04-28-2009, 12:25 PM
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My personal opinion is that carbon should never be used as a regular filter media in an aquarium, but only when needed to remove toxins or medication. The "natural" toxins (so to speak) in an aquarium (ammonia, nitrite...) should be handled by the natural biological bacteria. I have never used the filter you mention, so others with experience may have more to say, but I would not use carbon regularly. And certainly never in a planted aquarium.
As for keeping plants healthy, you need three things: light, nutrients and CO2 (carbon dioxide, which is technically a "nutrient" but frequently mentioned separately). If these three are in balance, the plants will thrive. Light must be adequate (in terms of type (strength) and duration. Nutrients are added as liquid fertilizer once or twice a week depending upon the needs in the individual aquarium; in a small setup this might not even be necessary depending upon the trace elements in your tap water that would be used for the partial water changes. CO2 is provided by the respiration of the fish and weekly partial water changes.
Of course, clean water and a suitable substrate (for rooted plants) are a given. Filtration in a planted tank should provide minimal water movement (to aid the plant leaves in collecting nutrients from the water as well as through the roots), and as little surface disturbance as possible to avoid driving off the necessary CO2. Unless you need to soften the water and lower the acidity by filtration through peat, I would not use any filter media other than the foam pad or rock material for bacteria colonization.
In a 5g setup with only one betta you could probably manage with no filter, as the plants would handle things (they are after all nature's filters) along with the weekly partial water change. Water movement occurs in all aquariums by natural means even without filters: temperature variations (the heater generates currents), plant activities, and the movement of the fish all serve to move the water around.