Dwarf Hairgrass: Care and Tank Setup

Dwarf hairgrass is a common and popular carpeting plant for planted aquariums. It is easy to care for and used by both experienced and beginner aquarists alike.

Aquarium tank with a variety of aquatic plants including Dwarf Hairgrass
Variety of aquatic plants, including Dwarf Hairgrass

When properly cared for, it creates a lush ground cover that mimics real grass. This plant is extremely versatile and can be used as a carpet or accent.

It adds a subtle yet pleasing beauty to aquascapes that have firmly entrenched it as a staple among aquatic plants.

Description and Basic Care

Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis acicularis) is the aquatic equivalent to the grass you might see outside on your lawn.

It is light green with thin, distinct leaves that resemble the blades of grass. It can grow up to 4 inches high and will spread into a thick carpet across your aquarium.

It is one of the most popular choices for carpeting plants. Though classified as a foreground plant, this refers to its initial placement in the aquarium.

Dwarf hairgrass should be planted at the front of the aquarium where it will have plenty of light and space to grow. After it’s established, it will spread on its own.

If properly cared for and maintained, this plant will last years in your aquarium.

It requires moderate to high lighting and regular fertilizer supplements, especially if there is no CO2 setup in the aquarium.

Snail in Dwarf hairgrass in a planted aquarium
A couple of apple snails enjoying the biofilm on the hairgrass

Natural Habitat and Propagation

Part of the Eleocharis parvula species, more commonly known as the spikesedge species, it can grow in freshwater, brackish, and even saltwater habitats. It is as often found in marshes and mudflats as it is in streams and lakes.

In aquaria, it’s known as spikerush and hairgrass.

Now, this plant is farm-raised and commercially available in almost every country. It most often comes available in pots and mats.

Tissue-cultured samples and aquacultured varieties are readily available, though often for a higher price.

It can be grown either fully or partially submerged, and reports differ as to which causes it to grow fastest.

This plan propagates using runners that will spread through the substrate.

However, these runners are very fragile. They need a soft substrate to spread. The substrate should also be fine, as course varieties can either crush the runners or make it difficult for them to spread.

Once secure, new leaves will sprout from the runners. Eventually, the dwarf hairgrass will cover all of the available substrate surface.

In the right conditions with all of its needs met, this plant can spread and grow very quickly. Once established, regular trimming will also encourage growth.

It is a popular spawning medium. Tank inhabitants also often use it for hiding, and you may see some fish (like betta) resting in it.

Basic Tank Setup

Dwarf hairgrass can grow in almost any size tank, which makes it a popular choice for both nano tanks and aquascapes in large aquariums.

However, larger tanks tend to have more stable water parameters. If you have a small tank, it can, therefore, be harder to take care of this plant.

But with the right care and a little determination, any aquarist can successfully grow a beautiful carpet of dwarf hairgrass.

Necessary Equipment

Aquarium plants may not require as much equipment as freshwater fish, but the equipment they do require is important to their survival and growth.

If you already have an established fish tank, chances are you already have most of the supplies listed below.

However, special attention should be paid to the lighting and substrate.

  • Filtration: Like most plants, hairgrass prefers water with at least some current in order to keep it from being stagnant. This also ensures nutrients and carbon dioxide are regularly refreshed, both of which this plant needs.
  • Heating: Dwarf hairgrass thrives in tropical temperatures, so warm water is a must. Because of this, a heater is required to make sure the aquarium water doesn’t get too cold, which could damage or even kill off this live plant.
  • Lighting: This plant requires moderate to strong lighting. Aquarium lights should produce at least two watts per gallon and have a color temperature of 5000 7000K. LED lights are often preferred because of their lifespan and durability.
  • Carbon Dioxide: Though not necessarily required, this plant will not propagate or grow quickly without CO2. A pressurized CO2 diffuser and canister setup will work, as will DIY setups and liquid dosings.
  • Substrate: As stated earlier, a fine and soft substrate is necessary in order for dwarf hairgrass to propagate and thrive. It is possible to create a carpet with a coarser substrate, but it will take significantly longer and require more transplants.

