3 Solution The Four Basic Components of an Aquascaped “Nature” Aquarium: Filtration

1 Filtration 2 Carbon Dioxide (CO2)3 Bright Light4 Substrate 


Filtration for a planted aquascaped aquarium is one of 4 basic components required to create a “nature” or planted aquarium.

The basis of modern aquaria is efficient filtration. High quality filtration is a key to success in a planted aquarium. Larger planted tanks should only be used with external filters. Never buy a low quality filter to save money. Canister filters are a great form of filtration for planted aquariums. Oase canister filters are some of the highest rated models available. Here is a link to filtration types and more information.

Oase 600 Canister filter install and review

In aquariums, organic matter is formed from fish waste, dead organisms, uneaten food, and decaying plants and leaves. In a planted aquarium, decaying leaves are a much more serious problem. This organic matter in water inevitably starts to decompose, resulting in excess nutrients and a higher biological load on the aquarium. Excess nutrients from waste are harmful to fish health and will cause algae growth.

Ammonia is removed with biological filtration. 

Cycling and Aquarium

Nitrifying bacteria, which needs oxygen and grows on biological media, convert ammonia to nitrite and then nitrite to nitrate. Nitrate, in manageable amounts, is not harmful to fish nor does it cause algae. The greater the volume of bacteria and the higher quality substrate for it to live on, the faster this process happens. The higher quality of biological media used and the more surface area available with oxygen, the better the aquarium water quality will be.

For larger aquascaped aquariums aquaLife BioMatrix is the best filter media choice.

Oase Biomaster 800 Review

Many of these filters come with sponges. While sponges are good for daily cleaning and pre-filtration, do not rely on them for biological or the primary filtration in a filter.  Use media with much higher surface area. The surface of aquaLife BioMatrix biological filter media is extremely porous, with plenty of room for bacteria to adhere. For biological filter media, the most important aspect is that the oxygen-saturated water reaches the adhering bacteria, so the holes on the surface should not be too deep, otherwise the flow and oxygen supply of the bacteria are inadequate. aquaLife BioMatrix is ideal for filters as it has the perfect amount of high surface area at the proper pore size and depth.

Image of Surface area of aquaLife BioMatrix 300 magnification

Image of Surface area of aquaLife BioMatrix 300 magnification
Image of the Large Size aquaLife Biomatrix

Smaller aquariums can be run with hang on the back or internal filters.

Improving the Azoo Mignon with 3 in 1 bio media
Choosing the best Hang on Filter

Proper Flow – filter inlet and outlet pipes on a canister filter

Solid particles that accumulate in the aquarium must be kept afloat with sufficiently strong water flow in order for them to be removed by the filtration. For adequate performance, the filter must remove the suspended particles. This is how the decomposition process, via the beneficial bacteria under oxygen-rich (aerobic) conditions, completes efficiently.

Adequate flow also plays an important role in carbon dioxide (CO2) distribution. For plants, excessive water turbulence is not suitable. The goal is to create a less turbulent but high-yielding flow such as what occurs in nature. The best way to achieve this is with so called “lily pipes” and various glass or stainless inflows and outflows. Some also have surface skimming abilities, which are ideal.

Glass or stainless inlet and outlet pipes, in addition to being extremely elegant, introduce the water from the external filter into the aquarium, not radially but in a distributed manner, thus simulating natural conditions. The input and discharge of the filters are always placed on the same side. When using two filters, place the tubes for each canister on opposite sides. To ensure an even flow in the aquarium and avoid stagnation, direct outflow pipes toward filter inlets on each end of the aquarium. This is necessary when the flow of the filters is not strong enough to cross to the other side in wide aquariums.

Surface skimmers & Using a Stainless Surface skimmer on an Oase 850 Bio Master

What Filter Media should be used in the Canister Filter or biological filter?

There is a plethora of filter media on the market – from ceramic rings, plastic balls, to lava stones. Microscopic analysis of some professional filter materials have been done, among other tests. Unfortunately, the large variety of filter media on the market is the result of manufacturers fighting for market share. Even premium manufacturers are scattering the market with thousands of different filter media products. This confuses customers and makes their decisions more difficult.

