dwarf hairgrass care carpeting

Dwarf Hairgrass Care: Growing, Carpeting, & Planting

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If you’ve ever coveted your neighbor’s lawn, chances are good you’ve also wanted your neighbor’s lawn-like tank. It’s hard not to be envious of the dense lawn-like cover that dwarf hairgrass provides in some beautifully aquascaped tanks.

Dwarf hairgrass is one of the easiest carpeting plants to grow, well, Eleocharis acicularis and Eleocharis parvula are anyway, and both are sold under the “hairgrass” or “dwarf hairgrass” moniker. However, this does not make it an “easy” aquarium plant. Although, if you put in the time, effort, and – occasionally – money, the results are phenomenal and it’ll reward you with a lush lawn-like appearance.

Dwarf hair grass can, undoubtedly, be done in low-tech aquascape tanks – but you’re asking for more of a chore if you want it to thrive. Under the right conditions – usually with high lighting, Co2, special aquatic plant substrates, and fertilizers – hair grass can grow exceptionally fast and reaches heights from 3″ – 5″ (7 – 13 cm.) Generally speaking, the more intense your lighting is, the shorter it will stay.

Getting any plant to carpet your tank any time soon without the use of Co2 can be incredibly difficult. So, unless you want to buy your way to a carpet, Co2 might be your only option of getting there any time in the next two years. This is especially true if you don’t use an aquatic plant substrate such as Carbon Eco Complete or ADA Aqua Soil. Although you can get dwarf hair grass to carpet across any substrate, it’s much easier when you use a plant-specific substrate capped with sand, Co2, and fertilizers.

Shrimp are particularly fond of this plant; however, you can use it with almost any fish or inverts. It provides exceptional cover for breeding tanks with fish that may predate upon their fry, such as guppies and some egg scatterers, such as neon tetra. It’s not the best for tanks with fish like corydoras or other bottom dwellers that prefer being over sand substrates to sift through for tasty tidbits. 

dwarf hairgrass species card

FAQ

Dwarf hair grass employs runners. This means, quite simply, it sends off roots to explore the substrate around it and bed down where they see fittest for growth. You can accelerate the growth by choosing a soil with a small granule size, such as sand, this makes it easier for dwarf hairgrass roots to dig into. 

You can, in fact, grow dwarf hairgrass in a course substrate -such as gravel – but there are a couple of things that may be worth considering before you attempt to. Your plant will have a harder time growing as runners won’t spread as easily. It’s also harder to add root tabs into gravel and place them where they should be. And, probably the biggest point, even if you manage to not have an issue with the above two things, if you do get it to carpet it won’t be as thick and lush and will look more lumpy and spotty. 

It depends on the intensity of your lighting. The more intense the lighting, the shorter it will stay because it won’t have to “reach” for the light. Although it generally doesn’t get any taller than 5″.

Yes and no. No, it’s not the easiest plant to grow, but it is the easiest carpeting plant to grow. It often requires a more advanced (read: expensive) setup with fertilizers, lighting, substrate, and Co2 to do well. You can, however, grow dwarf hairgrass in a low-tech setup, it just won’t carpet as well – if ever.

This is generally true for any plant that you want to carpet. Other than Java moss, most plants won’t carpet well without the above things. All that aside, you won’t kill dwarf hairgrass without fancy equipment. 

To live? No, it doesn’t. But if you want to make a carpet worthy of photographs, it’ll probably need Co2 to take off anytime in the next few years. Without Co2, it’s difficult to get any plant – other than java moss – to carpet in tanks larger than 5 gallons. 
So, if you have a nano tank, it probably won’t need Co2 to carpet.

Dwarf Hairgrass Care

The natural range of dwarf hairgrass – or hairgrass – depends on the species in question. Between the three, they range from North America to Europe to Asia and South America. All species are found in shallow areas with high lighting, such as around shorelines. For the most part, the care of all three species is about the same.
 
