How To Choose Water Garden Plants

Tip! Wooden garden bridges are often sold as ?Japanese? bridges because of the origin and popularity of the style in that country. Creating a water garden feature including a Japanese bridge, along with Japanese water plants and other ornamental plants can result in a beautiful, tranquil outdoor retreat with the right choice of plant material and other hardscape d?cor items.

So. The water garden bug has bitten. You’ve dug and leveled and
sweated and said words you hope that no one else has heard. Now
it’s time for the fun part – picking out your water garden
plants! For more gardening tips, visit

Plant varieties within these four categories are what you need to
eyeball: deep-water, marginals, oxygenators, and floaters. (If
you think these words are big and weird, just thank your stars
we’re not talking medicine.)

After you’ve diligently planted your babies in plastic tubs,
pans, or clay pots, packing the fertilizer- and chemical-free
soil down tightly, load the container down with pea gravel to
keep the soil from floating away. (Don’t ask why this works, but
it does.) Plunk your prize into the water at the appropriate
depth (You’ll read about that in just a minute, so hang on to
your hat.) and you’re on your way!

Tip! An important consideration in planning a water garden is the choosing a location. Plants and fish both need plenty of sunlight, places in direct light away from trees and bushes are the top places.

Plant-dunking should be done during the growing season. Wait four
or five weeks for the water plants to do their thing before you
add your fish. If you just can’t hold your horses, er, your fish,
for that long, you can jump the gun a couple of weeks, but the
idea is to let the plants first get established.

When picking your plants, you’ll no doubt be wowed by water
lilies of the tropical persuasion. These aquatic wonders lord it
over their hardier cousins with knock-out fragrance, big blooms
day or night – depending on the variety – and a habit of blooming
their little hearts out nearly every day during the growing
season. They love their warmth, though, so unless you live in a
year-round, warm-weather climate (in which case, you are used to
being hated and has absolutely nothing to do with this article),
be prepared to hasten them into a greenhouse or at least muster
up enough moolah to buy them some “grow” lights to tough it out
through the winter. They will definitely bite the dust at
freezing temperatures, but give them night-time temps of at least
65F and daytime temps of 75F or warmer, and your love affair with
tropicals will only grow that much more torrid.

Tip! Those of you without a green thumb, don’t panic! There are many kinds of gardens. There are Zen gardens of stone and bamboo, water gardens (an aquarium counts), patios with pots of plants, window boxes, vegetable gardens, flower gardens.

Hardy water lilies, while not the showboaters that tropicals are,
are . . . well, hardier. Their big advantage is that they can
stay in the water year ?round unless it freezes so deeply the
rootstock is affected. And being the tough guys they are, you can
plant these puppies deeper than the tropicals, some living it up
in depths of 8 to 10 feet.

Both hardy and tropical water lilies are real sun worshippers. At
least 5 to 10 hours a day is what it takes, along with regular
fertilization, to keep these plant pals happy.

Everybody and their brother with a water garden wants a lotus
plant. (Sisters, too, no doubt.) These water-lily relatives come
in hardy and not-so-hardy strains, so make sure you know what
you’re buying. Much bigger than water lilies, lotus have huge,
famously splendid blooms that not only will knock your socks off,
but make you forget you have feet altogether. Their leaves and
seed pods are so breathtaking, they’re a favorite in costly
cut-flower arrangements. Big, bold, and beautiful, with
water-depth needs of 2-3 feet, these shouters are really better
off in big ponds that get plenty of sun.

Marginals (sometimes called “bog” plants by those less
high-falutin’) are grass-like plants that strut their stuff in
shallow areas no deeper than 6″ that border the water garden.
They also do well in mud. Cattail, bamboo, rush, papyrus, and
many other plants fall into the family of marginals and grow best
with a minimum of at least three hours of jolly old Sol.

Some plants are there but not seen, working stoically under water
and without fanfare to fight algae, oxygenate the water, and
provide food for fish. (In lieu of these plants, if your pond is
small, you can fake it fairly adequately with an aquarium pump.)
Easy on the wallet, varieties of these plants can be bought in
bunches and like their soil sandy and/or gravelly. Like hardy
water lilies, they, too, will warrior it through the winter.

Tip! Once the garden is the way you have always dreamed of full of foliage -shrubs and sweet scented flowers and of course your water garden feature – then remember that all the surrounding plant growth will attract insects so feeding the fish at this time is not necessary. Natural food supply should start to continue again with pellets in the autumn, this will help perk the fish up in their preparation to face the winter.

Water hyacinths have become a recent rage, especially for the
lazy among us. No soil is required for these beauties. Toss them
in the water and they’re “planted.” A water hyacinth ain’t just
another pretty face, though; these plants do their part in the
war against algae and blanket weeds by keeping sunlight scarce on
the water’s surface. But one note of caution: This plant may take
over the world if allowed. It’s invasive as all get out, so keep
it under control or you (and your neighbors) may wish you’d never
laid eyes on it.

A water garden isn’t a garden without plants. Take your time,
know your climate, and choose wisely. Your rewards will be great
in return.

Brett Fogle is the owner of MacArthur Water Gardens and several other pond-related websites including, and

He also publishes a free monthly newsletter called PondStuff! with a reader circulation of over 9,000. To sign up for the free newsletter and receive our FREE ‘New Pond Owners Guide’ visit MacArthur Water Gardens today!

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