Are you looking for a plant for your freshwater aquarium that will look great and be easy to grow? It is hard to beat the dwarf Sagittaria.
This plant is incredibly hardy, looks amazing in a wide variety of tank setups, grows pretty white flowers, and has a wide range of benefits for aquarium inhabitants.
Here’s what you need to know about how to grow this plant, how to use it in aquascaping, and potential pitfalls that the beginner hobbyist may fall into.
What is Dwarf Sagittaria?
Dwarf Sagittaria (Sagittaria subulata) is an attractive green aquarium plant that has the appearance of grass, making it a superb choice for use in the planted aquarium. It is also known as dwarf sag, arrowhead, duck potato, wapato, and katniss. (*)
Best of all, it is native to North America along the Atlantic coast and can also be found in parts of South America. This means that it is a hardy plant for planted aquariums. (*)
You see, the dwarf sag is found all the way along the eastern coast from Massachusetts to Florida. It is also native to Colombia and Venezuela. It has become an invasive species in Great Britain, Java, Indonesia, and some other places.
By now, you should expect that this plant is tolerant of a range of temperature conditions.
As if that’s not enough, in the wild, it grows in marshes, canals, lakes, and other shallow-water environments. It can handle both fresh and slightly brackish water.
In our experience, it is also tolerant of growing slightly out of the water or being fully submerged. The diverse water conditions that this aquatic plant can tolerate makes it a tough plant in the aquarium.
The Sagittaria dwarf variety only grows to be about 4 to 6 in tall. It has bright green leaves that are narrow, arrow-shaped, and can resemble a carpet of grass when the plant grows densely.
As if that’s not enough to make you understand why this is an attractive plant for planted tanks, it also develops white flowers. (*) The flowers are small, white, and very charming.
When the plant is submerged, the white flowers grow on long stems until they can reach out of the water.
In case you might be asking yourself, dwarf Sagittaria can also grow out of the water in moist conditions. It develops a distinct landform with more oval-shaped leaves that are only 1 to 2 inches long.
This characteristic makes it great not only for the planted aquarium but also for paludariums.
How tall does dwarf sagittaria get?
If the plant is healthy and are provided with optimal growing conditions it can grow to 12 inches high.
Turns out, the dwarf Sagittaria was previously not found in the wild and its dwarf state. It is a variety of Sagittaria subulata that was bred into a dwarf form by Dutch breeders.
The wild variety can grow up to 12 inches.
You see, there are also a number of other related varieties of Sagittaria subulata that may be suitable for your planted aquarium. In fact, there are as many as 45 varieties in the world.
What does this mean for you? Most of these varieties are too big to use in your aquarium.
For instance, the Narrowleaf Sagittaria looks very similar, with narrow, grass-like leaves. However, this plant can grow as much as 15 in.
In our experience, It may be suitable as a background plant in some tanks, but it won’t be as useful for most people.
Broadleaf Sagittaria is a very attractive option with leaves that grow from 8 to 12 in. It grows outward from a central point in a very charming way that can make it a great signature choice.
Caring for Sagittaria Subulata
Dwarf Sagittaria is one of the toughest aquarium plants that you’re likely to find. (*) Think about it: This should come as no surprise since it has been successful enough to be an invasive species in many areas.
No wonder it can do well in a wide variety of aquariums. It is hardy to not only a variety of water conditions but also can tolerate temperature fluctuations in your tank.
That said, in our experience, dwarf Sagittaria does need some specific conditions to stay healthy:
Turns out, dwarf Sagittaria can thrive in tanks of a variety of sizes. It can do very well even in nano tanks of only around 5 gallons.
You see, it can also fill out a thick carpet of ground cover in larger aquariums. No matter what kind of aquarium you have, this is a good plant for you to choose.
And the good news? It is tolerant of and prefers a variety of conditions and prefers moderate lighting.
Think about it: the dwarf Sagittaria can do well in shallower tanks especially when overshadowed by other plants. It can also do very well in deep tanks for which it may otherwise be challenging to find appropriate plants.
By now, you should recognize that the dwarf Sagittaria is tolerant of a wide variety of water conditions. This makes it one of the best beginner plants.
Here are the conditions that it requires:
- Temperature. Between 68 and 82 f. It can tolerate much lower temperatures without adverse effects.
- pH. Prefers values between 6 and 8.
- Hardness. Tolerant of soft or hard water between 2 – 15 GH.
On the other hand, like most plants and fish, the dwarf Sagittaria does not like rapid changes. It is best that variations in temperature, pH, and hardness occur gradually.
You see, dwarf Sagittaria prefers moderate lighting. (*) Too many watts per gallon will cause this species to turn yellow.
When it is exposed to extremely high levels of watts per gallon, it can even melt.
On the other hand, it can tolerate very low levels of light. It will not grow very quickly with insufficient lighting, but it will survive.
In our experience, when the light is very low, the leaves will stretch longer, reaching for more light.
On the other hand, you can still use this species to create an effect like grass in an aquarium with very high light. Just shelter it under taller plants that prefer more light.
Simply put, substrate is the one area in which dwarf Sagittaria could be said to be sensitive. This aquatic plant does not absorb many nutrients from the water column.
