Imagine a space where you hear the water bubbling, the birds singing, see the fish swimming and the sunlight reflecting off the water’s surface. These are some of the many aspects of water gardening. Birds love the sound of running water and it attracts them to your garden space. Many species of water plants can be added to your collections that are only suitable for ponds or other water features. The water surface itself, in it’s changing patterns, can add much to your visual appreciation of your pond, tub, or many other water features that are only limited by your imagination.
Planning Your Pond
In making a pond you can use either a pre-formed pond, made from fibreglass or plastic, or a liner. The best type of liners for low temperature climates are made from butyl rubber, more expensive than others but it will last for 40-50 years. PVC liners are reasonably strong and less expensive. I would advise against purchasing a polyethylene liner as it is easily torn or cracked. To determine how much liner you need, measure the maximum length and depth of the pool, and then add double the maximum depth to each amount. Add 1 foot to both, for a 6 inch flap at each edge. For a pond 6×8 feet and 2 feet deep, you would need a liner 11×13 feet.
While digging your pond, ensure that all the edges are even by spanning them with a plank and using a level. If you are making shelves on the sides of the walls, ensure that they are level also. You can spread fibreglass insulation under the base and sides of the liner to act as a cushion. Then unfold the liner into the hole and weight the edges with bricks or rocks. Slowly fill the pool, tugging the edges to get rid of creases. Pleat the liner around the edges and trim it to a 6 inch overlap. Cover the edges with stones or paving blocks, slightly overlapping the pool. Try to ensure that no part of the liner is visible when done.
A fountain improves the oxygen content in the pool as well as providing visual interest. Submersible pumps sit on the bottom of the pool and only require a regular power source. Most of them will require about as much electricity as a normal household light bulb. Let your pond sit for one week before planting. If your water is treated with chloramine instead of chlorine, you may need to purchase a neutralizer before adding plants and fish.
Planting Your Water Garden
Most important in any water feature is the balance of flora and fauna. As in the rest of your garden, there should be diversity in planting a water garden. Oxygenators are a must as they compete for the dissolved mineral salts on which algae thrive. These include: Elodea Canadensis – Canadian Pondweed; Potamogeton – Curled Pondweed; Sagittaria – Arrowhead; Vallisneria – Eelgrass; Cabomba – Fanwort; Myriophyllum – Water Milfoil.
Deep-water plants are also a must for those who appreciate beauty as these include the many varieties of water lilies. Nymphaea or water lilies are available in four types, Hardy, Tropical Day Blooming, Tropical Night Blooming and Miniature. Deep water plants also include Aponogeton Distachyos or Water Hawthorn, which is not hardy but gives off a delicious vanilla fragrance and Nymphoides (Floating Heart) in two types, Indicum – Water Snowflake or Peltata – Water Fringe. Deep-water plants also have floating leaves that help to lower algae levels by reducing the level of light that reaches the water.
Surface floaters also keep algae levels down by the same method but they must not be allowed to grow over too much of the water surface or other plants and aquatic animals, if present, will suffer. Surface floaters include: Pistia – Water lettuce; Trapa – Water chestnut; Azolla – Fairy Moss;* Lemna– Duckweed.* One of the benefits of Duckweed is that goldfish will feed on its roots. There are many other bog and moisture loving plants that can be used in and around the pond as well. Check with your local nursery for what is available in your area. * rapid growth, may become a nuisance plant.
Plant your deep-water plants and oxygenators into containers unless you are adding soil to the bottom of the pool. Water lilies should still be planted in containers but a pool with soil added can have oxygenators planted right into the soil at the bottom. Surface floaters are simply put straight into the water. Make sure you put pea gravel or coarse sand on the surface of the plant containers to protect the plants from being uprooted by any fish or aquatic animals added.
The easiest fish to keep in a pond are goldfish, fantails, comets, or orfe. In small tubs, mosquito fish or guppies are best since they can survive extreme temperature changes. Fish and other aquatic creatures greatly add to the health of the pond as well as visual interest. They exhale carbon dioxide, essential for photosynthesis, and feed plants with their wastes. They eat mosquito eggs as well so you don’t need to worry about adding to the mosquito population.
Protecting against Winter Damage
The best way to protect against winter damage to fish and plants is to keep the pool filled with water. In a climate such as ours we should plan to have our pool at least three feet deep. When frost begins, ensure that there are no leaves on the surface of the pool and all old, dying growth is removed from the plants. Also remove any plants that are not hardy and discard them. Then, lay a covering of narrow, wooden planks with gaps for air circulation over the top. Spread burlap, a 4 inch layer of leaves, straw or other coarse material, then cover again with burlap and stake down. You can also use submersible heaters to keep small areas free of ice.
A well-balanced pond almost maintains itself. There is a black dye available that is non-toxic and hides under-water algae growth. It is called Deep Water and can make your pond look clear and highly reflective. Most fish in an outdoor pond should not be fed, except in spring and autumn, before the winter fast. Don’t forget that there will always be some algae growth: on the side of the pool it’s good; on the top it is scum; and you probably need to add some more oxygenator plants. Always try to leave your pond alone as much as possible. As in everything, nature knows best, we just try to help it along a little.