It is essential, before starting, to define the type of aquarium you want. As much as you will be able to modify your equipment (pump, filter or heating) according to the evolution of your ornament, you will not be able to modify the ground once the aquarium is filled. There are two types of grounds:
- Aquarium grounds with artificial plants
- Grounds for aquariums with living plants
In the second case, the installation will be more delicate and will require several preparations.
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Can we use play sand for the aquarium?
It all depends on the origin of your sand. If it comes from an aggregate quarry (the most generic origin) it can be composed of a significant carbonate fraction. This is bad for the aquarium.
There are 2 things to check:
The grain size: if the sand is too coarse, you will not be able to put certain species (corys in particular, whose barbels are fragile)
The composition: some sands have a high calcareous fraction and others are marine sands with a lot of different salts, which can modify the characteristics of the water.
However, most of the time, masonry sands (sold in bags) are well suited for aquario. They are river or quarry sands, clean and of a rather fine granulometry. For a very interesting price.
In general, we do not recommend using play sand as a soil for your aquarium:
Which sand to use for your aquarium then ?
Although the aquarium floor is a good place for bacteria to grow, it also plays a role in the decorative aspect of the aquarium. It ensures the stability of the rocks. It provides a place for plant roots to attach themselves, but it also provides the soil from which they will draw some of their food.
In some cases, the sand in the aquarium can be used as filter material. It is important that the substrate is as chemically neutral as possible so as not to alter the quality of the water.
River sand has a fine and regular texture, composed of grains of varying sizes. It is the most common type of sand found in aquarium stores. River sand, when it is coarse, is perfectly suited for the aquarium floor. When it is fine, such as Loire sand, it is better to mix it with quartz sand. The latter, known as “quartzite”, with a grain size of 1mm to 3mm, is the ideal soil for your aquarium.
Before using river sand, wash it by stirring it with clear water until the supernatant liquid contains no more sludge.
Multicolored pieces of glass, crushed flint, large artificially colored gravel and other glassware should be removed. You should avoid lava sand: of volcanic origin, it is chemically neutral but its dark color makes it suitable as a decorative surface layer in tanks hosting non-burrowing fish that appreciate dark soil, such as neon tetras.
You should also avoid quarry sand, which is generally yellow in color, because of the many undesirable elements it contains that cannot be washed away.
Sand that is too fine
Sand that is too fine, such as beach sand or Fontainebleau sand, does not go well with aquarium plants. They form a too compact magma in which the water cannot circulate properly.
Enriching the sand in the aquarium with fertilizer
Rooted plants get some of their nutrients from the soil. Some have suggested enriching the sand with potting soil or garden fertilizer. This is not recommended. There is a risk of excessive concentration of nitrates and phosphates responsible for eutrophication of the water, which leads to a proliferation of algae.
To enrich the sand naturally, add a thin layer of special calcified clay granules for aquariums. There is a natural fertilizer for the maintenance of the aquarium: fish droppings, plant debris, food scraps that will enrich the soil of your aquarium.
Making the soil of an aquarium without plants
For an aquarium without plants, it will be composed exclusively of sand and can be up to 2 inches thick. You can choose between natural or artificial sand, quartz, gravel or even limestone sand for aquariums with fish species that live in water with a high pH.
It is preferable to choose a sand with an adapted granulometry, neither too fine to allow exchanges between the soil and the water, nor too coarse to avoid the accumulation of waste between the gravels. These too large quantities of organic matter in decomposition in the aquarium can generate imbalances in the physico-chemical parameters of the aquarium water. Sand with a grain size of 0.5 mm to 2 mm is perfectly suitable.
Creating an aquarium floor with plants
For a planted aquarium, you have 2 solutions: either use a technical soil, or make a soil based on a nutritive substrate covered with sand.
With a technical soil
The soil of your aquarium will be composed exclusively of a technical soil containing all the nutrients that plants need and which does not require any additional substrate.
These technical soils ensure good growth and stimulate the development of the plants. Their granulometry generally of 2-3 mm facilitates the plantation and the rooting. These active substrates slightly influence the water chemistry, they create a soft, slightly acidic water, which is appreciated by most animals and plants from tropical regions.
It is therefore recommended to make 1-2 weekly water changes of 30-50% during the first month of the aquarium’s life to stabilize the pH.
With substrate and sand
The soil of your aquarium can also be composed of a nutritive substrate made of clay elements, natural peat, essential nutrients for plants such as iron, vital trace elements… but which requires an additional layer of sand.
The thickness of the sand, which should be twice that of the nutrient substrate, serves to root the plants and to prevent the nutrients in the soil from disturbing the water in the aquarium. The thickness of the substrate should be between 2 and 3 inches in total.
For the quantities of the different substrates needed for a planted aquarium, the formulas given above for sand can be used – keeping in mind that 1/3 nutrient soil to 2/3 sand is needed.
The decision to create a planted aquarium should be made before the aquarium is put in water. Indeed, the nutrient substrate must be poured into an aquarium without water, otherwise it will cloud your water because of the nutrients it contains, which are extremely soluble.
After having placed your heating cord, you will place the nutrient substrate on the bottom glass of the aquarium, followed by the sand which will have been rinsed beforehand.
This will be the time to make landings or terraces if you want to give relief to your decoration.
Once these operations are completed, you can begin to place your decorative elements and put your aquarium in water at half height. This will make it easier for you to place the aquatic plants in your aquarium.
To fill the aquarium, place a flat plate on the bottom of the aquarium and pour the water over it. This prevents the substrate from rising and mixing with the sand.