Top 8 Carpeting Plants for Planted Tanks

Top 8 Carpeting Plants for Planted Tanks

Of course, everyone loves a beautiful carpet! Therefore, today, we will talk about the top carpeting plants for planted tanks. These plants are renowned ground covers and are used for creating lush carpets on the aquarium substrate.

Carpeting plants are very popular in aquascape. However, besides their amazing look. Carpeting plants add a lot of benefits to tanks. They help in oxygenating and filtering the tank water, provide hiding spots for fry and small fish, serves as a breeding place for egg scatterers, and lastly, a foraging ground for shrimp and snails.

When it comes to carpeting plants, the choices are endless but I have put together a list of the most popular carpeting plants in the hobby and a guide on how to achieve a luxuriant carpet.

Without further ado. Top carpeting plants for planted tanks include the following species:

  1. Monte Carlo (Micranthemum Tweedei)
  2. Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata)
  3. Marsilea hirsuta
  4. Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis accicularis)
  5. Brazilian micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis)
  6. Pygmy chain sword (Echinodorus tellenus)
  7. Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides)
  8. Glosso (Glossostigma elatinoides)

1. Micranthemum Tweedei ‘Monte Carlo’

Monte Carlo (Micranthemum tweedei)Monte Carlo is a light green plant with an overall small structure, round or ovoid leaves, and creeping stems. It is similar to Dwarf baby tears, but it has slightly bigger leaves, and it’s way easier to grow.

Although relatively new to the hobby, Monte Carlo is definitely one of the best carpet plants for freshwater tanks, and also suitable for beginners.

Monte Carlo Characteristics:

  • This plant has a vibrant light green overall color.
  • The leaves and small (up to 1 cm or 0.4 inches) and round.
  • It can use a wide range of light except for low lighting, the stems of the plant can turn yellow.
  • Requires a nutrient-rich substrate. Root tabs and fertilizers are appreciated to increase growth.
  • Monte Carlo usually grows about 3 – 6 cm (1 to 2.25 inches)

Monte Carlo Optimal Requirements:

  • Temperature: 20 – 25 °C (68 – 77 °F)
  • Water Hardness: Soft to hard water
  • pH: 5.5 – 7.5
  • Lighting: Moderate – high

Propagation: Monte Carlo propagates by producing runners that branches off horizontally on the substrate. Also, the mature stems can be split and cultivated.

  • Care level: Easy
Monte Carlo (Micranthemum Tweedei)
PROS CONS
Undemanding. Can melt during the early stages after planting.
It can thrive in tanks without CO2 injection. Maybe difficult to attach it firmly to the substrate while planting.
Does not require constant trimming.
It can thrive in low, moderate, and high lighting conditions.
Forms dense carpets easily.

For more information, read the article “Monte Carlo Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

Monte Carlo – check out the price on Amazon

2. Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata)

Dwarf Sagittaria Care Guide – Planting, Growing, and PropagationDwarf Sagittaria or Narrow-leaved arrowhead is a bright grasslike plant suitable for foreground planting in freshwater tanks.

Unlike other foreground aquarium plants that usually need lots of work in order to do well, it is an easy and undemanding plant even for beginners. So, once the basic conditions are met Dwarf Sagittaria will just grow really fast.

Dwarf Sagittaria Characteristics:

  • Dwarf sag has a sizeable, vibrant green foliage.
  • Grows up to 10 – 15 cm (about 4 – 6 inches).
  • Leaves are stiff and narrow (about 5 mm or 0.2 inches).
  • Forms thick mats on the aquarium substrate.
  • Dwarf Sagittaria does not like very high lighting, it can even melt.
  • This plant is a root feeder. So, a nutrient-rich substrate is appreciated.
  • CO2 is not mandatory but it will greatly increase the growth rate.

Dwarf Sagittaria Optimal Requirements:

  • Temperature: 20 – 28 °C (68 – 82 °F)
  • Water Hardness: Soft to hard water
  • pH: 6.0 – 8.0
  • Lighting: Moderate

Propagation: Dwarf sagittaria propagates by sending runners that branch off on the substrate.