How to pack a Canister filter and provide maximum filtration

An Ideal External filter must contain three basic filter media: 

Listed in order of water flow – (water enters #1 first)

1. THIN LAYER SPONGE (up to 3/4-1 1/2” thick) – this is part of the physical filtration. 

It protects the biological filter media from prematurely clogging due to small or larger pieces of leaves and other physical contaminants that enter the filter. The sponge therefore does not have to be thick; its sole purpose being to absorb larger amounts of physical dirt. The role of the sponge as biological filtration is negligible. The sponge can be squeezed and washed in tap water when cleaning the filter. Furthermore, the sponge does not need to be replaced in the filter until it has worn out and begins to deteriorate. Oase canister filters have unique pre-filters. 


It is important that the filter material be high quality, sufficiently porous (allowing room for bacteria to adhere), and be sufficient particle size that it not restrict the water flow of the filter. This type of filter media should occupy most of the filter capacity of the canister filter. Since the media only provides beneficial surface for the bacteria, high quality biological filter media does not need to be replaced frequently.  They should perform their function for many years with proper cleaning. Replacing 50% of this media annually to prevent long term clogging of the pores is the most that is ever needed. For faster cycling or “seeding” of the biological filter media due to new tank setup, dosing with aquaLife Activate should be done after a power outage, filter shutdown, increased fish loads, or during cleaning. 

3. THIN LAYER OF COTTON OR BONDED PADDING. Like a sponge, this material performs physical filtration but filters finer particles. As a final step, it prevents small dirt that passes through the other filter media from returning to the aquarium. We recommend everyone use aquarium Bonded Padding by aquaLife for fine filtration. When cleaning the filter, simply discard the Bonded Padding and replace it, allowing for continued fast, easy, and efficient filtration.

4. ADDITIONAL FILTER MATERIALS. In addition to the three filter materials discussed above, there are other filter materials that we consider important. The most important of which are: Seachem Purigen, aquaLife Pelleted Carbon, aquaLife Activated Carbon, Chemi-Pure Green, and PolyFilters. Purigen helps to produce colorless, crystal-clear water by chemical methods; Pelleted Carbon or Activated Carbon are best for water clarity, odor, removing tannins and organics. Chemi-Pure Green is pelleted carbon and resin like Purigen. Poly Filters are unique chemical pads that can remove a range of pollutants and change color as they absorb pollutants. Depending on the filter design an additional layer of Blue Bonded Padding may be needed after any additional filter media to contain the chemical media. Often using the Polyfilter as the last stage will be all that is needed.

It is important to know that bacteria do not grow in the filter immediately. It takes time for them to multiply to sufficient numbers. Even with the use of a bacterial culture, such as  Activate by aquaLife, which we recommend, it takes at least 2-4 weeks for the filter to grow bacteria properly. Wait at least 2-4 weeks for fish to be stocked, but plant the aquarium right away. Let the plants take hold and give the bacteria time to grow and multiply.

Bacteria need oxygen to function, which is extracted from the aquarium water that enters the filter. For this reason, the filter(s) should never be switched off for extended periods.  During maintenance, make sure that the filter does not stay off too long. See the maintenance section for more details.

The ammonia decomposition capacity of external filters is not infinite, so never overpopulate your aquarium.  Stock roughly 2 to 4 inches of fish per gallon of water. This ratio can vary from aquarium to aquarium depending on species and the quality of filtration. Consult with your local store for best results.

When choosing a filter, remember that cheaper filters usually contain a weaker filter material, lower quality pumps, and parts. Purchase additional filter material of the right quality such as aquaLife BioMatrix.  Do not be set on using what comes with the filters.  Manufacturers must make their filters attractively priced thus limiting what they can spend on the media they include. Upgrading from what the filters often come with will result in a more efficient higher quality filter.

Next Up Solution 3 Part 2 CO2

1 Filtration2 Carbon Dioxide (CO2)3 Bright Light4 Substrate