You've made the decision to grow a beautiful planted tank. You've spent some time learning how to do it. You know it's best to plant the tank with the substrate no more than damp. But now it's time to fill it. How do you get the water in without making a mess!?!?
This seems to be a problem that many new aquatic gardeners (and some with quite a bit of experience!) really struggle with. There is absolutely NO reason for you not to enjoy your beautiful new planted tank from the day you first set it up. The secret, no matter what type of substrate you decide to use, is to avoid disturbing the substrate while you are filling the tank. I never, ever rinse any substrate I use, and that includes gravel, sand, soil based commercial substrates, DIY soil substrates and calcined clay substrates (commercial or other). This method even worked beautifully with old fashioned, messy laterite substrates. As long as you fill the tank carefully, it doesn't matter how dusty the original material is, it won't get into the water column.
There are a number ways to accomplish this, and most good aquatic gardeners and aquascape artists have their preferred methods. I will show you several methods here, and show you several sets of photos which prove that it's really not difficult to fill a tank cleanly. Whether you use one of these techniques, or something you learn from someone else doesn't matter. What matters is that you fill in a slow, controlled manner and avoid disturbing the substrate as you fill.
The first method I'll show you is the standard way I fill any tank that has enough room. Plant the tank with the substrate just damp, with no standing water. I typically plant the entire foreground and mid-ground areas before I start filling.
Fill the tank VERY SLOWLY allowing the water to gently overflow the dish and run down the sides. I use a Python™ water change system to fill (and change water on) all my medium to large tanks. I couldn't keep tanks without it!
The next method is one I use on smaller tanks or if the hardscape makes it impossible to place a dish on the substrate.
Finally, this is the method I use with very small tanks.
Isn't that more pleasant than having to wait several days and keep changing filter meds to clear up a tank the was filled too fast?