  • Care level: Easy
Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata)
PROS CONS
The plant is hardy and durable. Requires regular trimming.
Ability to tolerate cooler temperatures. Might be hard to transplant from emersed form to submersed form.
Anchors well in the substrate.
It can thrive in low light.
Growth rate is fast under optimal conditions.

For more information, read the article “Dwarf Sagittaria Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

3. Marsilea Hirsuta

Marsilea hirsutaMarsilea hirsuta is an undemanding carpet-plant species from Australia. Due to its slow growth, compact size, and strong carpeting ability, hirsuta makes an ideal aquarium and paludarium plant for decorating the foreground.

It is an attractive species with leaves arranged like a four-leaf clover, when it fully settles in a tank; it will develop a low form with two, three, or four-lobed leaves.

The main problem of genus Marsilea is that it is very easy to confuse different species when they are small. They all look almost the same.

Marsilea Hirsuta Characteristics:

  • The plant can have different leaf forms and structures which makes it even more interesting.
  • Young leaves of Marsilea hirsuta may be yellowish in color, but after a while, the leaves gain their natural color – rich green.
  • Requires nutrient-rich substrate or fertilizers in sand or gravel substrate.
  • This is a slow grower plant. CO2 is greatly appreciated if you want to improve the growth rate.
  • Marsilia hirsut forms a long creeping rhizome, covered with small pale brown hairs.
  • Does not like too warm temperature. Marsilea hirsute may stop growing or even melt if the temperature is higher than 26C (79F).
  • Marsilea hirsute tend to stay smaller under high light.
  • Height: can grow up to 10 cm (4 inches).

Marsilea Hirsuta Optimal Requirements:

  • Temperature: 18 – 25 °C (64 – 77 °F)
  • Water Hardness: Soft to hard water
  • pH: 6.0 – 7.0
  • Lighting: Moderate
  • Substrate: Fine-grained substrate or gravel.

Propagation: All species of Marsilea possess stolon-like rhizomes that creep on the substrate and spread rapidly, mature rhizomes can also be split and replanted in the tank.

  • Care level: Easy
Marsilea hirsuta
PROS CONS
Undemanding. It is a slow-growing plant.
It can thrive in low light. Can melt when transferred from emersed form to submersed form. 
Low CO2 demands.
Anchors well in the substrate.
Produces good looking carpets.

4. Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis accicularis)

Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis accicularis)Dwarf hairgrass is widely distributed around the world. It can be found on the edges of slow-moving rivers, lakes, ponds, and swamps. That is why it is best to grow it in a tank with a low water level.

The combination of rich green and grasslike form makes this a useful plant for foreground planting and creating beautiful carpets in the aquarium.

Dwarf Hairgrass Characteristics:

  • Dwarf hairgrass is a grasslike plant that grows in rosettes.
  • It features a height of up to 10 – 15 cm (4 – 6 inches), with hair-like leaves.
  • It also produces runners that soon forms minute tufts of delicate, slender, green stems.
  • Grows faster under high light.
  • According to the study, this plant can absorb multiple heavy metals which is really great for any aquarium.
  • Prefers nutrient-rich substrate.

Dwarf Hairgrass Optimal Requirements:

  • Temperature: 10 – 25 °C (50 – 77 °F)
  • Water Hardness: Soft to hard water
  • pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • Lighting: Moderate to high

Propagation: This plant propagates by forming runners which spread throughout the tank.

  • Care level: Easy to Medium
Dwarf hairgrass (Eleocharis accicularis)
PROS CONS
Easy to cultivate. Growth rate is relatively slow without CO2
Creates beautiful lawns. Highly susceptible to algae growth.
Tolerates cooler temperatures. Easily clogs up with debris.

5.  Brazilian micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis)

Brazilian micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis)Lilaeopsis brasiliensis is a plant species from South America where it grows in its natural habitats-  wetlands, ditches, and streams.

