Did you know that lawns aren’t just for your backyard? With both plant species of Eleocharis (E. parvula and E. acicularis), better known as dwarf hairgrass, you can create one in your tank as well. This aquarium grass is just the right size for creating lush green fields. As an added bonus, it’s easier to grow than many other carpeting plants and doesn’t necessarily require a high-tech set-up.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about growing dwarf hairgrass and creating a dwarf hairgrass carpet in your own tank!
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In the aquarium trade, both Eleocharis parvula and Eleocharis acicularis are referred to as dwarf hairgrass. Formally, E. parvula is known as dwarf spikerush, small spikerush, and hairgrass; E. acicularis is known as needle spikerush and least spikerush. Both species of the plant come from the Cyperaceae family but slightly vary in distribution and appearance.
E. parvula is naturally found in brackish and saltwater environments across North America, Europe, much of Asia, and some parts of South America. Because of its widespread distribution, this dwarf plant does not live in highly specific habitats. However, it is commonly found growing like a carpet in areas that resemble marsh or mudflat conditions.
E. acicularis has a little more of a defined distribution, with occurrences in Europe, North America, northeastern South America, central and southeastern Asia, and Australia; however, it was probably introduced to Australia and is not a natural population. E. acicularis also grows in dense mats in marshes and at the muddy edges of pools and streams.
When shopping for this plant, it can be difficult to differentiate between the two species. E. parvula reaches a maximum size of about 4 inches (10 cm) and tends to have a ‘curly’ characteristic and is slightly darker than E. acicularis. On the other hand, E. acicularis can grow to about 12 inches (30 cm) and is usually a lighter green.
A quick glance in the aquarium will leave you very confused; even under closer inspection, it is very difficult to tell the two species apart. Most times, this dwarf plant is advertised as E. acicularis regardless of the true species. Other than waiting for your plant to grow to see its maximum size, your best bet is buying from another experienced aquarium keeper or a store that really specializes in aquatic grass plants.
Planting dwarf hairgrass
In most cases, dwarf hairgrass comes in a little plastic pot with its roots growing in a dense, wool-like clump. The first thing you’ll have to do to plant your new grass in your aquarium is to remove it from its cup and carefully free the roots from their wooly prison. This can be a rather lengthy process and you’ll have to be careful not to damage the roots too much. Separating the grass into little bits using tweezers can help; you’ll be planting only a few leaves at a time anyway.
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 strands of grass. Make sure you bury the roots enough to prevent the leaves from floating up to the surface but don’t cover too much.
Don’t worry if your brand new grass carpet looks a little sad and bare at first. This plant multiplies by putting out runners, which means it’ll fill out into a proper lawn soon enough. More about this process is described in the section on growing a dwarf hairgrass carpet below!
Dwarf hairgrass requirements
One of the reasons dwarf hairgrass is so commonly used as a foreground plant in aquascapes is that it’s a lot less demanding than many other carpeting species. Although you’ll still need at least medium light to grow it, you can forego added CO2 in most cases. Do consider using root tabs and/or maintaining a regular fertilization schedule or your plant might eventually end up looking a little sparse.
Keep in mind that like any carpeting plant, dwarf hairgrass needs to be trimmed regularly in most cases. Remove the tops of the leaves using angled scissors to keep your lawn looking perfect and to make sure the bottom parts aren’t deprived of freshwater.
Can you grow dwarf hairgrass in gravel?
While it is possible to grow this grass in gravel, it is not advised. These plants use shallow runners to propagate, and gravel does not make this process any easier. Fine substrates, like sand, will allow your grass to spread more easily and more quickly.
Dwarf hairgrass tankmates
Because this plant grows like grass on the bottom of your tank, it provides additional hiding spots for fish in the foreground of your tank, as opposed to other plants that keep your fish pushed in the background. There aren’t too many restrictions in terms of what fish can go with this plant in an aquarium setting; as long as the species of fish isn’t known to favor greens, then they are compatible.
The main problem you’re likely to run into is with invertebrates; many species of snail will eat any plant they come across. Within a few days, it is possible that your grass could be completely eaten! On the other hand, shrimp love it and many aquarium keepers specifically plant this grass for their shrimp to breed and spawn in.
Dwarf hairgrass and other plants
It is important to consider what other types of plants you plan on putting in your aquarium before getting this grass. While it looks beautiful taking over the bottom of your tank, it is also taking a lot of nutrients out of the water to grow and sustain itself. This can cause other plants in your tank to not get as many nutrients as they need to properly grow as well. Even more so, the grass could potentially begin to grow on top of the other plants, further restricting their uptake.
While this problem is easily treatable by simply pruning and trimming away any unwanted grass or supplementing additional nutrients, it is extra maintenance to consider.
Problems with dwarf hairgrass
- Dwarf hairgrass turning brown: If the dwarf hairgrass in your tank just isn’t doing that well and seems to be turning brown and dying off more than it’s growing, you’re probably dealing with a lack of nutrients. Try testing your water and setting up a fertilization schedule with a fertilizer that contains the required macronutrients (nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium) if they turn out to be lacking in your aquarium.
- Dwarf hairgrass covered in algae: Dwarf hairgrass can be pretty vulnerable to hair algae accumulation. Hair algae and other algae types are an indication that you’ve got an imbalance of nutrients or lighting going on somewhere in your tank: too much light, too little CO2, high nitrates can all cause a nasty algae infestation. Have a look at this article for more information on identifying and solving the exact problem.
- Old dwarf hairgrass growth dying after planting: If you just planted dwarf hairgrass in your tank, don’t be surprised if its existing leaves seem to be looking sad. 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 sheds its old ’emersed’ leaves. Try cutting the grass down to about an inch (2.5 cm) to speed up the process.
Dwarf hairgrass carpet
If you want to grow a dwarf hairgrass carpet in your aquarium, make sure all the requirements for lush growth have been met. If you just want a few tufts of grass here and there, you can probably get away with slightly lower light and not too many added nutrients. But to achieve an actual grass carpet, a little more dedication is needed. Lighting should be medium to high and added CO2 can be really helpful in making your dwarf plant grow throughout your tank.
There are two ways for your plant to become a full-blown carpet of dwarf hairgrass. If you want an instant carpet for your aquarium, you’ll have to invest a little in getting multiple larger cups of the plant so you can cover the entire bottom of your tank immediately. Because this route can get a little costly, most aquarium keepers choose the slightly slower method of letting the dwarf hairgrass fill in their tank naturally.
To grow your dwarf hairgrass carpet without breaking the bank, separate one or two cups into a bunch of separate strands (a maximum of around 5 leaves per strand). Plant these about half an inch apart in your tank and be patient. You should see new leaves starting to pop up after a few weeks once the hairgrass has established; it will fill in by itself if under the right conditions. If you want to help the process out a little you can always ‘transplant’ a few leaves to the other places in your tank that have stayed bare.
How long does it take dwarf hairgrass to root?
Although this species has a shallow root system, it could actually take a while for the plant to get comfortable in the substrate depending on the conditions in your tank. Many aquarists report an average time of a couple of months for their plant to have successfully taken root and to start spreading. As mentioned before, finer substrates will make it easier for the roots to spread.
Buying dwarf hairgrass
Itching to start growing your own dwarf hairgrass carpet? You’ll be able to find this popular plant–either Eleocharis parvula or Eleocharis acicularis–in most aquarium stores, although unfortunately, quality can really vary. You can also buy dwarf hairgrass online from reputable brands; try tissue culture if you want to make sure your plant is 100% free of any nasty pests or algae as well as lush and healthy. You can buy tissue cultured dwarf hairgrass on Amazon here!