Are there easy to keep plants out there I could plant in only gravel versus substrate? Would it benefit the plants if I mix in any particular substrate into the mix (such as flourite or a bag or two of Eco-complete? Thank you.
I use just plain gravel, no other substrate, and my plants grow great! I am adding CO2, have a little over 2 WPG, and fertilize using the PPS-Pro method you will find in the fertilizing forum here at APC.
In my 30 gallon I am growing:
1) Poaceae sp. ‘Purple Bamboo’
2) Echinodorus x. "Rubin" (Red Rubin Sword)
3) Cryptocoryne walkeri ‘Lutea’
4) Eleocharis parvula (Dwarf Hairgrass)
5) Crytocoryne (large unknown)
6) Ceratopteris cornuta (Water Sprite; Indian Water Fern)
7) Microsorium pteroptus (Java Fern)
8) Microsorium pteroptus v. ‘Wendelov’ (Java Fern Lace)
9) Bacopa australis
10) Ludwigia repens
11) Rotala Nanjenshan
I usually have more than enough to take "extras" to the GSAS meetings every month. "Special" substrates are not needed. In fact, I prefer the gravel because it is inert and it allows me to better control the ferts since all that is in there is what I add! Hope this helps.
I am indeed trying to keep cost down. I know an aquarium is an investment but really have been waiting to setup my 46 gallon bowfront and do not want to wait a few more months for my tax return...lol. Instead of buying a $200 lighing system and another $150 in soil (ADA...nothing but the best), I am leaning more towards a cheaper alternative. Plus it gives me a better opportunity to dabble into a planted tank.
Read in my "101 Best Plants" book...I was focusing on easy to grow plants which require little to no special attention/lighting. This way I am hoping to get away with less than 2 wpg (looking at 78w total of T5, 2x39W) for about $80 and a few bags of gravel. I'd consider mixing in a bag or two of Eco-complete if it would help.
One other thing to note, I ideally am looking to have a light to medium planted tank. I do not want the jungle look where the plants overwhelm the tank but rather a conservative, natural, and lots of open spaces look. Any advice for this total newbie to plants would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you everyone who reads this and especially those who respond with your insight.
While there are certainly some which are more plant friendly, you can grow plants in any substrate/gravel you want to use. Size of the grains of gravel/substrate are more important as you want them to be small enough to be able to hold down the plants.
My substrate of choice is pool filter sand, which cost about $10 for a 50lb bag. The good thing about it is that it will not alter water parameters & does not become easily compacted. It also looks good with 1 bag of Flourite mixed in to give the sand itself some added nutrients for the plants. However most plants obtain their nutrients through the water column & therefore makes the substrate less important then a good fertilization routine.
Since you are going for a low light setup & wide open spaces, then you might want to consider a scape that involves driftwood with plants that attach to wood & very little stem/rosette plants involved. For example a piece or two of driftwood with Anubias, Java fern, mosses, Bolbitis tied on & maybe some crypts planted around the the base of the driftwood. If you want some background plants then Anacharis, Ludwigia, Wisteria or Hygro would be a good choice.
There is certainly something to be said for inertness, for, as you say, you KNOW what you have. You have, in essence, a CONTROL, in your "experiment". Whereas with Eco-Complete and ADA's stuff, who knows just what is in there? They tell you what is in there, sort of, but it is still pretty general stuff. Then if you have a problem of some sort, what is the cause? Is it the ADA, the Eco, or something you are doing?
Exactly my point, I figure if I know what I am putting in I should be able to diagnose the cause of excesses or deficiencies if the plants show signs of problems. I am in the process of trying Turface Pro League (smaller grain size than MVP) in a planted 6 gallon shrimp Nano to see how it works.