The calming sound of a trickling waterfall combined with the faint sweet smell of a blooming waterlily are an alluring combination for many homeowners. Backyard ponds, it seems, haven't gone out of style.
The calming sound of a trickling waterfall combined with the faint sweet smell of a blooming waterlily are an alluring combination for many homeowners.
Backyard ponds, it seems, haven’t gone out of style.
“People are putting in smaller features because of the economy, but they haven’t cut back entirely because, with all the stress in this world, people are really looking for relaxation — to create a sanctuary,” said Heather Blessing, vice president of Garden Vista Water Gardens in Springfield. And if planted and designed well, “ Water gardens and ponds aren’t high-maintenance,” she said. “That is a myth.”
Pond plants are the key ingredient to creating a beautiful, low-maintenance water garden. Each serves an essential purpose in keeping the water clean, algae-free and balanced, Blessing said.
Water garden plants fall into several broad categories, including oxygenators, floating plants, and bulk or marginal plants. With a good mix of plants, “You can balance the water garden, and you shouldn’t have to use chemicals,” said Katrina Pendrey, a horticulturist at Wilson’s Garden Center in Newark.
Oxygenators include anacharis, cabomba and hornwort, a winter-hardy plant. These look similar to the plants used in aquariums. “They lie (or are rooted) on the bottom of the pond and help with algae control,” Blessing said, and they pull carbon dioxide from the water and convert it to oxygen.
Bulk or marginal plants are placed around the perimeter of the pond and include cannas, cattails, grasses, irises, lizard’s tail, reeds and rushes. “They are very important, and go into a shallow shelf around the perimeter,” Blessing said. Marginal plants filter harmful micronutrients from the water and convert carbon dioxide into oxygen.
Then there are the floating plants that ride on the surface of the water. They include water hyacinth and water lettuce. “They are great filtration plants that keep the water clean,” Blessing said. They also block out sunlight, stalling algae growth, and provide shade and shelter for fish.
Waterlilies are perhaps the most well-known pond plant. Like most other water plants, they are potted in a sand and clay potting mix, and the pot is then submerged in the water. Waterlilies come in a range of colors and in tropical or winter-hardy varieties.
“The tropical lilies don’t overwinter, but they have a wider variety of flower colors, such as blue and purple,” Blessing said. “There are even stunning night bloomers.”
Waterlilies, both cold-hardy and tropical, are appealing because they flower all summer and are fragrant. But “They like calm water, so they don’t do well near waterfalls and fountains,” Blessing said.
Select plants based on their function and, within each category, use the same basic design elements as container gardens: Choose plants of varying heights, textures and colors, Pendry said. A water garden will be easier to maintain if you choose hardy plants, “so you don’t have to take them in every winter.”
Most pond plants need to be fertilized; there are spikes and tablets designed specifically for them. The fertilizer tab is pushed down into the soil in the submerged pot and won’t float away. If you plan to have koi in the pond, be aware that you might lose a few plants to them; the fish like to nibble on the roots.
You needn’t miss out on the beauty and benefits of a backyard water garden because of lack of space. You can plant a container water garden using the same plants as in a traditional backyard pond.
“It couldn’t be easier,” Pendrey said. “Just get a big container such as a half whiskey barrel and put pond liner in it. Even a smaller pot on a table can work. You don’t need a pump; just keep the water filled.”
Denise Trowbridge is a Columbus freelance writer who covers garden topics.