Dwarf hairgrass grows best with liquid fertilizer and nutrient-rich substrate. You can either opt to buy an aquatic plant substrate such as Eco-Complete, or you can enrich your substrate with root tabs. It also does well with medium to high lighting. Dwarf hairgrass can’t be planted in the shade of other plants since cannot photosynthesize in shaded areas. Additionally, it does much better with Co2, but most plants do. For these reasons, it’s certainly not considered a “beginner plant” by most standards, but it’s not the most challenging plant.
 
It does best in acidic to neutral water with a from 6.5 to 7.5, with a dKH range from 2 – 10. It can survive temperatures from 50 – 83F (10 – 20C,) but it does much better in the mid-70’s F (Low-20’s C.) Sand is a popular option for dwarf hair grass substrate as it’s easiest to push the roots through. The plant also has an easier time sending runners over sand for the same reason; you can opt to add a layer of aquatic plant soil beneath the sand.
 
Planting your dwarf hairgrass is one of the most critical but often overlooked steps. If done incorrectly, your plant will likely not carpet well, or it’ll die completely.  When planting, bury the roots entirely in the substrate, but be aware that all blades of the “grass” need to be above the substrate. 
 
 Most people will attempt to plant the entire pot in one bunch and hope that the plant will carpet. Although more time-consuming, a better plan is taking the plant out of the container. Once out, separate it into smaller chunks with a handful of blades per piece. Plant those chunks deep into the substrate with some tweezers far enough apart from each other to allow for growth. If you trim the some of the blades a few days after planting, it will stimulate it to grow horizontally.
 
Similarly, if your plant is growing taller than it is horizontally once it’s settled, you might want to up your lighting schedule or give it a trim. The lower the lighting, the taller the plant will grow, the higher the light, the more horizontally it will grow. 
Dwarf hairgrass
dwarf hairgrass

Common Problems

I hope we’ve already established at this point that dwarf hairgrass is not without its hair – er, make that fair – share of issues. But, the above aside, here are the most common issues dwarf hairgrass will probably have in your tank:

aquarium plant deficiencies

A Lack Of Nutrients

Fast growing plants can cause two – er, maybe three – major nutrient issues.

  1. They can choke out other plants by out-competing them for nutrients. Eventually the plants that can’t compete will slowly die. 
  2. They can soak up so many nutrients that they choke themselves out.
  3. They can out-compete your fish for the same nutrients in the water – especially fry. 

You can fix this issue by doing more water changes to replace nutrients or you can add fertilizers to the water to similarly replace nutrients. Although, both methods will require some tinkering and fine-tuning to get right.

algae on plants

Algae

Algae growth is a common problem, it will eventually choke out plants or outcompete them. Algae is a sign of an unbalanced ecosystem, either there is too much light or there are too many nutrients in the water, without one of these opportunities it wouldn’t be able to take hold.

Too much light is an obvious remedy to fix, If you have an adjustable light, you can reduce the intensity. Or you can opt for shorter light cycles and, if you have soft water fish, you can consider adding tannins to the water to dub down the lighting intensity. If those options don’t work for you, you could add floating plants to block some light so long as you don’t have high-light plants that would be affected.
Too many nutrients can come from overfeeding, overstocking, or adding too much fertilizer to the water.

You can fix this by feeding less, upgrading your tank size, reducing the number of fish in your tank, or adding fast growing plants into the equation.

plant melting

Melting

Melting is incredibly common in aquatic plants as most of them are grown above water. If you pluck off the dying parts of the plant before they start rotting, the new aquatic growth should appear soon enough, and it’ll do just fine.

if your plant isn’t new and it’s melting, that’s a whole other story that we can’t quickly cover here, so I wrote a whole article on it.

carpeting plant slow growth

Slow Growth

When it comes to carpeting plant growing slowly, it usually comes down to one of three things. It could be that it was planted improperly and it doesn’t have enough space to spread out and grow. Another option is that the fertilizers, Co2, or lighting isn’t high enough. It’s difficult to adjust these additions without possibly inviting algae into your tank. It could also be that the substrate isn’t right for the particular plant.

carpeting plant not carpeting

It's Not Carpeting

When a carpeting plant isn’t carpeting, it usually comes down to a lack of one of four things; lighting, lack of fertilizer in the water column, Co2, or lack of fertilizer in the substrate. Most carpeting plants need fertilizer in both the water column and the substrate in order to carpet properly. It could, however, also be that it was planted improperly or that there’s an imbalance between the Co2, light, and fertilizers that are causing algae issues – which will impede growth. 

