Aquarium substrate is more than just some gravel and rocks that you toss at the bottom of fish tank to make it look pretty. The substance that covers the floor of your tank will affect virtually every other aspect of your tank, from the quality of the water to the health of your fish and plants.
If your substrate does not have sufficient depth and nutrients to provide for your plants, then your plants will fail to thrive in your aquarium. Aquarium plants that are planted in a poor quality substrate will not grow and most will ultimately die. Plants will also suffer if substrate features artificial coloring or chemicals that are toxic to the individual types of plants.
Dirty Discolored Water
Substrates, especially low quality substrates, tend to be dusty. If you do not take the time to wash your substrate properly, or if the substrate you have chosen is just really dusty, then the water in your aquarium is going to appear dingy and discolored. While a good aquarium filter can help clear out some of the debris, a truly low quality substrate is always going to make your water look less than perfectly clean. Your plants and fish will not benefit from being kept in water that isn't clean.
Substrates that are high in calcium or other minerals will change your pH. Some types of plants and fish are more sensitive to pH changes than others, but if your plants and animals are sensitive to changes, you will have to work to correct changes in pH caused by your substrate. Research any substrate you consider placing in your tank to see what kind of changes it can cause in your aquarium.
Plants Are Floating
The roots on your aquatic plants mostly work to keep them anchored in the substrate. When substrate is poor quality, or just a bad choice for the specific type of plant, then the roots may not be able to get a good anchor into the substrate. If this happens, your plants may float around in your aquarium rather than staying where they belong.
Hemera Technologies/AbleStock.com/Getty Images
Jen Davis has been writing since 2004. She has served as a newspaper reporter and her freelance articles have appeared in magazines such as "Horses Incorporated," "The Paisley Pony" and "Alabama Living." Davis earned her Bachelor of Arts in communication with a concentration in journalism from Berry College in Rome, Ga.