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The short version:

Is there a plant-growing substrate that can stay soggy without breaking down, that is also safe for dart frogs?


The long version:

I have kept a high-light planted aquarium for several years and really like growing aquatic plants. A year ago I set up a vivarium with ADA Amazonia (a top-of-the-line planted aquarium substrate). This vivarium has a simple one-layer substrate 1" to 3" deep with 1" of water. I mist twice a day, and the substrate stays very wet. Since I'm growing aquatic plants, I keep the viv very humid and the substrate very wet.

I have loved this vivarium! I'm thinking I would like to add some animals and dart frogs keep coming back to the top of my wish list. But the substrate I am currently using has some small particles that I think the dart frogs could accidentally ingest and get impacted.

I have done a lot of reading about setting up a dart frog viv. Most articles suggest the use of a false bottom or LECA as a drainage layer to keep the substrate from staying too wet. But, because of the plants I want to grow, I want to keep the substrate very wet.

Why do most vivs want the substrate drier? Do the plant based substrates (coco husks, dried moss, orchid bark etc) rot/decompose if they are too wet? Or is a wet substrate bad for the frogs? Or is it to keep the plant roots from growing fungus?

What I would really like is a substrate that won't cause problems for the dart frogs, will hold nutrients for the plants and will last at last at least a year or two while being very wet.

Is there such a substrate?
 

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Too wet of a substrate, that stays that wet constantly, is not good for your frogs. I think an easy solution would be to add about 2 inches of leaf litter over the top of your substrate. This would keep your frogs up off of it. It slowly decomposes so you would need to periodically add to it. Good types of leaf litter are, Oak, Live Oak (a species--Not still living green oak leaves), Magnolia, and Indian Almond.
 

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Philippe de Vosjoli set up a cool tank years ago that was full of aquatic and semi aquatic plants.

He put down an inch of kitty litter, and covered that with an inch of play sand. The clay and sand created a natural pond substrate.

Where the land area was to be, he covered the sand with a two and a half inch layer of pea gravel. The pea gravel was covered with sheet moss.

He grew chinese evergreen, pothos, arrowhead plants, and moneywart hydroponically in the gravel area,
And, aquatic and semi aquatic plants in the sand. There was a two inch depth of water over the sand area so the top of the gravel was slightly above the water line.

The tank housed Tincs and Leucs. As well as day geckos. And he had bumblebee gobies in the water.
 

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Why not just a gravel bottom tank with just spangum moss on top and let the plants root through the rocks? I once bought a tank like that that came with my leucs. I'm guessing the constant wet maybe wasn't safe for my frogs due to bacteria, but as far as I know they were living that way for 2 yrs when I got them and I still had them in that tank another 7 months that way and the frogs were great and when we dumped the water out it wasn't even stagnant. I'm guessing the plants kept it clean? Anyway, just a thought. There was no substrate in this tank.
 
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