Adding Ponds and Water Gardens to the Landscape
Photo courtesy of Clean Air Gardening.
Water is an essential element of life. Adding a pond or water garden to your landscape can add even more life to an already relaxing and wonderful outdoor space. Before “digging in,” decide what type of pond or water garden you will enjoy the most. Would the trickling sound of a waterfall or fountain be soothing to you, or would you prefer gazing into the murky depths of a fish pond, watching for flashes of gold and orange to surface? Do you live where you can over-winter fish and plants, or will you have to dig them up and remove them to a warmer location? When you decide upon the type of garden that is right for you, you can begin designing and building it.
Water Gardens in Balance
Lots of gardeners have tried maintaining their own water gardens but have had multiple problems with water quality, algae, and circulation. The way to have success with water gardening is to keep the idea of balance in mind. Lakes and ponds that are healthy are well balanced, in terms of plant life, wildlife, sources of water flowing in and evaporating out, and circulation. To have a beautiful water garden, you have to recreate, as best you can, the natural environment. Your plant selection, animals (fish), pump size and circulation all contribute to the health of the water garden. Below, are tips for integrating each of the moving parts of a water garden to create a healthy, beautiful whole.
Water Garden Plants
These plants are submerged fully in the water. They may float, or they may rest along the bottom of the garden. They are the unseen workhorses of the water garden because they produce and release oxygen into the water.
• True Floater
Plants like water lettuce and water hyacinth. Most true floaters are highly invasive and not recommended for water garden use.
Plants like water lilies, which are rooted in the bottom or in a container on the bottom, but have leaves that float on the surface.
• Shallow Water or Bog Plants
Cannas, iris, rush, and spider lilies, which root along the edges of the pond or water garden.
Each category of plant contributes to the health of the water garden ecosystem. When building a water garden, it is important to select plants from each category. Because there are many invasive water plants, and each region has different “offenders,” it is a good idea to check with your local Cooperative Extension agency to make sure you don’t inadvertently plant anything that can escape and wreck havoc in the natural environment around your garden.
Here’s a great link to excellent information about constructing a water garden. A water garden or garden pond can be simply dug in the ground, or lined with fabric, plastic or concrete. There are advantages and disadvantages to each system.
Here are some construction tips to keep in mind while designing your water garden:
• Before you dig, identify electrical lines. There are free services that will do this for you. An online search of “nocuts” will bring up a list of services.
• Always construct your pond with sloping walls and with a gentle slope from one end to the other. This will make the pond easier to access for cleaning and planting. It will also allow debris to collect at one end of the pond so that you do not have to disturb the entire pond for cleaning.
• Site the garden where it will not collect a large amount of rainwater runoff. Runoff flowing into the pond will change the chemistry and oxygenation of the water, which can adversely affect fish and plants. A large amount of runoff can cause a fish kill.
Part of the construction process is using appropriate water garden pumps and filters, if necessary. Plants and fish can keep a pond clean, if they are present in balanced numbers. The reason to use a filter is to remove excess nitrate from fish droppings. If the fish and plants are out of balance, nitrates increase and algae forms. You can use a mechanical filter, which physically removes pollutants, or a biofilter, which works by digesting pollutants.
Not all water gardens require a pump. It depends upon the size of the garden, and whether there is a waterfall. Pumps will help keep the pond oxygenated. If enough oxygenating plants are present in the water, no pump will be needed.
The obvious choice for water garden animals is fish. You will also find frogs, turtles, insects, snakes and other wildlife in your garden if you make it an inviting place for animals! For reference, each full-sized Koi fish needs at least 100 gallons of water, and that is if the plant/oxygen/filtration system is in balance. Although, when thinking about building a water garden, a koi pond might first come to mind, you can also raise goldfish in a goldfish pond, which are smaller and need less water.
Introducing animals to the mix also changes the types of chemicals you can use in the pond. Many synthetic algae-control chemicals are extremely toxic to fish, as are many weed control chemicals, in general. So, you will need to be careful when spraying or treating areas around the water garden or pond, as well as in it.
Container Water Gardens
Container water gardens are similar to in-ground gardens, in many ways. They are a smaller environment, and being above-ground, more susceptible to fluctuations in temperature, which can affect plant and animal health. Consult this cooperative extension link for more information about building your own container water gardens.
Water gardens are a fun and interesting addition to the backyard landscape. A little planning goes a long way toward building a beautiful and healthy water garden.
Katie Elzer-Peters is a freelance writer living in Wilmington, NC. Her writing and PR business, The Garden of Words, L.L.C. serves clients all over the world. In her free time, Katie bicycles, surfs, reads books, and, of course, gardens.