What does this mean for you? You will need to provide most of the nutrients through the substrate so that it can absorb them through its roots.
No wonder you should choose nutrient-rich substrate. Because dwarf Sagittaria grows an extensive root system, it spreads the soil quite deeply.
You see, roots should be fully submersed in nutrient-rich substrate and have plenty of room to spread out.
On the other hand, sand or gravel substrate is not a good option for this species. If you want to use only this kind of substrate, you will need to use tabs.
Does dwarf sagittaria need substrate?
No, they do not need any substrate to grow, but if you want to plant them in a decorative pot, then they will need to be set into some sort of potting material. Flourite or potting soil should work fine.
Turns out, Sagittaria requires sufficient iron to remain healthy. Without enough iron, it will lose its lovely green coloration and have yellowing.
On the other hand, it does not require carbon dioxide injection. Its growth may not be quite as rapid without CO2, but it will still thrive.
Nevertheless, if you want to use CO2 injections, you may need to provide more fertilizer and stronger lighting.
You see, when CO2 is injected, growth speeds up and plants require more nutrient-rich environments. Some plants demand CO2 to do well.
Dwarf Sagittaria will tolerate and may even do better with CO2 under the right conditions.
But wait, let me tell you something. If you want to keep shrimp in the aquarium, keep in mind that they may be sensitive to high CO2 levels. Fertilizer with copper can also be dangerous for shrimp.
Simply put, be careful if you are keeping shrimp and Sagittaria together and providing additional fertilizer and carbon dioxide.
Is dwarf sagittaria easy to grow?
Yes, Dwarf sagittaria plants are generally easy to grow so long as they have proper watering and light. They are quite sensitive to the amount of water they receive. If they are not watered too frequently, or if you allow them to dry out between watering, then it can cause some of the leaves to turn brown and crispy in appearance.
Aquascaping with Dwarf Sagittaria
No wonder if you want to create a beautiful aquatic world, this is a great plant to choose from. The dense carpet effect it can form along with the movement of the leaves creates a stunning effect.
As if that’s not enough, you can have a lot of control over the look of this plant with frequent trimming. When you trim the plant, it will develop a denser growth habit.
Here are some tips for placement and maintenance to make this species look its best in your aquarium:
- Foreground. Dwarf Sagittaria is most often used as a foreground plant. Keep it trimmed to create a grass-like carpet that can aid in the creation of a miniature world within your aquarium.
- Midground. Depending on your tank, this species can also work well as a mid-ground planting. If you have very low-growing plants at the front, dwarf Sagittaria can work perfectly behind them.
- Background. In aquariums with very low growth, this species can also work well in the background. It can also be great to fill out spaces that otherwise are left empty to provide room for swimming.
Keep in mind that because this species does not take nutrients from the water column in the aquarium, it needs to have roots in the substrate. Do not tie or glue it to driftwood, rocks, or anything else.
If you would like to create an effect of having this plant elevated onto rocks or driftwood, provide a pocket of substrate for it.
Propagating Sagittaria Subulata
Turns out, Sagittaria spreads by runners, which makes propagation very easy. You will only need half a dozen individuals with healthy root systems to start a dense carpet effect.
Plant its root system thoroughly into the planting medium, but be careful not to bury the root crown too deep or it may rot.
In our experience, while it can be tempting to crowd the plants together for a dense effect, it is better to leave them at least 2 or 3 inches apart.
Providing plenty of room between plants lets shooters spread out and grow into a lush effect.
As if that’s not enough, if you want to plant dwarf sagittaria somewhere else in the aquarium, sell them, or use them in another aquarium, it is very easy. Simply pinch off runners with new plants and use them as you please.
But wait, let me tell you something. Trimming leaves from each plant encourages runners to form, which will create the dense effect sooner.
Therefore, regular trimming is a good idea both to maintain the shape of this plant and to help it spread.
Is Dwarf Sagittaria Good for Fish and Shrimp?
Turns out, if you are trying to decide whether this species is a good option for the fish and shrimp in your tank, you will likely love it. It tolerates many different water conditions, from very hard water to soft water and a variety of pH levels.
That means that you can set up your aquarium to be an ideal environment for the species that you have chosen. Your dwarf Sagittaria will adapt and do very well in whatever conditions you need for your finned inhabitants.
Furthermore, dwarf Sagittaria provides a couple of other great advantages for fish and shrimp species:
- Eliminate anaerobic pockets. The propagation by runners that dwarf Sagittaria uses breaks up anaerobic pockets which contain hydrogen sulfide and can be dangerous for fish.
- Safety and foraging. This species offers hiding places for little creatures like fish fry and newly hatched shrimp. It also provides a place to capture food for them to eat.
- Oxygen. This species does a good job of releasing oxygen into the water column and doesn’t require excess CO2 which may reduce the oxygen available to fish and shrimp.
Enjoy Dwarf Sagittaria
Dwarf sagittaria is a gorgeous freshwater plant that is one of the easiest to grow species for your freshwater aquarium. It is also one of the few options that stays quite small.
Furthermore, this species provides lots of benefits for other inhabitants of the tank and creates an impressive aquascape for you to enjoy. You are sure to love growing and to propagate this fascinating and robust species.