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NFC: Substrate

Is it absolutely necessary to put some other type of substrate
underneath the gravel of an aquarium to grow live plants? I've been
searching for this answer for months now, and still I get mixed replies. 
A local pet shop owner has told me he's ordering some type of special
matting that lies under the gravel and provides a mess-free base for
roots to grab onto and receive nutrients. Anybody ever hear of this
stuff? If so, does it really work? I'm a little dubious about it myself.

Tony Gustafson