Useful Tips

Aquarium Gravel Tricks


Soil is one of the most important components in a plant aquarium. On the one hand, plant roots grow in it, on the other hand, plants receive nutrients from it. It should be noted that partially plants receive them from water (for example, K, Ca, Mg must be present in water). Especially important is the presence of nutrients in the soil for plants with a developed root system - for example, cryptocoryne. If you grow an elodea, then you do not really need the soil.

On the other hand, soil can play the role of a buffer for changing the chemical parameters of water - for example, in an aquarium with African cichlids from Lake Malawi, soil with a lot of limestone is usually used to maintain high water hardness.

As a soil, a large number of materials are used. Here some of them will be considered and recommendations for preparing the soil for the aquarium will be given. These recommendations are not the only correct ones - there are many ways leading to success and many aquarists follow their own rules.

The main thing when choosing a soil is the question - for which aquarium are you going to use it? For an aquarium with fish where plastic or unpretentious plants, such as anubias, grow. the choice of soil is not very important, since it serves mainly decorative purposes. Ordinary gravel is suitable for these purposes.

If you seriously decided to start growing aquarium plants and brag about the Dutch aquarium (or Amano’s laurels do not let you sleep), then, along with lighting and a carbon dioxide plant, you will have to think about the soil.

Primer for aquarium with fish

If you are not interested in growing plants (for example, you love plastic plants) or unpretentious plants, for example, elodea, grow in the aquarium, then you can use fine gravel as soil. Particle sizes are about 3-5 mm. You can use decorative primer, sold at the aquarium store. Do not use fine sand. He will quickly clog up with dirt. especially when using a bottom filter. Make sure that the soil does not change the chemical parameters of water - avoid marble chips and similar materials that will increase the pH value and water hardness.

Materials for soil preparation

There are many materials that can be used for soil preparation. They differ in their chemical and physical properties. Not all of them are necessary for the successful cultivation of plants. Materials can be divided into basic (e.g. gravel, sand) and additives (e.g. peat). Additives are used to improve soil nutrition and added to regular gravel. Some additives contain nutrients, some are used to retain these substances, preventing them from being washed into water. This ability is called CEC (cation exchange capacity) - the material is able to hold positive ions (cations) of minerals - Fe, K, Zn, etc. Moreover, these substances are available for plants, which absorb them using the root system. Materials such as peat have a high SEC. Gravel and sand have virtually zero CEC.

Gravel and sand

Fine gravel (2-5 mm in size) is usually the main component for the preparation of aquarium soil. It is not a source of plant nutrients and does not have the ability to retain them (low CEC). It serves to fix the roots of plants, as an upper layer, on top of peat, etc. On the other hand, gravel allows nutrients from the water to penetrate inside, where they are absorbed by the roots of plants.

Fine sand is similar to gravel in that it does not contain nutrients and does not hold them well. It is usually used in a mixture with other components, such as peat, or as a top coat. Fine sand is not recommended when using a bottom filter, since it is quickly clogged with dirt and there is a risk of anoxic zones (some types of cryptocoryns are specially grown in fine sand).

Clay and laterite

Clay is a mixture of various inorganic materials - oxides and silicates of iron, aluminum, etc. - with very small particles (1-2 microns in size and smaller). Clay rich in iron is red. Some types of clay may also contain many other minerals - Mn, Zn, Cu, etc. Since these minerals are needed by plants in small quantities, and in large quantities they can be toxic, such clay should be mixed with peat, humus, etc., which will hold these minerals in the form of organic complexes. Clay has a high SES (it can hold nutrients well because it contains negative ions that attract positive metal and salt ions).

Usually a small amount of clay is added to the soil - 10-15%, mixing it well with sand, gravel, etc. To facilitate mixing, soak the clay to a state of turbidity, you can also roll balls of clay and add them to the lower layer of soil. You can add fertilizer to these balls. If you use dry clay in the form of powder, then work in a mask to prevent inhalation of this dust, which is harmful to the lungs. A suspension of clay makes the water cloudy, so use clay only in the lower layer of the soil, especially if you have fish that like to pick their hands in the soil or you often transplant plants. You can use clay, which is used for modeling, just make sure that there are no additives to facilitate modeling - now there are a lot of them.

Avoid the use of large amounts of clay containing aluminum, together with materials that have a low pH value, especially peat, since under such conditions toxic aluminum dissolves in water. You can also add a little limestone or dolomite to increase the pH.

Along with clay, laterite is also used in the aquarium - red soil from the tropics, which consists mainly of iron oxides. Laterite can be sold under various names - Duplarite, etc. Usually laterite is used as the lower layer of soil, since it contains a lot of iron. It has a high (although lower than that of clay or peat CEC)

Instead of clay, cat litter can sometimes be used. The cheapest is clay. Make sure that there are no additives to absorb odor, etc.

