Dwarf Hairgrass Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Dwarf Hairgrass Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and Propagation

Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis sp.) is a versatile and hardy plant noted for its use in creating thick carpets in aquariums. It is characterized by a short stature, needle-like green leaves, fast growth, and durability.

Dwarf hairgrass is one of the best carpeting plants in the hobby, suitable for both beginners and advanced aquarists. It can form lush green carpets in the tank, it is highly beneficial to your fish and shrimp, and also contributes positively to maintaining a balanced and healthy aquarium.

Keep reading for everything there is to know about this fascinating plant, and how you can cultivate and care for Dwarf hairgrass in your aquarium.

Quick Notes about Dwarf Hairgrass

Common Name Dwarf hairgrass
Other Names DHG, Needle spikerush, Needle spikesedge, and Spikerush
Scientific Name
Eleocharis sp. (Eleocharis Acicularis, Eleocharis Parvula, Eleocharis Belem (mini))
Tank Size (minimum) 2.5 gallons (10 liters)
Difficulty Easy to Medium
Optimal Lighting Moderate to high
Optimal pH 6.5 – 7.5
Optimal GH 2 – 10
Optimal Temperature 22 – 26 °C (72– 79°F)
Substrate Soft substrate
Growth Rate Low to moderate
Placement in Tank
Foreground
Size up to 15 cm (6 inches or more)
Fertilizers 
Highly recommended
CO2 Highly recommended
Propagation by runners
Color
Green  

Origin and Taxonomy of Dwarf Hairgrass

Eleocharis acicularis is a species of Eleocharis and it belongs to Cyperaceae, a family of grass-like monocotyledonous flowering plants known as sedges.

The nomenclature acicularis is of Latin origin and it means ‘needle-shaped’. The taxonomical hierarchy of Dwarf hairgrass is summarised below:

Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis accicularis)Kingdom: Plantae
Division: Tracheophytes
Clade: Angiosperms
Clade: Monocots
Order: Poales
Family: Cyperaceae
Genus: Eleocharis
Common names: needle spikerush, needle spikesedge and least spikerush.

Habitat of Dwarf Hairgrass

Dwarf hairgrass is a widespread plant species and has a cosmopolitan distribution. It is naturally distributed in almost all parts of the world.

It grows in the temperate, subtropical, and tropical zones of the world excluding Africa.

Dwarf hairgrass can be found on the banks or edges of slow-moving rivers, lakes, ponds, marshes, and swamps.

Description of Dwarf Hairgrass

Dwarf hairgrass is a grass-like plant that grows in rosettes. It has a rich-green coloration that deepens with bright lighting.

As the name suggests, the plant has a short stature and, depending on the species, it features a height of up to 5 – 15 cm (2 – 6 inches) with long hair-like blades, they are quite upright and stringy.

Dwarf hairgrass is tolerant of a wide range of temperatures, and it has a medium growth rate in the abundance of lighting, nutrients, and CO2. The availability of these factors ensures that it forms beautiful and decorative carpets in aquariums.

Top Dwarf Hairgrass Species in Aquariums

Eleocharis acicularis is sometimes confused with Eleocharis parvula or Eleocharis Belem (sp. mini). You may find Eleocharis acicularis often mislabelled as Eleocharis parvula and vice versa. Note that they are not the same.

Eleocharis acicularis grows a little bit taller and upright.

Eleocharis parvula looks similar, but it is shorter (3 – 4 inches or 8 – 10 cm) and the shoots tend to spread more. Parvula leaf blade is like a straight sword.

Eleocharis Belem (mini) is the smallest Dwarf hairgrass in the aquarium hobby. It usually starts to arch toward the ground up to 1.5 inches (3 – 4 cm) tall.

Tank Requirements and Water Parameters

The objective should be to create a perfect ecosystem for the plant and other inhabitants dwelling in the aquarium.

Follow these pointers to set up a suitable tank for the Dwarf hairgrass, this will ensure that the plant stays healthy and thrives for long while serving its purpose.

Tank size:

Dwarf hairgrass can thrive in a variety of tank sizes, even suited for nano tanks if properly maintained. However, the recommended minimum tank size is 10 gallons (~40 liters).

Tip: Ideally, you need a shallow height tank for this plant, so the light is nice and strong (see below).

Water type, Temperature, Hardness, and pH:

Temperature: This plant has the ability to tolerate and thrive in a wide range of temperatures, even cooler temperatures like 50 F (or 10 C). However, water temperature between the range of 22 – 26 °C (72 – 79 °F) is ideal for the plant.

pH: Dwarf hairgrass doesn’t thrive in extreme pH conditions, therefore, regularly monitor and ensure that the pH level stays between the range of 6.5 to 7.5 for best growth.

Hardness: The plant will appreciate soft to moderately hard water, hardness values between 2 – 10 GH would be great.

Lighting:

Dwarf hairgrass requires an ample amount of light to photosynthesize and grow optimally to form a nice carpet.

