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How To Grow Carpeting Plants in Any Type of Aquarium

How To Grow Carpeting Plants in Any Type of Aquarium

Few things are more impressive in a planted freshwater tank than a dense, lush carpet. Carpeting plants are low-growing plants that cover the foreground of a planted aquarium, forming a thick mat. Growing a lush carpet may seem challenging to new hobbyists, but with the right techniques and materials, it's achievable in low and high-tech setups.

While it's common knowledge that carpets are more easily achieved with CO2 supplementation, that doesn't mean you can't grow an impressive carpet in a low-tech freshwater aquarium!

In this article, we'll discuss how to grow carpeting plants with and without CO2 injection. In addition, we'll explore the best carpeting plants for a low vs high-tech tank, as well as differences and expectations to keep in mind with the two methods. We'll also pay special attention to how to increase your odds of success in a low-tech setup.

This article will go over:

The Best Carpeting Plants For Low-Tech vs High-Tech

Choosing the right aquatic plant is half the battle when growing a healthy carpet. With a little specialized attention, you can grow various carpeting plants with high success rates in a low-tech tank. 

Low-Tech Plant Recommendations

Monte Carlo and Dwarf Hairgrass are good carpeting plants for tanks without CO2 injection, as long as there is sufficient light.

Marsilea variants including Marsilea Crenata, Marsilea Hirsuta, and Marsilea Angustifolia are also solid but slower-growing carpeting choices recommended for low-tech scapes. Compared to Monte Carlo, it demands less direct light for optimal growth. A mature carpet using any one of the mentioned Marsilea variants will resemble a field of clovers.

Using low-growing stem plants to carpet the foreground of a planted aquarium is also possible. Good species to consider include Microsword and Pearlweed, which can be trimmed regularly to have a carpet appearance.

Cryptocoryne Parva is a slow-growing, short crypt that can be used in the foreground of an aquarium. However, it doesn't send runners and needs to be manually propagated to achieve full ground coverage.

Having realistic expectations about timelines when dealing with low-tech scapes is important. Microsword for instance can take months to fill in without CO2.

High-Tech Plant Recommendations

In this category, you can consider the popular Hemianthus Callitriodes 'Cuba', also known as Dwarf Baby Tears. This is a small-leafed ground creeping plant that is notorious for being challenging because of high CO2 demands. It does grow quickly under optimal conditions if compared to Monte Carlo.

Glossostigma elatinoides grows quickly and easily with CO2 injection. It does require a lot of strong, overhead light for a compact, bushy growth pattern.

Utricularia gramminifolia (UG) is a fast-growing plant that spreads quickly and forms dense mats. While not particularly demanding, it should only be planted into biologically mature and cycled tanks with stable water parameters as it is susceptible to melting in immature setups.

The Three Keys To Carpeting Plant Success

Achieving success with carpeting plants requires careful attention to a few critical factors. Understanding these components can determine whether a carpet grows well or struggles to establish itself. In this section, we’ll explain how each of these factors contributes to lush, healthy carpets in both low and high-tech setups.

Carpeting plants have specific requirements that make or break their success:

1. Light

A challenge for carpeting plants lies in the fact that they are furthest positioned from the light source. In low and high-tech setups, providing the right spectrum and intensity of light is crucial.

When growing carpet plants, high-tech setups are already equipped with strong lights designed to grow these demanding plants. Low-tech tanks are at a disadvantage as they tend to have weaker lights to minimize the risk of algae development. Remember, good lighting helps plants grow compact and dense, and prevents them from becoming leggy or stringy.

2. CO2

Carbon dioxide (CO2) is a growth accelerator in planted aquariums, significantly enhancing plant growth rate and overall health. Adding CO2 can change how carpeting plants appear, making them grow denser and more compact, which can make them more visually appealing.

High-tech aquarium setups typically utilize pressurized CO2 systems, offering precise control over CO2 levels and ensuring optimal plant absorption. This results in faster, denser carpeting. For low-tech tanks, using liquid carbon supplements or promoting CO2 through biological methods (increased surface agitation) can still enhance results. Balanced CO2 levels help prevent common issues like vulnerability to algae during the early stages, as well as patchy ground coverage.

3. Acclimation Success

Transition stress and acclimation issues are crucial for the success of carpets. Carpeting plants are likely to experience minor melt shortly after planting in a new environment. Plants need time to adjust to new tank conditions like water parameters, light quality, and nutrient availability when they are added to your aquarium.

Especially when purchasing emersed plants, keep in mind that they will need to make the transition to submerged growth. In both low and high-tech setups, minimizing stress during this transition period is essential. Using acclimation techniques such as gradual light adjustments and stabilizing water chemistry helps plants establish themselves more quickly.

