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Accenting the Pond with Plants

lush green pond plants in a water garden

Feature photo was taken at the pond of Ginny M. Thanks for letting us visit Ginny!

Whether you’re planning a pond build or looking to enhance the pond you already own, adding aquatic plants is an exciting project. With a little bit of knowledge and intention these green powerhouses can help improve the health and aesthetic of your water feature. We’re here to help you make the best selections. First, it’s important to understand the four main categories of pond plants and the role that each plays. These four categories consist of shallow/marginal plants, floating plants, submerged/oxygenating plants and lilies, lily likes & lotuses. Keep reading for an overview of each.

Shallow/Marginal Plants

Shallow or marginal plants are used to frame the edge of ponds and tend to be the most aesthetic addition to a pond. Irises, cattails and canna are some of the most popular shallow aquatic plants.

iris flowers

Iris blooms at pond's edge.

As their name suggests, it’s important to add these to the shallow cut areas of your pond. (When they’re actively growing, they’ll drown in deep water.) Plant them in a plastic or fabric pot (for ease of removal later) with planting media, such as Microbe-Lift Planting Media, or heavy clay soil. On average you want 3-6 inches of water above the pot but this can vary from plant to plant. Check planting directions for each species for optimal depth.

When selecting your marginal plants it’s helpful to think about how you want to “layer” these in. Low lying plants like Bacopa and Clover are great for the front edge of the pond. And taller marginal plants are wonderful to add to the backside. Thinking about the height that each plant variety grows—and where you want to anchor them is important to creating a balanced look.

Shallow plants are also available in hardy and tropical varieties. The tropical varieties are typically going to produce the best blooms and hardy varieties are typically grasses. Tropicals can be overwintered indoors. For hardy plants you’ll want to cut the growth and can then set them submerged at the bottom of your pond to overwinter.

Pro Tip: Low lying, shallow plants are great to use in floating island planters, but avoid taller plants (as they grow they will become top heavy and cause the planter to overturn since there is no root system to ground them). Try Flamingo, Clover and Creeping Jenny if you want to use floating planters to add a few marginals. Planting media or loam soil will work best in floating planters as typically used clay soil will be too heavy.

Floating Plants

Floating plants are great for adding surface coverage which can help prevent dreaded algae blooms. Because algae is a plant that photosynthesizes, blocking out direct sunlight lessens the chance for algae to grow. The most common floating plants used are water lettuce and hyacinths.

water lettuce

Group of water lettuce.

Aside from being a proactive partner in fighting algae, floating plants can also help keep pond temps down during hot summer days. And roots that dangle from these plants also give fish something to nibble on.

No media is necessary for floating plants. Just place them on your pond surface and let them do their thing. Many floating plants (like hyacinth and water lettuce) will grow and propagate on their own. You’ll see offshoots develop off the main body that continue to grow and multiply. Because of this, one initial plant can often end up providing lots of surface coverage. You’ll likely need to remove some of these offshoots throughout the year.

Another favorite floating plant is the Sensitive Plant. It looks much like a small branch with fern-like growth and some will get little yellow flowers. These are great for streams. Place them in one, and they’ll grow down the stream creating a lovely look. These don’t multiply like other floating plants, so not as much thinning will be necessary.

Pro Tip: Use inexpensive vinyl tubing (to make a floating ring with electrical tape or a barbed fitting), then fishing line to keep the floating ring tethered in one area. – Floating plants will naturally be pulled towards skimmers, and you of course don’t want them getting inside and clogging your equipment.

Submerged/Oxygenating Plants

Submerged plants are completely submerged underwater. Most customers use these plants to give their fish places to hide from predators and a place to spawn. Submerged plants also play an important role in the pond ecosystem through oxygenation and nutrient absorption. Anacharis and Hornwort are crowd favorites.

hornwort under water

Hornwort pictured underwater.

While all pond plants produce oxygen, submerged plants are particularly oxygenating to the pond because the entire plant is under the water’s surface. Highly oxygenated water is overall more healthy and clear. This is imperative if you have fish as it will help ensure plenty of oxygen is present for their breathing.

All aquatic plants also pull nutrients from your pond. Again though, because the entire plant is underwater submerged plants are the high performers here. By absorbing nitrates they help tie up the end of the nitrification cycle.

You can use gravel or sand to plant submerged plants (planting media isn’t necessary for them). Just like the marginal plants, we recommend planting in plastic or fabric containers, so you can move them easily later.

Lilies, Lotus & Lily-Likes

The final category of pond plants is a grouping of a few plants: lilies, lotus and lily-likes. Similar to floating plants, all of these plants provide surface coverage with their floating leaves and pads (which also provide landing spots for frogs and dragonflies). Lilies, lotus and lily-likes are highly desirable aquatic plants due to their exquisite blooms.

water lily

Gorgeous pink water lily.

There are two main types of lilies: hardy & tropical.

Hardy lilies can be overwintered in the pond and tropical lilies cannot. Popular choices include Attraction, Barbara Dobbins and Pink Sensation. Many customers treat the purchase of tropical lilies like hanging baskets getting new ones each year. Tropicals are sought after for their more radiant colors: pinks, purples and blues. There are a plethora of varieties to choose from.

A few things to think about when selecting: Do you want blooms during the day or possibly during the night? How much coverage do you need in your pond? Which blooms are most appealing to you?

Most lilies, lotus and lily-likes will bloom during the day, but there are some tropical lilies that bloom during night. While blooms during the day are lovely, some people enjoy having night blooming lilies which are especially great if you don’t get to enjoy your pond during the day or if you like to have evening parties during the summer. The Texas Shell Pink and Missouri are both varieties that bloom at night. They open just before dusk and close in the late morning.

Lilies are a great addition to many ponds, but for larger ponds you may want to consider adding lotus because the pads get so big. Lotus will give your pond more surface coverage. For smaller ponds or container gardens, the lily-likes are a great option because the pads stay smaller—they’re almost like a mini variety.

Select a Mix

We recommend adding aquatic plants from each of the four major categories. This will not only result in a balanced look, but the varying benefits will also lead to a healthier, clearer pond. If you need help selecting the right plants for your pond give us a call. Our pond techs are here to help!

ken k's pond

We spy water lettuce, water lilies and grass varieties in Ken K.'s pond. Thanks for sharing Ken!

shop aquatic plants at Webb's

Article Posted: 03/21/2023 06:33:46 PM

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