I switched my light to 4 hours per day now. I cleaned all the walls of the tank, scraped the rocks and took as much hair algae out of the bonsai as I could. Unfortunately cleaning the small branches of the tree is very tough. I did have no livestock, but today put in an algae eater with the hope he will get up in the crevices and start to remove that for me. Added some Flourish Excel as well. I have no idea what to dose after all this to be honest. May just keep it simple with Flourish for a while and see how that goes.
What kind of algae eater did you put in? I assume a siamese algae eater (SAE) since you're targeting the hair algae? I don't think an otocat will be very effective against hair algae. Also, just from my experience, SAEs are great at controlling hair algae, but I've never found them effective at completely eradicating it. The base of that algae bonds pretty tightly (or maybe even grows out of) the leaves and whatever material it is attached to, and the SAEs aren't able to complete get rid of it. I've had the same problem with fuzz algae too. Given this, it's unlikely you'll ever be able to fully clean the branches unless you take out the wood and basically sterilize it. You can try the one-two punch (H2O2 and Excel), but again FME it doesn't completely eradicate the problem.
For now you can probably keep it simple with just Flourish for the micros, but you're eventually gonna have to add in macros once you get a full carpet of DHG. That stuff can grow really fast and will be sucking up all your N and P when fully established. K is also important too to maintain the green-ness of your plants.
I read Wong's site and seems like not trimming is something I should have been paying more attention to. I completely removed the Hygros (they weren't doing that well and I didn't really like the look of them anyways). I trimmed up the anubias and AR. I'm not quite sure what to do with the AR, it all looks dull, but none look dying or with bad leaves, just like...struggling in general? You can't see them in the back as well, but the crypts are actually expanding more than anything else in the tank (although the moss does seem pretty good as well, just those two though). While working I was stirring up a good amount of junk in the substrate, which when doing water changes I was always very careful with since the DHG I was concerned I would uproot. Today I kinda waved my hand at the substrate and stirred it up a bit and it seemed to stay pretty well. The substrate I'm using is ECO Complete. How should I keep the substrate clean without messing with roots? Corys? Can they even do ok if I ever actually manage a nice carpet?
For the AR, Dennis has some good basic info on growing them well: https://www.advancedplantedtank.com/ar.html
It pretty much comes down to stability though, so they'll start to look better on their own once you address the overall stability of the tank.
Crypts are heavy root feeders and you are using eco-complete, so I'm not surprised they are doing well.
The anubias will take a lot of patience and a lot of trimming since the leaves grow so slowly and your tank isn't entirely stable yet.
I personally don't like using Corys in tanks w/ carpet plants since then they won't have any substrate to sift through. (But I'm also very bad at taking care of corys and have never really had much success with them so you should definitely ask others for their thoughts). I will say though that I have seen a couple unverified sources comment about not keeping corys in tanks with full carpets, but I don't recall ever hearing that from what I would consider to be a truly authoritative source. To do some light cleaning, you can probably go with the turkey baster approach per Dennis Wong. It's really tedious but it works.
And thanks about the DHG advice, should I just uproot it all and separate it more and replant? It does grow vertically at least and is a nice green that the colors don't show, just not carpeting like I want, I've trimmed them down a few times too.
For the DHG, I personally would just buy another pot and plant that in very very small bunches in between all the spaces (since it seems like you are going to try and salvage the tank rather than restart it). You can try uprooting all the DHG and replanting it, but I've never done that since I usually just redo the entire tank if my carpet fails. I imagine it will take the DHG time to adjust to the disruption (and probably/possibly longer than usual since your DHG hasn't been doing so well to begin with). FME I've been most successful with DHG horizontal growth by increasing the CO2 concentration with respect to the lighting. My marker of success/optimal DHG health/growth is if it pearls after a trim. Ideally it should be pearling even without the trim.
I don't know how well it will grow with just 4 hours of light, but I do know it can carpet in lower light environments with high CO2 (it takes time for the plant to adjust to the new light to CO2 ratio though).
I suppose at this point it's fair to say my imbalance was too much light, and not enough nutrients (or plants to uptake them). I'm still not sure if my CO2 was ok, but the drop checker was green mostly, so couldn't have been too far off. Although I'm not sure if the kH and gH numbers say otherwise.
I always take the drop checker colors with a grain of salt. I pay more attention to changes in color throughout the day, then the color itself... If it stays dark green all day, then you should suspect that you aren't injecting enough CO2 (assuming you set up the drop checker correctly i.e. right buffer solution, right location in tank, etc).
And lastly, and maybe most important that I didn't say from the original post, but the reason for the planting is that was what I was going for. really I planned on it being primarily DHG and Christmas moss in the tree, with a bit of other plants (anubais petite and crypts) to break things up and a bit of AR for accent colors. Really what I had planted was about the amount I was going for. I understand there are different way to do things, am I just trying to have an Iwagumi style tank with Dutch style maintenance?
I think the style you are describing is a "planted iwagumi" which is definitely a style that I've seen work really well. It's basically an Iwagumi that also utilizes stem or other noncarpeting plants in addition to the traditional carpet that Iwagumis typically all have.
I forgot who's video it is, but someone (George Farmer or Oliver Knott maybe?) has a video on how to plant DHG to maximize carpeting for an Iwagumi type setup. One of the tricks to successfully doing an Iwagumi that I learned is starting with a larger plant mass/coverage to control against algae (especially so because the rocks themselves will be taking up a lot of surface area). But, like @Asteroid
mentioned, you can make up for lower plant massage with better maintance/plant husbandry/aquagardening. The more DHG you start with though, the faster you'll get your carpet with less risk of algae overruns.