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Self-Improvement & Hobbies

Aquascaping

Things you should consider before laying the substrate
CATS Classified In The Straits Times - December 25, 2010
By: Wong Wei Chen
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Aquascaping

One of the things you’ll need to consider before you embark on an aquascaping project is the type of substrate you should use.

The substrate is the layer of gravel you lay at the bottom of the tank. How you set up the substrate is important, since it is the medium which anchors your decorations, and in which plants take root, obtain nutrition, and propagate.

Apart from aesthetic considerations, the substrate plays a key role in facilitating the formation of beneficial bacterial colonies, which help keep ammonia and nitrite levels down.

Granule size
The grain size of the substrate is an important factor which can affect water quality. Avoid large-sized granules, as these allow uneaten food and waste to fall in-between the pieces. Once trapped within the substrate, the debris could prove difficult to vacuum out, and will eventually pollute the water.

If you have an undergravel filter, medium-sized granules (with diameters of about 3mm) are most appropriate as the finer ones may clog the filter plates.

Substrate material
When determining the type of substrate to use, broad considerations that should come to mind include how the gravel material will affect pH levels.

Too many crushed corals or shells will raise the pH level, which could be detrimental to plants and fish. Low pH, on the other hand, causes root-rot, which in turn encourages algae growth.

Here’s a list of common gravels. What combination you ultimately use will very much depend on your plants and fish:

Common pea gravel
This is very similar to what you see in natural environments. On its own, it is not ideal for plants. You can, however, use it in combination with other types of gravel to create an aesthetically pleasing display.

Quartz gravel
Also known as lime-free gravel, this type is ideal as a rooting medium for plants. It comes in brown, black or white.

Aragonite and crushed corals
Because of their calcium content, these types of gravel tend to raise the pH level, and are therefore more suitable for marine aquariums.

Sand
Used in conjunction with a good filtration system, sand can result in a higher level of aquarium hygiene, since it tends to compact itself so that organic waste and debris cannot penetrate its surface.

Soil
This stuff contains a lot of nutrients, and should be used sparingly. It can be positioned as a thin, nutrient-rich layer between other layers.

Adding the substrate
Before you lay the substrate, rinse the gravel thoroughly in moderately hot water. The heat will help kill off any harmful bacteria that may already be residing in the gravel. While rinsing, check for and remove sharp objects, large clumps or other foreign matter within the gravel.

Do note that hot-water rinsing should only be done the first time you lay the substrate. After you’ve cycled your tank, and the beneficial bacterial colonies have developed, hot water should never be used. Heat treatment is indiscriminate, and will kill off all and sundry, including the nitrifying bacteria.

By and large, a substrate depth of between 5cm and 8cm is sufficient for most aquariums, including planted tanks. Slope the gravel such that it is slightly higher in the background. With a gradient, debris will tumble towards the front, making it easier for you to vacuum the substrate.

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