Our sec­tion for be­gin­ners to the world of fish­keep­ing.

Practical Fishkeeping (UK) - - Welcome - WORDS: BOB MEHEN

It’s not that long ago that the only real choice of aquar­ium sub­strate was the colour of the gravel you were plan­ning on us­ing. This was largely due to the pre­ferred fil­tra­tion method which was ‘un­der­gravel’ fil­ters — ba­si­cally the whole sub­strate was your fil­ter and to best achieve this, rel­a­tively coarse gravel was needed.


Prob­a­bly the most pop­u­lar al­ter­na­tive to gravel, sand can give a lovely, nat­u­ral look and many fish will en­joy dig­ging around in it for food, or even bury­ing them­selves un­der it. The colour range is typ­i­cally more lim­ited, but nat­u­ral white, golden and even black sands are avail­able. Es­pe­cially fine sands can be sucked into ex­ter­nal fil­ters, po­ten­tially caus­ing dam­age to their im­pellers, so be sure to site the in­take a lit­tle higher to pre­vent this. Like fine gravel it can be­come com­pacted, so dili­gent main­te­nance is es­sen­tial.


Yes, it’s still pop­u­lar and makes an ex­cel­lent choice for many aquar­i­ums. The range has ex­panded hugely and offers all sorts of choices in terms of size and colour. You can get ev­ery­thing from the classic ‘Dorset pea-shin­gle’ (a se­lec­tion of rounded, nat­u­rally coloured gran­ules with sizes typ­i­cally from 1cm to 1mm) to bright, ar­ti­fi­cially coloured sub­strates, graded to a uni­form size and avail­able in a lit­eral rain­bow. Fine sizes can com­pact while larger, coarse types can be­come clogged — us­ing a gravel cleaner when do­ing your wa­ter changes will help pre­vent this hap­pen­ing.

While un­der­gravel fil­ters still ex­ist, (and can work very well if main­tained cor­rectly) they are sel­dom seen out­side fish shops and the boom in planted aquaria has led to an equiv­a­lent ex­plo­sion in va­ri­ety when it comes to what you choose to put on the floor of your fish tank.

Here are a few of the ba­sic op­tions.

Planted tank sub­strates

While you can suc­cess­fully grow many plants in plain gravel or sand, to achieve the lush growth you see in many of the beau­ti­ful ‘aquas­capes’ that jump out of the pages of PFK every month, you’ll need a spe­cial­ist planted tank sub­strate.

Th­ese typ­i­cally come in two va­ri­eties; com­plete sub­strates or base lay­ers.

Com­plete sub­strates are, as their name sug­gests, com­plete and are in­tended to be used alone. They are made to con­tain an op­ti­mum mix of nu­tri­ents com­bined with the per­fect grain size to pro­mote plant health and growth. They are avail­able in an in­creas­ingly large range of colours and sizes and are prob­a­bly the most ex­pen­sive sub­strate choice, but for good rea­son.

Base lay­ers are gen­er­ally a nu­tri­ent rich sub­strate in­tended to be put on the tank base, and then topped off with a cheaper, in­ert sub­strate like sand or gravel. Th­ese sub­strates are con­sid­er­ably cheaper to buy than the com­plete types, but the base and top lay­ers can end up get­ting mixed to­gether due to the ac­tions of dig­ging fish or dur­ing other aquar­ium main­te­nance.

Sand looks very nat­u­ral but needs reg­u­lar main­te­nance.

Planted com­mu­nity tank with a gravel sub­strate.

You’ll need a spe­cial­ist plant­ing sub­strate for a re­sult like this.

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