Carpeting plants have a bad reputation in the aquarium hobby as difficult, expensive, and overall inappropriate for beginners. While there is some truth to this claim there are a number that are much easier to grow.
One of these is Dwarf Sagittaria. These plants are tolerant of a wide range of water conditions and when given enough nutrients, put out runners that spread through your substrate. One plant can completely colonize an aquarium if given enough time!
What is Dwarf Sagittaria?
Sagittaria is a genus of marshy plants found in riverine and brackish environments around the world. Many also go by the name “Duck Potato” because the roots of these species are large, starchy, and edible.
Most Sagittaria tend to be fairly tall plants that reach 6-18 inches in height. They are very similar in appearance to Vallisneria (Eel Grass). However they don’t grow quite as tall and have a noticeable edge to their leaves if you run a finger along them. Sagittaria also tend to grow faster and are even harder than Vallisneria!
Like many popular aquarium plants Dwarf Sagittaria is amphibious: it can grow both in and out of the water. In nature the plant grows right along the banks of rivers and lakes so when water levels fluctuate the plant has to adapt.
As a result, when you buy newly imported Dwarf Sagittaria, you may be disappointed to discover your plants turning light green and quickly melting. This is actually normal! The plant is converting itself into its aquatic form, which takes a little time.
Once it re-establishes itself, it quickly regrows leaves from the roots and should take off running! What else is there to know about Dwarf Sagittaria care?
- Common Names: Dwarf Sagittaria, Narrow-Leaved Arrowhead, Awl-Leaf Arrowhead
- Scientific Names: Sagittaria subulata
- Origin: North & South America
- Height: 3-6 inches
- Growth Rate: Fast
- Lighting: Moderate
- Ease of Care: Easy
Dwarf Sagittaria Care
This section covers everything you need to know about Dwarf Sagittaria lighting, water, and setup requirements.
Dwarf Sagittaria Lighting Requirements
Dwarf Sagittaria does best with moderate to high lighting. While it’s very forgiving in terms of low carbon dioxide, fertilizer, and poor substrates, without light it really won’t do much. If you have a low light aquarium, you may be able to keep it alive by providing either additional fertilizer or carbon dioxide.
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Fortunately, plant LED lights are incredibly affordable and easy to install nowadays! With full spectrum lighting your Dwarf Sagittaria is much more likely to thrive.
The lower your light levels the higher your Sagittaria will grow. Being a carpeting plant it takes stronger light to reach the bottom of the tank. If you want it to remain truly dwarfed, provide at least moderate lighting.
Other Plants & Substrate
Dwarf Sagittaria is tolerant of a wide range of lighting conditions. Also, they spread via runners that can help struggling plants by providing extra sugars to help them establish themselves in shady areas.
Therefore, Dwarf Sagittaria rarely gets shaded out by larger or taller plants. They will eventually colonize the entire bottom of your tank so long as they are provided with enough nutrients.
They don’t grow as fast as Pygmy Chain Sword (Helanthium tenellus) or other medium sized carpeting plants. But they still grow fast enough for one plant to fill an aquarium within a year!
Dwarf Sagittaria is also very flexible when it comes to substrates. Both gravel and sand-based substrates can be used successfully. Gravel is too large for most carpeting plants to grow thickly through.
But Dwarf Sagittaria is one of the larger types of carpeting plants and their roots are well anchored by gravel.
I still recommend using enriched plant substrates because like many plants that spread through runners Sagittaria are heavy root feeders. Clay-based plant substrates like Seachem Flourite are also ideal because they have a high cation exchange capacity (CEC).
This property allows them to bind to free-floating nutrients like liquid fertilizers. This way, the nutrients are available directly to the roots to fuel rapid growth in your Dwarf Sagittaria.
Fertilizer, CO2 & Water Chemistry
If you want your Dwarf Sagittaria to grow as quickly as possible, I do recommend providing liquid fertilizers alongside an enriched or nutrient-absorbing substrate.
Sagittaria are especially hungry for iron, which Fluorite has large amounts of! It’s by far the best substrate you can buy for these plants. However if your substrate is iron poor, make sure you keep some supplementation on hand.
Macro and micronutrients matter but providing extra carbon dioxide is much more helpful. CO2 provides carbon for plants to build the structural components of their bodies.
Unfortunately water in standard conditions has far less CO2 than what’s available in the air. That’s why boosting CO2 levels with supplementation is always a good idea if you want to see rapid, lush plant growth.
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One of the best aspects to growing Dwarf Sagittaria is that it’s tremendously tolerant of a wide range of water conditions. It thrives not only in slightly acidic waters but alkaline as well (pH 6.5-8.0).
Most plants show reduced growth once the pH begins to climb but Sagittaria is just fine in the hard water many cities have. Temperatures are also fairly unimportant (60-84℉) so long as extremes beyond these levels are avoided.
Aquascaping with Dwarf Sagittaria
Aquascaping with Dwarf Sagittaria can be a little bit of a challenge. While it goes by the name “dwarf,” it’s actually one of the taller carpeting plants around.
If given high lighting it stays compact and won’t exceed 3 inches. But moderate to low light conditions will cause it to reach higher, potentially hitting 5-6 inches.
This makes it perfect as either a midground fill plant, a background plant for nano tanks, or a lush foreground plant. If used in the foreground, you’ll want to pair it with especially large or fast growing plants like Amazon Swords and Vallisneria.
When trimming Dwarf Sagittaria, you can’t simply give it a “haircut” by cutting horizontally along the leaves. Unlike stem plants, rosette plants grow their leaves from the base. If you cut the tips they will only decay and potentially kill the plant.
Any unwanted leaves must be plucked at the base of the plant. Since Sagittaria tends to form a thick mop over time, you’re better off sticking to removing dead leaves.
Planting & Propagation
Sagittaria is very hardy and easy to both plant and propagate! Simply remove your plant from any pot it’s provided with and plant straight down into the gravel. Bury as little of the base as you can manage while still keeping the roots securely anchored.
Once planted, you may see some dieback if your Dwarf Sagittaria was grown emersed (out of water). It will show some yellowing and may even lose some or all of its leaves as it transitions into its aquatic form.
Once this process is complete, it will quickly recover and establish its roots in your planting substrate. After the plant is 2-3 inches tall and fully established it will likely send out runners into the substrate.
These runners create buds along their length that will grow into clones of the original Dwarf Sagittaria! If you begin to see baby plants you can either leave them in place or pluck them to transplant elsewhere. They are more likely to survive the longer you let them stay attached to the umbilical cord their parent provides. But if you have to cut them free, don’t worry too much because you will have more very soon!
Dwarf Sagittaria has a rather invasive nature. If conditions are too its liking it will likely cover as much of the bottom as possible. So make sure you really enjoy this plant! As beautiful and easy to grow as it is, that shouldn’t be too difficult!
Remember that since it is amphibious, you can also use the Dry Start method to get a lush carpet growing even faster. This method is done by planting your Sagittaria, flooding your substrate, and keeping the rest of the aquarium moist but unfilled.
Since there is several times as much carbon dioxide in the air as there in water, the Dwarf Sagittaria can put biomass far faster. You can also leave the lights on for much longer since algae and other plants won’t be able to compete with the Sagittaria.
Carpeting plants get a bad rap in the aquarium hobby as fussy, maintenance heavy, and expensive. Dwarf Sagittaria is none of those things and is one of the surest ways to get a green lawn effect in your fish tank.
It’s extremely tough, cheap, and can even stand up to some abuse from cichlids and other digging fish. So long as you give it just a little attention through proper lighting and nutrients you’re bound to succeed with this plant!