Since this will be your first planted tank...IMO using small diameter gravel or a plant specific gravel would be better.
Sand can sometimes have anaerobic issue especially if too deep (over 2in
) with limited aeration. Trumpet snail can help by burrowing, fish that burrow or dig in the sand. Sometimes sand can compact around the roots/stem of the plants and this can cause issues with nutrients and suffocation that can kill the plant.
Proper lights are really important-most failures with some species of plants when not due to improper planting, use of non-aquatic plants, anaerobic issues..will be due to wrong color temp light, old light bulbs, wrong photoperiod...When photosynthesis is effected the plant can't grow and algae will take over. Without the correct color temp light the plants can't use the nutrients.
Lights don't have to break the bank either....I get/buy my bulbs in the lighting dept not the aquarium dept..."Daylight 6500k" florescent bulbs-watts vary based on length.....While the wpg rule is still used to a degree-the Kelvin is more important IMO/E.
Florescent bulbs need to be changed every 12 months since they will lose intensity over time-we can see the light but the plants can't to use for photosynthesis.
You also have light penetration that is important-when using a hood-either remove the partition between the light and water or make sure it is free of algae, debris, water deposits...etc....
Photoperiod-most plants are naturally on a 12h/day PP....10 hour of light with lower light an hour before and after as the sun rises and sets.
Too short can trick the plants into thinking its a season change and either go dormant, die or flower-Wrong color temp bulbs or old bulb can cause this too.
With plants its a balance......you have support active plant growth so it can out compete algae-but since this is a closed system some manual removal is still needed-but you should be able to keep problem algae controlled with balance that support active plant growth.
Cycling-with enough of the right species of plants that are actively growing-this will take care of ammonia produced by the livestock and other organics. Its a silent cycle of sorts......the plants will use the ammonia as food before conversion. Its not uncommon for thriving heavy planted tanks to never have nitrate reading-the sign we use that tells us cycling stages/completeness. Its still happening......the active plant growth functions as the bio-filter.
This is the 55ga soil based NPT
One of the 2gal
One of the 10gal-this one is the newest I just setup a few months ago
I have more pics in my album
I have found that the plants that work for my NPT's or low tech tanks with an average of 1-3wpg using daylight 6500k on 12h/d/PP-no injected CO2 or ferts added
Naja grass, rotala, wisteria, H. corymbosa, H. siamensis, cabomba for the stem plants. For the rosette plants-vals, sags, swords, crypts. Floaters I use-frogbit, duckweed and water lettuce. I also use java moss and java fern tied to driftwood and Nymphaea stellata bulb