Sometimes, getting acquainted with live aquarium plants can be a process. For example, I started out with Aponogeton bulbs that were very easy to grow and maintain in a gravel substrate.
Over time, my interests spread to other root feeding plants, and then carpeting plants. If you’ve never heard of these plants, or skip right over them in the pet store, you are missing out on one of the best plant options for your freshwater aquarium.
What are Aquatic Carpet Plants?
As with terrestrial plants, aquatic plants can grow in a number of different shapes. Some, like Hornworts or Anubias may grow taller instead of wider.
Other plants may produce compact or loose bush shapes. By contrast, aquatic carpet plants and grasses usually don’t get very tall, but they do spread out horizontally.
Carpet Plants: 5 Ways They Improve a Home Aquarium
Today, there are hundreds of species of live aquarium plants that can be placed in every part of the tank. Many of these plants will increase oxygen levels in the tank and also provide a less stressful environment for fish, freshwater shrimp, snails, and other creatures.
While carpet plants also share many of these benefits, they achieve these and other goals in some unique ways. Here are five ways carpet plants and grasses can enhance your aquarium.
1. Increased absorption of nitrates from the substrate
There is no question that taking up nitrates and using them to grow food for leaves, roots, and other plant parts is very useful. Carpet plants complete this circle of life in just about any aquarium.
Unlike larger plants, you can use carpet plants and grasses to line the sides of a tank as well as get into corners and all along the bottom.
No matter where you anchor carpet plants and aquatic grasses, they contribute a valuable service in terms of removing waste from the tank and using it for a good purpose.
2. Keep the Substrate Clean and Covered
As you advance in aquarium keeping skills, you are bound to want to do more than simply keep fish alive and somewhat healthy.
Over the year, I along with many other aquarium hobbyists started off with the belief that water changes are cheaper and work just as well as creating a near 100% self maintaining environment. Sadly, this belief is as wrong as it was when I started keeping fish decades ago as it is today.
There is no getting around the need for live aquatic plants in a fish tank. By extension, carpet plants occupy a key role in creating beautiful and functional landscapes. In fact, I have been known to say I can tell how long an aquarium keeper has been at it just by whether or not carpet plants and grasses are found in the tank.
Mid to advanced level aquarium keepers have learned that aged water and relatively undisturbed settings are the true secret to happy, healthy fish and other aquatic inhabitants.
They have also learned that carpet plants and grasses are the best way to eliminate the need for vacuuming and deep cleaning the tank’s substrate.
3. Increase Number And Quality of Hiding Places
Many aquarium keepers will tell you to use ceramic pots turned on their side, or other cave like structures in tanks with freshwater shrimp or shy fish.
Sadly, without plants, these hiding places only provide momentary relief, at best, from more aggressive fish. In order for a cave to make a good hiding place, it needs to provide adequate covering in the entrance way.
Carpet plants and grasses are just tall enough to allow small fish to hide comfortably in the cave, and still make a visual barrier to more aggressive fish.
In a similar fashion, eggs that land among the stems of carpet plants and grasses have a much better chance of hatching. As the fry hatch, they will also have an easier time finding infusorans and other tiny creatures that are inclined to inhabit these plants.
If your tank is big enough, you may even be fortunate enough to see juvenile fish swimming around without the need for making a separate breeding tank.
4. Additional Food Source
Speaking of fry and their nutritional needs, carpet plants and grasses can also provide host microscopic crustaceans, and many other tiny creatures that may not colonize other plant types.
While staple flakes and pellets should provide adequate nutrition for fish, their options in a natural setting may be much more diverse. This, in turn means that something as simple as the ability to dine on tiny crustaceans or microscopic creatures may do a lot of good because the fish may be getting trace nutrients that aren’t found in the staple food or can’t be digested easily from that source.
5. More Aquascaping Options
I’ve walked into many pet stores with fish housed in tanks without any kind of substrate. While some believe bare tanks are easier to clean and maintain, they are as unattractive as they are unhealthy.
On the other side of the equation, sand and soil can be difficult to maintain from the getgo. Gravel can also get very messy and unsightly over time, no matter how much you vacuum it.
