The news is in: having a lush lawn isn’t just for your yard! Did you know that you can grow one in your fish tank, too?
Aquarium grass is extremely popular with aquascaping professionals and aquarium trade hobbyists who use it to create a vibrant green carpet across the substrate. Of the carpet plant species available in the trade, Dwarf hairgrass is by far the most popular choice; it’s easy to grow and care for, and it doesn’t demand a high-tech setup to thrive, making it a great plant for beginners.
Read this guide to learn all you need to know about growing Dwarf hairgrass in your aquarium.
What Is Dwarf Hairgrass?
There are two species of Dwarf hairgrass:
- Eleocharis parvula
- Eleocharis acicularis
Eleocharis parvula is also commonly called Dwarf Spikerush, Small Spikerush, and hairgrass. Eleocharis acicularis is known as Needle Spikerush and Least Spikerush.
Both species of Dwarf hairgrass belong to the Cyperaceae family but vary slightly in both distribution and appearance.
Distribution And Habitat
- Eleocharis parvula is naturally found in brackish pools and saltwater environments across North America, Europe, much of Asia, and some parts of South America.
The plant generally grows like a dense carpet of grass in marshy areas and mudflats.
- Eleocharis acicularis can be found in Europe, North America, northeastern South America, and central and southeastern Asia. The plant is also found in parts of Australia where it’s an invasive, rather than a natural, species.
E. acicularis grows in dense mats in marshes and at the muddy edges of pools and streams.
How To Identify Dwarf Hairgrass
Differentiating between these two species of Dwarf hairgrass can be challenging, especially when you’re buying young plants.
- When mature, E. parvula reaches a maximum height of about 4 inches (10 cm), and the blades of grass tend to have a “curly” characteristic, slightly darker than E. acicularis.
- In comparison, E. acicularis can grow to about 12 inches tall (30 cm) and is usually a lighter shade of green.
Most often, this aquatic plant species is advertised as E. acicularis,regardless of what it truly is. Other than waiting for your dwarf plant to grow to see its maximum size, your best bet is to buy your plants from an experienced producer or a store that specializes in aquatic plants.
Dwarf hairgrass will grow in both temperate and tropical water, and tank conditions should reflect that.
For ideal plant growth, the water temperature should be between 50° and 85°F. The water’s pH should be in the range of 6.5 to 7.5, with a water hardness of between 2 and 10 dKH.
Because of its size, Dwarf hairgrass grows best in larger tanks, with a minimum tank size of at least 10 gallons.
Lighting is extremely important for Dwarf hairgrass since a healthy plant depends on photosynthesis to thrive.
Dwarf hairgrass won’t grow in low-light or shady aquariums with inadequate lighting. However, the plants will grow under most regular aquarium lights. Remember not to plant the hairgrass where other taller plants will block its access to light.
Without enough light, the dwarf plant will grow tall and leggy. In contrast, when it has plenty of light, it will form a dense lawn of bright green carpeting across the substrate.
Good water circulation in the tank is essential for Dwarf Hairgrass and all healthy planted tanks.
A good supply of CO2 and nutrients to the hairgrass is crucial to produce the vigorous growth and spread that you want. Good water circulation not only provides the plants with the nutrients they need but also gives algae a harder time growing between the plant stems.
How To Choose Dwarf Hairgrass Plants
Make sure you have healthy plants so they benefit from having the best start possible. Starting with damaged, sickly plants means they most likely won’t grow or will die off a couple of days after planting.
Healthy Dwarf hairgrass plants should have vibrant, bright green leaf blades with long roots that enable the plant to absorb nutrients from the nutrient-rich substrate. Ultimately, with healthy growth, the plants should be able to support their own weight.
Avoid plants that appear damaged with torn leaves or brown patches on the leaves. Plants with such damage will not acclimatize easily to a new environment and will struggle to photosynthesize efficiently.
How To Care For Dwarf Hairgrass
Dwarf hairgrass is commonly used as a foreground plant in aquascapes because its care requirements are a lot less demanding than many other carpeting species.
Although the plant needs medium light levels to grow, you don’t need to add CO2 in most cases. However, we do advise that you consider using root tabs and/or maintaining regular fertilization with liquid fertilizer to promote optimal growth.
Keep in mind that, like any carpeting plant, dwarf hairgrass needs regular trimming. To tidy the plants, remove the tops of the leaves using angled scissors for aquascaping. This helps to keep your aquatic grass looking perfect and ensures the bottom parts of the plants aren’t deprived of freshwater.
What Are Ideal Tank Mates For Dwarf Hairgrass?
As Dwarf hairgrass grows on the bottom of your tank, it provides additional hiding spots for many types of fish in the foreground of your tank.
Shrimp, for example, love hairgrass, and many aquarium keepers specifically use this plant species to provide a spawning ground for their shrimp.
Fish Species To Avoid If You Have Dwarf Hairgrass
There aren’t many restrictions regarding what fish species live harmoniously with this plant in an aquarium setup.
However, you should avoid introducing fish that eat plant matter, and bottom-dwelling fish that are confirmed diggers are also best left out of the community, or they will uproot your carefully manicured aquatic lawn! So, fish species, such as goldfish and some varieties of large cichlids, won’t be a good fit for this plant.
Most species of snails are a definite no-no, as they will soon cut a swathe through the delicate fronds of Dwarf hairgrass.
Keeping Dwarf Hairgrass With Other Plants
It is important to consider what other types of plants you plan on putting in your aquarium before planting Dwarf hairgrass.
While hairgrass looks beautiful taking over the bottom of your tank, it also takes excess nutrients out of the water to grow and sustain itself. That can deprive other plants in your tank of the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
While this problem is easily treatable by simply pruning and trimming away any unwanted grass or supplementing additional nutrients, you do need to consider the extra maintenance.