If you feel like all the above things are in check and you’re still not seeing carpeting growth, you could always try trimming and see if that helps it grow horizontally rather than vertically. It also could be that the shoots are having a hard time digging into your substrate. If you have something like gravel, you’ll have a harder time than if you had something like sand where the roots are easier to sink in to. Or, adding to the confusion, it could be a temperature or water parameter problem – there’s no easy way to diagnose it without specifics.

Dwarf Hairgrass Maintenance

Dwarf hair grass will need regular trimming to ensure that the bottom of the plant isn’t deprived of water movement. Trimming dwarf hair grass also stimulates the plant to grow horizontally rather than upwards. This is true even if you’re using C02 and high lighting. Trimming might be a skill that you need to invest in to ensure that at looks natural and stead of choppy. Cutting dwarf hairgrass is as simple as removing the tops of the leaves by using angled scissors – I imagine a lot like pruning a lawn with scissors. 
 
 It’s a good idea to keep a net handy to get as much a the trimmings out of the water column as possible. Its possible excess trimmings left in the tank could clog your filter or, at the very least, rot. If you have snails or other cleanup crew members in the tank, rotting likely won’t be an issue. But, if you’re using a canister filter or a hang on back, clogging could potentially become a problem.
 
Most people opt for aquatic soil underneath a cap of sand. This allows for nutrient absorption from the roots once they reached the second layer, as well as the ability for roots to sink into the sand substrate quickly. Once the nutrients in the aquatic soil run out, however, you will have to add root tabs to re-enrich the soil. Unless you want to rip up your whole tank – which I’m guessing you don’t.
 
Additionally, if you’re using fertilizers and Co2, as the plant grows, you may need to tinker with your dosing schedule. This isn’t specific to dwarf hairgrass, but it’s a consideration worth noting. With that said, if you’re not running fertilizers and Co2, battling algae may be on your maintenance schedule. There isn’t one route that’s easier than the other, per se.

Propagation

Propagating dwarf hairgrass isn’t as easy as it is with some other plants, such as Java fern, Java moss, or hornwort. You have to wait for the plant to decide to propagate on its own, any cuttings of the plant won’t be able to grow their own roots.

It’s best to wait for dwarf hair grass to send off runners, which have roots, and wait for those shoots to develop blades of grass. From there, you can cut off sections of the runners from the mother plant if you want to. However, if you’re trying to go for a carpet, this probably isn’t the best tactic.

If propagation isn’t happening as fast as you like, you can speed up the process with higher lights, fertilizers, Co2, trimming the top to encourage shoots, or raising the water temperature if it’s in the low range. But, again, you’re just trying to help the plant propagate – you can’t force it to carpet. 

Is Dwarf Hairgrass A Good Carpeting Plant?

I mean, have you seen the pictures of a dwarf hair grass carpet?
 
Under the right conditions, dwarf hair grass multiplies rapidly. This means it can soak up a ton of things in your tank, such as ammonia, nitrate, and nitrite. So, not only does it helps keep your water quality up, but it adds oxygen back in your water. It also provides shelter for stressed-out fish and fry that may otherwise not avoid predation.
 
Okay, but, let’s be honest – those benefits come with any carpeting plant, don’t they? Perhaps almost any fast-growing plant. Alright, I’ll concede to that point. But, let’s keep in mind that dwarf hairgrass is arguably the easiest carpeting plant you could buy. So if you want a carpet, dwarf hairgrass is undoubtedly worth the minimal amount of work you’d have to put in to get there – relatively speaking, that is.
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