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Planting Aquatic Plants – Water Garden & Feature Q & A

Picture of a Mayla Water Lily

Water Gardens & Features Q & A

Q: I would like to order plants for my water garden this year, but I don’t know where to begin. What plants should I get and how do I plant them? – Kayla of Florida

A: The simplest and easiest way to select the right variety of aquatic plants is to purchase one of our plant packages. Our plant packages come in multiple sizes with an assortment of beautiful aquatic plants (shipped bare root) that are recommended for great coverage. What kinds of aquatic plants are there? What should I get for my water feature? These are very legitimate questions. There are many different categories of aquatic plants with many species in each category:

Floating - Floating plants such as water hyacinth & water lettuce are best used to absorb excess nutrients that cause excessive algae growth. They also provide shade and cover for the fish.

Submerged - Submerged plants are fantastic oxygenators. They are also used to absorb nutrients, so there is no need to fertilize them.

Bog - You can add a nice touch to your water feature using bog plants. Bog plants are planted around the edges of the pond in shallow water areas. They also act as a visual anchor to the surrounding feature. Bog plants are perennials, meaning that they will grow back every year based on your zone.

Hardy Water Lilies - Hardy water lilies are perennials. They will bloom all summer long on the water surface. Hardy water lilies have smooth waxy leaves that are rounded at the edge.

Tropical Water Lilies - Tropical water lilies have very fragrant blossoms and will have several blooms at a time. These lilies come in daytime and nighttime blooming varieties. Tropical water lilies will be jagged or pointed around the edge of the leaves.

Hardy Water Lotuses - Hardy water lotuses have very large blooms and leaves that can stand out of the water from two to five feet depending on the variety. A hardy water lotus may take up to two years to become fully established.

So why are aquatic plants so important? In a water feature, plants are absolutely vital in balancing the ecosystem, and they offer an aesthetic touch to your landscape. If you ever wonder what causes algae to grow or why your pond isn’t clear, there are really only four factors to consider:

  • Not enough filtration
  • Too many fish
  • Not enough aquatic plants
  • Not using DefensePAC (natural bacteria)

The recommendation for aquatic plant coverage is 60% of your overall water feature surface. This will provide enough absorption of nutrients to help combat algae before it has a chance to grow.

Now that I know aquatic plants are important, how do I plant them? That’s a great question. Here is the rundown:

Floating - Floating plants do not need to be planted. Simply toss plants onto the surface of the water or place inside a Waterfall Filter unit for added filtration and to prevent vigorous spreading. This will also help to hide the Waterfall Filter.

Submerged - Submerged plants may free-float throughout your water feature. If your water feature is equipped with a skimmer, you may want to wrap a weight around the base of the plant before tossing it in to prevent the skimmer from pulling in the plant.

Bog - Simply create pockets and crevices 6-8″ in depth between the gravel and boulders. Remove the marginal plant from its pot, move gravel aside, place the plant and then spread the gravel around the base of the plant for support.

Hardy & Tropical Water Lilies - Prepare lily pockets by making indentations within your first or second shelf (12″ to 18″ in depth). Place the lily tuber in the lily pocket and fill
with aquatic planting media (remember to not cover the crown, a.k.a. growing tip of the lily). Finally, spread loose gravel around the
base of the lily to prevent the soil from being stirred up.

Hardy Water Lotuses - Hardy water lotuses are usually potted in wide, shallow containers because of their aggressive behavior. Hard water lotuses should be planted in a round container at least 18″ in diameter with 6″ of depth. It must be round, because square pots can cause lotuses to die when the tuber gets crunched into a corner during heavy growth seasons. Gently place the tuber into at least 3″ of soil. Fill the rest of the container up to the brim with with gravel and place 10-12″ deep within the pond depending on variety.

Fertilizing Aquatic Plants – Water Garden & Feature Q & A

Picture of a Water Lily.