In the aquarium hobby, Lilaeopsis brasiliensis commonly known as Micro sword grass or Copragrass because of the sword-like narrow leaves appearance.

This is an easy to keep aquarium plant, Brazilian micro sword thrives in many living conditions and is a widely recommended plant for beginner aquarists. It is notable as an excellent foreground plant and great spawning medium for fish and dwarf shrimp.

Note: The genus Lilaeopsis has only 7 species. However, the similarity of morphological characters created many debates even between professionals, which one is which.

Brazilian micro sword Characteristics:

  • Micro sword is a small carpet plant species (4 – 7 cm or 2 – 3 inches) that forms an excellent foreground subject for planted tanks.
  • This plant will thrive perfectly in a nutrient-rich substrate of preferably iron-rich clay or aquarium soil and quality tank water.
  • It can survive in all lighting conditions. However, it will create a beautiful carpet only under very intensive light.

Brazilian micro sword Optimal Requirements:

  • Temperature: 18 – 25 °C (64 – 77 °F)
  • Water Hardness: Soft to hard water
  • pH: 6.0 – 8.0
  • Lighting: Moderate – high

Propagation: Lilaeopsis brasiliensis is a very prolific plant, and it will cover the aquarium substrate at an incredible rate, forming grass lawns, each plant produces stolons that bear independent daughter plants.

  • Care level: Easy to Medium
Brazilian micro sword (Lilaeopsis brasiliensis)
PROS CONS
Micro sword is relatively undemanding.  It doesn’t grow fast without CO2.
Propagates easily. Often melts after transferring from emersed form to submersed form.
It can grow in all lighting conditions.
Easy to plant.

6. Pygmy chain sword (Echinodorus tellenus)

Pygmy chain sword (Echinodorus tellenus)Pygmy chain sword is native to the Americas where it grows fully or partially submerged in marshes, streams, ponds, and other aquatic habitats.

Pygmy chain sword, otherwise known as Narrow leaf chain sword or Dwarf Amazon sword is a popular aquarium plant, and a great choice for beginners.

One of the unique abilities of this plant is that it can change color, depending on the conditions of the tank (light intensity). It can be green, turn reddish, or even purple. Some aquarists believe that red form (var. Rubra) of Echinodorus is another species or at least subspecies. However, at the moment we do not have any scientific proofs for that.

Note: Pygmy chain sword (Echinodorus tellenus) is often confused and sold as Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata). The main difference is that Sagittaria subulata has wider leaves and always has a bright light green color.

Pygmy chain sword Characteristics:

  • The plant has almost feather- like appearance so they will overlay each other in the tank.
  • It has fairly short (5 – 10 cm or 2 – 4 inches) and thin leaves (5 mm or 0.2 inches).
  • Each plant usually has about 10 – 15 stems per bunch.
  • Pygmy chain sword grows fast under optimal conditions and forms a nice carpet in the foreground areas of an aquarium. Note: Actually, Pygmy chain sword is the fastest grower in this list.
  • Pygmy chain sword, like its bigger ‘cousin’Amazon sword, is a heavy root-feeder. Therefore, a nutrient-rich substrate will be appreciated. It can grow in sand or gravel but you will have to use root tabs to provide the necessary nutrients to the plant.

Pygmy chain sword Optimal Requirements:

  • Temperature: 22– 26 °C (72 – 79 °F)
  • Water Hardness: Soft to hard water
  • pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • Lighting: Moderate

Propagation: Pygmy chain sword reproduces by seeds, there are freely produced in emersed plants. In the aquarium, the plant propagates by runners which are very prolific, and ideal for propagation in such conditions.

  • Care level: Medium
Pygmy chain sword (Echinodorus tellenus)
PROS CONS
Easy to care for and maintain. Strongly requires a nutrient-rich substrate.
Able to produce dense carpets in the tank. Requires high lighting to proliferate well.
Fast grower. A huge root system makes it hard to relocate.
It can grow without CO2.
Root system prevents gas pockets.

7. Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’)

Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitriodes)Just like the Monte Carlo, HC Cuba is one of the smallest and most beautiful plants used for creating lush green foregrounds often seen in planted tanks.

It is a bright green plant with miniature, round, and fine-textured leaves, in addition to creeping stems that spread rapidly throughout the bottom of the tank.

Note: Although Dwarf baby tears is one of the most gorgeous carpeting plants, it is mostly popular amongst advanced or professional aquascapers. The point is that HC Cuba is a delicate and demanding plant, caring for it is difficult. It is not a beginner-friendly plant.

Dwarf baby tears Characteristics:

  • It has a small structure; about 3 – 5 cm (1 – 2 inches) in height, and roots that are tiny and white.
  • Small pearls or bubbles of oxygen that stays on top of the leaves, make Dwarf baby tears even more gorgeous.
  • Substrate: Nutrient-rich substrate.
  • Dwarf baby tears need steady CO2 injections.
  • This plant does not like hard water.

Dwarf baby tears Optimal Requirements:

  • Temperature: 20 – 28 °C (68 – 82 °F)
  • Water Hardness: Soft to medium water
  • pH: 6.0 – 7.5
  • Lighting: Medium to High

Propagation: By runners, one can equally split or clip mature stems from the dense carpet for cultivation in the substrate.

  • Care level: Medium – Hard
Dwarf baby tears (Hemianthus callitrichoides ‘Cuba’)
PROS CONS
Very attractive. It needs constant CO2 injection and fertilizers.
Forms dense bright-green carpet. Requires high lighting.
Stays small. Finicky to water parameters.
Often melts after transferring from emersed form to submersed form.
Difficult to attach it firmly to the substrate while planting

For more information, read the article “Dwarf Baby Tears Care Guide – Planting, Growing and Propagation”.

8. Glosso (Glossostigma elatinoides)

Glosso (Glossostigma elatinoides)Glossostigma elatinoides, commonly known as Glosso; this low, green plant species is native to Australia and New Zealand where it grows in shallow water, bogs, and marshes.

Glosso is a versatile ground cover plant for forming dense mats over the foreground of tanks. Presently, Glossostigma elatinoides is considered one of the most popular foreground species in Nature and Dutch style aquascapes.

Some care guides say that Glossostigma elatinoides is an unpretentious plant, that it can grow well even in low to moderate light, and without CO2 injections. Well… this is true but in this case, it will never form a carpet! Although it is a nice looking plant; I would not recommend this plant for beginners!

Glosso Characteristics:

  • The leaves are small (6 mm or 0.3 inches), tongue-shaped, and bright green.
  • Requires a nutrient-rich substrate.
  • Root system takes a lot of time to develop.
  • Glossostigma elatinoides prefers high light. If there is not enough light, it starts growing
  • It grows pretty fast with CO2, fertilization, and high light. Without all that, the growth rate can be very slow.
  • Without trimming, new leaves smother old ones causing it to rot from underneath.
  • Glossostigma elatinoides usually grow up to 5 – 6 cm (2 inches) but it is recommended to trim it every time it gets higher than 3 cm (~1 inch).

Glosso Optimal Requirements:

  • Temperature: 22 – 30 °C (72 – 86 °F)
  • Water Hardness: Soft to hard water
  • pH: 6.5 – 7.5
  • Lighting: Moderate to High

Propagation: Glosso propagates rapidly by sending off runners or lateral shoots.

  • Care level: Medium – Hard 
Glosso (Glossostigma elatinoides)
PROS CONS
Very attractive, it has lush green leaves which are ideal for carpeting. Requires intense light and CO2 for proper growth.
Maintains a compact form. Leggy growth in low lighting conditions.
One of the smallest carpeting plants Susceptible to algae growth.
Fast growth under optimal conditions. Frequent trimming is a necessity.
Requires a lot of maintenance.

How to Grow Aquarium Carpeting Plants

Growing carpets in the aquarium is not an easy task, however, it is achievable and rewarding once you follow the right guidelines. The most important part is to do the research regarding the plant species.

