In some way, we are all attracted to water. The shimmering moonlight bouncing off a rippling lake, the trickling of water through a cool creek or the lapping waves against a rock-laden lakeshore. These sights and sounds bring colors to our minds which create a relaxing, calming effect on our bodies. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have these elements accessible to us whenever we needed them? If we are limited in space, we still do not have to be denied these peaceful sights and sounds. We can start to bring in a water element to your space by starting with a patio wall 3 to 4 feet high and an outdoor electric outlet by adding a wall fountain. Whether you appreciate an elegant lion’s head or the ornate look of a cherub, most wall fountains can bring a European look and they create the tranquil sounds of falling water. Freestanding fountains can also bring the same effect. Pedestal fountains give us added freedom of design by allowing us to use small floating aquatic plants. The simple beauty and sound of a classical fountain with floating water hyacinths bring value to any gardener. Of course, if you have adequate space, a pond is the ideal addition of the water element to your garden. Ponds bring all the aspects of a fountain’s cool, tranquil sounds as well as lush, vibrant plants and the beauty of fish.
When deciding to add a water garden, keep a few considerations in mind:
Location is the most important decision before creating a water garden for your home. The pond’s location in the landscape and overall function should be considered when selecting the appropriate design, for example: reflecting pool or aquatic display. If you want the pond to be a showplace for water plants, make sure it is positioned where it can be viewed from several areas in your garden. This also applies when using fountains in the design of your water gardens. The pool should be placed away from low spots in your yard, where fertilizer and other chemicals cannot run off into the pond. And remember, water gardens can fit into various sized spaces, big or small.
Light is another important element to keep in mind in the designing and placement of your water garden, especially if you want to grow water plants in the pond. Most water lilies and other ornamental plants require at least half a day of sunlight but prefer to be shaded from the hot afternoon sun. Intense sunlight can burn the foliage of most water plants.
One of the first steps in creating a pond is to select a formal, informal, or natural design while making sure to pick one that will best fit in with your new or existing landscape. The traditional formal pool is sunken in the ground, usually rectangular in shape and bordered with stones or concrete. Informal pools are usually above ground and therefore need more thought when trying to incorporate this style into your garden. More space is needed for outside plantings to make these pools look natural. Natural pools should be created with natural stones and native plant life to give the effect that it has been in your landscape since the beginning of time. Stright lines and sharp edges should be avoided. Consider the pool’s place and function, then select the appropriate kind of pool.
Fountains and waterfalls bring to life the atmosphere associated with water gardens. They also form many of the sounds and sights that create a tranquil environment.
Fountains can be bought as a separate unit and can be placed into many existing ponds. They come in an array of sizes and styles. Many are modeled after animals and famous statues. Be sure the fountain style fits in with the design of your pool. Fountains are best used as a feature for a formal pool. Though it should be placed where it can be seen, be sure to it is somewhat out of the way of traffic and in a protected area from the wind so as not to spray water in all directions.
Waterfalls and cascades require more water than fountains and can be built from rocks, metal bowls, and hollow bamboo reeds. They require much of the same equipment as a fountain, including a small pump and rubber tubing. The pump is to generate the movement of the water and the tubing to bring the water upwards to the top of the waterfall. These water elements both require a small reservoir or an existing pond to hold and recycle the water being used.
Lighting is a crucial element of the design of your water garden. Whether you are using light to accent the landscape around your pond, or to illuminate the sparkling water from a fountain, it allows you to stretch the hours into the nighttime for more enjoyment of your pond. It adds watch and aesthetic beauty to your pool and gardens. Many retail garden centers carry light kits in an array of different colors and sizes.
Plating Your Water Garden
There are many varieties of native and tropical aquatic plants available for water gardens. These plants vary from floating plants to marginal plants for pond shelves to the grand old lotus in the deepest depths of your pool. Several aspects should be considered when choosing plants. The size and area you want the plants to fill are important as most aquatic plants tend to be semi-invasive and they may need to be contained. If not, they may take over your pond or grow beyond the original space provided for that plant. Color is important in accenting any landscape and there is no shortage of color ranges in aquatic plants. Winter hardiness of your plant material should also be considered and will make a huge difference in maintenance of your pond.
When you begin to plant your ponds, water lilies immediately come to mind. But don’t forget that there are many other attractive aquatic plants that can accent the classic water lily such grasses and flowering cannas for the more shallow areas of your pool. There are also floating plants like water hyacinths, duckweed, and frogbit. Whether you chose these or any other variety of aquatic plants, they all will enhance the beauty of your water garden.