Dwarf Hairgrass Troubleshooting
Although Dwarf Hairgrass is a hardy plant once it becomes established, you may still experience a small range of problems.
Leaves Turning Brown
If your vibrant green carpet of hairgrass suddenly turns brown, it’s probably due to a lack of nutrients.
Test the water to see if nutrients are lacking, and supplement the plants with an aquarium plant fertilizer containing the required macronutrients that the plants need to grow, including nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
Unfortunately, Dwarf hairgrass is fairly vulnerable to hair algae growth.
An overgrowth of algae is an indication that you’ve got an imbalance of nutrients or lighting going on somewhere in your tank. If you have inadequate lighting, too little CO2, and high nitrates, it can cause a nasty algae infestation.
Check out this article for more information on identifying and solving problems with hair algae.
New Plants Dying After Planting
If you just planted Dwarf hairgrass in your tank, don’t be surprised if the plant’s existing leaves start melting off.
Many aquarium plants are grown emersed (above the water surface), which means they’re not used to being underwater. As long as new growth looks healthy, it’s not necessarily indicative of a problem if your Dwarf hairgrass is melting old leaves.
Try cutting the grass down to about an inch (2.5 cm) to see the fastest growth of new leaves.
How Do You Grow Dwarf Hairgrass From Seeds?
Although it’s generally easier to allow your Dwarf hairgrass to self-propagate through sending out root runners, you can also grow the plants from seeds.
- Start by beginning the process in an empty tank without water in it.
- Spread the seeds evenly across the bottom of the aquarium.
- Now, add mud, sand, or another coarse substrate over the top of the seeds. This prevents the tiny seeds from floating away when you add water to the tank.
- Add water to moisten the layer of substrate without flooding it.
- The seeds will germinate within a week or so. As the seeds grow, you can gradually add more water to the tank.
Note that you can’t grow Dwarf hairgrass from cuttings. The plants won’t put out roots from the cuttings, and you risk killing the plants.
How To Plant Dwarf Hairgrass
In most cases, dwarf hairgrass comes in a little plastic pot with its roots growing in a Rockwool base. The plant in the pot is actually a number of individual plantlets with separate roots.
- The first thing you’ll have to do is to remove the plants from the cup and carefully free each plantlet from the Rockwool. That can be a rather lengthy process, and you’ll have to be careful not to damage the roots too much.
- Separate the grass into separate plants using aquascaping tweezers; you’ll be planting only a few leaves at a time.
- A coarse, sandy substrate is probably the best choice for growing dwarf hairgrass, as it allows the plant to root easily without suffocating it. Use your aquarium tweezers to plant separate grass plants.
- You must plant the plants with their roots in the substrate but their blades above, ideally to a depth of about 2 inches. The blades of the plant must be above the substrate for photosynthesis, or the plant will die.
- Make sure you bury the roots deep enough to prevent the leaves from floating up to the surface but don’t cover them too much.
You can grow Dwarf hairgrass as a carpet or as individual, tufty clumps that can look just as attractive.
For single clumps of hairgrass, simply plant a few strands of hairgrass well-spaced around the bottom of your tank to give depth and perspective to your aquarium.
Growing A Dwarf Hairgrass Carpet
If you want to grow a healthy carpet in your aquarium, make sure all the requirements for lush growth, as described above, have been met. Lighting levels should be medium to high and added CO2 could be really helpful in boosting growth and encouraging your dwarf plants to spread throughout your tank.
There are two ways for your plants to be transformed into a full-blown carpet of dwarf hairgrass.
To create an instant carpet in your fish tank, you’ll need to invest in buying several pots of the plant. That will enable you to cover the entire bottom of your tank with plants immediately.
The main disadvantage of that method is that it can be quite costly, depending on the size of your fish tank.
The most economical way of growing a Dwarf hairgrass carpet requires a little patience on your behalf.
- Separate one or two pots of hairgrass into bunches of around five strands of plants.
- Plant the bunches of strands around an inch apart across the tank floor. Wait for the new plants to become established over a few weeks or so.
- New leaves will then begin to appear. Over the next few weeks, the plants will send out runners and begin to grow and spread.
Generally, it takes a month or more for the plants to become established, depending on the conditions in the aquarium.
Dwarf hairgrass is a very popular aquarium plant that you’ll find for sale in most fish stores and from aquatic plant specialists.
The plants retail for around $10 per pot.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are the answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about growing Dwarf hairgrass.
Q: Can you grow Dwarf hairgrass in gravel?
A: While it is possible to grow Dwarf hairgrass in gravel, it is not advised. These plants use shallow runners to propagate, and gravel can make this process difficult. Fine substrates, such as sand, will allow your grass to spread more easily and more quickly.
If you plant your hairgrass in gravel, your carpet will most likely appear sparse and uneven, so sand is the way to go for the best results.
Q: Does Dwarf hairgrass need soil to grow?
No, Dwarf hairgrass doesn’t need soil to grow. The plant will grow happily in a sandy substrate.
Q: Will Dwarf hairgrass grow on driftwood?
A: Although some hobbyists have had some success in growing Dwarf hairgrass on driftwood, that’s rather hit and miss. The plant has a root system that ideally should be buried in the substrate, so it’s not ideal to try to attach the plant to wood or rocks.
Dwarf hairgrass is a beautiful carpet plant that’s relatively easy to grow in both temperate and tropical tanks.
These plants are self-propagating, so you can start with a few plants and soon have a lush, green carpet adorning the substrate of your aquarium. Dwarf hairgrass is readily available from most good fish stores and online suppliers for a modest price, or you can have a go at growing your own plants from seeds.
Did you grow a carpet of Dwarf hairgrass in your aquarium? Tell us how you did it in the comments box below.