Interested in adding a new focal point to your outdoor living space this season? Try a water garden! Water gardens bring a fresh, relaxing element to outdoor spaces and can attract bird life to your garden oasis. By taking your water feature a step further and adding aquatic plants, you’ll improve water quality and clarity in fountains and ponds while adding color and interest. Here are a few tips to help you create the perfect water garden for your home.
What is a Water Garden?
A water garden can be made in a pond, waterfall, water bowl, or fountain, and combines the beauty of water with aquatic plants! Water gardens range in size and style, from tabletop water features in the patio to large, elaborate installations in the landscape (our Design/Build team is a great resource), and may also include other elements like koi fish, pebbles, rockery, decorative statues, bridges, seating areas, or lighting to enhance the aesthetics and functionality.
To maintain a healthy water environment, water gardens often include pumps to help circulate water or power bubblers or waterfalls while keeping the water clean, oxygenated, and free from algae growth, and therefore require access to electricity.
What Are the Benefits of a Water Garden?
Along with being visually appealing, water features add a sense of tranquility to outdoor environments—they create movement in the landscape and the soothing sound of running water helps screen out unwanted noise. Adding aquatic plants to water features to create a water garden enhances the beauty and biodiversity of your landscape by improving water quality and providing habitat to wildlife. Water gardens provide habitat for birds, bees, butterflies, dragonflies, and even frogs!
Types of Aquatic Plants for Water Gardens
There are numerous species of water plants available for different types of water gardens. When choosing water plants, it’s essential to consider factors such as water depth, light conditions, and specific plant requirements to ensure their successful growth and contribution to the ecosystem. Turn a water feature or pond into a water garden by incorporating these kinds of plants:
Emergent plants add oxygen and improve water clarity. Their roots grow in soil and are fully submerged with only the leaves and flowers emerging above the water. Emergent plant examples:
- Water Lily (Nymphaea spp.): Showy, layered flowers come in a wide range of colors and float on water’s surface; waxy round or oval leaves (lily pads) emerge from long stems under water; prefer still or calm water with full sun exposure.
- Water Lotus (Nelumbo spp.): Circular leaves are much larger than those of water lilies and can rise above water’s surface on long stalks; showy, layered flowers in white or pink are held above water on stalks, separate from leaves; prefer still or calm water with full sun exposure.
Marginal plants provide habitat for wildlife and anchor the soil around in-ground water features. Marginal plants can also be used on shallow shelves of enclosed water features and bowls. Their roots grow in soil in or out of water; best grown in shallow waters. Examples of marginal plants:
- Cattail (Typha spp.): Tall, erect stalks and long, narrow leaves; produce distinctive brown cylindrical flower spikes and are often found wild in marshy areas.
- Rush (Juncus spp.): Long, slender, cylindrical stems and leaves are straight or curly with inconspicuous flowers; help stabilize soil, reduce erosion, and provide habitat for wildlife.
- Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea): Grey-green, narrow, strap-like leaves; produces clusters of lavender-colored tubular flowers that have a pleasant garlic-like fragrance; repels certain pests!
- Taro (Colocasia spp.): Strong, dark stems support large, dramatic spade-shaped leaves; edible tubers can be stored for the following year or treated as annuals.
- Water Iris (Iris pseudacorus): Sword-shaped leaves and colorful, showy flowers; grow at the water’s edge and provide habitat for insects and birds.
Floating plants filter water and add oxygen. Green plant parts float on the water surface, while the roots are suspended in water without soil! Most floaters are not considered winter hardy in our zone (Zone 8), so it’s best to treat them as annuals. Examples of floating plants:
- Frogbit (Limnobium spongia): Small, leathery, heart-shaped leaves resemble miniature water lily when it spreads; small white flowers; great source of nutrition for many turtles and koi fish.
- Water Clover (Marsilea spp.): Clover-like leaves float on the water or extend above the surface; adds an interesting texture to water gardens.
- Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes): Attractive lavender-blue flowers and thick, glossy leaves; fast-growing plant that provides shade and shelter for aquatic creatures.
- Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes): Forms rosettes of light green, velvety leaves; reproduces rapidly and helps in nutrient absorption, as well as providing cover for fish.
Aquatic Plant Care Tips
Taking care of your aquatic plants involves providing the right conditions for their growth and ensuring their overall health—specific care requirements may vary depending on the type of plant. Here are some general tips for water plant care:
Light: Most water plants require adequate light to thrive. Place your water plants in a location where they can receive at least 6 to 8 hours of direct or dappled sunlight per day.
Water quality: The purity of water is crucial for water plant health. Use clean, non-chlorinated water when possible. If your tap water contains chlorine, allow it to sit overnight before use. Avoid using water from a water softener system as it may contain salts harmful to aquatic plants.
Water temperature: Different water plants have specific temperature preferences. Generally, tropical water plants prefer temperatures between 72°F and 82°F making them well-suited to Summer cultivation, while cold-water plants thrive in temperatures below 68°F.
Water depth: Some plants may prefer shallow water, while others thrive in deeper areas—provide the correct water depth based on the plant’s specific requirements.
Fertilization: Water plants require nutrients to grow and flourish, which can come naturally in larger systems from the surrounding environment, or can be added through use of fertilizer. It is important to only use a fertilizer specifically formulated for aquatic plants and see the label for instructions and recommended dosage; over-fertilizing can lead to algae growth and harm your plants.
Water circulation: Proper water circulation is crucial for preventing stagnant water and maintaining the ideal aquatic oxygen levels necessary for many water plants; water lilies and lotuses prefer still water.
Maintenance: Regular maintenance is essential for water plant health. Remove dead or decaying plant material promptly. Trim or prune overgrown plants to maintain a balanced, attractive appearance. Monitor often for pests or diseases. Protect water plants during winter—move tropical plants indoors before first frost; ensure hardy plants have sufficient water depth to avoid freezing.
Water Garden & Water Feature Maintenance Tips
If mosquitoes are a concern with stagnant water, sprinkle Mosquito Bits into water monthly to control larvae.
The mechanical pump is the most vulnerable component of a water feature and may need to be cleaned or replaced often—prolong the life of the pump by keeping the filter and hoses free of debris. Do not operate the pump when it is not fully submerged in water. Depending on the fountain’s water volume and degree of splash, water may evaporate quickly in hot weather and need to be topped off frequently to avoid running the pump when dry.
In Winter, it is best to drain and cover ceramic water fountains to avoid cracking during freezes. A well-made concrete fountain should be able to withstand average Portland area Winters with minimal protection.
Water gardens are an incredibly rewarding addition to any landscape, large or small. Stop by our stores to learn more about proper water garden care and to browse our selection of aquatic plants!