Successful acclimation reduces the risk of melting and die-off, setting the foundation for flourishing growth once the plant has established itself. Reducing acclimation stress ultimately maximizes the rate of success. 

How To Grow Carpeting Plants Without CO2

There are a few challenges to overcome when attempting to grow a carpet in a low-tech aquarium, but it's possible with the right approach and patience. Here are some tips to help you succeed:

Use a Shallow Tank

A shallow tank is ideal for growing carpeting plants without CO2 because it allows light to penetrate down to the bottom of the tank more effectively. With less water to travel through, the light is more likely to be strong enough to support foreground plant growth. A shallower depth ensures carpeting plants receive the maximum amount of light possible, which is crucial for photosynthesis.

Provide Strong Light

High light levels are essential in a low-tech setup. Carpeting plants need plenty of light to grow and send out runners, so investing in a full-spectrum light is necessary. Aim for at 8-10 hours of light each day to mimic a daylight cycle and provide the energy plants need for photosynthesis. Full-spectrum lights are ideal because they cover the entire range of wavelengths used by plants, including both blue and red light, which are crucial for growth.

Use Nutrient-Rich Aquasoil

Having enough nutrients is important for a healthy carpet, usually done by using aquasoil and/or root tabs for replenishment. If you are using quality nutrient-rich soil like UNS Controsoil, root tabs are not needed. Carpeting plants need a steady supply of nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium to grow properly. Without these nutrients, they may not thrive. Aquasoil releases these essential minerals slowly over time, ensuring a steady supply that helps plants develop robust root systems and vibrant color.

Consider the Dry Start Method

An alternative method of establishing a carpet in a new setup is called the Dry Start Method. This method is used to establish a carpet before flooding the tank. It involves planting in wet aquasoil and keeping the substrate moist by misting it regularly while covering the tank to maintain high humidity.

The Dry Start Method is one of the best ways to establish a carpet in a low-tech tank because it allows plants to develop strong root systems and begin spreading before the tank is filled with water. This method ensures that plants are well-established while reducing the risk of algae, poor growth, and other issues common in low-tech setups.

How To Grow Carpeting Plants With CO2

Most live plants need CO2 supplementation to maximize their growth and appearance, as well as to spread runners effectively. When conditions are optimal, these plants grow rapidly, covering the ground floor within a few months. This is especially true for species like Hemianthus Callitriodes 'Cuba' (Dwarf Baby Tears), Glossostigma Elatinoides, and Utricularia Gramminifolia (UG).

The same rules for low-tech setups apply here, although you don't have to prioritize a shallow tank the same way you would without CO2, nor does your light have to be excessively strong.

Provide Adequate Light

High-tech tanks are less dependent on strong lighting. When CO2 levels are optimal, carpeting plants require less light to spread effectively. Regardless, adequate lighting is still important as it ensures your plants can perform photosynthesis efficiently, which is crucial for their growth and health. Aim for 8-10 hours of light each day to mimic a natural daylight cycle.

Use Nutrient-Rich Aquasoil

Aquasoil is the ideal substrate for growing carpeting plants by providing a steady release of essential macronutrients for optimal growth. UNS Controsoil in particular is effective at buffering pH, which helps create an ideal environment for carpeting plants as most prefer relatively soft, acidic water (Dwarf Hairgrass, HC 'Cuba', etc).

The tanks in the Buce Plant showroom are maintained at a pH of around 6.8 to keep water hardness down. Using high-quality aquasoil can provide the perfect conditions for carpeting plants to grow and spread.

Maintain Optimal CO2 Levels

The ideal CO2 concentration for carpeting plants in a planted tank with CO2 injection is typically around 20-30 ppm (parts per million). This level helps ensure robust growth, promoting faster horizontal spreading and better resistance against algae. Many carpeting plants are small and more prone to algae issues; CO2 injection significantly helps maintain their health and boosts their resistance to algae.

It's important to monitor CO2 levels closely using a drop checker or CO2 test kit to maintain this optimal range, as too much CO2 can be harmful to fish and other tank inhabitants.

Ensuring Success With Carpeting Plants

Growing carpeting plants without CO2 is possible with careful attention to lighting, substrate, and acclimation techniques. A shallow tank, strong full-spectrum lighting, nutrient-rich aquasoil, and gradual acclimation of plants are essential for success in low-tech setups.

On the other hand, CO2 supplementation speeds up plant growth, promotes rapid horizontal spread, and produces more attractive growth forms.

Regardless of your chosen method, providing the right conditions will ensure success and enjoyment with carpeting plants. Experiment with different techniques, observe how your plants respond, and enjoy the rewarding journey of cultivating a lush carpet in your aquarium.

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