If planted early on in the tank’s life span, carpet plants will keep any kind of substrate clean and free of algae. At the same time, the substrate will still house plenty of nitrifying bacteria that will continue to do their job.
Introduction to Growing Aquarium Carpet and Grass Plants
Successfully growing carpet and grass plants isn’t so different from managing other types of plants. At base, they have the same kinds of needs such as anchoring points and types, food, and basic water chemistry needs. You may also need to use some additional resources to get these plants off to the best possible start. Here are the main factors you will need to address:
When to Add the Plants
There are many freshwater aquarium plants that can survive for several weeks without the addition of nutrients from fish waste.
Carpet and grass plants tend to require fertilizers, so adding them at this point will just be an extra expense with little benefit. Wait until you have live fish in the tank for at least 2 – 3 months before adding these plants to the tank.
Choosing a Substrate
This will depend on the plant species. Some can easily pull nutrients from water leaching into the sand and gravel. Others will require additional support for aquarium soil, mats, or other nutrient rich substrate that more closely mimics their natural habitat.
Just about all carpet plants will require a root feeding fertilizers. Some may also need iron and trace elements from time to time.
Sadly, more than a few carpet plants require more CO2 than your fish will produce. This can be a dangerous situation if the equipment malfunctions or is not used properly. Before you choose plants that require additional CO2, make sure you have a large enough aquarium to accommodate the system, and a good understanding of how injection systems work.
You should also have a backup plan in place for adding emergency oxygen to the tank and be ready to do an emergency water change. As an aside, this is one of the very few places where I recommend doing massive water changes to avoid imminent death of fish and other creatures in the tank.
Surprisingly, several species of carpet and aquatic grasses require more light than species that have different growth characteristics. Some of the more delicate species may also require red, or other color wavelengths along with conventional white light.
You may need to do some additional research on LED lights that will produce optimal light concentrations at the water depth your plants are at. Remember, water diffuses light differently than air. As a result, light specifications for terrestrial based plants may not always apply to an aquatic environment.
From a distance, Dwarf Hairgrass has a color and texture similar to terrestrial lawn grass.
When you look at it more closely, the leaves are a bit more needle like, but still grow in clumps like lawn grass.
|Scientific Name||Eleocharis parvula|
|pH||6.0 – 8.0|
|Temperature||70 – 83 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Hardness||Medium to hard|
|Lighting||Medium to bright|
|Additional Nutrients||Needs fertilizer until tank builds up enough nutrients from fish waste|
|Best Fish||This plant will do well in tanks with fish that do not dig in the substrate. Many people also use it for egg layer breeding tanks. It can tolerate fish that are occasional snackers; and if conditions are right, will also grow fast enough to thrive in tanks with more voracious plant eaters. Care should be taken around herbivorous tank mates when the plant puts runners out, since this is how Dwarf Hairgrass propagates.|
|Maintenance Needs||Once runners appear, you can let them develop some roots, and then start them in other parts of the tank. Requires very little in the way of trimming.|
Dwarf Hairgrass is an attractive, low-maintenance, easy to grow plant that will quickly produce a mat that will hide eggs as well as give smaller creatures a place to hide.
Monte Carlo produces small round, brilliant green leaves. It will quickly establish itself when planted in mats, and cover the substrate with ease.
Monte Carlo also looks good when it sprawls over driftwood and cave structures. Just be sure to keep it anchored to a mat where it can obtain nutrients. Although fairly new to aquarists, is a popular carpet based on appearance and usefulness.
|Scientific Name||Micranthemum Tweedie|
|Other Names||New Large Pearl Grass, Bacopita|
|pH||6 – 7.5|
|Temperature||70 – 90 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Lighting||Medium to bright|
|Additional Nutrients||Some fertilizer in new tanks, can live without CO2 supplementation, but won’t grow as fast|
|Best Fish||Once Monte Carlo is established, it can quickly take over the substrate even in larger tanks. At that point, it is suitable for tanks with fish that like to consume plants, however it may not always do well with fish that like to dig in the substrate.|
|Maintenance Needs||Occasional trimming and propagation if areas die off or become patchy looking.|
Since this plant doesn’t actually need CO2 supplementation or additional fertilizers, it is suitable for small fish tanks as well as larger ones.
