12 TYPES of SUBSTRATES - Names, PHOTOS, classification and characteristics

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All fans of gardening and horticulture are familiar to a greater or lesser extent with the term substrate. Substrates are a vital element when growing any type of plant and, although there are universal substrates that tend to work well with most plants, there are a large number of types of substrates in gardening. Substrate mixtures have very different properties and are more suitable for different plants, so it is worth studying them in greater depth to be much more successful with our crops, whether they are orchards or ornamental plants.

If you want to learn more about how substrates are classified and what are the types of substrates most used, keep reading us in this Green Ecologist article.

What is the substrate for plants

When we talk about plant substrates, we refer to the land we use to cultivate them, either in a pot or on the ground, when we prepare and add the mixture ourselves.

The substrate will almost always have properties very different from those of natural soil, and it is always prepared seeking to provide the crop with an optimal growth and development medium, taking care of aspects such as water and moisture retention, the amount of organic matter present, the degree of compaction or pH level.

Types of substrates according to their properties

When we talk about substrates according to their properties, we divide them into chemically inert and chemically active.

  • The chemically inert substrates they are substrates that simply support the plant, not intervening at all in the supply or fixation of nutrients. When using these substrates, the nutrients must be provided separately.
  • The chemically active substrates They also act as a support but also provide nutrients or retain them, storing the excess and releasing it when the plant needs it.

Types of substrates according to the materials

If we look at the origin of the materials that compose them, we differentiate organic substrates from mineral or inorganic substrates.

  • There are many types of organic substrates, which are those of natural origin such as peat, those of synthesis such as expanded polystyrene and by-products or waste that, once composted, are valid for use, such as sawdust, pruning remains, water purification sludge , etc.
  • There are also different types of inorganic substrates, depending on whether they are of natural origin like sand and gravel, transformed like perlite and expanded clay, or, again, waste like blast furnace slag.

Types of natural substrates

These are some of the most used natural substrates:


The substrate for hydroponics it is, in many occasions, simple water. All plants need water to survive, but in the right facilities this can also be used as a substrate. In this other post you can know How to make a home hydroponic culture.


Sands have a medium water retention capacity and compact over time, although they are highly durable. Due to their ideal grain size, between 0.5 and 2mm, they are commonly mixed with peat to prepare potting substrates.


The gravels have a diameter of between 5 mm and 15 mm. The gravels most used as a substrate for plants are those of pumice and quartz. The substrate made with pumice or pumice stone is also known as tepojal. Here we tell you more about what is the tepojal for plants, what it is for and how it is used.

Volcanic earth

When using untreated volcanic material, we find porous substrates with slightly acidic pH, which provides great aeration and low water retention. They are difficult to work with due to their heterogeneity.


Product of natural decomposition of plants over a long time, peat is classified into black and blonde. The latter are richer in organic matter and have better aeration and water retention capacity, which is why the two are often mixed.

In this other guide you can learn about what peat is, its types and how to use it.

Pine bark

Coming mostly from the wood industry, it is a substrate that is used raw or composted, the latter being preferable. Pine bark substrate is light, with great porosity and aeration, tending to slight acidity.

Coconut fiber

Coconut fiber is one of the substrates for seedbeds most used, especially when it is combined with peat and organic matter is added. It is very light and must be washed of salts before use. Here we tell you more about the Properties of coconut fiber for plants and how to make it.

Types of artificial substrates

The most used artificial substrates are as follows:


Siliceous volcanic rock subjected to temperatures between 1,000 and 1,200 ºC, perlite is a low-density substrate, with an enormous water retention capacity. It is of limited durability and neutral pH, and tends to mix with other substrates such as peat to improve its properties.

In this link you will see more information about What is perlite for plants, what it is for and how it is used.

Rock wool

It is obtained by melting basalt rocks, calcareous and coke coal at a temperature of more than 1,600 ºC. A homogeneous, inert and easy-to-handle material is obtained, which provides good aeration and water retention, but has an even more limited durability than perlite: it lasts about 3 years.


Similar to perlite, vermiculite is finer-grained and is obtained by exfoliating micas at more than 800ºC. It has a great capacity for aeration and water retention, but it tends to compact over time.

Here you can see more about what is vermiculite, its uses and how to make it.

Expanded clay

When clay-type nodules are treated above 100 ºC, we obtain these balls of between 2 mm and 10 mm in diameter, with a hard exterior and great aeration capacity. It retains little water and tends to mix with peat to improve substrate drainage.

Expanded polystyrene

It is a plastic cut into lumps of between 4 mm and 12 mm and white in color. It is of extraordinarily low density and provides very good aeration as well as low water holding capacity. It is added to compact substrates such as peat moss to improve its aeration.

If you want to read more articles similar to Types of substrates, we recommend that you enter our category of Cultivation and care of plants.

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