This freshwater plant will attain a rich green coloration and maintain healthy growth in moderate – high lighting conditions.

Bright lighting can be provided using a LED light, and the lights should be turned on for at least 8-10 hours daily.

Note: While you’re at it, keep an eye out for algae growth and adjust the lights accordingly.

Read more about it in my article “Advanced Guide to Planted Tank Lighting”.

Substrate:

Dwarf hairgrass is a very versatile plant. Even though it prefers a nutrient-rich substrate, it can also grow really well in a sand-based substrate. The fine grains of a sandy substrate allows the thin roots to grow and penetrate well enough.

Avoid planting them in coarse gravel.

Note: It is better to use a soft substrate because due to the delicate and fine roots of the plant; these are thin, weak, and prone to damage.

Besides, the much desired carpet effect is better achieved on a sandy substrate bed because it allows the runners to proliferate perfectly, thereby forming beautiful and minute tufts of delicate green stems.

To ensure that the plants get the nutrients they require, you can spread a layer of nutrient-rich aqua soil beneath the sand, this does the job perfectly and it is also good for the plant roots.

Note: Keep in mind that you will have to use fertilizers with a sand substrate, as sand contains no nutrients at all. 

Read more about it in my article “Top 5 Substrates For Planted Aquariums”. 

CO2 and fertilization:

The plant needs a great deal of nutrients and CO2 for healthy growth. CO2 injection will enhance its growth; it facilitates fast and dense growth of the carpet in addition to a vibrant green coloration.

Is it possible to grow Dwarf hairgrass without CO2?

Yes, it is. This plant can actually grow without CO2 injection. However, the spread will be much slower. It can take more than a month or more to catch and spread. In the latter, it can take several more months to get going.

What type of fertilizers should we use?

If we supply good nutrient levels to the water column, Dwarf hairgrass will take it up from there. So, it makes our life easier because we can use them in any form (liquid fertilizers and root tabs).

Basically, bright lighting and sufficient nutrients (in the form of liquid fertilizers and root tabs) will boost its growth.

The problem in an aquarium is that, without CO2, the more light we have, the more algae we will have as well. That is why we need a balance between lighting, CO2, and nutrients.

Important: If you keep shrimp in the tank with the Dwarf hairgrass, I would highly recommend reading my articles:
CO2 in a Planted Tank Guide
CO2 in a Shrimp Tank

How Copper Affects Dwarf Shrimp
Shrimp Safe Plant Fertilizers
The point is that a high level of CO2 and Copper (most fertilizers contain copper) is extremely dangerous to the shrimp.  

Care and Maintenance of Dwarf Hairgrass

This is the part where a lot of aquarists tend to lose interest in a plant. Well, the good news is that the Dwarf hairgrass is fairly easy to maintain.

There are quite a number of activities that need to be carried out regularly in order to maintain a healthy, lush, and dense carpet in your aquarium.

While Dwarf hairgrass may be a carpeting plant due to its ability to attain thick horizontal growth, it is also capable of growing vertically.

So if you are keen on achieving a nice carpet look, then you should trim it regularly.

Regular trimming of the Dwarf hairgrass carpet will stimulate horizontal growth by promoting the proliferation of runners. Clip the top shoots to keep it in shape and ensure that it stays compact.

Tip: If Dwarf hairgrass grows painfully slow, trim it to about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the substrate. It will significantly increase the growth rate. If you don’t trim, they spend their energy growing toward the light. 

 

Another necessary thing is to brush the carpet occasionally with a pair of tweezers in order to stir up debris to the surface. A dense carpet can easily get clogged up with debris, and this should be given due attention if you desire a perfect carpet.

Planting and Propagation of Dwarf Hairgrass

The planting process is a bit tasking. You need to split the specimens into small portions and space them out evenly on the substrate.

Dwarf Hairgrass - Planting

The execution should be accurate, especially, if you want to achieve a beautiful carpet look. Here’s how you can successfully go about it:

  1. With precision, split the clump in portions of 1-4 blades (the less the better). Planting the whole clump together may not yield healthy plants (the center often dies) nor achieve the desired carpet look.
  2. Clipping the existing roots prompts the outgrowth of new roots that will facilitate the rapid spread of the carpet.
  3. Ensure you use a pair of tweezers (lin to check the price on Amazon) to gently place the portions into the substrate to avoid damage. The whole strands should be kept above the substrate, only the roots stay beneath.

Note: Dwarf Hairgrass tends to float, and is to fine to hold down. So, it may be tricky to do it right at first.

  1. Place each portion an inch apart from each other to avoid overcrowding, this also promotes uniformity. I would say that 1-2 inches (2,5 – 5 cm) will be good enough for that.
  2. Fertilize the plants adequately, and trim them to your desired height when necessary.

Tip: Trim Dwarf Hairgrass when you plant it, it will get the routes growing stronger.

