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5 Best Substrate For Planted & Non Planted Betta Tank | How To Select?

Setting up an aquarium for popular, highly interactive Betta fish can be challenging if you don’t have any experience with Bettas. Betta’s have specific needs with aquarium conditions, food, and other necessities. They will thrive better in planted tanks but will do fine with non-planted tanks.

The Substrate is literally the base of any aquarium that decides about the water condition, growth of plants, fish, and appearance. You can’t just throw some gravel and hope for the best!

You have to think about many things before you choose a suitable substrate for your Betta fish tank. There are various benefits and drawbacks of each Substrate.

Knowing them before using one or some of them will help you keep an aesthetically appealing aquarium easily.

Before choosing the Best Substrate for your Betta fish tank, it’s essential to learn about bettas and their needs, substrate types, and how to use Substrate better in your Aquarium.

Betta Fish Needs

Also called by Siamese fighting fish, Betta fish is a carnivore fish native to south-east Asia. Their native waters are floodplains, marshes, and rice paddies covered with vegetation and soft Substrate.  When you provide similar characteristics in your Aquarium, betta fish will thrive and be happy. Some of their needs are:


Betta fish is a labyrinth fish that can survive for a short period without water. However, they prefer to live on freshwater that is slightly acidic (pH 6.5 to 7) and warm (76-82 degrees F).

Like other fish types, bettas cannot live for long if the water contains Ammonia and Nitrogens. So, taking the necessary steps to remove Ammonia and Nitrogen is a must.


Betta fish is carnivorous fish. It needs food high in protein and cannot survive on plant roots and vegetables alone. The best natural foods are dried bloodworms, brine shrimp, or Daphnia.

You can also feed with pellets and flakes specifically made for Betta fish, and they will do fine with that commercial food alone.


Although Bettas doesn’t eat plants, they need plants to hide and explore. If you see a Betta nibbling at a plant, that is more likely that the fish is bored, starving, or picking off a tiny animal on the surface of the plant.

Artificial plants will be more than enough for Betta fish needs but having alive plants have more benefits, although they aren’t easy to grow.


Bettas prefer soft substrates such as soil as they are used to them in their native waters.

However, they will do fine with other substrates or no substrate as well. Picking up a specific substrate is vital to provide essential nutrients for the plants and the fish.

Substrate Types for Your Betta Fish Tank

Before choosing the Best Substrate for your betta fish tank, you should know the possible substrate types for your betta tank. Some choices serve better for your bettas, while some options don’t help at all.

No Substrate

Some aquarists like to keep no substrate in their betta fish tank because it is easier to clean the tank with no substrate.

But, the tank will not grow any beneficial bacteria for your fish if you don’t have any substrate in your Aquarium. So, it is vital to have some substrate in your betta fish tank.

Marble Substrate

This is a popular choice of novice fish keepers as marbles give a more aesthetic look to the Aquarium. However, marble substrate doesn’t provide any benefits to the fish or the ecosystem.

Marble substrates are not very good at anchoring plants, trap debris and other waste so that vacuuming doesn’t remove all the junk and doesn’t look natural.

They will not help produce beneficial bacteria out of fish waste which is vital for healthy betta fish growth.

Soil Substrate

Soils are the top option if you want to grow live plants with Bettas. However, they are prone to smudge the water quickly. You’ll have to use an additional layer of Gravel or Sand to prevent messing up the water. Although Bettas can bear muddy water, they can live happily and healthily in clean water.

Gravel Substrate

Gravel is the most popular choice of many fish owners because it is easy to clean, and it helps grow beneficial bacteria in the water.

They also come with many color choices that aquarium owners love. Gravel substrate is an excellent choice for Betta tanks when you use gravel filters.

Sand Substrate

Sand is another top option of Betta keepers as it gives a natural appearance.

Sand usually keeps fish waste atop of the layer, making it easy to clean; however, Sand doesn’t provide a suitable environment for the debris and other junk to rot and decay.

If you don’t clean your Aquarium often, the sand substrate will produce toxic nutrients for the fish, such as Hydrogen Sulfide.

