seems like there are always questions on what substrate people should use. i have compiled a list of some of the most commonly mentioned substrates in the hobby, in no particular order. please feel free to add any i am missing. i will list them by manufacturer, and try to give a list of pros and cons, as i have not tried most of these personally, they will be other peoples opinions. if i have seen them for sale in south africa i will put a flag next to it... prices are direct currency conversions, they do not take into account shipping, import duties etc. and are meant for reference comparisons only. for most decent sized tanks you should have a 4-8cm layer in the from sloping upwards in the back to about 10cm in the back. this allows the entire substrate to be viewed, and creates a sense of perpective and greater depth. DIY: mineralized soil the writeup in the above link provides an awesome howto with detailed steps, ingredients, pictures and results as well as comments by others that have tried it. i have not seen any negative comments or drawbacks from using this method. all the ingredients should be easy to source and relativley cheap. you also dont need to column dose any ferts, and it should last for years with the addition of a little potassium now and then. it needs to be capped with gravel or sand etc. plants should be trimmed of at the base to avoid stirring up the substrate into your tank. potting soil popularized by Diane Walstad. the above link provides steps, ingredients etc. has a tendency to go anaerobic in my experience. this can be resolved by using a potting soil with a higher sand or soil content and less organics. its cheap, lasts for years and do not need to column dose ferts. it needs to be capped with gravel or sand etc. plants should be trimmed of at the base to avoid stirring up the substrate into your tank. silica sand this is normal pool filter sand, and comes in a few grain sizes. it is attractive, cheap and chemically inert os you will need to column dose ferts. it has a tendency to compact and develop anaerobic pockets over time, so it needs to be agitated, either manually when vacuuming or with snails or the like. it provides large surface area for bacteria, and will enrich itself over time with excess food, fish waste etc. ideal for burrowing fish and cory's. might cause diatoms initially due to silica content, so wash it thoroughly beforehand. can be used to cap any other substrate if this is the look you want. laterite iron rich red earth. it is heavier than normal red soil due to its high iron content. it should be used as an additive rather than a substrate on its own. needs to be capped. great for heavy root feeders like swords and crypts. you will need to dose less iron in your column to avoid rhizoclonium. should last the lifetime of your setup. this can be baked or frozen into balls and added to existing setups to enrich the substrate. peat peat has been used for years as a fliter additive to acidify and soften water. great for discus, tetras and most black water fish etc. that prefer soft water, do not use with malawis, rift lake or tanganyikan cichlids. it is also used as a substrate additive, normally and not a complete substrate. depending on how much you add it has a tendancy to go anaerobic. it is available from most nurseries. it will color your water a pleasent tea color due to the tannins leaching out. ADA: ADA stands for Aqua Design Amano, it is Takashi Amano's product line. if you havent heard of him, do yourself a favor and do some homework... Aqua Soil- Amazonia R224/9l made from natural black soil, almost like little balls of baked clay. this granular nature makes it easy for plants to root in, and for carpet plants like HC to grow in. the porous nature also acts like a colloidal filter, and should hold there shape for long periods of time under water. this is a complete substrate, it does not need to be capped, it contains nutrients and humic compounds. has been known to alter the waters chemistry and stain the water yellow similar to peat in this regard especially in alkaline water. read tom barrs thread on why he hates aquasoil. Aqua Soil- Amazonia II R224/9l all the same properties of amazonia except for it is designed for alkaline water, so it will not leach or stain the water like amazonia does in alkaline water. Aqua Soil- Malaya R224/9l same properties as amazonia just in a yellowish color for malaysian biotope aesthetics Aqua Soil- Africana R224/9l it is a harder baked redish brown soil for african biotope aesthetics. plants are said to grow slower as there are less organic compounds. this seems very similar to akadama bonsai soil. notes: there are a few other substrate additive products worth mentioning Bacter 100 - more than 100 different kinds of bacteria are inside bacter 100 in a dormant state, also claims to kill cyano if sprinkled directly on it. i personally dont subscribe to these dormant bacteria kickstart products, but each to their own. tourmaline BC - tourmaline bc is a mineral compound of iron, aluminium, sodium, boron, lithium and magnesium mixed with bamboo charcoal, it is said to absorb organic compounds and provide traces. Power Sand - power sand is said to contain rich organic nutrients for plantand is great for bacteria. its porous volcanic stones secure water circulation. probably similar to volcanic rock dust. ADA products seem to be the holy grail in aquascaping, with most users raving about the amazing growth they get with aqua soil. there are a few ADA soil knockoffs but most break down over time. which leads me to... Red Sea: Flora Base R351/5.4kg volcanic ash based soil, baked into porous granules, looks very similar to aqua soil africana. gives great plant growth initially, but breaks down over time to become red mud, you need to add substrate additives after 6 months. it says this on the packaging too. notes: not many people i know like to breakdown their setups and totally redo them on a yearly basis. so i would only recommend this as a substrate additive, not a complete substrate. CaribSea: Eco-Complete R351/9kg a nice dark aesthetically pleasing complete substrate. comes packed in liquid amazon black water which is supposed to contain live bacteria to aid in cycling your tank faster. havent found many bad reviews regarding this. Floramax larger grain size than eco-complete, very similar in color to flourite. Tropica: Aquacare R247/5l made from clay and sphagnum moss, this is tropica's own plant substrate. it needs to be capped, and they also recommend trimming plants level with the substrate so as not to disturb it. they say plants grow an average of 26% better with their product. notes: check out this awesome setup using this substrate. Seachem: Flourite R325/7kg this is a fracted porous clay substrate, very high in iron, so laterite or iron column dosing is not necessary. it does not need to be capped, but is not high in nutrients and contains no organics so column ferts are a must. it does not compact and is easy to plant in. this is what i am currently using in my 400l tank. it needs to be thoroughyl washed or it will cloud your water. Flourite Dark R351/7kg 3 times less iron but 25 times more calcium due to different chemical composition. same other properties as original flourite but the dark is more aesthetically pleasing for some people. Flourite Black R351/7kg 5 times less iron and 200 times more calcium due to different chemical composition, same other properties as original flourite, but for those looking for a black substrate. Flourite Red R325/7kg very similar to original flourite, except for more reddish in color. notes: old faithful... i have never seen a bad review of flourite. will not alter your water chemistry. Prodac: Fondo Vivo fracted clay substrate with added nutrients - similar to eco complete. looks like sintered ash, seems pretty rough, i wouldnt keep cory's or clown loaches with this. seems to et reat reviews in italy. notes: humus - mostly peat and earth, high in humic compounds, a substrate additive humusplus - a substrate additive for heavy root feeders like crypts, aponogetons, swords etc. also high in humic compounds fertiplant - soft porous granules, my guess is that it needs to be capped it the granules are soft. Oliver Knott: NatureSoil R520/10l complete substrate in black or brown. very similar to ADA aqua soil. lowers hardness, will not crumble and also has colloidal filter properties. notes: seems pretty expensive... Tetra: Complete Substrate R247/5.8kg iron rich sand, peat and micro nutrients. seemed just like black mud underneath my gravel. it went anaerobic in places. it needs to be capped. Lesco soil master select tom barr did some tests on different substrates. using myriophyllum sms got the best results. lesco has since aquired john deer and now the product is called turface. it is illite calcite clay that has been baked into granules, very high in iron content. is has a very high cation exchange capacity. notes: this is the same red clay they use on baseball fields and pitching mounds.