Propagation of Dwarf Hairgrass is not really like other plants, here, you can’t cut and replant a stem to get a new plant. Its propagation is by runners, and as it grows, runners will emerge and branch off laterally from the base of the stem.

Hence, instead of trying to clip and replant, you should make sure that the plants are getting enough light, CO2, and nutrients so as to promote healthy growth and formation of prolific runners.

Do these and in no distant time, you will be rewarded with a nice looking carpet.

Dwarf Hairgrass and Dry Start Method

Dwarf Hairgrass - Dry Start MethodOn the methods of growing Dwarf Hairgrass is a Dry Start Method. This method will provide unlimited CO2 without any need to buy anything!

Moreover, it allows growing the plant even before cycling the tank.

  1. Instead of immediately filling the tank with water after planting, we only need to add enough water to reach the surface of the lowest part of our substrate.
  2. Next, use tweezers to plant Dwarf Hairgrass and sprinkle them on top of a substrate.
  3. Cover the top of the tank with cling wrap to increase the humidity.
  4. In about 5 or 8 weeks you can flood the tank.

Read more about “How to: Dry Start Method”.

Benefits of Dwarf Hairgrass

Aquascape: Dwarf hairgrass can be used in aquascapes. It forms a dense and lush green carpet that complements the aesthetics of an aquarium. The plant is great because of the flexibility it offers, it can be placed in different areas of the aquarium in order to introduce a unique perspective to your aquascape.

Shelter: It acts as a shelter for bottom-dwelling fish and fry.

Oxygenation: Helps in oxygenation of the tank water.

Breeding ground: It serves as a breeding place for egg scatterers, and foraging ground for shrimp and juvenile fish.

Removal of excess nutrients: Dwarf hairgrass is capable of absorbing heavy metals and toxins from the water.

Prevents gas pocketsDwarf hairgras’s root system will help to break up anaerobic pockets in the substrate.
Note: Hydrogen sulfide pockets (H2S, the gas smells like rotten eggs) can be really dangerous to your fish or shrimp. 

Problems Associated with Dwarf Hairgrass

Melting: At first, the plant may wither when cultivated in the aquarium. This is probably due to the possibility that it was grown emersed, and a transition to a submersed from may be too stressful for the plant.

Solution: Do not panic. It will take time for the plant to recover and adapt to the new environment.

Algae: Dwarf Hairgrass is highly susceptible to algae growth, especially hair algae. This may be caused by poor water quality, low CO2 level, excess lighting, and nutrients.

Solution: Algae can be curbed by making some adjustments to the lighting intensity, regular water changes, and the introduction of algae-eaters into the aquarium.

You can also read my series of the article related to algae types and how to remove them. 

Slow growth: After planting, Dwarf Hairgrass often does nothing noticeable for a month or more.

Solution: Be patient, it is a quite common behavior. During this time that they are developing the root system.

Discoloration: You may notice the blades gradually turning brown or getting yellow patches, these occur as a result of nutrient deficiencies. Yellow spots likely point to a lack of iron while brown coloration is due to poor health caused by lack of macronutrients.

Solution: To cure these conditions, supplements rich in iron and macronutrients should be supplied in the right dosage.

You can also read “How to Spot Nutrient Deficiencies in Aquatic Plants”.

Dwarf Hairgrass and Tankmates

Due to the thin and stringy blades which the Dwarf hairgrass possess, most fish species do not really find it to be palatable. Hence, you should not be bothered about the plant getting devoured by fish and other tank inhabitants. The plant is less likely to be eaten, therefore it can be kept with a variety of fish species.

Here are some compatible species that can co-exist peacefully with Dwarf Hairgrass.

Fish:

Shrimp:

Freshwater snails:

Avoid

You should avoid large, hostile, aggressive diggers, and plant-eating fish species that will waste no time in tearing up Dwarf Hairgrass. For example, fish species like Goldfish, Oscars, Rainbow, Jack Dempsey, Clown loaches should be avoided.

Dwarf Hairgrass and most types of crayfish or freshwater crabs are not a good combination as well. These animals will cut, eat, and uproot everything in the tank.

Buying Dwarf Hairgrass

This species of Eleocharis is readily available in local fish stores near you. It is inexpensive, goes for as low as $5 – $10 for a clump wrapped in rock wool.

Be sure to pick only healthy plants, you can find out if a plant is healthy by taking a glance at the leaf blades. Normal (healthy) specimens will possess bright green blades while the unhealthy plants will have brown colorations, visible patches, or even worse- algae.

Also, avoid specimens that are bending to the side; it may be a sign of poor health, a healthy plant should be firm and upright.

In Conclusion

Dwarf hairgrass is an excellent groundcover/carpeting plant species, and it is capable of forming beautiful and vivid carpets in your tank.

Regardless of its delicate appearance, the plant is relatively hardy and able to withstand a wide range of temperatures, just plant a few portions of Dwarf hairgrass in your aquarium, and under the right conditions, they will take-off very fast.

You can also place clumps beside rocks and driftwood to create a visually appealing effect.

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