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Dwarf hairgrass, Eleocharis pusilla (parvula), is very popular with aquarists who want a bright and vibrant carpeting plant. In this article, I’ll be explaining the basics Dwarf Hairgrass care. This is a type of grass that’s commonly found in planted aquariums and can create a beautiful underwater landscape for your fish. It’s important to know how to properly maintain the plant so you’re able to enjoy it for longer!
These aquarium plants are great for beginners, provided they start out with decent lighting, carbon dioxide injection, and the right substrate. Read on to learn how to grow and care for this aquarium grass!
A Brief Overview Of Dwarf Hairgrass
|Scientific Name||Eleocharis Parvula|
|Common Names||Dwarf Hairgrass, Dwarf Spikerush, Small spikerush|
|Lighting||Low, 35-50 PAR (Umols)|
|Tank Placement||Foreground, Midground, Carpeting|
|Temperature Range||50 – 85 F|
|Height||2 – 3 inches|
|pH Range||6.5 – 7.5|
|Propagation||Division of runners|
|Feed Type||Root Feeder|
Origins And Habitat
Dwarf hairgrass is an aquarium plant with a confusing heritage. Although this freshwater plant is usually sold and known as Eleocharis parvula, experts have determined that the popular plant we grow in our home aquariums is, in fact, correctly known as Eleocharis pusilla.
E. parvula is a species from North America, Europe, Asia, and South America that prefers brackish conditions in habitats like estuaries and coastal mudflats.
The dwarf hairgrass that is commonly sold in the aquarium trade is actually a plant from Australia and New Zealand. Dwarf hairgrass natural habitat consists of shallow freshwater environments like wetlands, marshes, and along slow-flowing rivers.
These aquatic plants are adapted to the fluctuating water levels that result from dry seasons and rainy periods so they can survive underwater or emersed.
Dwarf Hairgrass Appearance
Dwarf hairgrass (picture source) is a vibrant bright green carpeting plant with fine, slightly curled leaf blades. It creates a very soft, lush green texture on the bottom of the tank.
Dwarf hairgrass grows very densely in good growing conditions and produces fine white roots. The roots are not visible above the substrate surface but look very interesting if the plant is grown up to the glass of the tank.
In appearance, the dwarf hairgrass plant is one of the closest matches for the kind of grass we see out on dry land. It is a small species, not usually growing taller than about 3 inches, and it creates a very dense lawn.
Placement And Lighting
Dwarf hair grass is essentially a carpeting plant that can work anywhere on the bottom of the aquarium. In larger tanks, this species also makes a great foreground plant.
This plant provides a beautiful green look to the aquascape and looks amazing in Iwagumi and minimalist aquascapes. Its grass-like texture makes it an ideal choice for complimenting driftwood bonsais.
Dwarf hairgrass can be mixed with other carpet plant species for nature aquariums but they can outcompete other smaller groundcovers if allowed to.
Once planted, these aquatic plants will spread widely by runners so keep that in mind when laying out your aquascape.
In nature, hairgrass is not found growing in the shade, and that is the first clue in how to keep your dwarf hairgrass growing well in your aquarium. It does not need powerful lighting, but it will not do well in low light.
Use decent lights if you want a dense, vibrant, and healthy carpet, particularly because this is a low-growing carpeting plant, and light intensity diminishes quickly with depth. If you want a lush carpet, you will want to invest in a stronger planted tank light. A good light to look into would be a Chihiros WRGB II or a Twinstar E series.
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What Are Good Tank Mates?
Hairgrass has some real benefits for the fish in your aquarium. It oxygenates the water well and creates ideal micro-habitats for fish tank inhabitants.
As a spreading plant that grows at a healthy rate, dwarf hairgrass is also great for soaking up excess nutrients in the system.
Good Tank Mates
Small freshwater fish and shrimp species enjoy foraging and sheltering between the blades of grass. Shrimp are ideal tank mates for this plant because they can really get to work cleaning up around the roots and helping to keep your aquarium clean.
Most freshwater tropical fish and shrimp species kept in tropical fish tanks make ideal tank mates for dwarf hairgrass. Small fish that forage in the lower levels and on the bottom of the aquarium will enjoy the habitat this plant creates. Great fish to look into would be fish that are considered nano fish or schooling such as:
- Black Shirt Tetras
- Neon Tetras
- Cherry Barbs
Fish Species To Avoid
Large cichlids like Oscars should be avoided because they will damage this plant when shifting the substrate and rearranging the bottom of the aquarium.