Best Substrate for Planted Betta Fish Tank

Aquarium plants need a solid substrate to anchor into. Otherwise, they will detach when they face current changes and fish activities. They also need a nutrient-rich substrate so that they can absorb necessary nutrients from the Substrate to thrive.

Though soils provide both of these requirements to the plants, you will end up with a muddy water tank when you use only soil in your tank.

Gravel can also provide both of the requirements, and also it lowers the cleaning and maintenance of the fish tank. Because of this reason, Gravel has become the most popular choice of betta fish keepers.

However, there are different Gravel types available in the market, and not all of them will suit your betta fish tank.

5 Best Substrates for Planted Betta Fish Tank

  1. Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel
  2. Amazonia Aqua Design Amano
  3. ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light
  4. UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants
  5. CaribSea Eco-Complete

Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel

You can choose this Gravel in 4 different color options; black, dark, red, and regular. One bag of Gravel is 15.4 pounds (7kg) and comes in various unique shapes in the mix. You can mix this Gravel with another substrate, although it is not necessary. Gravel modifiers such as laterite are not needed for Seachem Flourite gravel. This product is not chemically coated or treated. Hence, it won’t alter the Ph level of the water. The Gravel is made with stable porous clay and is suited for aquarium plants.

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  • Excellent as a Gravel base or a solitary substrate for any planted tank
  • It doesn’t wear out the color over time
  • It doesn’t break down, so no need to replace it over time
  • The colorings highlight the bettas
  • Plants easily anchor and grow in this Gravel
  • Gravel is not rounded in shape, have sharp edges, and may damage soft roots and fish
  • Need to wash for at least 30 minutes before adding it into the fish tank

Amazonia Aqua Design Amano

Made with 100% natural soil, this Gravel looks precisely like the South American Amazon rainforest’s fertile soil. The high pH level of a substrate makes it difficult for the plants to soak up nutrients and grow.

This product has avoided that barrier by adding nutrients to bring down the alkalinity and hardiness of water.

The ADA is also rich in organic elements and nutrients necessary for healthy plant growth because it is made out of rare Japanese plant-based black soil when comparing with in other on list.

That makes this Gravel one of the best choices for planted betta fish tank.

This Gravel is, however, not beginner-friendly. You need to know what you are doing before using this Gravel. If you use this Gravel correctly, you will grow even difficult plants in your fish tank while keeping suitable water conditions for your Betta fish.

The Gravel needs to be rinsed thoroughly before incorporating into the tank, and you need to cycle the tank without fish for at least one week. It takes some time to clear water. If you put fish before the water clears out, your fish and plants may die.

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  • It gives the Aquarium a natural look
  • Bring down the Ph level and hardiness of the water to help plants grow
  • Perfect for fish that need soft water
  • Rich in organic elements and nutrients ideal for aquatic plants and fish
  • Will not break down for years when used carefully
  • This Gravel is not beginner-friendly, need knowledge and experience in aquarium keeping to use this soil properly
  • You need to cycle the tank fishless for at least a week
  • Rinsing for an extended period is necessary
  • Vacuuming needs to be done carefully as vacuum cone could siphon out the soil

ADA Aqua Soil Amazonia Light

This is the light version of Amazonia ADA made by Aqua Soil. It also comes in natural earth color that gives a natural look into your Aquarium.

Same as Amazonia ADA, this product is also made with rare Japanese plant-based black soil. Amazonia light also has ingredients to low down Ph level and water hardiness.

It also has high Nitrogen and other nutrients to speed up the growth rate of the plants.

This product is easy to use, beginner-friendly and has various colors to choose from. The Gravel is not needed to wash as Amazonia ADA, the advanced hobbyist version, and the cloudiness will go away within days.

You can introduce your fish to the tank sooner than Amazonia ADA but keep in mind that this product leeches Ammonia into the water, which is toxic for the fish. If you have a planted tank, that would be no problem.

Although this is the light version of Amazonia ADA, you can still get the positive results of healthy plant growth in your Aquarium in an easy way.

