Foundations for Life

Much more than simply a decorative element in the aquarium, substrates play a vital role in the success of hobbyists and pet stores alike.




While they have traditionally been viewed by shoppers as being nothing more than an element of fish-tank décor—albeit a necessary one—substrates actually serve a much higher purpose in the aquarium, and thus in retailers’ aquatic departments. While they do, indeed, serve a clear decorative role, today’s substrate products also often provide the very foundation upon which a healthy aquarium ecosystem is built. They accomplish this by providing vital nutrients for the life growing within the tank—whether it is plant or animal—and having an ongoing positive impact on water chemistry.

Pet stores that understand the important role that substrates can play in the aquarium and develop a comprehensive selection of products to meet the needs of all kinds of aquatic environments are sure to foster success among local hobbyists. This, in turn, will go a long way in helping the retailer cultivate a strong, loyal customer base in the aquarium department. With this in mind, Pet Business offers a roundup of some of the top products in the aquarium substrate category, ranging from the purely decorative to the decidedly functional.


Sustaining Growth
Seachem’s ( planted substrate line includes multiple substrates in a variety of colors and grain sizes.
Flourite is a specially fracted, stable clay gravel for the natural planted aquarium. Plants root prolifically in its porous structure, resulting in vigorous long-term growth. Unlike some substrates and gravel modifiers such as laterite, Flourite will not deteriorate over time. The slow release of micronutrients makes it self-sustaining for many years. Flourite is not chemically coated or treated and will not alter the pH of water.

Onyx Sand is a naturally dark-gray sand that complements and enhances the appearance of any aquarium. It not only provides iron and other minerals, but also supports optimal KH levels for freshwater planted aquariums. It provides macro elements that are critical for plant growth (magnesium and calcium), as well as iron and manganese. It is also rich in carbonates, which many plants can use directly as a carbon source. Gravel modifiers such as laterite are not necessary. Onyx Sand is not chemically coated or treated but does have a slight buffering capacity that may raise pH by 0.1 - 0.5 pH units.


Popular Brands
Sevenports ( is the North American distributor for Mr. Aqua, UP Aqua, AZOO, VIV and Hydra—brands that are popular with planted aquarium hobbyists everywhere.

AZOO Plant Grower Bed Soil is easy to plant in and lasts about 12 to 18 months. The soil has acidic properties and is very pliable, so it glides back into place during the planting process. Plants grow well in AZOO Plant Grower Bed Soil and do not need the addition of root tabs.

Mr. Aqua Soil is great for plants, shrimp and fish. It lasts about 12 to 18 months, helping to decrease the pH level and hardness of the water. Mr. Aqua Soil also helps eliminate tannins from the water when driftwood is put in, and it keeps water clear.

New UP Aqua Sand is a combination of the brand’s Shrimp Sand and Aqua Soil. Rich in many elements, it is great for shrimp and plants, and has a pH value of approximately 6.5 to 7.0. Because it is very dense, UP Aqua Sand is long lasting and stays clean.


Adding an Accent
Aqua Accents Decorative Aquarium Substrates, from Zoo Med Labs, Inc. (, are made from epoxy-coated aquarium gravel and sand, and are safe for all freshwater and saltwater aquariums. The small containers are ideal for providing substrate in small nano-style aquariums, or to be used as accents in larger tanks. This substrate does not need to be rinsed before adding to a tank and will not cloud the tank water.



The Complete Choice
The secret to CaribSea’s ( Eco-Complete Planted Aquarium Substrate lies in rich basaltic volcanic soil, which contains iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium and sulfur, plus more than 25 other elements, to nourish aquatic plants. Eco-Complete now contains Floraspore. These symbionts activate the root-substrate interface to facilitate the uptake of minerals, making for a healthier root and plant. Iron-rich Eco‑Complete eliminates the need for laterite. It contains no artificial dyes, paints or chemical coatings. Eco-Complete has highly porous spherical grains for optimum diffusion performance and contains live heterotrophic bacteria to rapidly convert fish waste into natural food for aquatic plants. It establishes a natural biological balance that makes cycling a new aquarium faster and safer.





Making Clean-up a Snap

Although substrates can go a long way in maintaining healthy aquarium environments, they can also make regular tank cleaning more complicated.

“The gravel is where all the dirt gets caught, and it is important that it gets cleaned out,” says Lance Reyniers, president of Python Products ( “You have good and bad bacteria in there, and the bad stuff has to go.”

But as anyone who has engaged in traditional methods of gravel cleaning can attest to, the process can be far from simple. That is where the Python No Spill Clean and Fill comes in. It is a complete, ready-to-use system that adapts easily to most faucets and makes water changes and gravel cleaning easier than ever.

“It turns the gravel right there in the tank, taking out the dirt out and leaving the gravel,” says Reyniers. “There is no tearing down or disrupting the tank at all. Hook it up to your faucet and it will lift, turn and clean the gravel. It separates out the dirt and debris, and flushes it right down the drain.”

The Python No Spill Clean and Fill system includes a hose, gravel tube, switch, hose connectors, faucet pump and brass faucet adapter. It is available in 25-, 50-, 75- and 100-ft. lengths.

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