When winter comes, stop fertilizing and prune out old leaves and blooms. After the first killing frost, move your hardy water lilies, lotus, and bog plants to the bottom of the pool. Remove the hardy plants completely if your pond freezes down to the bottom. Place pruned plants in plastic bags and store at 40 degrees in a moist, dark place. This may be easier with the use of an old refrigerator but you must open it about once a week to let in fresh air. Tropical water plants should be treated as annuals and discarded at the end of the seasons. Some tropicals such as cyprus, callas, and taro may be grown indoors in a sunny window then placed back into your pond the following spring.
Dividing and planting instructions vary somewhat between water lilies, lotus, and other marginal and submerged plants. Lilies require a container about 10″ x 10″, fill the container 1/3 full with heavy soil, add fertilizer tabs and additional soil to half of the container height, position the lily rhizome so that the crown is up and gently place soil around the roots. Pack firmly but not too hard to avoid damaging the roots. Keep soil off the top of the crown then put 1 inch of rinsed gravel on top of the soil and thoroughly water. Lower into your pond about 6-18 inches deep with 3 or more of the pads should rest on the water surface. Lotus requires a much larger container of 12 to 16 inches across. Fill it 1/2 full with heavy soil, add plant food tabs and fill in more soil until about 3 inches from the top of the container. Place the lotus tubers lightly in the soil and cover the thickest part with 2 inches of soil and 1 inch of gravel. Water thoroughly and lower the planted lotus into the pond with 20 inches of water over the container.
For marginal plants such as cattail, bamboo, and arrowheads, use an 8-inch container. Fill container halfway with heavy soil, set the plant, and fill the rest of the way. Pat the soil down firmly and cover with 1 inch of gravel. Water in and place the container in the pond at the correct depth, which will vary depending on the variety of plant you have.
Submerge plants require an 8-inch pot and can have 1-2 bunches or plants per pot. Use heavy soil and cover with 1 inch of gravel. You may have to cover the pot with mesh netting, allowing a hole for the plant to grow through. This netting will keep plants from being uprooted by fish. Submerged plants do not require fertilizer.
You will, of course, want a well-balanced pond water. The ultimate system for filtering is a natural one. Submerged plants and scavenger (snails and tadpoles) play a large role in the balancing of your pond. Submerged plants fight with algae for dissolved nutrients. These plants also provide a spawning area for fish. Consuming algae, leftover food, and debris from fish and lilies is the job of the scavengers. One bunch of plants (approx. 5 stems) and one scavenger per 1 to 2 square feet of water surface area is all you need for an average pond to stay clear. The number of plants and scavengers will vary depending on the size of your pond. Cabomba, Anacharis, and Dwarf Sagittaria are common submerged plants available at garden centers. Snails and tadpoles are also rapidly available. But remember that your tadpoles will become bullfrogs during the first or second summer and may live happily next to your pond.
You may also purchase mechanical and biological filters which are an easy way to also keep your pond water clear. Mechanical filters trap debris and can be easily removed and cleaned. Biological filters sift unwanted debris and accelerate the biological breakdown.
Once you have installed your filtration system, fill your water garden with water and add a de-chlorinator and your aquatic plants. Allow the pond to settle for two weeks before adding fish. In this time, you may see the water turn green. This is a natural and healthy process in the curing of your pond water. After the two weeks have passed, you may add your fish. Goldfish and Koi are both beautiful and bring color to your pond.
The recommended ratio between fish to water is 1/2 inch of fish per 3 – 5 gallons of water. When purchasing, be sure to buy healthy fish. They should have clear eyes, mouths, and fins free of nicks and tears. Fish should be breathing normally and swim naturally without veering to one side or the other. Recommended size is a minimum of 4 inches. This is because fish of that size will adjust to transporting and will acclimate to your pond more easily. When you bring your fish home, float the closed plastic bag in your pond for about a half an hour, allowing the fish to adjust to the water temperature. You can now release your new pets carefully into the water. Feed lightly with floating fish food for the next 7 – 10 days. When adding fish to a pond with existing fish, it is best to contain your new fish for a few days to be sure they are healthy. This allows you to watch for any problems that may occur.
Whiskey barrels and other small containers work well for isolating your new pond pets. Make sure you provide oxygen and food during their isolation. Besides these functions, whiskey barrels also make wonderful miniature water gardens. Again, they must be located where they receive half a day of sunlight with afternoon shade so that the water does not overheat which would kill your plants and fish. When picking plant material for these mini water gardens, it is best to choose dwarf varieties to be in proportion with your pond. The same rules, as above, apply when adding fish and submerged plants to these gardens.
No matter if you have acres or a small patio, you can enjoy the benefits of a water garden!