Do Aquarium Plants Need Soil: Pros and Cons of Using Soil As Aquarium Plant Substrate

No, aquarium plants do not need soil, but they benefit from being planted on a substrate of some sort. Usually, aquarium plants are planted in floating cups or water at the bottom of an aquascape. 

Planting aquatic plants in the soil can cause them to root firmly into the substrate, and waterlogged conditions can develop. Soil may also cause algae growth and interfere with light penetration. 

Ultimately, whether or not aquarium plants need soil is mainly up to the discretion of the aquarist. However, planting aquarium plants on a substrate will generally result in better growth and overall management of the plants.

Pros of Soil for Aquarium Plants

Help With Plant Growth

Aquarium soil is an essential addition to plant growth and health. It provides nutrients and water retention and helps keep the aquarium environment clean and healthy.


Aquarium plants need substrate to thrive. Soil can be used as a substrate that provides nutrients and minerals that the plants need to grow and encourages the growth of root systems. 

Aquarium plants in soil substrate are less likely to become invasive and provide a more natural habitat for your aquatic friends. Additionally, a soil substrate encourages the formation of plant roots, which is essential for healthy plant growth.

Cons of Soil-Based Substrate

A soil-based substrate is a popular option for aquarium plants but has some drawbacks. First and foremost, a soil-based substrate can be difficult to water and maintain. Additionally, it will absorb water from the air, leading to plant root rot or algae growth. 

There are some essential things to consider before adding soil to your aquarium. For example, soil can become heavy and disturb the balance of the tank if it needs to be properly balanced. Additionally, soil can become a breeding ground for algae and other aquatic plants, reducing your aquarium fish’s health. 

If you’re looking to add soil to your aquarium, soluble rocks or powders can be a good alternative. However, these work well in most cases and don’t require water to be added every time the plant needs soil. 

Changes in Water Chemistry

There are a few potential downsides of having aquatic plants installed in an aquarium. One is that soil does not allow plants to breathe, leading to underwater fungus growth and poor plant health. 

Another issue is the risk of changes in water chemistry, which could lead to fish death. Soil also proliferates algae, which can cause problems for the fish as they feed on it or swim through it while searching for food. 

Finally, keeping aquariums planted becomes more complicated over time as the substrate gets compacted and less able to absorb water and nutrients properly.

Makes Water Muddy

One of the main disadvantages of using soil-based substrates is that they make water muddy and cloudy. This can be a problem if you are trying to grow plants that require clear, clean water. 

Additionally, this type of substrate takes up more space than most substrates, which means less room for your fish or other aquatic organisms to live in. Keeping soil-based substrates clean and free from algae growth can also be challenging, making them an inferior option compared to other substrates in this respect.

Nutrients Will Get Exhausted

Aquarium plants will suffer when soil-based substrate runs out of nutrients because they don’t get the essential elements they need from their water source. 

Therefore, a better option would be using an aquatic plant fertilizer that provides all the nutrients your plants need – without any chances of running out of resources or succumbing to disease.


Soil can also be expensive, especially if you want something unique or premium for your aquatic garden. Another option becoming more popular is aquatic plant pellets or gravels, which are cheaper and better for plant growth than soil-based substrates.

Aquarium Soil Alternatives

Soil is essential to aquarium plants, but only some need it. Keep water quality in mind if you’re keeping aquarium plants without soil. 

There are many alternatives to aquarium soil, including gravel, coconut husk, and drywall interior paint. It’s a good idea to test a few and see which is best for your fish and plant husbandry needs. 

Remember to keep water quality high by using quality gravel, husks, and paint that doesn’t contain toxins. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether or not to add soil to your aquarium plants. But don’t forget – plants without soil still need plenty of water!

Gravel Substrate

Gravel substrate is an excellent soil alternative for aquarium plants. It is low in nutrients and has plenty of air space which helps plants breathe. Additionally, gravel substrate can be mixed with water or peat moss to create the desired consistency, making it an ideal choice for freshwater and saltwater aquariums.

Sand Substrate

A substrate of sand is an excellent choice for aquarium plants as it is both easy to clean and provides a suitable environment for them. Aquarium plants need soil, but since they get their nutrients and water from the leaves, gravel or sand are usually all you need in aquaria. 

Some fish prefer gravel beds as they like to dig around and explore their surroundings; this is perfect behavior with a substrate of sand. You can use natural or artificial sand, whichever suits your needs better. If you keep it clean, a substrate of either type will do the job just fine!