Living plants are a great asset to any freshwater fish tank. Plants help clean the water by using chemicals that are harmful to your fish as fertilizer, and they oxygenate the water as part of the process of photosynthesis.
A lush green carpet of living aquarium grass not only looks beautiful, but also provides shelter for shrimp and fry, and it makes a wonderful habitat for bottom-dwelling fish species.
In this article, we introduce ten of the most popular species of aquatic carpeting plants that are collectively known as aquarium grass.
Can lawn grass grow in an aquarium?
No. Lawn grass is not an aquatic plant, and it cannot grow while submerged in water.
Aquarium grass is the common name used for low-growing aquatic plants whose leaves resemble blades of grass. You can use these plants to create a “lawn” across the bottom of your tank.
Best Aquarium Grass Species
In this section of our guide, you can learn about ten of the best species of aquarium grass that are readily available to the hobbyist.
You can find most of these plants for sale at good fish stores, but if you prefer to buy online, we’ve included handy links to these products for you.
1. Sagittaria subulata (Dwarf Sag)
Dwarf sag is a very easy to grow species of aquarium grass that’s ideal for a beginner.
The plant reaches a maximum height of around 12 inches and grows quickly, putting out runners through the substrate to spread. You can prevent the plant from growing too tall by providing it with plenty of light. Essentially, the lower the light, the taller the grass will grow as it tries to reach the light.
Although dwarf sag doesn’t need carbon dioxide supplementation, it will do best if you provide it with liquid fertilizer and use a nutrient-rich plant substrate.
2. Lilaeopsis novae-zelandiae (Micro Sword)
- This Lilaeopsis species demands less light than Lilaeopsis novae-zelandiae , and stays also low (5-10 cm “lawn”).
- The plants height and distance between its leaves depend on the light intensity.
Micro sword looks like regular lawn grass, but it grows from a single rhizome. If you split each rhizome, you’ll find three or four individual grass blades on it, which you can replant as individual plants. More rhizomes then grow from each plant, gradually helping the carpet effect to develop across the bottom of your tank.
The plant grows to be around 7 inches tall. However, you do need to provide carbon dioxide, plenty of fertilizer, and strong lighting for the plant to grow. Basically, micro sword is an excellent choice for someone with a high-tech setup and aquascaping experience.
3. Echinodorus tenellus (Dwarf Chain Swords)
Dwarf chain swords are fast-growing carpet plants that reach 4 inches in height. These plants grow relatively easily without the need for carbon dioxide, although they do need high light levels to thrive and prefer plant substrate.
The plant spreads by putting out runners, quickly producing a dense carpet across the floor of your tank.
4. Eleocharis arcicularis/Eleocharis parvula (Dwarf Hairgrass)
Dwarf hairgrass is relatively easy to grow, reaching around 10 inches tall if given the right conditions. The plant produces a stunning, bright green bushy carpet across the substrate, making this one of the most popular aquatic grass plants in the hobby.
The plant spreads via runners and is extremely easy to propagate. You will, however, need to spend time trimming and thinning out the plants to prevent them from taking over the tank.
5. Marsilea minuta (Dwarf Water Clover)
Dwarf water clover is a slow-growing plant that needs high light levels to reach the ideal carpet growth of 4 inches tall.
The plant resembles a carpet of four-leafed clovers, sending out runners across the substrate to create a lovely, pale green carpet. This plant is not easy to grow, though, and it does need carbon dioxide supplementation to thrive. Another drawback to dwarf water clover is that it tends to start producing single or double-lobed leaves instead of four-leafed ones.
Click the link to buy dwarf water clover online.
6. Micranthemum tweediei (Monte Carlo)
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Monte Carlo is a popular, low-growing underwater plant that makes a great carpet specimen in an aquarium with medium to high lighting.
This plant is a relative newcomer to the trade that is relatively easy to grow, although you do need to provide the plants with carbon dioxide.
7. Marsilea hirsuta
Marsilea hirsuta is a low-light plant that is much easier to grow than its cousin, the dwarf water clover.
The plant sends out runners to self-propagate and produces attractive leaves with one to four lobes. Unlike other similar species, Marsilea hirsuta grows without carbon dioxide and extra fertilization. Although this plant does grow in low light, its stems may reach different heights as they seek the light.
Click the link to buy Marsilea hirsuta online.
8. Glossostigma elatinoides (Glosso)
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Glosso is extremely demanding and requires precise levels of lighting, carbon dioxide, and nutrients to grow well.
