I feel like you're asking the right questions, just out of order. I'd start by asking yourself what "tech" level of tank you'd like. That will determine your equipment needs as well as what plants you can grow. For reference, "high" tech usually involves high light, CO2, and fertilizers. "Medium" tech is a little variable, but I'd call it high tech without CO2. "Low" tech gets into the low-medium light category, generally no added ferts, and maybe some fancy substrate. Or you can go ultra-low-tech (Walstad or El Natural style) which is basically some dirt, a light and not much else.
Pretty much all plants grow better with CO2 but many of them don't need it. Typical carpet plants - like your Monte Carlo - can be difficult to carpet without CO2. They'll grow, but it might not be the carpet you're looking for. Some plants, especially red ones, require high light and nutrient levels for optimal growth. If those types of plants are what you're looking for, I'd strongly consider a high-tech setup. Otherwise, from what I've read here it's easier to increase your tech level than it is to drop down.
Your tech level will determine your light. This is because the more nutrients (ferts and CO2) you pump into the system, the more light the plants need to keep up with it and out-compete the algae. There are many name-brand lights that are beefy enough for all tech levels of tank (I made my own lights so hopefully someone will chime in with suggestions). However, ordinary household lighting works just fine if you have undemanding plants - T5 shop lights are a popular and effective option; some people (myself included) even use desk lamps over smaller tanks. The trick is really to aim for having too much light, since it's easy to shorten your day length or move the light further from the tank but it's a pain to squeeze more juice out of an undersized fixture. Best piece of advice I have is to put the thing on a timer. Light is one of the most versatile tools you have in waging the algae war and keeping your lighting cycle consistent is a first, huge step toward victory. Also you don't have to remember to turn the light on and off which is nice just in itself.
Filtration is a touchy subject, but the first piece of advice I have is to treat filtration and flow as completely separate concepts. Yes a filter provides flow, but that's largely a byproduct of its primary duty, which is to be a place for beneficial bacteria to grow. To that end any and all surfaces in your aquarium will host those beneficial bacteria (which is how us Walstad folks get by with so little) and it's unlikely, especially in your stocking scenario, that you will overwhelm your filtration capacity. So I would go with a type of filter that suits your needs. Example, if you have under-tank space and hate looking at equipment, go canister. If you want easy service go HOB. If you want to be a rebel and filter your tank for $7 get a sponge. And yes I'm 100% serious on that last one, sponge filters and their cousins are amazing. After that decision is made you can consider flow - the goal of which is to provide enough circulation to move solid wastes into your filter so they can be removed during filter cleaning. Generally speaking if your filter "doesn't provide enough filtration" (read: there are dead spots in the tank circulation where mulm accumulates) you need more flow, not more filtration capacity. Powerheads are a great way to do this, though there are others.
Substrate can be interesting, and I'm afraid I don't really know enough about it to help all that much. Generally speaking there are three approaches: First, planted tank substrate. Pros are that it's complete and easy. Cons are it's expensive and eventually runs out of nutrients. Second, inert substrate. This can mean gravel, sand, or any other substrate that provides no nutrients to plants. Pros are it's cheap and easy to find and can be turned into pseudo-plant substrate by adding fertilizers (either into the substrate or the water column). Cons are obviously that you need to add all the nutrients yourself. Third is dirt capped with some other type of substrate. Pros are you get the benefit of planted tank substrate without the cost. Cons are it's messy, makes replanting almost impossible and poses a unique set of challenges.
Finally, I have some general advice for you:
1. Get a lid! Not only will it cut down on evaporation but you'll never find dead fish on the floor.
2. If you keep shrimp that you want to breed in your tank, put an intake sponge on the filter. Otherwise the filter eats your shrimp babies.
3. Post pictures! People love pictures. Even if you think your aquascape sucks post pictures. You might get some advice on how to pretty it up, or maybe it's actually awesome and you just don't know it.
4. Planting tongs. You don't have to buy a fancy aquascaping kit, the reptile feeding tongs from the pet store work just fine. Believe me, it's a heck of a lot easier to stuff little plant roots into substrate with tongs than your fingers. Also great for not having to go elbow-deep into your tank all the time.
5. Take things slow and be prepared to adjust. The balance in a planted tank changes as your plants establish themselves. Often new tanks will experience an algae bloom (diatoms especially) that sorts itself out once the plants start taking up excess nutrients.
6. If you have to change things, do it one variable at a time. That way you know exactly what you had too much or too little of for next time.
PS Sorry for the wall of text! Hope you find it helpful.
Last edited by BigMek; 08-22-2017 at 05:05 AM.
Reason: More about lights, extra thoughts