Other small community fish like corydoras can cause some frustration when first establishing dwarf hairgrass because while foraging, they tend to disturb and dislodge the roots from the substrate. Fortunately, root establishment happens pretty quickly and this is usually just a temporary problem.
Since Dwarf hairgrass is primarily a root feeder, a nutrient-rich medium is necessary for a healthy carpet. There are a few options here and the easiest is probably to use a suitable aquarium plant soil.
You can also plant dwarf hairgrass in inert substrates like sand or fine gravel, but you will need to feed the roots from time to time with root tabs.
Hair grass will also benefit from column feeding, although this on its own will not be a great substitute for providing nutrients directly to the roots. Your substrate should be in an aquatic plant soil that absorbs nutrients from aquarium fertilize and the water. Brands like ADA and Tropica are designed for top notch aquascapes.
For a fertilizer, I would recommend using an all-in-one fertilizer like APT Complete and supplement with root tabs over time.
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How Much And How Often To Feed
Root tabs are capsules of a slow-release fertilizer that are pushed into the substrate at the root zone. These substrate fertilizers typically provide nutrients for a few months, but it is best to follow the instructions on the specific product that you have to get a rough idea.
Of course, the rate of nutrient uptake by your hairgrass is going to vary from tank to tank, depending on a couple of different factors. Plant size, species, planting density, carbon dioxide availability, light quality, and aquarium water temperature all play a role in how often you’ll need to add new root tabs.
It is important for aquarists to remember the 3 basic growing requirements for photosynthesis in plants. These requirements are light, nutrients, and carbon dioxide, and all three are needed in a balanced ratio for optimum plant growth. CO2 and a proper CO2 system are at the heart of lush growth. After all, 50% of our plant’s dry mass is carbon!
Since dwarf hairgrass grows best under moderate lighting, and with good access to nutrients in the substrate, it will need access to carbon dioxide as well to grow at its best.
How Much CO2 Do You Need?
In tanks where fish are kept, carbon dioxide levels must always be kept within a safe range of below 30 ppm. Carbon dioxide levels above this range cause suffocation and can be deadly to fish.
To get your levels right, you’ll need to use a combination of a bubble counter and a drop checker. It takes a little fine-tuning, so start out on the conservative side for the safety of your fish. You should generally need 1 bubble per second for every 100 liters or 25 gallons of water volume.
Just be sure you measure your levels well away from where the CO2 enters your tank for accuracy. It also takes a few hours (depending on the volume of your aquarium) for the available CO2 levels in the water to rise.
How Long Should You Run CO2?
Hairgrass cannot use CO2 without light so there is no use in running CO2 after your lights have been shut off for the day.
That being said, when you start up your carbon dioxide for the day, it takes about 2 hours for the water column to accumulate the gas.
For this reason, your CO2 injection system should run on its own timer that starts up about 2 hours before the lights go on, and then shuts off at the same time as the lights. If you are in the market for a CO2 system, CO2art systems are top notch!
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There are a few other species of hairgrass available in the aquarium hobby and unfortunately, there is often a lot of confusion over which one is which. Mislabeling of Eleocharis pusillis as Eleocharis parvula is the norm, and confusion with other species like Eleocharis acicularis does happen from time to time.
Other hairgrass species:
- Eleocharis ‘belem’ is a shorter growing form that has more curled leaf blades than typical dwarf hairgrass. There is some confusion around the accurate identification of this hairgrass to species level.
- E. acicularis- This species has a slightly thicker leaf blade that grows straighter than E. pusillis. It grows to about 6 inches tall.
- E. acicularis ‘Mini’- This dwarf cultivar is excellent for nano aquariums because it is even smaller than E. pusillis.
- E. montevidensis– Giant hairgrass
- E. vivipara– Tall hairgrass
Dwarf hairgrass care is really about providing your plant with a decent substrate and enough lighting and CO2.
While your carpet is becoming established, trimming with a pair of curved or double-curved aquascaping scissors will help to stimulate runners and lateral growth. Trimmed dwarf hairgrass, especially when planted in a grid pattern, looks pretty artificial and unattractive, but hang in there, this plant will close up the gaps.