Garden land

The land that you can dig in the garden is a mixture of clay, sand and organic components. humus, etc., which serve as a source of plant nutrients. The use of land (especially mixed with manure or compost), which is sold in large quantities in garden shops, should be avoided. There are too many nutrients in it, which will lead to a large concentration of them in water - it causes the growth of algae, as well as to the active processes of decomposition in the soil, which you absolutely do not need. since, first of all, oxygen is pumped out of the water, and when it is lacking, oxygen-free decay begins. Land with a high organic content (for example, from the forest) has a fairly high SES.

Sometimes a mixture of decayed leaves is added to the ground - for growing cryptocoryne. Those interested can find the necessary information in the literature on their cultivation. For most plants, this is optional.

Compost is almost completely organic. It contains a lot of nutrients, but it must be used in extremely small quantities or, best of all, not used. In addition to the release of nutrients into the water during its decomposition, a large amount of ammonia poisonous to fish is formed in the aquarium

Earth. used for growing plants in pots, contains a lot of peat and organics. It can be used as an additive, similar to peat.

Peat is a mixture of partially decayed organic fossil materials. It is very rich in organic and humic acids. Peat produces less organic matter in water than compost or earth. It has a high CEC value, retaining nutrients. Peat is used as an additive to the soil or as an intermediate layer. To prevent peat from stirring up water, use a layer of gravel or sand on top of it. Peat has the ability to soften water, reducing its hardness. Due to the increased acidity, peat helps to create an increased concentration of iron available to plants in the soil.

Use of natural soil

Of course, you can buy special soil (especially gravel and beautiful pebbles) in the aquarium store. But usually it is expensive and not very suitable for an aquarium with plants where special soil is needed. You can buy a bag of beautiful stones and use it later to decorate the aquarium - like the top layer.

On the other hand, you can dig up sand, gravel, earth somewhere in a ditch or buy in a garden store. Natural land differs from the one sold in the store with much less organic matter. The organic matter in such a land is already rotten, which will reduce the time of soil decomposition at the start of the aquarium. Typically, garden shop land is used only in small quantities as an additive to gravel or sand. Avoid land in which organic fertilizers have already been added - nitrates, phosphates, etc. This will lead to algae growth in the aquarium,

Collect the soil in places where water does not stagnate - this will reduce the amount of salt in the soil you have collected, including all kinds of metal compounds. Therefore, do not dig gravel near the sewer.

If you collect gravel from a natural reservoir, then disinfect it - it may contain spores of algae, bacteria, etc. To do this, you can use bleach.

Preparation and use of land in an aquarium

The use of land, including in a mixture with peat, is the subject of endless debate. Some do not succeed and the plants grow worse than when grown in plain gravel. Some do the opposite. A properly prepared mixture of land with peat allows you to more successfully grow plants with a developed root system, for example cryptocorynes, which have a branching root system (remove a large cryptocoryne bush from the soil and look at its roots). Plants that have white roots, which indicates the presence of a large number of air channels, grow better in such soil, since they can provide air into the soil. On the other hand, plants such as anubias, aponogentons, etc. feel worse in a soil where air exchange is insufficient.

The main mistake made when using the land is that the land used is too rich in organic matter, for example, from a garden store or compost. Earth dug out of the forest does not have that much organic matter, so it can be used directly.

The same applies to peat (or a mixture of land with peat, in which there is usually less organic matter than in the land from the store). It is necessary to prepare a mixture of earth and water, in which it is a kind of thick soup. After that, the mixture is filtered through a net, for example, a net from flies. The gauze has too small holes, the aquarium net is quite suitable for this purpose. At the same time, roots, stones and other pure organic matter are filtered out. Such a filtered soup can be used to prepare the middle layer of soil. After filtration, it can be dried or used directly. squeezing water out of it, for example, through cheesecloth. If you carefully put the top layer of sand or gravel on top, the earth will not stir up water.

Land decomposition will go especially fast in the first few weeks. Therefore, do not rush to add fish to such an aquarium. Use some cheap fish (zebrafish, molliesia) to start the nitrate cycle in the aquarium. A lot of nitrates and phosphates will be released during the first few weeks, especially in a land rich in organic matter, which can lead to algae growth. One way to avoid this is to pre-soak the soil for three to four weeks, followed by washing it. The peat used will first emit a lot of humic acids, which lower the pH value of the water and turn it yellowish. It is often enough to change a large amount of water - up to 80-90%. You can also soak peat in advance. All these factors lead to the fact that the launch of such an aquarium takes much longer than the launch of a conventional aquarium.

If you use heating cables in the ground, it is especially important that the earth is not nutritious or contains a large amount of organic matter, such as peat. Decomposition will go too fast when the soil heats up. Do not have too much good. If you do not have experience in the use of land, then it is better to refrain from using it together with cables

How to check that the soil does not increase water hardness

If you are preparing soil for an aquarium with soft water, then you should check in advance that the soil does not increase the pH and hardness of the water. Otherwise, it will be almost impossible for you to lower the pH value. This is especially important if you are digging soil from a nearby ditch or buying in a dubious place.