Water Garden & Feature Q & A

Q: I would like to fertilize my aquatic plants but I heard fertilizing can cause algae blooms. Is this true? – Alan of New Jersey

A:Fertilizing your aquatic plants are a great way to ensure healthy and blooming plants all season. Most water garden owners are afraid to fertilize their aquatic plants because they feel that it will cause algae blooms. This isn’t the case when using low-phosphorus fertilizers.

Initial Planting of Aquatic Plants
When planting aquatic plants I suggest using Aquatic Planting Media instead of soil because it is a great way to get your plants off to a good start. Aquatic Planting Media is pre-colonized with beneficial bacteria to help initial growth. Planting media can be used in lily pockets or when plants are
placed in a pot.

Fertilizing Your Aquatic Plants:
Bloom & Grow is a nitrate and phosphate free supplement that is formulated for aquatic plants of all types to promote larger, brighter and faster blooms as well as healthier and stronger roots. Aquatic Plant Fertilizer Spikes are also a great way to fertilize your plants. Just one application will fertilize plants for the entire season.

These above methods will allow you to enjoy those gorgeous blooming aquatic plants without having to worry about excessive algae blooms.

How Do I Combat String Algae in my Water Feature? – Water Feature Q & A

Picture of String Algae

Water Feature Q & A

Q: I have a 1,000 gallon pond and already the string algae is starting. I am sick of constantly cleaning it. Any ideas? – Steve of New York

A: Like Steve many of you find yourselves in this same situation, where it seems like you are battling algae year after year with no end in sight. The thing I want you to know is that in order to fully understand how to control algae, you really have to understand how it develops in the first place.

The Key Ingredient:
One of the key ingredients for algae to grow is a food source (aka Nitrates). And I’ll have to say in almost every water feature that has a bad algae problem, it is the abundant fish load that is causing the issue. So why does an abundant fish load cause algae? When fish eat they over time, like every living creature, will have to excrete the waste (aka ammonia). This ammonia, when filtered properly, will breakdown into nitrates (aka food source). Make sense so far? This food source is then eaten by algae. From there some of the algae will be eaten by the fish and thus the cycle, the nitrogen cycle of life, begins again.

So the bottom line here is: If we have control of the food source (aka Nitrates), we have control of the algae. I have mentioned this before in the past, but it bears repeating.

Keep Fish Loads to a Minimum:
I know you love your fish and this is a touchy subject. But if you plan to have sixty 12″ koi in a 1,000 gallon pond, your going to have an algae problem and it won’t be inexpensive to get a hold of. When calculating your fish load think of it in pounds of fish or total inches. For example, one 6” fish can weigh as much as four 4” fish. The number of fish will affect the overall fish load, although 10 small fish may only produce the waste of one large fish. With this said, remember that your fish are growing and in many cases multiplying. Always plan for the future and be careful not to overstock your water feature.

Proper Filtration:
The size and type of your filtration system will depend on your total fish load. If your filter is not properly sized for max potential, your fish will outgrow the filter. When this happens, ammonia levels can reach to lethal levels. In most cases filters on the market are rated for ponds containing no fish or a minimal fish load. It is always best to get a filter that is rated for at least 2x the water volume of your pond.

Aquatic Plants:
Aquatic plants and algae will compete for the same food source in order to grow. I don’t know about you, but I would much rather see a few beautiful water liles then green slime. A simple rule of thumb is to have 60% plant coverage. This should consist of submerged, floating and marginal plants. Floating plants, such as Water Hyacinths & Water Lettuce, are fantastic at pulling nitrates from the water. I recommend putting a few into your waterfall filter box if you have one. Rooted plants, such as water lilies and marginal plants, create a great place for your fish to hide from predators. Please note when aquatic plants are not present, algae will take their place. See our selection of aquatic plants here.