Substrate

While the vast majority of carpeting plants need a nutrient-rich substrate in order to maintain a robust growth habit, others will do just fine in inert substrates.

Note: In case you do not know, the inert substrate is a substrate, which does not change water chemistry (pH). For example, gravel or sand.

The choice of substrate is highly dependent on the plant species, while some plants may prefer to be planted on plain gravel for easy anchorage, others will thrive best only in soil.

However, if you do not like how soil substrates look, you can create an optimal substrate for carpeting by placing a specialized plant substrate at the base of the tank and topping it with sand or gravel.

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

Lighting

Lighting is probably the most important part and THE MAIN reason why people often fail. Every plant species has different requirements. Therefore, the ability of plants to create thick carpets on the substrate is highly influenced by the intensity of lighting in the aquarium.

Although some plant species will thrive in low light, most of them can only survive in low light. Generally, this often causes leggy growth, and the shoots will grow towards the water surface.

A huge percentage of carpeting plants will appreciate moderate lighting conditions while the rest will reach maximum potential in high lighting.

To get the best carpeting effect in your aquarium, provide decent illumination for the plants, and maintain a photoperiod of at least 8 hours each day.

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

Fertilization

It is a known fact that regular dosing of liquid fertilizers rich in macronutrients and micronutrients will promote growth and help to maintain the natural color of the carpet in your planted tank.

Carpets look great when they are fresh and green when they are lacking nutrients like iron, potassium, magnesium, phosphates, etc. they will become weak and may die.

Read more about it in my article “How to Spot Nutrient Deficiencies in Aquatic Plants”.

Liquid fertilizers should be dosed weekly or after every water change. Root tabs can also be utilized, since some carpeting plants are heavy root feeders, especially, if you have inert substrate.

CO2 injection

In addition, CO2 injection or availability of a pressurized CO2 system is a necessity especially if you plan on growing HC Cuba and Glossostigma elatinoides in your tank. It helps to promote growth and keeps the plants healthy, although a lot of carpet plants can thrive without it.

Tip: It is possible to increase CO2 levels by the so-called “Siesta period”. For example, if we turn off the light for 1 – 2 hours during the day time, it will build up CO2 in the tank. This method is good enough if you want to give the plants some boost, however, do not expect miracles. The siesta period will never replace CO2 injections.

Read more about it in my article “CO2 in a Planted Tank Guide”.

Planting

For a nice carpet effect, the plants should be split into small portions and adequately spaced out while planting. Some hobbyists have attained best results by cultivating the plantlets in a typical “chess board” or “grid like” pattern. This way, the plantlets spreads easily and covers the entire substrate.

Note: Don’t forget to properly quarantine the plants before planting in order to prevent the introduction of algae, pests, and diseases into the tank.

In addition, if you are only planning your next planted tank, I would recommend to check out the Dry Start Method. It will help you to grow carpet plants way faster!

Read more in my articles:

How to: Dry Start Method
How to Quarantine and Disinfect Aquarium Plants.

Trimming

Regular trimming of the carpet will often trigger rapid horizontal growth and proliferation of numerous side shoots. Trimming also helps the plants to maintain a low and compact size.

The carpet should be trimmed regularly with a pair of tweezers, and the detached stems should be sieved out, collected, and disposed in plastic bags to avoid blockage of local waterways.

Other tips during trimming include: stirring up the carpet with pincette in order to detangle stems and also to release debris trapped in the carpet. Subsequently, you can use a small hose (aquarium airline tubing) to suck out debris between the stems. 

In Conclusion

Carpeting plants are essential in aquascaping because of their special ability to create beautiful lawns on the bottom of tanks.

The plants discussed in this article all have varying needs and requirements that must be fulfilled in order to attain the perfect carpet.

Aquascaping with carpeting plants is no walkover, therefore beginners can start with plants on the easy care level and gradually work their way up.

Related articles:

  1. Top 7 Floating Plants for Beginners
  2. 10 Tips For Rooted Aquarium Plants

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