Once established, you’ll still want to give it a trim from time to time. A popular technique is to trim shortest in the front, increasing in height towards the back to create depth.
Varying the heights also creates a more natural and varied look, but you should experiment and find the pattern that best suits your aquascape.
Being a dense carpet plant, organic material and waste tends to collect around the root zone and can lead to a build-up of organic material that can potentially result in some nasty swings in water quality.
Situations like this tend to happen in over-stocked, and overfed tanks in particular. Disturbing the carpet to free up debris and vacuuming around the root zone can be very helpful, especially after trimming. Fortunately, the cut leaf blades float well after trimming, but being such a fine plant, there will be hundreds if not thousands to collect. A little patience and a fine mesh aquarium net are all that is needed.
Planted Tank Parameters
Growing a dwarf hairgrass carpet is most successful in neutral water conditions with a pH of between about 6.5 and 7.5.
As far as temperature is concerned, this plant grows well in any cool water or tropical freshwater aquarium between 50 and 85°F.
Carbonate hardness of between 0 – 14°dKH, and general hardness of 0 – 30°dGH are recommended.
Dwarf hairgrass is a versatile plant that can be used in a variety of different tank setups. Being a small plant that can be trimmed, it makes a great choice even for nano tanks.
It is probably best suited for a tank size of 10 gallons or more because it will spread in time to dominate small tanks. If you like the idea of a full carpet of dwarf hairgrass, it can also be grown in smaller aquariums as well.
Dwarf hairgrass is not known to be particularly fussy about water quality. Of course, you should always strive to maintain the best possible water quality for the sake of other plants and fish.
Be sure to keep the spaces between leaf blades and around the root zone clean by vacuuming when necessary to avoid water quality issues that could affect other species and livestock in your aquarium.
A healthy carpet doesn’t tend to break up a whole lot, but being such a fine-leaved grass, trimmings can be an issue with your filter. Plants that are left to melt and decay can also cause these problems.
You can simply turn off your filter temporarily when trimming this plant and carefully remove all the trimmings, or consider using a filter with a prefilter sponge fixed to its intake to keep solid debris out. Because an aquarium covered with ground cover like an iwagumi scape will produce a lot of plant waste, this will create a lot of ammonia production. To fight ammonia, you need to have a top notch aquarium filter with lots of biologicial filters. For serious planted tanks, a quality canister filter is highly recommended!
Dwarf hairgrass has no obvious preference when it comes to flow rate. They grow in still water like marshes as well as alongside rivers and are therefore able to grow in still or flowing water.
A decent flow will help to distribute dissolved CO2 in your aquarium and for that reason, some current is a good thing. A full aquascape should get 5-10 times turnover. Another reason why I push for high quality canister filters in planted aquariums.
Regular maintenance is an unavoidable part of keeping a healthy, thriving ecosystem in your aquarium. A dwarf hairgrass carpet does require some focused maintenance in the form of trimming and vacuuming.
Further than that, standard maintenance is all that is needed.
Testing Water Conditions
Test your water parameters regularly using a liquid test kit or strips.
Nitrate, nitrite, and ammonia levels are the most important levels to test on a regular basis but when first filling your tank, you should take note of your pH and hardness levels as well.
How To Set Up Your Aquarium Tank
The most important part of your tank setup for dwarf hairgrass is a good layer of substrate. The Dwarf hairgrass is a root feeder and will grow best in a nutrient-rich substrate.
Sand or fine gravel also works well as a medium to grow dwarf hairgrass, but because they are inert, you will need to use root tabs.
Dwarf hairgrass is usually sold in pots or bare root clumps, and before planting, you should split the bunch up into as many small sections with roots as possible. Take care to not damage the plants and plant out in a grid pattern.
Planting dwarf hairgrass is easiest with a pair of aquascaping pincettes or tweezers. An offset pair works well to avoid pulling these tiny plugs back out when lifting out the tweezers.
How To Propagate
Dwarf hairgrass is a very easy plant to propagate. If your tank conditions are good, the plants will soon send out runners and spread to close the gaps and create a full carpet.
If you wish to create more plants for planting out in other tanks, simply remove a runner with leaves and roots and replant.