Unlike related species, Monte Carlo is not considered an invasive species, so it is likely not banned in most localities. This plant is also fairly easy to care for and will grow well for beginner and advanced aquarium keepers.
This is one of the more attractive carpet plants that produces four leaves to a stem, just like land based clover.
It is considered an aquatic fern that reproduces by both runners and sporocaps. Depending on where you live, keeping this plant may be banned because it is considered an invasive species.
|Scientific Name||Marsilea quadrifolia|
|Other Names||European Waterclover, Waterclover, Clover Fern, Four Leaf Clover|
|pH||6.2 to 7.5|
|Temperature||68- 82 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Hardness||Soft to medium|
|Additional Nutrients||Use sandy or clay based aquarium soil with additional fertilizer. Does not require additional CO2 supplementation.|
|Best Fish||This plant has a rapid growth rate, and establishes strong root systems. Once it is well established an thriving, it can live comfortably even with fish that will dig into the substrate. Just be sure to keep at least one or two plants in pots just in case the runners do not establish well in your tank. These plants will also produce spores that can repopulate the tank with Water Clover.|
|Maintenance Needs||Water Shamrocks can grow up to 1 foot tall, and do need to have roots separated in order for new runners to thrive.|
This plant is better suited to larger tanks that are over 1 foot deep. Since this plant will also grow well when partially submerged, you can also use it in somewhat shallow tanks with fish that prefer a densely planted tank.
The biggest challenge with this plant will be obtaining it keeping it in states where it is banned. If the plant does well, you may also need to spend additional time keeping it properly trimmed.
This brilliant green plant reaches about 4” tall. It will produces larger clumps if you cut the tallest leaves off on a routine maintenance.
In order to create a carpet effect, you will need to keep propagating cuttings as well as allow it sprawl out after it reaches full height.
|Scientific Name||Staurogyne Repens|
|Other Names||S. Repens|
|pH||6.5 to 7.5|
|Temperature||68- 82 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Lighting||Medium to strong|
|Additional Nutrients||Fertilizer and CO2 supplementation|
|Best Fish||Any fish that do not dine on plants or dig in the substrate.|
|Maintenance Needs||Requires routine trimming and propagation as the larger leaves can accumulate algae. Trimming also helps ensure the plant will continue to produce compact leaves instead of die back|
This is a very attractive plant that will do well once established. It does, however, take some work to maintain it so that it creates a carpet effect.
Staurogyne Repens is ideal for terraces or other areas where you want a unique looking foreground or mid-tank carpet. The need for additional fertilizers and CO2 make it unsuitable for smaller or overstocked tanks.
Dwarf Baby Tears produces small, rounded leaves in a charming emerald color.
Once the plant is established, it will produce runners that eventually cover the substrate so that it looks like a carpet.
|Scientific Name||Micranthemum umbrosum|
|Other Names||Hemianthus callitrichoides|
|pH||5.0 to 7.5|
|Temperature||68- 82 degrees Fahrenheit|
|Hardness||Soft to medium|
|Additional Nutrients||Fairly large amounts of CO2 and fertilizer|
|Best Fish||Fish that do not snack on plants or use in breeding tanks since it does a good job of hiding eggs. Since Dwarf Baby Tears require a lot of light, they are best suited to large shallow aquariums where providing extra light density will be easier.|
|Maintenance Needs||Occasional pruning in smaller tanks.|
Although this plant is fairly easy to grow, the high CO2 requirements may cause problems in smaller or overstocked tanks.
Final Thoughts on Aquarium Carpet Plants
Live aquatic grasses and carpet plants play a very important role for creating a healthier, safer, and less stressful environment for fish and other tank inhabitants.
No matter whether you are creating a habitat for a single male betta or dozens of tetras and shoaling fish, carpet plants should be introduced to the tank as quickly as possible after the initial cycle period.
As the years go by, you will find these plants become favored by you as well as the pets you keep in the tank.