Want to incorporate a water feature into your garden? There are many kinds of water gardens, and each offers its own unique benefits and joys, such as the soothing sound of splashing water, the beauty of a water lily, and the flash of colorful goldfish or koi. You can create a pond with materials easily found at most garden centers. Readily available rubber liners, pre-formed ponds, or large tubs make it easy to quickly create a water accent. There are many simple-to-grow water plants. Just make sure to choose ones that will thrive in the light conditions and size of your garden. A water garden will provide you with many enjoyable sights and sounds, and it’ll be a water source for wildlife such as birds, frogs, and turtles.
Plants for Your Water Garden
Before you start buying plants for your water garden, it's important to have a plan. Water garden plants are grouped based on how and where they grow, and they're typically labeled as floating, submerged, or emergent. It's a good idea to include a mix of all three.
Water lilies are floating plants that produces beautiful flowers in many colors. Their leaves shade the water and help reduce algal growth.
Some water garden plants can also benefit wildlife. Yellow canna is a tall emergent plant that has bright yellow flowers that draw butterflies, and pickerel weed produces lavender, pink, or white flowers that attract bees.
Remember to choose the right-sized plants for your space, and pick plants that cover no more than two-thirds of the water's surface when mature.
Ornamental ponds are a beautiful addition to any garden, and they’re only enhanced by the introduction of fish. Fish need room to swim, and ponds that hold between 500 and 2,000 gallons work well. Your pond will need a pump to move the water and keep it aerated. Non-invasive aquatic plants will also provide oxygen, as well as shade on hot days and places to hide from predators. Introduce fish only once the plants have started to grow. Purchase koi, inexpensive goldfish, or other fish suitable for an outdoor habitat from an aquarium or pet store. Pools become mini aquatic environments and will attract visitors like dragonflies and frogs. To support all this life, your pond will need at least six hours of sun a day.
The word koi means “carp” in Japanese; modern-day koi have been selectively bred for centuries to add color and interest to water features. Koi come in many colors, and are either solid or patterned. Koi are hardy fish, and easy to raise. They should have a pond with a depth of at least three feet. They eat a variety of foods, including peas and watermelon, or fish food purchased at a pet store.
Koi can live a long time, although their coloring makes them especially vulnerable to predators. To keep them safe from raccoons and birds, make your pond deeper in the middle and provide overhanging rock ledges so they have places to hide. They do require a certain temperature water, so a deeper pond will keep the fish cool—and prevent predatory birds from being able to stand in the pond and hunt. Some koi experts recommend a pond depth of at least six feet.
Found throughout the Southeast in ponds and canals, gambusia are commonly known as "mosquitofish." Small and unremarkable in appearance, gambusia are voracious feeders—a female can eat up to 200 mosquito larvae in one day. They are best used in small ponds with no other fish present. With a freshwater fishing license, you can trap them yourself, or check to see if your local mosquito control district office provides them.
Care and Maintenance
Just like having weeds in your lawn, you can also have weeds in your water garden. Algae are microscopic weeds that are sometimes a problem in water gardens. Left to grow unchecked, they can cause issues.
Since algae need sunlight in order to grow, you can curb their growth by choosing water garden plants that shade the water. Limit excess nutrients by fertilizing your water garden plants responsibly. Apply only what your plants need, and use slow-release nutrient tablets that can be pushed into the soil. Don't overfeed or overstock fish, since both can disrupt the nutrient balance.
As a last resort, you can try an aquatic algicide. Always read the label and make sure the product is suitable for use around other plants and fish.
Mosquitoes can easily reproduce in standing water, so gardeners who have water gardens should take steps to keep these pesky insects in check.
If you have a small container garden, just add water to the container until it flows over the top and flushes out the mosquito larvae. Installing a pump in a larger water garden will circulate the water and make it less attractive to mosquitoes.
Another option is to add fish. Gambusia are small native fish that feed on mosquito larvae and pupae at the water's surface.
Or you can buy mosquito dunks. These donut-shaped products gradually release the bacterium Bti (Bacillus thuringiensis israelensis) that kills mosquito larvae but is safe for plants, pets, and the environment.
Overwintering Water Gardens
Even though Florida's winters are relatively warm, you still need to make special provisions for your water garden this winter.
Many plants begin to go dormant as weather cools, so stop fertilizing them around this time. Clean out any accumulated mud and fallen leaves, leaving an inch or two on the bottom. Frogs and snails need to burrow in this organic matter to survive the winter. You may want to cover your pond with bird netting for the season to prevent additional debris from getting into it.
Your fish will find the warmest parts of the water and spend the winter there. You can feed them less frequently than you did in the summer. With a little effort, you'll ensure your garden will spring back to life with warm weather!
Add a Bridge
Bridges allow you to cross a body of water, but they can also be an artful part of a garden's design. Garden bridges have traditionally symbolized a journey and add a sense of mystery and anticipation for what lies beyond.
Bridges can be used in any garden, and are often found in Asian-themed gardens. They can provide a spot to view the landscape or to meditate on the water below.
Many garden bridges are constructed of wood, metal, or concrete, though some are simply a large slab of stone. If you don't have a natural pond or stream, consider creating one. Another option is to install a dry creek bed to give the illusion of a stream.
- Creating Wildlife Habitat with Native Florida Freshwater Wetland Plants
- Florida Native Aquatic Plants for Ornamental Water Gardens
- Make Your Water Garden from a Variety of Plants (PDF)
- Some Small Native Freshwater Fish Recommended for Mosquito and Midge Control in Ornamental Ponds
- The Use of Lime in Fish Ponds
- Winterizing Your Water Garden (PDF)
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