Health And Disease
Signs Of Good Health
Healthy dwarf hairgrass has a really vibrant bright green coloration and firm, wiry foliage.
The leaves of the plant should be able to support themselves when held out of the water. Healthy plants should also have a healthy set of fine white roots.
Signs Of Poor Health
Unhealthy dwarf hairgrass plants will turn yellow and then light brown as they melt. The leaf blades become soft and are unable to support their own weight.
Look for bright green hairgrass with firm, upright leaves and have a strong, healthy root system.
Common Health Issues And Treatment
Even the healthiest plants can melt back pretty badly when first planted and this is often because they were farmed emersed.
Plants that have been grown emersed will need to adjust to growing completely underwater and grow new foliage.
In this case, stay on top of removing melting leaves from your tank to avoid them from spoiling in your tank or being taken up in your filter.
This melting can begin at your local aquarium store but avoid purchasing any plants that are clearly showing signs of stress or yellow or brown leaf blades and tips.
Flowing strands of hair algae flowing on the blades of hairgrass can be a frustrating problem. Algae growth is usually the result of lighting that is too strong or an imbalance of light, nutrients, and carbon dioxide.
Plants with discolored leaves showing yellow or brown patches are often the result of a lack of macronutrients. Consider fertilizing your substrate if you notice this problem or try dosing with a suitable liquid fertilizer.
When adding a new plant to your aquarium, there is always the chance of accidentally introducing pest animals and even plants.
As exciting as it might be to get started with a new species in your fish tank, resist the urge to plant it right away!
At the very least, you should take care in inspecting the plant and give it a good rinse. Take this time to remove any dead or dying plant parts while you’re at it.
Before planting out a hairgrass carpet, the aquarist will usually separate the plant’s roots into as many little complete plants as possible, taking care not to damage them.
Splitting the plants up like this gives you the ideal chance to wash off each section and remove any eggs or snails you might find.
Fortunately, dwarf hairgrass is available as a tissue culture.
These selections are grown under controlled laboratory conditions and are completely pest-free so you have very little to worry about when planting them in your tank.
Where To Buy
Dwarf hairgrass is easy to find at your local fish store, but it’s can be difficult to know exactly which Eleocharis species you’re getting sometimes. It also difficult to find a tissue culture variant locally. For this reason, many hobbyist will look to an online fish store to get quality plants.
A good option is to buy them online from a trusted source like Buceplant.com. That way you know exactly what you’re getting. They have both cuttings and tissue culture available. I recommend going tissue culture.
Dwarf hairgrass is an easy to grow carpet that is great for beginners. Purchase tissue culture plants to ensure pest free plants!
Is it easy to grow?
A hairgrass carpet pretty is easy to grow if your tank setup is suitable. You should have no problems growing it with fair lighting, injected CO2, and a nutrient-rich substrate.
Can I grow this plant without CO2?
Dwarf hairgrass can be grown without added CO2, although the results can be pretty underwhelming. Added carbon dioxide will definitely improve plant health and vigor.
Can it grow in gravel?
You can plant dwarf hairgrass in gravel, although coarse gravel is not an ideal medium. This plant has fine roots and spreads by runners, which means it will struggle to shift the gravel and spread itself.
Is this plant low light?
Dwarf hairgrass is one of the better carpet plants for lower light setups, but it is not a true low light plant and will need decent lighting.
Does it need soil?
Dwarf hairgrass does need to be planted in some form of substrate. It does not necesarily require soil, but it is a good option. You can also grow dwarf hairgrass in sand or fine gravel if you feed it with root tabs when needed.
Dwarf hairgrass are pretty undemanding but really attractive aquarium plants. Melt can be a frustration at first but provided your parameters are in order, you will enjoy a vibrant green element in the tank with great movement and texture. These carpeting plants are recommended for any planted tank enthusiast.
Mark is the founder of Aquarium Store Depot. He started in the aquarium hobby at the age of 11 and along the way worked at local fish stores. He has kept freshwater tanks, ponds, and reef tanks for over 25 years. His site was created to share his knowledge and unique teaching style on a larger scale. He has worked on making aquarium and pond keeping approachable. Mark has been featured in two books about aquarium keeping – both best sellers on Amazon. Each year, he continues to help his readers and clients with knowledge, professional builds, and troubleshooting.