As spring turns to summer, our minds often shift to thoughts of outdoor gatherings with friends and family. Blooming containers, flowering hanging baskets, and bountiful raised beds all enhance our outdoor spaces with color, fragrance, and tasty treats, while bird baths, ponds, and fountains can provide the relaxing sound of water to complete your garden oasis. Looking to add a water element to your living space this season? Here are a few tips to help get you started!

Types of Water Features

If you’re considering a permanent, built-in water feature as a focal point your landscape, our Design/Build team is a great resource for expert installation. If your garden already has a pond or water feature, you may just be looking for plants to enhance it.

Above-ground fountains are nice alternatives to permanent water features, especially for smaller spaces—they are available in many different sizes/styles and are commonly made from concrete. Tabletop fountains are small enough to be tucked into a patio corner or even displayed indoors.

All you need to install a fountain at home is a level space with access to electricity. Once the fountain is filled with water, it’s recirculated with a pump and only occasionally needs to be topped off to compensate for water loss from splashing or evaporation. Depending on the size of fountain, the sound of the water may be loud enough to drown out nearby road noise or other nuisances!

Plants for Water Gardens

Selecting the right plants can help improve water quality and clarity while adding beauty and color. Landscaping your water feature or pond may include these kinds of plants:

  • Marginal/perimeter plants that help cover pond liners or equipment
  • Submerged, aquatic plants that grow in pots resting on the bottom of the pond
  • Aquatic, floating plants that live on the water surface and have no need for soil; floating plants may be best for fountains to prevent cloudy water and the pump filter from clogging with soil

You can also float a few plants in a simple water bowl or use a larger tub of standing water to grow a water lily or lotus flower; water lilies prefer still water, no pump. A 15-to-25-gallon container is ideal for a few plants—this amount of space allows a water lily to spread out and thrive along with some marginal and floating plants to provide interest and keep the water cool, oxygenated, and healthy (one water lily, one or two marginal plants, and an oxygenating plant make a good start for a large tub). If mosquitoes are a concern with standing water, sprinkle Mosquito Bits into water monthly to control larvae.

For a quick and easy, commitment-free project to add a cooling sense of tranquility to your home, create a tabletop water garden or miniature aquascape. Start with a clear vessel like a glass bowl, pitcher, or vase and a few floating aquatic plants like water lettuce or water hyacinth, then add pebbles and water, and voila! Plant roots can easily be admired in all their intricacy as the glass and water slightly magnify the details. Decorative rocks or stones on the bottom provide depth and interest to the creation as well as a personal touch.

closeup of water lettuce
water clover and other water plants in trough
water plant roots closeup

3 Easy Water Garden Floaters

Most floaters are not considered winter hardy in our zone, so you can treat them as annuals. Never dump water plants into local lakes or waterways, as they may become invasive! Compost or give away unwanted or extra plants if they begin to multiply beyond your space.

  • Water Lettuce, Pistia stratiotes ‘Rosette’ (not edible)
  • Water Hyacinth, Eichhornia crassipes
  • Frogbit, Limnobium spongia

3 Marginal (Semi-Aquatic) Plants

  • Pickerel Rush, Pontederia cordata
  • Water Clover, Marsilea mutica
  • Cattail, Typha

    General Water Garden Maintenance

    Aside from possible freeze-cracking, the mechanical pump is the most vulnerable component of a fountain or water feature and may need to be replaced several times over the years. Keeping the water clean and free of debris can help prolong the life of the pump; do not allow the pump to operate when not fully submerged.

    • Winter maintenance: A well-made, heavy-duty concrete fountain should be able to withstand average Portland area winters with minimal protection, but some materials, such as ceramic, may need to be drained and stored to avoid freezing and cracking.
    • Summer maintenance: 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.
    • Fall maintenance: As leaves and needles begin to fall, regularly keep water clean with a small skimmer or net to remove debris.
    • Cleaning the filter: Periodically, you may need to unplug the pump and clean it by rinsing or by removing and cleaning the spongy filter encased in the pump housing. Keeping plants in your fountain may require the fountain pump to be cleaned more often.

    Keeping INDOOR Aquatic Plants Happy

    • Bright sunlight (at least 4 hours per day): Avoid overheating the water with intense, direct sunlight from a South- or West-facing window; morning sun is best.
    • Fluorescent light: If you don’t have natural, bright light indoors, use a fluorescent or LED bulb above the vase (incandescents get too hot).
    • Avoid detergents when cleaning your vessel.
    • Charcoal: Add a few pieces of charcoal to the pebbles at the bottom to help keep the water clean and reduce algae growth.
    • Water: Top off water levels to keep your vase full and avoid switching the water out; fresh water can contribute to algae blooms.
    • Fish: If you want to be more proactive to control algae, try fish—they are living cleaners! Be sure your container is appropriately sized for fish and that water temperature remains within appropriate ranges for their health.

    Stop into one of our garden centers to see our recent shipment of water plants! Take some home today to add pizzazz to your party or a calming space in your backyard retreat.

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