Container Water Gardening
Although many people are putting in full-scale pond features, you don’t need to do that to enjoy water garden plants.
Container water gardens are as much alternatives as container flowers are to a full-size flower bed. The only difference is that you use pond plants in a water growing media as opposed to land plants in potting soil. Even a bowl can hold a small water plant. A nice size container is 12 to 24” wide by 12 to 16” deep. While you can seal ceramic containers or use liners in wooden barrels, plastic containers may be the easiest to use. Just as with container flowers, group various-sized water garden containers to make a big splash. Depending on the size of the container, select a spiky, erect plant, such as sweet flag, Acorus calamus, or yellow flag iris, Iris pseudacorus. Combine with a broad-leaf plant, such as Giant arrowhead, Sagittaria latifolia, or calla lily, Zantedeschia aethiopica. Add a cascading plant, such as water mint, Mentha aquatica, or parrot feather, Myriophyllum aquaticum.
You will pot your plants in containers filled with a heavy, packed clay and submerge them underwater. Use bricks or an old, terra cotta pot to prop them off the bottom so the foliage is above the waterline. Finish off the planting with some floating plants, such as water lettuce, Pistia stratiotes, or water hyacinth, Eichornia crassipes. Don’t crowd too many plants into a container. Two to three potted plants and some floaters will make quite an impact.
Locate the container where it will receive 6 hours of sun and top it off every few days as water evaporates. When plants begin to grow, add a fertilizer tablet available at Esbenshade’s Garden Center, where you purchased your plants. If algae develop, remove the water plants, empty the container, refill with clean water and replace the plants. Mosquitoes have not been a problem in container water gardens as the living plants keep the water from becoming stagnant. If they do develop, remove them by overfilling your container and letting the mosquito larvae run out with the water flowing over the top, or use a safe biological larvicide.
Container water gardens are really quite simple and worth a try.
SELECTING PLANTS FOR THE WATER GARDEN
Make a splash in your water garden this year by choosing plants that are visually intriguing as well as functional.
When you make your selections, consider both the ornamental qualities and the practical value of each plant. A good combination will oxygenate the water, compete with algae to keep the water clear, and take up nitrogen to balance the pond’s ecosystem.
Before running out to buy plants for your water garden, make a plan. The number of plants you need will be limited by the size of your pond or container. The general rule is that plants should cover no more than 2/3 of the water’s surface.
It is important not to overcrowd your water garden. Good air circulation is needed to allow plants to flourish disease free. Plan on the small plants you start out with quickly growing and requiring more space.
While the variety of plants available is increasing to meet the growing popularity of water gardening, the four basic categories remain the same. When deciding what you will plant in your water garden, be sure to include plants from each category.
Floating plants float freely on the surface of the water and can be placed in all areas of the pond. They grow quickly and require periodic thinning. By shading the water with their leaves, they reduce the amount of light needed for algae to grow. Examples of floating plants are: Water Hyacinth, Water Lettuce, Sensitive Plant and Parrots’ Feather.
Surface plants have their roots in soil and leaves on long stems that float on the water’s surface. By blocking sunlight, they also inhibit the growth of algae. Water lilies are surface plants. Tropical or hardy, they are easily grown and make great plants for the average pond or container water garden. Other surface plants include Lotus, Water Hawthorne, Variegated Four-leaf Water Clover and Yellow Floating Hearts.
SUBMERGED OR OXYGENATING PLANTS
The leaves of submerged plants remain underwater, rarely protruding above the surface. They may root in soil or float freely. Fast growers, they will need thinning in smaller ponds. These plants are important in maintaining the quality of the water in the pond. They produce oxygen for use by both plants and fish. By utilizing nitrogen produced from decaying plant material and fish waste products, they deprive algae of nutrients. Submerged plants include Hornwort, Cabomba, Anacharis and Jungle Vall.
MARGINAL OR BOG PLANTS
Marginal, or bog plants prefer their roots and lower parts submerged. They may be planted in the shallow areas of a pond or in very moist soil at the edge. In the pond, they compete with algae for available nitrogen. Black Taro, with its large burgundy to black heart shaped leaves, contrasts well with the tall sword-like foliage of Sweet Flag or variegated Sweet Flag. Other interesting marginal plants include Zebra, Corkscrew and Horsetail Rush, aquatic Canna, purple or pink Pickerel Rush, variegated Water Celery, Cardinal Flower and Dwarf Cattail. It is never a good idea to obtain plants from the wild. Many water plants found in the wild are rare and protected by law. By removing them from their natural surroundings you may endanger their survival and damage the delicate balance of the surrounding ecosystem.