The lighting is likely to be the most expensive piece of equipment, especially if it’s LED and has customizable light settings. However, investing in a quality lighting system now will ensure your dwarf hairgrass lasts long into the future.

Depending on the CO2 option you choose, this may also be expensive. Traditional canister filters can be very costly.

However, DIY setups and liquid dosings are more affordable options. They are also better suited to smaller aquariums.

If you don’t use CO2, you’ll need to provide extra fertilizer to make up for this.

Root tabs are a popular method of providing nutrients. Fertilizers also come in liquid form, just like the CO2, and some substrates are also designed with slow-release plant fertilizers.

Water Parameters

Dwarf hairgrass isn’t the easiest plant to care for, but neither is it particularly high maintenance. Instead, it only requires moderate care for it to thrive and spread into a healthy carpet.

  • Temperature: This carpeting plant does best in tropical temperatures. A range of 7083°F is acceptable and will allow for easy growth.
  • pH Range:For the best results, keep the aquarium pH between 6.57.5. When in doubt, err towards neutral.
  • KH Range: Unlike other plants, dwarf hairgrass has a small KH range of just 48, which can be more difficult to maintain.
  • Lighting: This plant requires moderate lighting and at least eight hours of light per day. It does best on a regular cycle, so automatic lights are beneficial.
  • Fertilizer: Like most plants, dwarf hairgrass does best with regular doses of fertilizer supplements.

Just like fish, aquarium plants require specific water parameters to thrive and maintain a steady growth rate. Meeting the parameters above will ensure your hairgrass carpet remains healthy and strong.

Tank Inhabitants

Dwarf hairgrass is a great plant to have in all aquariums. It is moderately easy to care for, creates a beautiful carpet, and is not generally a target of plant-nibbling fish.

It also provides a place for fish to spawn, rest, and hide. Some common inhabitants in tanks with dwarf hairgrass may include:

Hairgrass can also be paired with other types of aquarium plants. It does well with other ground coverings and mid- to background plants.

It’s not aggressive and won’t suck your aquarium dry of water-borne or substrate nutrients. Because of this, any plants that other fish prefer or need can also thrive in the tank.

Use for Aquascapes and Aquariums

Similar to how homeowners may choose which type of grass best suits their needs, aquarists can use dwarf hairgrass in a variety of ways to best suit the tank.

It is most popular as a ground cover and carpeting plant.

This is accomplished by planting tight clumps of grass. The clumps should be placed in a grid pattern with roughly a half-inch to an inch of space surrounding it.

Eventually, they will connect and spread, creating a dense lawn across your substrate.

However, some people prefer to use this as an accent plant. This is more easily accomplished with coarser substrates, as the transplanted clumps will not spread as quickly.

The height of dwarf hairgrass can also be adjusted to fit whatever aquascape you may be creating.

This plant has a sort of “memory” with regard to trimming.

If you regularly trim your hairgrass, it will quickly adapt and only grow to that height. But if you let it grow without cutting it, this will result in hairgrass variety with longer stems.

Some aquarists have layered dwarf hairgrass for an impressive styling effect.

Common Issues

One of the most common problems with this aquarium plant is algae. Once established in the tank, algae will quickly take root in dwarf hairgrass.

Because of its fine stems and carpeting nature, it can then be difficult to remove algae from it and prevent future algae growth.

Another issue is an imbalance in the fertilizers and amount of lighting.

If this plant receives too much lighting and not enough CO2 and fertilizers, or vice versa, it won’t grow quickly and may not form a carpet. Such imbalances can also lead to algae breakouts.

Growing a Dwarf Hairgrass Carpet

Dwarf hairgrass is one of the most beautiful ground coverings available.

It adds a refreshing look to the aquarium and creates movement and life as it moves with the current. Its lush carpet provides aesthetic and tactile pleasure to both onlookers and fish within the tank.

Easy to care for and popular among beginner and experienced hobbyists, dwarf hairgrass is a staple for any tank with live plants.

Its true value lies in its simple yet pleasing presentation. It can be used to weave an element of uniformity or uniqueness throughout the tank.

Capture a small piece of nature within your aquarium and enjoy this plant for years to come.