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  • It gives the Aquarium a natural look
  • Great for plant growth
  • Beginner-friendly Substrate
  • Can combine with other types of Substrate
  • You can use it as a standalone substrate
  • Affect the tanks Ph level
  • Slow down the Ammonia leaching that may affect your fish

UP AQUA Sand for Aquatic Plants

This is an aqua soil mix with soft, rounded black sand grains. Gravel is formulated for aquatic plants and is lightweight enough for the plants to anchor through the Gravel.

Although it is marketed as Sand, the grains are larger than average beach sand. Hence it is considered Gravel. This product can be used in planted or non planted tanks with or without fish and sold in 5kg bags.

Made from compressed baked soil, this Substrate does not break down easily like other substrates. It lasts long and keeps the water in your tank clearer. This Substrate has soft round edges which don’t harm any aquatic plants, fish, or other animals.

UP AQUA Sand comes with lots of plant nutrients packed in the grains. When the grain slowly breaks down, or the plants grow their root system through the grains, these nutrients leech.

This Gravel comes with chemicals that lower the Ph level of your fish tank. So, it’s essential to check the water condition after adding and cycling the Gravel.

If you are looking for a black Substrate for your Aquarium, this may not be suitable as this Substrate change its color to grey after putting them into the Aquarium.

However, it still looks great in planted aquariums and gives a modern aesthetic to your tank. Gravel’s consistent pellet sizes help easier vacuuming and are heavy enough to stay at the bottom, not harming your plants.

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  • Consistent grain size and appearance looks very uniform
  • It does not require rinse before using
  • Lowers the tanks Ph level
  • Works well for low light fish tanks
  • Gravel color changes to grey after adding to the Aquarium
  • Poor quality packaging

CaribSea Eco-Complete

CaribSea Eco-Complete is designed explicitly for aquarium plants. It promotes healthy plant growth and roots with its mix of major and minor trace elements required for aquatic plant growth.

The main component of this aqua soil is Basaltic volcanic soil that got a porous composition, making it a natural water filter that can filter water without hindering water circulation.

The porous holes also accelerate the process of converting fish waste to usable nutrients.

This Substrate contains nutrients like iron, calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sulfur.

It also includes additional 25 trace nutrients and minerals that will all boost plant health.

Because this is a complete aqua soil mix, it already has beneficial bacteria required for your fish and to fight off algae growth.

This product has no chemical additives, dyes, colorants, paint, or otherwise. So, you don’t need to wash, cleanse or prepare before adding this Gravel to your betta fish tank. The blend is black in color and gives a natural appearance to your betta fish tank.

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  • Can add to existing planted tanks or newly planted tanks
  • Can cycle the tank quickly with this Gravel
  • Great for heavily planted tanks
  • It doesn’t need to be rinsed
  • Absorbs nutrients from water for the plant used
  • Lightweight, New plants can not anchor to it easily
  • Can not use Python water cleaners, as grains suck up into it
  • Sold out quite often

Best Substrate for Non-Planted Betta Fish Tank

If you choose not to add any aquatic plants to your Aquarium, you don’t actually need a substrate specifically rich in nutrients. Some fish keepers decide not to add any substrate to their fish tank because it’s easier to clean without a substrate.

But, some fish get afraid by their own reflection if you keep a bare-bottomed tank. Because of this reason, adding a substrate to your tank is better, although you don’t keep any plants in your Aquarium.

You can use either sand substrate or Gravel to your betta tank if you don’t use any plants. Marbles are not recommended because they are challenging to clean, and the soil is unnecessary because the tank is non-planted.

Many experts use Gravel rather than Sand because it is easier to clean, has magnificent color choices, and helps grow beneficial bacteria in the tank. Below are the five best gravel substrates for a non-planted tank.

5 Best Substrate for Non-Planted Betta Fish Tank

  1. Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular
  2. SACKORANGE 2 LB Aquarium Gravel River Rock
  3. Este Marine Sand Black for Aquarium
  4. Pure Water Pebbles Nature’s Ocean Aquarium Gravel
  5. Marina Decorative Gravel

Spectrastone Shallow Creek Regular

This gravel substrate comes in various sizes, from 2mm to 4mm in a bag, and the pebbles are a lot smaller than traditional Gravel.

