Substrate: Daltons Aquatic mix (from Bunnings) capped with fine aquarium stones works great and does not need root balls as it contains ferts in it already. Dalton's aquatic mix will cloud the water if not capped with something like pebbles or coarse sand. If you are using just normal aquarium pebbles or silica sand then buy some API root tabs or any brand of root tabs for your heavy root feeders. Plants like swords, crypts and even some stem plants are heavy root feeding plants as they really do need some root nutrients to thrive. If you just have plants like Hygrophila Polysperma, Indian Fern or Star Grass then no need for root tabs or a nutrient rich substrate as these plants absorb most of their nutrients from the water column and not so much through their root systems.
We find substrates like Seachem flourite and Caribsea Eco-Complete benefit from root balls because even though they are considered plant substrates they don't seem to be as nutrient rich as daltons aquatic mix when first purchased. All three substrates have the ability to store nutrients, especially Fluorite and Eco-complete. These substrates slowly release the nutrients for the plants, which is why they are so good. Over time these substrates need to be recharged by adding nutrients via the water column or by adding root tabs or both! Because aquatic mix is so cheap, some people just replace it after a year or so. One benefit with Eco-complete and Flourite is they do not need to be capped with stones as they are coarse enough to not float and cloud the water. But remember, don't forget to rinse your flourite well before putting in the tank as that will cloud your water severely. No need to wash aquatic mix however. Root tabs are not essential when using flourite or eco-complete but if you want a sword for example to really take off, give it a root tab. In fact, give all your prize plants a root tab. Note: Some plants will tolerate not having any ferts added and will merely rely on fish waste for macro nutrients and tap water via water changes as their source of micro nutrients. Some of these include: cardamina lyrata, hygrophila polysperma, star grass, indian fern, rotala roduntifolia, anubias, java fern and ambulia. There are others.....:) However..If you are running on rain water you may want to supplement with micro/trace minerals and also some calcium and magnesium. Email us if you need help.
How to lay your substrate: If you are using Dalton's Aquatic mix, put a thin 1cm layer of washed Dalton's Propagation Sand on the bottom of your tank and push it higher up the sides of your tank where the stones meet the glass in order to make a "well". Basically make a crater/puddle shape with the propagation sand and bring the sides up to approximately 7-10cm. (this will be how deep your substrate will be as we like to aim for between 7-10cm for overall substrate depth. Fill the "crater" with Dalton's Aquatic Mix to almost the top of the edges of the crater then cap with about 1-2cm of propagation sand. Essentially you have sandwiched the aquatic mix in the propagation sand in order to not be able to see the aquatic mix in the tank so if you look at the tank from side-on you can only see propagation sand and not aquatic mix. If you have just put aquatic mix on the bottom and capped it with propagation sand then no worries, that is also another way of doing it. We just like to hide the aquatic mix because it looks like mud and we like to hide it.
When filling your tank be sure to lay a clean unused rubbish bag down flat on your substrate and fill it very slowly with the garden hose on "shower mode" so it doesn't dig a hole into your substrate. You should not have any dust clouds doing it this way.
Note that Daltons propagation sand is more like a fine rounded pebble as opposed to a sand, we recommend to not use a fine silica sand. But, any pebble or shingle will do for capping purposes. If you are on a budget however then the propagation sand is a winner. Just be sure to wash it thoroughly as it is very dusty.
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