Water features have a long history dating back to ancient civilizations. People today appreciate and are drawn to the soothing sound and calming effect of water. There are many ways to include water in your landscape, such as a waterfall, water garden or pond.
Probably the most important issue to consider is where to place the water feature. Fish and most aquatic plants need plenty of sunshine – six to eight hours of direct sun is best. Try to choose a site that will be clear of tall bushes and trees to prevent leaf litter. Consider the size of your property and your ability to maintain the water feature you choose. Unfortunately, water features are not maintenance-free and will require some work throughout the year. How much work just depends on what type you choose.
There are many types of plants available for use in a water garden or pond. When choosing plants, you will need to consider planting depth and amount of sunlight. Aquatic plants are divided into three categories: emergent, submerged and floating. Emergent plants are also sometimes referred to as marginals. This type of plant likes to be located along the edge of a pond. Bog plants are also considered to be marginals. If you are unable to locate your water garden in a spot with sufficient sunlight to support good plant growth, then bog plants are for you. There are some bog plants that can tolerate as little as three hours of sunlight and survive.
Submerged plants for the most part exist beneath the surface of the water. They are also referred to as oxygenators. This type of plant helps combat algae by consuming excess nutrients. They also provide cover for fish and produce oxygen during the daylight hours.
Floating plants are just that – floating. Their roots are not attached to the bottom or sides of a pond or in a dirt-filled aquatic pot. You might think of them as a “ground cover” in the aquatic world. Some floaters reproduce very rapidly and will need to be thinned by scooping them out of the water. I add my excess floaters to my compost pile. About 50 to 60 percent of the water surface should be covered with plants.
A mini aquatic garden is very easy to add to any deck or patio. Start with a 15- to 25-gallon container that has a dark interior which will discourage algae growth. I used half a whiskey barrel and lined it with heavy black plastic. Keep in mind that water weighs about eight pounds per gallon, so be sure to locate your container in a place that will hold the weight and will also receive 6-8 hours of sunlight. Fill the container with water. Keep in mind that city water supplies are often treated with chlorine. If using treated water, your filled container will need to set for 24-48 hours to let the chlorine evaporate before adding plants.
Plants used in small water gardens are grown in separate pots containing heavy clay soil. After your plant is potted, cover the top with a ½- to ¾-inch layer of pea gravel to help keep the soil in place. Adjust the depth of your plants by placing bricks under the pots.
A container garden is a miniature ecosystem of plants, water and fish and must come into balance, meaning the plant and animal life are able to hold the algae growth back. It will take about three to four weeks for this to occur. About two weeks after you set up your garden, it will turn cloudy with algae. In another week or so it should clear up and remain that way. I keep two large goldfish in my whiskey barrel. The plants and animals keep the algae under control by reducing the sunlight entering the water and competing with the algae for nutrients in the water. An aquatic garden will need a mix of plants, submerged, floaters and emergent, to attain a balanced system.
As always, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.