The rocks represent natural colors and consist of different sizes in a bag. The stones are not rounded in shape, but they are smooth and have no sharp edges.

Unlike Substrate made for aquarium plants, this Substrate will not change the water conditions such as the Ph level.

As you are intended to build a non planted fish tank, this Substrate will provide all the necessary needs for your betta fish tank.

The Substrate imitates the natural environment, which Bettas like, and will help clean the tank faster with its smooth pebbles.

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  • Affordable pricing
  • Will not affect the Ph level
  • Non-toxic coating
  • Suitable as the top layer of soil substrate
  • Natural-looking color combination
  • Need to rinse several times before adding into the tank
  • The pebbles may have some scratches
  • Will not always receive an exact 5-pound bag

SACKORANGE 2 LB Aquarium Gravel River Rock

These are basically natural river rocks that are polished and have different-sized pebbles. Many customers report that the stones are at least 1 inch long; however, this product has various colors combined, and all of them are natural colors.

The pebbles are not coated with wax. They are polished until they become shiny. So, the Gravel doesn’t have any ingredients covered. This Substrate is inert Gravel.

The price is affordable comparing with Gravel made for planted aquariums; however, you will need more Gravel than what you expect to cover the bottom of your fish tank.

That being said, you’ll need at least 2 to 3 two-pound bags for a mere 5-gallon tank. It is because the stones are bigger in size.

However, these bigger-sized river rock gravel gives an aesthetically appealing aquarium because of their unique shapes.

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  • Not coated with wax
  • Easy to clean as the rocks are large as 1 inch long
  • It gives a natural riverside look to the tank
  • Affordable price
  • One bag barely makes one layer in a 5-gallon tank, need more Substrate to cover the bottom
  • Stones are much bigger than traditional Gravel

Este Marine Sand Black for Aquarium

It comes in 5-pound bags; these are actually black coated Sand made for aquarium use. However, the pebbles are slightly larger than Sand, and some may disappoint because of the size. The Sand comes in perfect solid black color that will highlight the colors of your Betta fish.

The product is safe and non-toxic to your fish, and the color will last longer than other cheap gravels. You need to rinse the Sand a bit before adding it to the Aquarium, but several hours is enough to settle down the Sand.

As this is a sand substrate, you may need to reestablish your filters’ hose to prevent sucking up the Sand through filters.

This Substrate is overly priced than normal Sand, but they are a bit heavier and much higher quality than “normal sand.” It is worth buying this product if you want a sand substrate in your betta fish tank.

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  • Safe and non-toxic to the fish
  • Environmental friendly
  • Black color sand
  • Bit higher priced than other sand substrates
  • If not cleaned regularly, the debris and fish waste may buildup harmful nutrients
  • Need rinsing before using

Pure Water Pebbles Nature’s Ocean Aquarium Gravel

This is a mix of artificially colored Gravel, stones, pebbles, rocks, and Sand. The dye used in this Substrate is non-toxic for the fish, and the Substrate doesn’t change the water condition as it doesn’t contain any nutrients coated in it.

The Gravel is available in several colors; blue, tan, grey, and beautiful red hues. The Gravel is heat sanitized and hand-washed, so you don’t need to rinse the Gravel before using it.

However, experts recommend keeping the Substrate in warm water for about 30 minutes to be on the safe side.

This aquarium gravel helps make a more realistic living environment because of its bright colors.

The coating is 100% acrylic which is not harmful to your fish, and the pebbles come in a wide range of sizes. This product comes in 5-pound bags, which is enough for a 10-gallon tank.

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  • Non-toxic to the fish
  • It does not alter the chemistry of aquarium water
  • No need to rinse before adding to the tank
  • Natural Gravel
  • It does not fade the color for long
  • Need to put in warm water for about 30 minutes before adding to the tank
  • May leech the color to the water

Marina Decorative Gravel

Marina decorative gravel is specially designed for freshwater aquariums. The pebbles are epoxy coated to make them an inert substrate which doesn’t affect water chemistry.

The color options are black, blue, orange, burgundy, neon yellow, and purple. The colors of this Substrate can enhance the look of your Aquarium as they are bright and shiny.