If you get the balance right, the plant grows to around 2 inches in height. However, you do need to site the plant out of the shadow of other plants and fish tank decoration; otherwise, it will attempt to grow taller to reach the light. The result of that overgrowth is a leggy, straggly plant that doesn’t look attractive.
When Glosso grows well, the result is a beautiful, short carpet of spade-shaped, vivid green leaves, making this plant a firm favorite with aquascaping enthusiasts.
9. Staurogyne repens
Staurogyne repens is a pretty carpet plant that puts up stiff stems to a height of about 4 inches. The plant is relatively undemanding and tough, so it’s a really good choice for a beginner. Carbon dioxide isn’t necessary for this plant, although it does need specific lighting levels.
Although the plant does need trimming periodically to keep the growth even, you can use the cuttings for propagation purposes. Simply plant the trimmings in the substrate, and they will take root, eventually growing into new plants. The only downside to S. repens is that it has a very slow growth rate.
10. Hemianthus callitrichoides (Dwarf Baby Tears)
- Hemianthus callitrichoides is one of the smallest aquarium plants in the world, and creeps over the bottom with millimetre-sized, round leaves.
- Hemianthus callitrichoides is an attractive and popular foreground plant for small aquariums.
Dwarf baby tears is a lovely looking plant that has a mass of tiny, bright green leaves atop stems that reach around 2 inches in height.
Unfortunately, this is not an easy plant to grow, needing high levels of carbon dioxide supplementation and temperatures of 75 degrees Fahrenheit or lower. If the temperature is higher than that, the plants will die.
Given ideal conditions, dwarf baby tears will colonize the tank bottom, sometimes rooting on driftwood and rocks, too.
How do I grow grass in my aquarium?
Now that you know what plants make good aquarium grasses, you’ll need to know more about how to grow and care for them.
How long does it take for aquarium grass to grow?
The growth rate for aquarium grass depends, to some extent, on the species of plant you choose.
Most hairgrass species take around seven to eight weeks to develop their initial root system. Once that’s happened, the plants begin to send out runners to cover the substrate. That process can take a few weeks, given the right amount of light, carbon dioxide, nutrients, and the correct water conditions for the plant species.
It’s a common misconception that you can simply set your plants into any type of substrate, and they will grow. The substrate that you use can make or break the success of your aquascaping ambitions.
Most species of carpet plants and aquarium grass do not thrive in gravel or sand substrate. Ideally, you need to plant these plants in aquarium soil substrate.
Most carpet plants have large root systems. Gravel and sand make it difficult for the plant’s roots to spread, whereas soil enables the root system to extend more easily across the tank bottom. Also, aquarium soil provides the plant with valuable extra nutrients.
Maintaining the correct lighting levels in your tank is the key to successfully growing aquarium grass.
Remember that carpet plants are the farthest from your lighting unit. Many low-growing plants will be forced to grow upward toward the light source, resulting in leggy, spindly growth.
Make sure that you provide adequate light for your plants, and you should end up with a lush carpet of bushy growth.
Why is my aquarium grass turning brown?
Aquarium plants generally turn brown and die off because of poor water quality or lack of light and nutrients.
Plants can act as the canary in the coalmine in your tank, alerting you to issues with your water before your fish are affected. If your plants aren’t thriving, test the water for high levels of ammonia, nitrites, and nitrates, and make sure that the pH levels and water temperature are suitable for the plants you’re growing.
If the water is not the problem, you may need to upgrade your lighting unit or provide your plants with carbon dioxide or liquid fertilizer to give them the boost they need.
Maintain your aquarium grass
Just like your lawn, aquarium grass needs trimming periodically to keep it in shape and looking tidy. Use proper aquascaping scissors for that job so that you don’t tear or damage the plant stems.
You also need to vacuum your carpet plants to remove fish waste and uneaten food that sinks to the bottom of the tank. Although plants use that waste as a food source, algae does, too, which can stifle the plants if algal growth gets out of control.
To vacuum your carpet plants, use a turkey baster to blow the detritus and muck out of the plant bases and then siphon it up. Vacuum your lawn each week when you carry out routine partial water changes.
A thick, bushy carpet of vibrant green aquarium grasses makes a stunning display in any tank.
Aquarium plants create the ideal environment for fry, shrimp, and bottom-dwelling fish species, and they also provide a surface on which biofilm and beneficial bacteria can grow.
If you have a low-tech setup, there’s still a decent choice of water plants to consider. Alternatively, you might want to upgrade your lighting rig and get into the fascinating world of aquascaping as well as fish keeping!