The best plants for your pond

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING - BY DIARMUID GAVIN

Last week we took a look at how to cre­ate wa­ter fea­tures for your out­door spa­ces. This week is all about plant­ing up a pond. The wa­ter is warm and aquatic plants are grow­ing vig­or­ously... so where do we start? Af­ter sound con­struc­tion, a good com­bi­na­tion of plant­ing is key for a healthy pond. Oxy­gena­tors are nec­es­sary to keep the wa­ter clean, as they suck the nu­tri­ents from the wa­ter which oth­er­wise en­cour­age a blan­ket of green al­gae. Horn­wort and the wa­ter but­ter­cup are a good choice here, but avoid Elodea, Cana­dian pondweed, as this is ex­tremely in­va­sive.

Floaters are just placed on the sur­face of the wa­ter and pro­vide some ad­di­tional sur­face cover and food for fish. Duck­weed (Lemna) and fairy moss (Azolla) tend to take over very quickly and car­pet the pool. Choose in­stead na­tive plants such as frog­bit (Hy­drocharis), which has pretty white flow­ers in sum­mer, and wa­ter sol­diers (Stra­tiotes) with spiky fo­liage. Don’t worry that th­ese plants dis­ap­pear in win­ter — they sink to the bottom of the pond to over­win­ter and will re-emerge!

Buy the ap­pro­pri­ate-sized bas­ket (pot) and soil-based com­post as rec­om­mended by the gar­den cen­tre. If you have to re­pot your cho­sen spec­i­mens be­fore set­ting in the pond, wa­ter well be­fore plac­ing. When you do place in the pond or con­tainer, make sure the plant is about 10 inches be­low the sur­face of the wa­ter. You may have to prop the pot up on some care­fully placed bricks to reach this height. As your plants grow, lower the lev­els of brick un­til even­tu­ally your pots/bas­kets sit on the bottom.

Re­move any de­cay­ing veg­e­ta­tion such as dy­ing flow­ers or dam­aged fo­liage. Try to en­sure that roughly 60% of the sur­face of the wa­ter is cov­ered by fo­liage and add some oxy­genat­ing plants to com­ple­ment the aquatic ecosys­tem. In­tro­duce some fish, but not too many, and don’t add ad­di­tional feed to your plants, as that can en­cour­age al­gae. Ask lo­cal stock­ists for rec­om­men­da­tions of species.

Wa­ter lilies (Nym­phaeaceae) are the pre-em­i­nent gar­den pond plant. They pre­fer non-mov­ing wa­ter and a tem­per­a­ture that is fairly con­stant. Pick the sun­ni­est part of your pond, as they love light and warm con­di­tions and won’t flower well in shade.

Buy them in a gar­den cen­tre that spe­cialises in aquatic plants, to get the best guid­ance. Check that the stock beds haven’t been in­fested with aquatic weeds... you only want to buy the lilies, not a pig­gy­back species that may be­come in­va­sive overnight.

En­sure you choose plants that are just right for the size of pond or con­tainer you have. Va­ri­eties vary from dwarf to ones which are greedy for space. And make sure that the plants look healthy. Wa­ter lilies have achieved merit sta­tus with the Royal Hor­ti­cul­tural So­ci­ety. For small ponds or con­tain­ers, try Nym­phaea ‘Pyg­maea Helvola’. They have sweet-look­ing green leaves with some pur­ple mark­ings and spread 1ft–18in. They pro­duce ca­nary-yel­low blooms through the sum­mer.

Nym­phaea ‘Paul Har­iot’ will thrive in medium-sized ponds. It has pur­ple leaves and one plant will reach a spread of around 4ft. The beau­ti­ful, dra­matic flow­ers change from apri­cot to pink­ish-or­ange as they ma­ture. Nym­phaea ‘Es­car­boucle’ pro­duces red flow­ers and has a spread of up to 8ft. The blos­soms can reach a width of 1ft through sum­mer but you will re­quire a pond with a depth of 3–4ft to sus­tain growth and spread.

If float­ing lily flow­ers are the stars of wa­ter flora, there’s an­other cat­e­gory which shouldn’t be over­looked. Marginals nat­u­rally grow in the shal­low edges of ponds so th­ese are ap­pro­pri­ate if you have a pond which slopes grad­u­ally, or the pond has a shelf at the side around 6in depth.

While they aren’t nec­es­sary for healthy pond life, they play a role in soft­en­ing the edges of a pond, cre­at­ing a nat­u­ral­is­tic ef­fect.

There are plenty of suit­able plants, such as yel­low iris (Iris pseu­da­corus), the flow­er­ing rush (Bu­to­mus um­bel­la­tus) and the pick­erel­weed (Pont­ed­e­ria cor­data), which has cylin­dri­cal spikes of blue flow­ers. For drama, you can’t beat the white arum lily (Zant­edeschia).

POND LIFE: now’s the time to think about your aquatic plants for the sum­mer months

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