The surface of the Gravel provides an optimum environment for beneficial bacteria for biological filtration. Pebbles are the size of peas, nicely smoothed, and have no rough edges.

The Gravel is pre-rinsed and dust-free. So, you can use it right away without washing or cleaning it. The Substrate is heavy enough to stay still under the water and yet lightweight enough to hold live plants without hurting the roots.

If you want a colorful aquarium, this product will fulfill your needs. But the catch is it is overly priced than other Gravel types.

One pound will cost you $11.56 onwards, and they come only in one-pound bags. However, considering its benefits and bright color variations, this would be the best Substrate for a colorful betta fish tank.

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  • Can hold plants and ornaments in place
  • Epoxy coated. Will not affect water chemistry
  • The Gravel is pre-rinsed before packaging. No need to wash the Gravel
  • It helps maintain a good water circulation
  • Only available in 1 pound bags
  • Overly priced rates
  • Coloring may leech into the water after some time
  • Only available for Freshwater Aquariums

Best Substrate for Planted and Non Planted Betta Fish Tank

If you currently have a non-planted betta fish tank but plan to add plants in the future, you may want to pick a substrate suitable for planted aquariums.

However, you may still want bright colored Gravel in your Aquarium. In this case, the best option would be to mix two products in your Aquarium.

Our recommendation is to add one layer of a substrate suitable for a planted aquarium on the bottom and fill it up with a colorful gravel layer on the surface.

Our pick would be Seachem Flourite Black Clay Gravel for the bottom layer and Marina Decorative Gravel for the top layer. 

With this combination, you will have both a nutrient-rich aquarium suitable for plants and an aesthetically appealing substrate that will catch anyone’s eye.

Frequently Asked Questions

How many substrates Should I use in my Planted Betta Fish Tank?

Plants need Substrate to anchor into and absorb nutrients to grow. For that, you need to cover the bottom of your tank with at least 2 inches of Substrate. There’s no maximum limit.

However, keep in mind that your betta fish need more space with water than Substrate and plants. We’ve seen some people cover the bottom with Substrate with even a 4-inch layer, but they mostly had larger aquariums.

Calculating how many substrates you need for your tank can be a daunting task. But with this simple calculation, you can avoid that hassle. That is,

Add one pound of Substrate for each gallon your tank can hold.

This means that if you have a 5-gallon tank, you should put 5 pounds of Gravel to get a 2-inch layer. If you have a 20-gallon tank, you will need a 20 pound of Gravel to fill a 2-inch layer.

How much Substrate should I use in my Non-Planted Betta Fish Tank?

If you want to build a non planted betta fish tank and have no intention to use plants in the future, you’ll go fine with about a 1-inch layer of Substrate.

Some fish keepers do not use any substrate to be able to clean the tank easily, but we don’t recommend it as having a substrate has many benefits for the fish and you.

When Can I add fish and plants after putting the Substrate?

You can add your fish and plants after the cloudiness goes away. Some substrates take as much as 2 to 3 weeks to remove the cloudiness, and some may clear up within hours.

Some substrates come pre-washed and with active bacteria. With this type of Substrate, you can add your fish and plants right away.

Remember that you should never put your fish and plants into the cloudy water as the dust and other components caused the cloudiness may be toxic for the fish and plants.

How to clear up a cloudy fish tank faster?

The first step is to rinse the Substrate thoroughly before putting it into the Aquarium. Experts recommend at least three times rinsing with running water for at least 30 minutes. This way, you can remove most of the dust and other particles from your Substrate so that you’ll have less cloudiness left in your tank to clear up.

The second step is to turn on the filters and cycle the tank fishless. Running filters will fasten up the clearing process of cloudy water.

The third step is to do a 50% water change to remove dust from the tank. Usually, you may need to do this if the cloudiness doesn’t go away within about two days.

By following these steps, you can remove the cloudiness faster than the natural process.

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About Dr.Chamika

Hello, I'm Dr. Chamika. I am a Researcher in Water quality, Aquatic organisms, and Environmental chemistry. I am a passionate fish keeper, with10 years of experience. My mission is to help other aquarists experience the joy of fish keeping.