“The key to an ideal water garden eco-system is maintaining clean, healthy water,” says our own Dave Stockwell. “It is then that you attract and support delightful wildlife such as birds, butterflies, frogs, etc.”
Pond filtration systems and operating waterfalls are a big part of keeping water clean and oxygenated (aerated), adds Dave. “However, another major part of creating and maintaining a healthy water garden system is the aquatic and surrounding landscaping you do.”
Aquascape Inc., in St. Charles, IL — the country’s leading experts on all things pond and water gardens — describes the basic groups of aquatic plants as:
Water Lilies Lotus
Marginal Plants Water Lily-like Plants
Floating Plants Submerged Plants
(Note: Our feature photo at the top of the page is a Lotus.)
“The best designs for ponds and water gardens utilize a wide mixture of plants in different heights, textures and color from at least three of the above groups,” says Dave. “This gives the most natural look. When installing these, at Deck and Patio we don’t do it in a symmetrical way. We find that a more random placement provides the most natural look.”
The tall aquatic plant on the left of the pond (canna lily) offers a nice tall statement. It thrives in water conditions that are 70-80 degrees F, with a pH of 6.5-7.5. They’re also easy to care for, love natural light and are ideally suited near the edges of a pond. The weeping hemlock at the top right in the photo flourishes in moist soil and offers a bit of shade which helps balance the water temperature.
But there’s more to aquatic plants than aesthetics. Plants such as water lilies and irises feed on the nutrients (algae or small primitive unwanted plant life) in the pond water, and produce oxygen while they provide shade and food for small creatures attracted to the water garden.
Aquatic floaters and marginals, adds Dave, are perfect for gobbling up the excess nutrients that are produced by any pond fish and excessive plant algae growth. They also help by reducing sunlight in the pond, which also controls the growth of algae.
One submerged plant, arable hornwort, is a great example of plants that eat up algae and will also release oxygen.
“Remember, that while nutrients sound like a good thing, too many in your water garden, and your pond water changes dramatically,” says Dave. “However, despite the fact that aquatic plants eat up unwanted nutrients, too many plants or plant material will also contribute to an over abundance of nutrients. For example, when plants die in the fall, they fall back in the pond, adding to the problem. We recommend cutting them back before this happens in order to have healthy water.”
Dave says not to fret if your pond water has a slight tint to it. “Crystal clear water has no nutrients. You want some algae, diatoms, protozoans, etc. because they offer a diverse food source for pond fish, frogs, and plants. It’s all about choosing the right plants and keeping them all in balance.
To complete an enchanting water garden eco-system, the plants you put in around your water feature’s edge will aid in attracting birds, butterflies, pollinators, etc. No pond/water feature will be completely free of algae but it can be kept in check and in a natural way.
In addition to the canna lily, this pond boasts water lilies — both tropical and hardy ones. The pinkish coneflowers on the right are not aquatic and are not in the water but are perfect edging plants as they attract desirable wildlife — one of the reasons we love our ponds.
Bonus: Keeping the garden’s water circulating using a pump, or adding waterfalls, will help prevent mosquito larvae from hatching.