The easiest way is to pour the soil into a glass of acetic acid. If you see gas bubbles, this means that the acid reacts with the soil to give off carbon dioxide, i.e. the soil contains carbonates and bicarbonates (such as limestone), which you do not need at all. On the other hand, if you contain African cichlids that live in hard water, then you better add material that will have the buffering ability to keep the pH value high.

Laying the soil in the aquarium

Here one of the possible schemes for laying soil in an aquarium with plants is described. This scheme is not the only correct one (as usual, there are many ways to success), however, it is simple and subject to the remaining conditions - fertilizing with fertilizers, proper lighting, using CO2, and, of course, following the recommendations described below, allows you to achieve success. Failure to fulfill one of the conditions (lighting, CO2, etc.) can negate all your efforts to grow green forest in the aquarium. The success of this method was confirmed by both my practice and so many others. If the main ones in the aquarium are fish, and plants occupy a secondary role, then you don’t need to do all this - you can just use gravel.

It is suggested that you do not use a bottom filter, which is not recommended for use in an aquarium designed for plants, because when it is used, nutrients will be washed out of the soil into the water, where they will be available to algae. On the other hand, the use of fine soil will quickly clog the filter. A use case for such a filter in an aquarium with plants is described below.

The soil is laid in three layers:

  • The lower layer - consists of laterite enriched with iron or clay enriched with clay (for example, you can use a mixture of gravel with filler for cat's toilets - make sure that there are no additives in it to destroy the smell, etc.). The layer is 3-5 cm thick. It is good to add clay balls with fertilizers to this layer. You can add a little mixture of trace elements (not containing nitrates and phosphates) - about 1 g per square meter of aquarium area. It is desirable that the mixture contains more iron, which should be in a chelated form, otherwise it will be inaccessible to plants. It is not necessary to use iron sulfate, which is widely used for feeding garden bushes - sulfates will reduce the acidity of water. All this will provide nutrition to the roots of plants. If you use heating cables, then they must be laid in the lower layer. Heating cables should not lie directly on the bottom - uneven heating of the glass can cause it to crack - use supports. Do not lay fine sand or clay if you use heating cables - this can lead to uneven soil overheating, etc. Be sure to read about the use of land in conjunction with heating cables above
  • Middle layer - contains land with the addition of peat (15-25% by volume). Above it is written about what land can be used. The thickness of the layer is 2-3 cm (do not need thicker - this can lead to rotting of the soil). If the earth contains a large amount of organic matter, then it should be mixed with sand. Trace elements and clay balls can be added to this layer. Be sure to properly prepare peat and land, as described above. The pros and cons of using such a layer in an aquarium are also described there.
  • The top layer is 3-5 cm of ordinary fine gravel mixed with sand. Этот слой служит для того, чтобы торф с землей не мутили воду. Тут вы можете использовать любые красивые камешки, которые вам приглянулись в магазине.

Как подготовить гравий для аквариума

  1. К подбору его нужно отнестись очень тщательно, влияние гравия на экосистему аквариума может быть благотворным для жителей, но иногда неудачный выбор отражается на состоянии в негативную сторону,
  2. The use of gravel is quite simple, the industry produces its various variations, with the right selection, it can create the most natural environment for the inhabitants of the aquarium,
  3. Gravel is produced from various artificial and natural materials: glass, a special gel, natural minerals, with a polymer coating of high resistance.

    In the presence of a film, maximum safety is achieved, hazardous substances do not enter the water from gravel,
  4. To perform the work, it is necessary to rinse the aquarium with running water, stock up on gravel, sieve, paper towels,
  5. Examine the information on the packaging, the soil for the aquarium should comply with all standards and be designed specifically for filling the aquarium, if you have questions and doubts do not hesitate to ask the sellers of the store, the safety of your home aquarium depends on it,
  6. Check the integrity of the pellets before moving the gravel into the aquarium,
  7. Rinse gravel with water on a sieve before transferring to an aquarium; some experts recommend boiling.

    If chemicals were used, the washing should be carried out especially carefully, wait for the clear water to drain when washing on a sieve, this will ensure the safety of the inhabitants of the aquarium. In the practice of aquarists, there are cases when, after changing the soil, there was a mass death of all the inhabitants of the aquarium,
  8. Dry the gravel with a paper towel, so you can reduce the amount of impurities from tap water,
  9. Do not pour too thick a layer on the bottom, not more than 1.3 centimeters,
  10. Check the acidity level after filling the tank with water.

Subject to all recommendations, your "piece of the reservoir" will delight for a long time with the beauty and variety of species.