Beneficial Natural Bacteria :
I’m sure you hear this a lot nowadays as to why you should be adding beneficial natural bacteria to your water feature. The reason is because it is another reducer of nitrates. One  product to check out for this is called the DefensePAC. It is a combination of five products that provide beneficial bacteria, trace minerals, and a fish and plant safe pond cleaner. The DefensePAC works to breakdown fish waste, leaves or other organics that accumulate in the pond. These are essential to maintain a clean, clear and healthy ecosystem. The best of all, one DefensePAC lasts up to 6 months for a 2,000 gallon water feature.

How Do I Winterize My Aquatic Plants? – Water Garden Q & A

Picture of Water Lily.

Q: I am working to shut down my water garden for Winter, but I’m unsure of what to do with the aquatic plants? Do I pull them out? If I leave them will they come back next year? – Bill of Wisconsin

Aquatic Plant Maintenance: Every type of aquatic plant needs to be taken care of in a different way. The biggest factor to remember is to make sure that the roots of the aquatic plants do not come into contact with the ice. Anything “hardy” will usually come back each year as long as the roots do not come in contact with ice. Anything “tropic” or “non-hardy” will parish during the Winter times. The following are the steps to take for each type of aquatic plant.

Hardy Water Lilies, Marginals & Submerged Aquatic Plants: Simply trim to around 3 inches above the root system. Water lilies & submerged aquatic plants should already be planted 18″ to 24″ deep making it very unlikely for them to be frozen.

Tropical & Floating Aquatic Plants: Any tropical water lilies, tropical lotsus, or tropical marginals should be treated as annuals. They will not survive the harsh Winter conditions. If you would like to try and keep them, you can place them in pots and bring them indoors, but this can be difficult to keep them alive. As for floating aquatic plants such as: Water hyacinth, lettuce, etc., treat these as annuals as well. Most floating plants are realtively inexpensive to replace each year.

Hardy Lotuses: Trim back the foliage after it has died and turned brown. If leaves are cut while still green, the plant is susceptible to diseases entering through the hollow stems. If stem must be cut while still green, make sure to trim above the waterline, so water does not enter the stem and essentially drown the plant. In colder climates, lotus tubers must not be allowed to freeze in the winter, and containers should be moved to a cool but frost-free area, such as the bottom of a pond that is deep enough to keep the tubers from freezing.

Why Are My Aquatic Plants Dying? – Water Garden Q & A

Picture of Water Hyacinth
Q: My aquatic plants that I bought are turning brown and soggy around the edges. What could be the problem?
-Shelly of Jacksonville, TX

A: This is a very good question and it starts with testing your pond’s pH levels. The nuetral pH level in water 7.0, but if the pH gets up to 8.5 or higher it will have a harmful effect on plants. If your pH is high, you can use pH Drop to slowly bring it back down. Another thing to do is to test your tap water’s pH level. If this level is high, you may want to count on using pH Drop every time you do a water change or after it rains.

Protecting Your Fish From Predators – Water Garden Q & A

Picture of Great Blue Heron

Q: Last year something caused over 20 of my fish to disappear overnight. How can I protect my fish?
-Katherine of Nanty Glo, PA

A: More often than not, what took your fish was a blue heron. We hear this quite a bit throughout the year. Here are a couple suggestions:

Blue Heron Decoy: These decoys, when used correctly, will deter blue herons away from your water garden. Here’s why: Blue herons are very territorial birds. If a heron sees another heron by a prospecting water garden, it will rather fly to another destination than challenge the heron thats there. By using a Blue Heron Decoy, you can accomplish just that. It is recommended to move the heron decoy every other day. Caution: DO NOT use heron decoys during mating season as they will become a heron magnet instead.

Motion Activated Scarecrow Sprinkler: This motion activated sprinkler works extremely well to deter any predator (including kids =) ). Simply hook to your garden hose, set the sensitivity level and any predator that comes within a 20 foot range will get hit with a 3 second burst of water. It works great and it is guaranteed effective.

Aquatic Plants: Having a 50-60% coverage in plants will help create a hiding spot for fish when predators are around.

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