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, evaluate the use of aquatic plants in your pond.
Why Plants Are Important
- Fish Cover: Floating plants like water lilies and water lettuce provide your pond’s inhabitants cover from predators and bright sun. Your koi and goldfish will appreciate the safety and shade those leaves provide, particularly when a heron comes to visit!
- All-Natural Water Filter: Aquatic plants are nicknamed “nature’s water filter” for a reason: They remove excess nutrients from the water while releasing oxygen during photosynthesis.
- Habitable Habitat: Plants also create a perfect habitat for your aquatic life—both above and below the waterline—by providing food and shelter. Fish and snails hang out around the leaves and stems and frogs hunt for bugs or hide in the shade.
- Aesthetics: Aquatic plants’ flowers and greenery also make for some nice scenery. Imagine water lilies and irises bursting with color, and curly corkscrew rush or lizard’s tail softening the outline around the pond. Not a bad view while enjoying a balmy spring evening!
Types of Aquatic Plants
- Floating Plants: 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 Plants: Submerged plants are fantastic oxygenators. They are also used to absorb nutrients, so there is no need to fertilize them.
- Bog Plants: 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.
- 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 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.
- Water Lotus: Hardy water lotus 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.
Selecting Plants For Your Pond
- Plant Coverage: 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. To start aquatic plants in a pond up to 50 sq. ft. use 6-12 floating plants, 2 bog plants, 5 submerged plants and 1 water lily.
- Know Your Hardiness Zone: The USDA publishes a hardiness zone map that shows in which areas of the country various types of plants can survive and grow. The majority of your pond plants should be from your hardiness zone because they are best able to tolerate the year-round conditions of your area.
- Know Your Pond’s Depth: Some pond plants prefer deep water and some pond plants prefer shallow. Hardy water lilies prefer deep water, for example, while bog plants prefer shallow.
- Know What Type of Sun Exposure Your Pond Receives: In addition to hardiness zones, plants are also categorized by the type of light they like to receive (full sun, partial sun, or shade). Marsh Marigolds yearn for sun, while Clyde Ikins Water Lily can tolerate the shade.
- Know Your Pond’s Flow: This is a factor that water gardeners often overlook. Some pond plants love moving water while others prefer the water stand still. Dwarf cattails, for example, do well in streams because they enjoy moving water, but water lilies are not fans of being right underneath a waterfall.
Now that you are equipped with a little more plant knowledge, take a step back and see how your pond compares. If you are fighting water quality issues chances are you may just need to add more plants!