a sand substrate needs different food and care than a typical gravel substrate. But if you can get past these issues, the sand substrate will give your aquarium a more natural look and make it easier to clean in the long run. In the end, what makes our fish tanks and aquariums more beautiful is the work we put into them.

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