Connect with us

Fish Tank

Can You Use Sand As A Substrate For Plants?



Can You Use Sand As A Substrate For Plants

If you plan to have and maintain a planted aquarium, then a main component for it is a substrate. The choice of substrate plays a crucial role in providing a nourishing foundation for our plants to flourish. Therefore, a substrate is necessary for a planted aquarium. There are a multitude of choices to pick from for the substrate of your aquarium. There are substrates like gravel, clay, aqua soil, and many more. In this article, we will be focusing on a specific substrate, which is sand.  

Yes, sand can also be used as a substrate in freshwater and saltwater aquariums. With proper preparation and plant selection, sand can be an effective aquarium substrate option. The key is choosing an appropriate sand size and supplementing nutrition for long-term plant growth. Depth of 2-3 inches of sand is sufficient in most cases. Deeper layers may become anaerobic.

Through this article, we will provide insight to you on the sand as a substrate for plants in your aquarium. First off let’s start with the question “Can you use sand as a substrate for plants?”.  

Can you use sand as a substrate for plants?  

Can you use sand as a substrate for plants

When it comes to sand as a substrate for plants in your aquarium, you can use sand as a substrate. Out of all the other types of substrate, sand gives the most natural look to your aquarium.

Moreover, in most of freshwater areas like rivers plants naturally grow on sand. So having it in your aquarium won’t be much of a problem. Although some plants have some difficulties growing in sand, therefore, you have to choose your plants carefully. 

Is sand a good substrate for plants?  

Is sand a good substrate for plants?  
Image source –

Sand might be one of the substrate choices, and can be aesthetically pleasing too. But it’s not the best choice as a substrate.  

First of all, sand does not contain much nutrients which is necessary for the plants to grow properly. Therefore, without the presence of adequate nutrients, the plants will suffer and have a hard time growing and living.  

Secondly, sand is a thick kind of substrate and it becomes tight as it settles in the aquarium. Therefore in such a tight substrate the roots of the plant cannot spread and won’t have a good root structure.  

In such a tight substrate as sand, there can form small areas filled with air. These areas can develop anoxic bacteria that can generate hydrogen sulfide gas. This gas is toxic for the fish and when released into the aquarium, can cause problems for your fish. 

Aquarium equipment such as filters and pumps might potentially draw in aquarium sand. They might be damaged as a result.

All these problems can occur in your aquarium if you use a cheap and low quality sand in your planted aquarium.  

However, the colonization of beneficial bacteria is facilitated by the presence of a completely cycled freshwater tank. In this context, it has been shown that sand substrates tend to support a more efficient colonization of bacteria compared to gravel substrates.

Is sand a safe substrate?  

Sand is a completely safe substrate if you get high-quality aquarium sand. There are even some advantages to having sand as your substrate.  

If you have sand as substrate, then cleaning the substrate becomes easy for you. Any kind of debris, fish water, or fish food and be easily removed from the sand. Therefore, you do not have to worry about ammonia build-up as the wastes and leftover food is visible and does not get stuck like in other types of substrate.  

If you are worrying about the lack of necessary nutrients, then you can use root tabs for the nutrients. As root tabs come as fertilizers, adding them to the sand will give a nutritional boost to the sand and plants will get their required level of nutrients.  

Moreover, sand is lighter than other kinds of substrate, therefore, you can use it as you, please. You can use your creativity and create different kinds of landscapes with it. You can arrange your aquarium in various ways and can make it look how you want it.  

Sand also doesn’t affect the water parameters. It does not hinder pH or DGH in any way, and therefore there won’t be any fluctuations in the water parameter of the aquarium. Additionally, it provides a natural environment for your fish as mostly sand is present in their natural habitat. 

Is sand better than gravel substrate?  

Sand as a substrate is better than gravel in some aspects. A big advantage it has over gravel is that the dirt, debris, fish waste, and excess food don’t get stuck in between. In the case of gravel, these substances can get in between the spaces and become hard to clean. You might even miss out on some and these will rot and give rise to ammonia and other toxic chemicals.  

As mentioned before, sand provides a natural environment for the fish in an aquarium. As some species of fish like to sift through the substrate, dig or burrow. With sand, it will be easier for them, therefore, providing a natural environment. But with gravel, it will be difficult for these species to perform their natural behaviors. 

Best plants for sand substrate  

Now that we have gone through the pros and cons of sand as a substrate, let’s look into plants that are best for sand substrate.

Here are some of the best plants that you can have in a sand substrate, but remember you have to provide them with root tabs for their proper growth and nutrition.  

  • Amazon Swords 
  • Java Fern  
  • Vallisneria  
  • Java Moss 
  • Cryptocoryne  
  • Anubias Barteri  
  • Dwarf Hygro 

How to fertilize aquarium sand?  

Sand is a good choice for a substrate, but one huge drawback is that it doesn’t come packed with necessary nutrients. Therefore, you have to fertilize the aquarium sand yourself for the healthy growth of plants. As plants require nutrients for their proper growth, you must fertilize aquarium sand.  

The easiest and most prominent way is to add root tabs in the sand. You have to add several root tabs, the amount depends upon the number of plants and amount of sand. Once you add these root tabs, they will slowly fertilize the sand and your plants will get their fill of nutrients. Normally a root tab lasts for a month or two, and you need to keep adding them at regular intervals.  

The second option is to fertilize using liquid fertilizers. Liquid fertilizers are directly added to the water column. You need to follow the instruction on the amount to add. 

Can I put sand on top of aquarium soil?  

If you’re thinking of adding a layer of sand on top of aquarium soil, then you should go for it. You can add sand on top of aquarium soil. But first, you have to make sure that all air trapped in the aquarium soil is released.  

To do this, you have to add a layer of aquarium soil first. Then add water to it and make it kind of mushy. Use your hands to squeeze out the air from the soil.  

After you have made sure that all trapped air has escaped, then it’s time to add a layer of sand. Add a layer of sand and fill your tank with water.  

But make sure you use a small bowl while filling as adding water directly will disrupt the sand. Keep a bowl on top of the sand and then put the end of the hose in the bowl and let the water slowly fill in the tank.  


In conclusion, sand is a great choice as an aquarium substrate but it comes with its drawbacks. The low nutrient-holding capacity of sand can present challenges in providing essential nutrients to plants. However, with careful consideration and supplemental fertilization, these challenges can be overcome.

Moreover, the choice of substrate goes hand in hand with the specific needs of our aquatic plants and the overall ecosystem you aim to create. In some cases, sand may be better suited for certain plant species, while others may thrive more in different substrates, such as gravel or soil.  

Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Affiliate Disclaimer:

Our website contains affiliate links, which means we may earn a commission if you click on or make a purchase through these links. This comes at no additional cost to you. We only recommend products and services that we believe will provide value to our readers and visitors. These affiliate relationships help support and maintain our website, allowing us to continue providing valuable content. Your support is greatly appreciated, and we thank you for trusting our recommendations. If you have any questions or concerns, please don’t hesitate to contact us.”