One of the newest trends in landscaping is the addition of a pond to your yard. Water gardens add visual interest as well as the pleasing sound of moving water. When installing a water feature or pond, it is essential to make it look as natural as possible. You want it to look as though the pond was always there and not like a human-made addition. One of the ways to achieve this is by proper plant selection. Because the plants are near or in the water, they need to be able to thrive with ‘wet feet.’ This means the plants either don’t mind having their roots planted in moisture-laden soil or growing media.
This article is a guideline for choosing aquatic plants for a successful water garden.
Topics that are going to be covered include:
- Marginal plants
- Floating plants
- Oxygenator plants
- Waterlily plants
Marginal plants are the varieties that are planted at the edges of the pond. Think of using the margins of a page; this is the same concept. It is a pond designer’s goal to create an entire aqua space, and this concept does not just end with the pond itself. That is where marginal plants come into play. Marginals are either partially submerged or planted right on the bank, where the soil is always damp. These plants add visual interest through color, texture, and height. Below are some examples of popular marginal plants.
Sweet Flag (Acorus Calamus)
This grass plant survives in both full sun to partial shade and grows up to 4′ tall. There are many varieties of this plant that allows for deviations in leaf color. With some varieties sporting rich, dark green leaves, and others with light green and yellow variegated leaves, there is something for everyone’s taste.
Brooklime (Veronica Beccabunga)
This very low growing, spreading plant adds color to the margins when in bloom. Growing only 4″ tall with blue or pink flowers, this variety should be planted in full sun to part shade. Use this plant to fill out the shoreline quickly.
Zebra Rush (Scirpus Zebrinus)
Plant this bulrush if you are looking for height and drama. While it does not produce flowers, its leaves are bright green with white bands that add an ornamental flair to the pond. Zebra rush can grow as tall as 6’ and prefers to grow in full sun to partial shade.
Floating plants grow precisely as they sound, by floating on the surface of the water. Because their roots grow in the water itself, they do not require actual planting. They are an important part of the aqua space puzzle because they control algae and filter out elements that can potentially grow into algae. Floating plants also help to control the temperature of the water by creating shade to below water surfaces. Some varieties of floating plants cannot survive in colder climates, much like annuals, and so need to be reinstalled every year.
Water Lettuce (Pistia Stratiotes)
This plant is accurately named due to its appearance. Water lettuce has thick, round leaves that form a rosette shape. This plant does not have showy flowers, but its hanging roots provide food and safe spaces for baby fish. Like many other pond plants, these plants survive best in full sun to partial shade.
Water Hyacinth (Eichornia crassipes)
Again, this is another full sun to partial shade water plant. This plant sports thick oval leaves and can grow well above the water’s surface when happy. Water hyacinths grow pinkish-purple flowers that add color to the water garden.
These are perhaps the most well-known floating water plants. Water lilies are available with a variety of colors of flowers. The flowers range in color from pinks, whites, reds, oranges, and yellows. Not all types are hardy in northern climates, but there are some that can overwinter in these areas. So, if you prefer not to replant each year, then be sure to choose a hardy water lily. This can sometimes limit the color options but gives the advantage of a perennial water garden.
Also known as submerged plants, oxygenators are integral to the health of your pond. They grow below the water’s surface and release oxygen into the water, which is essential for controlling algae. Oxygenators are planted right into the base of the pond. If you are planning on having fish in your water garden, these plants act as the habitat for hatching baby fish.
Canadian Pondweed (Elodea Canadensis)
This plant can grow up to 10′ tall, so be sure to plant it in the deepest part of your pond. Pondweed sports bright green leaves on a thin, rounded stem.
Variegated Pennywort (Hydrocotyle ‘Confetti’)
A very low grower, this plant lives right on the floor of the pond. It grows only 6” tall but spreads outwards to cover the bottom of the pond in a mat. Variegated pennywort adds interest and color with its white and green variegated leaves. Try planting at the base of taller plants to add visual attraction.
Water Primrose (Ludwigia Repens)
Water primrose can be considered a medium grower in terms of height. It grows up to 12″ in height so it can be planted near ground covers or tall plants to add different dimensions of height. While the leaves are dark green in color, the undersides are reddish-brown. When planted in full sun, the colors become even more vibrant. Be aware this is a spreading plant, so it can take up a lot of space.
No matter the size of your yard, a water garden can usually be incorporated. Whether having it professionally installed or doing it yourself, choosing the correct aquatic plant material is paramount. It is important to keep light requirements and space needs in mind. As well as knowing where the plant can thrive. As an added measure, you can choose plants based on visual appearance. No matter what you want, keep in mind that in order for plant life to thrive, you must plan ahead. Choose plants based on the cultural conditions of your yard.