A healthy carpet in a display tank is striking.
And the benefits of carpeting plants don’t stop with the looks. They make a great habitat for bottom dwellers, shrimp and fry. Provide shelter from bigger tank mates and are a great source of food since shrimp and small fry.
In this guide, I’m going to take you through my top 10 best carpeting plants, and provide you with key information on each one so you can have a luscious green carpet covering the bottom of your tank
1. Dwarf Sag (Sagittaria subulata)
I put this species first because dwarf sag is very beginner friendly. It’s really tough and will gladly spread along the bottom of the tank by putting out runners.
It’s not a finicky plant. It can tolerate lots of different water conditions, but it does best with high light levels and regular fertilization.
Under stronger lights, it stays smaller, maybe only a few inches above the substrate. In lower light it grows taller, trying to get closer to the light source.
You’ll see this again and again with carpeting plants, especially ones that prefer moderate to high light levels. If the light isn’t bright enough, they’ll just grow taller trying to reach the light.
This can really mess up the aesthetic and turn a carpet into a tangled mess.
Dwarf sag also prefers a nutrient rich plant substrate.
- Hardy plant that will spread through runners, if given the right conditions.
- Can tolerate a lot of different water parameters and temperatures.
- Might grow taller and be more sparse if light levels are not high enough.
2. Dwarf Chain Swords (Echinodorus tenellus)
The needs of this species are very similar to dwarf sag. It prefers a nutrient rich plant substrate and moderate to high lighting. It will spread itself across the bottom by putting out runners.
It does grow a thicker, more dense carpet than dwarf sag, which resembles a seriously overgrown lawn.
3. Micro Sword (Lilaeopsis novae-zelandiae)
This plant looks like individual blades of grass but it actually grows from a rhizome. You can pull apart a piece of rhizome with 3-4 blades on it and replant the small pieces. The rhizome will spread and grow more blades from each one.
Breaking off and planting small pieces can help make your carpet fill in faster.
For success with this plant, you really need CO2, strong lighting and fairly heavy fertilization or micro sword will have little or no growth.
So it’s not great for low tech setups or beginners.
- Somewhat taller, thick carpeting plant that’s great for larger tanks.
- Very easy to propagate
- Not a good choice for low tech setups.
- Not beginner friendly.
4. Dwarf Hairgrass (Eleocharis arcicularis or Eleocharis parvula)
Dwarf hairgrass is one of the most popular carpeting plants in the aquarium trade. It looks like a bright green, bushy lawn along the bottom of the tank.
Like a lot of carpeting plants, dwarf hairgrass will spread along the bottom by runners. If light and nutrients are high, hairgrass runners might invade other plants and start to cover them up. These can be trimmed back and even planted in other areas where you want the hairgrass to spread.
Hairgrass can get up to 10 inches (25 centimeters) tall, so it might overwhelm a smaller tank, like a 10 gallon. Luckily, you can trim it using very sharp scissors so that you get a nice “just mown” lawn look.
- Fast growing plant that will quickly grow into a thick carpet.
- Has a reputation for being finicky about substrate, lighting and nutrient levels.
- Can grow too high to be a good fit for smaller tanks.
- Might start to cover up other plants.
5. Monte Carlo (Micranthemum tweediei)
Monte Carlo is one of my favorite carpeting plants. It’s a bit newer in the trade and I’ve always liked the look of multiple round leaves along the stems.
It will easily carpet if it has enough light and CO2.
Otherwise, it will keep trying to grow up instead of along the substrate. It’s possible to get it to carpet in a low tech tank, but it takes a lot longer.
- A more interesting looking plant since it is multiple leaves along a stem.
- Given the right conditions, it is easy to grow and maintain.
- It takes a long time to get it to carpet in a low tech setup.
6. Dwarf Water Clover (Marsilea minuta)
Given the right conditions, this cute little plant looks like a carpet of four-leafed clovers. It will send runners out that cover the entire bottom of the tank in a carpet about 4 inches (10 centimeters) deep.
The biggest downside with this plant is that is grows really slowly. It can also stop putting out leaves that have four lobes like a clover. It can get established and then start putting out leaves that are single, double or triple lobed instead.
Dwarf water clover really does do best with CO2, so it’s not the most low tech friendly plant.
- Can grow leaves that look like miniature four-leaf clovers.
- Spreads itself over the bottom of the tank with runners to form a thick carpet.
- Can be very slow growing.
- If lighting is not high enough, stems may extend to the top of the tank.
- May start to put out leaves that are single or double-lobed so it doesn’t look like clover anymore.
7. Marsilea Hirsuta
Growth rate: medium
Max height: 8 inches (20 centimeters)
Light demands: low
CO2: appreciated but not required
This is a close cousin to dwarf water clover, but it’s a little easier to care for. Once it settles in, it may put out leaves with 1-4 lobes. It spreads runners across the tank floor and propagates itself.
With high lighting, it will stay in a compact low form. In low lighting, it will put out leaves with multiple lobes that grow to varying heights as it seeks the light. So it might give you the nicer leaf shape in lower light, but it might not stay a low and even carpet.
Of course, it will grow faster with CO2 and regular fertilization, but it’s not absolutely required.
But it grows faster than dwarf water clover, and is less finicky, so it may be a better choice for beginners.
- Grows faster than dwarf water clover.
- Can grow leaves that look like four leaf clovers.
