View Full Version : Amazon Biotope Substrate Choices

07-14-2015, 06:15 PM
I plan on setting up a 90 amazon biotope using spiderwood "tangles" , swordplants, etc. with some small rock scattered about; I'm not interested in CO2 system. Main question I have is about what type of substrate is best for plant growth and aesthetics. I understand that Florite is good for plants, but I don't think red/black colors are appropriate. On the other hand, Caribsea's Amazon mix doesn't seem to do much for plant growth. Another choice is play sand which I think is consistent with biotope, but, again, wonder if plants do well in it.

Any and all help appreciated; I just "transitioned" from Africans and have a lot to learn.


07-14-2015, 08:24 PM
Hey Mike, I just set up a 55 a few months ago with a pool filter sand substrate. I have amazon swords, water wisteria, jungle val and anubias and they are all doing well. I use Flourish root tabs at the base of each plant, dose regular flourish twice a week and does excel every other day. I've been pleasantly surprised at how well everything is doing. As for lights, I have a 36in Fluval Aquasky that I put on the highest setting for around 8 hours a day.

One thing I found out the hard way is that you'll want to use plant anchors when dealing with a sand substrate. They don't stay down worth a damn without them :grrr:

Good luck!

Mog Carns
07-14-2015, 08:26 PM
There are a lot of swords, I really only have experience with the common type.

Sand works fine for Swords. Seed the tank with Mayasian Trumpet Snails to keep the sand tilled.

An alternate that works extremely well if you have the plant ahead of time and plan very little or no changes to the decor is to bury the roots of your swordplants in pea sized gravel piles, then fill the sand around the piles. Getting uprooted can be hard on swords. I believe it is because we tend to ball their roots to replant them... and they need a lot of branched out roots to feed themselves. By burying them in piles, the roots can be spread out.

Swords that get uprooted too many times wilt, die, or stunt. Big swords are very sturdy, can take some tugging, and very few fish eat them. You should not try to keep small swords with cichlids that like to redecorate.

Swords are deep rooting plants, aim for about 3 inches.

Play sand is perfectly ok to use, but it does (sometimes) have drawbacks. For a similar white color, try pool filter sand... available from any pool supply store and many big box stores for fairly close to the same price as play sand.

Sand blasting media also works, and comes in many colors... look for 20/40 grit size or larger. 30/60 and smaller has all the problems that play sand sometimes has.

Swordplants are usually called low light plants, but they grow best in a tank with a good fluorescent or strong LED in the "cool white (6500K)" range. Mine actually grew best in a 40 Tall (think two 20 longs stacked on top of each other) with a 10K fluorescent. In a low light setting, the leaves corkscrew (actually very pretty) or the plant just does not grow.

They also do not compete well with fast growing plants. A tank full of swords did well until I removed some of the swords to fit in Water Sprite. Once the water sprite enters the tank, the swords stop growing, and stop producing runners. Anything that floats or grows like gangbusters has a similar result. Plants like Java Fern do nto cause the same reaction. It is possible that fertilizers or root tabs may resolve this, but I have not personally tried them. Nor have I ever used CO2, another possible recourse.

Good luck!

07-15-2015, 06:08 AM
Thank you, some recommendations I've not read before. I am somewhat concerned that sand would be picked up and damage my canister filters (two Eheim 2217s) although intakes are above the substrate by several inches - have you had any problems? Also, from what I can tell the color of sandy bottoms in the Amazon is often beige - have you found any pool filter sand that was not white?

I'm thinking Amazon and melon swords and some crispus as main plants.

Appreciate your help,


07-15-2015, 06:14 AM
Thank you, wasn't aware of need for plant anchors. I am somewhat concerned that the sand would be picked up by and damage my filters (two Eheim 2217s) even though their intakes will be several inches above the substrate; have you had any such problem? Also, most of the pool filter sand I find on the Internet looks bright white and I'm more interested in beige colors; have you seen anything like that?

Appreciate the advice.


07-15-2015, 03:41 PM
Here's a quick pic of the sand in my 55...I would say its more beige than white.

I am running 2 Aquaclear 70's on the 55 and have had zero issues with sand being sucked up and my intakes are about 4-5 inches from the sand. Even the gravel vac doesn't suck up the sand until you get right down in it.


Mog Carns
07-15-2015, 04:05 PM
That is why you use pool filter sand or blasting media bigger than 20/40. Those sands are graded, meaning the particle size is fairly uniform. Small particulates remain floating in the water column for some period of time. Larger particulates sink directly to the bottom.

Self collected sand, or general play sand, are ungraded and can have very small particulates mixed with the larger. When people talk about washing the sand, what they are doing is rising away the small particulates.

And pool filter sand is usually beige, or "sand" colored. I just use "white" as opposed to the "black" coal slag sands.

You do not really need to anchor the swords for fish like neon tetras... they help dissuade the small diggers.
Heavy diggers and fish like Oscars aren't stopped by anything.

What fish are you planning for your amazon biotope?

07-15-2015, 04:22 PM
Thinking 6-7 German blue rams and hope I get a couple of pairs, small school of cardinals, some corys and whiptail cats, and probably a few "specimen" fish maybe an F1 angel or discus; any suggestions? I plan on finding some beige pool filter sand next week and will look for that size. Thanks for clarification.

07-15-2015, 04:23 PM
Good to hear; thank you

07-15-2015, 05:12 PM
Jeremy, best supplier I can find is Ace hardware; color is good, but only #20 and I think maybe #16 would be better re: clogging filter. Where did you find your sand?

Thanks again.

Mog Carns
07-16-2015, 06:37 AM
Pool filter sand? Local pool store.

20 grade is what I have... never sucked any into a filter.

Once you get the decoration you want and the water in the tank, put the heater in it.
By the time the heater gets the water to the correct temp, it should be clear.
If it is, it should be safe to put the filter in it.

07-16-2015, 11:02 AM
Thx again.

07-16-2015, 11:51 AM
The pump is at the top of the canister. Any sand that gets sucked in should never reach the pump either because the media catches it or because the flow isn't strong enough. With HOB filters the water goes through the pump first so you have to be a lot more careful with those.

07-17-2015, 11:08 AM
Thanks John, I was thinking the same and use Eheim to get good head pressure but don't think I'll have problem. BTW, ever see any rams or kribs auctioned off at end of monthly meeting?