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I'm planning on doing a 55 gallon planted tank and I've got a couple of questions:

I have a Emperor 400 filter which is bio-wheel based; is this ok to have or do I need to do something about it? I can't afford much and would prefer it if I didn't have to get a different filter.

If I can use this filter, what are some ways I can go about keeping the CO2 in the system? Is there a way to reduce the surface agitation of the filter? I am planning to use a DIY CO2 system, again, to reduce cost.

Will pointing more lights at the aquarium help at all? (Obviously not ideal, but anything to aid in rapid spreading of plants in the tank)

To be absolutely clear: you really don't have to cycle a planted tank?

I've read both Chuck's and Rex's guides; some of these questions may have been answered in them, but I want to be very thorough in my research before building the tank.
 

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I followed Chuck's method, and I did not have to cycle the tank first. However, I stocked very slowly:

week 1 - set up tank, w/ co2
week 2 - let tank run w/ co2

week 3 - 3 Apple Snails
week 4 - 3 Otos
week 5 - 1 Dwarf African Frog
week 6 - 1 Opaline Gourami
week 7 - 3 Emerald Catfish

The tank was a 20G tall hex, planted with Cabomba, Amazon Sword, and Micro Sword. The catfish were only there temporarily, hence the overstocking, but even with the extra bioload the tank params stayed good.

The idea is to stock slowly enough that the plants will take care of any excess wastes not used by the developing bacteria colonies. Plant heavily and stock small, hardy inhabitants first.
 
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