Pebble capped soil substrate

Andrew Butler

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Does anyone have any experience of a soil substrate such as ADA Amazonia or Tropica Aquarium soil being topped with a thin layer of pebbles simply for aesthetics?

I'm worried that by doing this could make cleaning a nightmare with substrate and pebbles becoming mixed or even things such as flow disturbing or planting things

I really like the overall hardscape theme of Lauris 'Escape' aquarium with it's riverbed type appearance.
I know from experience with a holding tank that these kind of small, round pebbles alone catch debris in them that end up unsightly and a challenge to clean between so may as well have a gravel which is not what I want.

Looking at many tanks online with a sand substrate (not a thin covering) there always seems to be that algae below substrate level which is almost impossible to clean properly and also doesn't really get around the problem if I want to cap the substrate.

Anyone with experience please let me know how you found it and opinions on trying to replicate the overall riverbed themed hardscape although planting would be different.

Many thanks
Andrew

Credit to @Lauris for the picture from his thread 'Escape'
25892935262_719dd69666_c.jpg
 

alto

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I’ve done something similar, though didn’t do the whole area - just along the front and path towards the back left

I planted carefully so as not to bring any soil above the stones - if you do, just carefully add a bit more stones, or wait until plants are rooted and then syphon out any wayward soil particles

I used the small bore tubing to carefully syphon debris from between stones
But
I don’t actually have much debris
I wait until plants are established before adding fish, add shrimp and snails early on (always have filter media I can grab from other tanks), trim any melting or older submerse leafs as new growth comes in, feed mostly frozen foods
 

tam

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I have soil, fine gravel, then gradually bigger grades up to cobbles. I find there are a couple of spots that trap poop and the rest is fairly clean. It's pretty easy to waft a hand over to disturb it and syphon it up. Tbh you can't see it so I could probably leave it as plant manure.

I think any substrate you often get a bit of algae on the front edge - I use a credit card to slide down and pull back to disrupt it - just need to do it carefully to avoid scratches. I did 2" along the front in fine gravel then started then capped tropica substrate behind, so the front edge didn't look layered and mucking about with it didn't mix gravel and substrate. I have tropica soil between my cobbles, which I capped with 5-8mm gravel - no issues with mixing. I think it helped I picked gravel that had the brown/black pieces so if I get a little pop up it's not obvious.
 

Andrew Butler

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Thanks for the input @alto and @tam

Do/did either of you just put the 'pebbles' etc on top of the soil without creating a border of 'pebbles' so you saw the soil topped with stone?

@tam - do you have a pic you could send me? I'm not overkeen to add gravel but PLANTAHUNTER NATURAL GRAVEL RIVER goes down to 4-8mm in the smaller size, it's just very rounded so gets voids caught in it so debris follows if it's the whole substrate system. I realise I've contradicted myself but I don't see this product as a gravel; more a small 'pebble'

I'm unsure I've ever really had a problem with algae below soil line when using a soil substrate (ADA Amazonia/Tropica etc) - is that just me or is it the effect of reflecting sand etc has on the glass which causes this?
 

tiger15

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Gravel or pebbles cap over dirt is good if you rarely do replanting. There is no need to have dirt to grow healthy plants because all plants can extract nutrients in the water column. If cation exchange is what one desires to use dirt, that's not necessary because organic matter will entrapped into sand and gravel over time to offer cation exchange capacity.

Gravel or pebbles over dirt will inevitably get dirty if you replant often. Dirt will eventually run out of reserved nutrients and you have to dose the water column anyway, so dirt is not essential for growing healthy plants. The only tank that I use gravel cap over dirt is my nano shrimp bowl in which the bottom is covered with carpet plant that I never disturb. In my main tank, I use straight gravel which is easy and clean to work with.
 

Andrew Butler

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Gravel or sand over dirt will inevitably get dirty if you replant often
The plan is really to aim for a really low maintenance aquascape with the riverbed / pebble kind of look. Minimal planting in the substrate is the idea and instead mainly on an interesting piece of wood.

Am I right to think if I was to use a sand/gravel there would be problems with algae on the glass below substrate level that's a right pain to keep under control whereas if I used the same idea as Lauris and just capped the soil it would be ok?
 

hogan53

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Should be okay to use the above mesh as a separator!
If you want low maintenance and want to use soil this would be my suggestion!
I've used ADA topped with Seachem red gravel and it eventually mixed with the ADA!
hoggie
 

Andrew Butler

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Should be okay to use the above mesh as a separator!
If you want low maintenance and want to use soil this would be my suggestion!
I really need to understand why it worked for Lauris.

If it was you and wanted that riverbed look how would you go about it and be able to plant it.
I'd assume if I wasn't planting then just using the pebbles alone would work but I want to leave planting as an option.
 

hogan53

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I don't think he used a lot of soil....plus the plants he used involved Epiphytes/Moss!
Therefore, not too deep substrate planting.

I would use a Seachem gravel...then top with larger sized gravel/pebbles....even this may mix if you start messing about with it after planting!

hoggie
 

Andrew Butler

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I don't think he used a lot of soil....plus the plants he used involved Epiphytes/Moss!
Therefore, not too deep substrate planting.

I would use a Seachem gravel...then top with larger sized gravel/pebbles....even this may mix if you start messing about with it after planting!

hoggie
I'd noticed his layer of aqua soil was very thin but he also used powersand within that thickness.
So really around the edges that are seen I could get things quite thin and the sand would purely be to fill out the voids left by the small pebbles.
I think my biggest worry is keeping the glass clean at/below substrate level if sand is involved.
I think a lot of the planting I have in mind are epiphytes; mainly on the wood.
I think a bit of experimentation is on the cards.

Something I'm still curious about is people with deep sand/gravel how they keep things clean without completely disrupting the whole layout.
 

tam

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This is my journal: https://www.ukaps.org/forum/threads...les-emersed-probably.53444/page-2#post-532711

You could easily do a thinner layer of the fine gravel and then cap that with courser gravel. I have bare tropica soil in the two back corners and then tropica substrate under the front fine gravel. I filled between the the big pile of rocks on the right with tropica soil and then the course gravel.

I wanted plants in the substrate, if you don't maybe skip the tropica and just go for gravel without an underlayer. If you use finer gravel too that will fill gaps between larger rocks and let you partially bury rocks.
 
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