- May not stay as an even carpet in lower light.
8. S. repens (Staurogyne repens)
S. repens is a really cool looking carpet plant with stiff stems that sprout pointed leaves. The leaf shape always reminds me of tiny Amazon sword leaves.
This plant is really tough and undemanding, so it’s a great choice for beginners. It does best with CO2, but it’s not an absolute requirement. Just make sure that you can provide enough light.
S. repens does require some trimming since some stems will grow more quickly than others, ruining the carpet look. But, you can take these trimmings and plant them in the substrate. These cuttings will root, forming new plants and adding to your carpet.
Or, you know, maybe some friends want it for their tanks.
The only real downside to this plant is that is a slow grower.
- Hardy and forgiving.
- Can be grown in a low-tech tank.
- Has a unique look with its clusters of small, pointed leaves.
- Slow growing.
- Requires trimming to maintain carpeted look.
9. Dwarf Baby Tears (Hemianthus Callitrichoides)
This plant really will not grow well without CO2.
Sorry low tech folks.
Dwarf baby tears are very sensitive to temperature. Make sure to keep your tank at 75°F (24°C) or lower. Higher than 75°F will cause the baby tears to quickly rot and die off.
This would mean it’s not compatible with fish like discus or bettas.
Although this plant really is gorgeous, I put it so low on the list because it takes advanced care and knowhow to give it the conditions that it needs.
That said, if you can provide for the plant’s demands, dwarf baby tears create a thick mat carpet that is the gold standard in aquascaping. It will even send out runners that eventually cover the tank floor and may even root on rocks and driftwood.
- Gorgeous, compact carpet that can even creep up and root on porous rocks and driftwood.
- Can be touchy and demanding.
- Only grows well under very specific conditions.
- Will not tolerate temperatures over 75°F (24°C)
Glosso (Glossostigma elatinoides)
This plant is highly sought after in the aquascaping world but it is very demanding. It requires precise parameters for light, nutrients and CO2.
You have to strike a balance of light and nutrients so that the glosso can grow quickly and outcompete algae that is always in the background, trying to take over.
You’ve also got to be careful where you place glosso in the tank. It needs the maximum amount of light. So it can’t be placed in the shadow of larger plants in the tank.
If lighting is too low, the plant will start to grow taller trying to reach the light. This leggy growth looks pretty messy and ugly.
Despite its finicky nature, Glosso really is striking. The short carpet of spade shaped leaves is so beautiful. If you’ve got the time, money and knowhow, this plant really is the holy grail of planted tanks.
- Forms a stunning carpet with a unique leaf shape not found on other plants.
- Needs precise levels of CO2, nutrients and light.
- If the balance gets off, growth may become gangly or algae can take over.
Bonus: Tips on Care for Carpeting Plants
Once you’ve decided which plant you want, you can use these tips to help get the best results.
Substrate Really Matters
Most carpeting plants will not grow well in sand or gravel. They will do best in an aquarium soil substrate.
These plants have big root systems. For some, the root system is just as large as the part of the plant that’s above the soil.
A soil substrate lets roots spread out more easily and provides the extra nutrients carpeting plants need.
It’s important to remember that carpet plants are the farthest from the light source.
A lot of them will start to grow taller if they aren’t getting enough light. Basically, the plant stretches itself closer to the light as a survival mechanism.
So if it seems like your carpet is much taller and more spindly than you’d expect, it may be time to increase light in the tank.
Vacuuming Your Carpet
Just like your living room rug, aquarium carpets need a good vacuuming.
Fish waste sinks to the bottom of your tank and gets trapped by your carpeting plants.
As this waste breaks down, it puts of ammonia, nitrates and phosphates, all the stuff that algae loves to feed on.
So, you’ve got to get the gunk out of your carpet.
Sadly, you can’t get in there with a shop vac to get fish poop that’s trapped under your plants.
The absolute coolest technique I’ve seen to get carpet plants clean comes from a YouTuber named Dave on his Aquarium Gardens channel.
He attached a turkey baster to a piece of ⅝ inch tubing (the same size tubing that comes on most gravel vacuums). The turkey baster is secured with some zip ties and extends a few inches past the end of the tubing.
A siphon is started with the tubing. By squirting the turkey baster under water, all the fish waste and gross gunk trapped in the carpet plants gets blown out into a plume that then gets sucked up by the siphon.
The video is great because it shows how the carpet plants look perfectly clean but then big clouds of brown waste come out of them from the turkey baster. It definitely illustrates that you can’t just go by the outward appearance.
It’s recommended that you clean out your carpet plants like this every time you do your weekly water changes.
Final Thoughts on the Best Carpeting Plants
A healthy carpet in a display tank is really striking.
I remember the first time I ever saw a tank with impressive carpeting plants. It was in a big display tank at a local live fish store.
It was a thick, bushy carpet of dwarf sagittaria and I was just blown away.
Carpets make a great habitat for bottom dwellers, shrimp and fry. They provide shelter from bigger tank mates and are a great source of food since shrimp and small fry can munch on the biofilm that covers the plants.
There are a few species of carpeting plants that can tolerate low light and low tech conditions, but most will need at least medium light and some CO2 supplementation.
They also require some special maintenance to make sure that they’re trimmed and free of waste that can gather in them.
But, all of this care is well worth it when you have a gorgeous green carpet of plants covering the bottom of your tank.
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Last update on 2019-10-21 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API