How to: Helping customers choose plants for their waterscapes

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Updated Jul 24, 2023
Photo: PixabayPhoto: Pixabay

For customers with backyard ponds or other kinds of waterscapes, there are numerous options to choose from when it comes to picking out what plants will go in them.

Waterscape plants can serve as a helpful habitat for fish and other aquatic life, as well as regulate water temperatures by providing shade and improve water quality. Having plants in the pond can also keep algae populations under control by competing for nutrients.

When choosing plant varieties and creating an attractive pond design, keep the natural look of ponds in mind and mimic this in your customer’s yard. Look at how plants of varying heights, shapes and textures grow on the edge of the water and protrude from the pond when choosing which ones to incorporate.

Some will require planting in shallower areas or around the edge of the water, and others are more suited to be planted deeper in the pond. To add in some year-round interest, check out some flowering plants that will bloom from season to season.

When picking out waterscape plants, there are a few different types you can choose from: rooted floating plants, marginal plants, bog plants, submerged plants and floating plants.

Keep in mind that certain types of aquatic plants are considered invasive in some areas, so be sure to check with local regulations before planting or suggesting them to customers.

Rooted floating plants

Rooted floating plants will grow on the base of the pond and will send up blooms and leaves to the surface, and they are usually described as water lilies or lily-like aquatics.

Depending on the type, they could end up growing a few inches to a foot below the water’s surface, and they will provide leaf covers that will help shade the water and reduce algae growth. Most varieties that fall under the rooted floating classification will need full sun for about 10 hours a day to produce the best blooms.

Waterlily (Nymphaea sp.)

Most species of waterlilies will have rounded, waxy-coated leaves on stalks that contain air spaces. Their large leaves, or pads, will float on the surface of the water and are attached to the soil at the pond’s bottom by a long stem. Their roots are rhizomes, and they thrive in water that’s fresh, shallow, and still, or they also do well around a pond’s edges. They require full sun to partial shade and thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-11.

Marginal plants

Photo: PixabayPhoto: Pixabay

Marginal plants are also called emergent, and these will grow in shallow margins around the edges of the pond.

To create a simple planting area around the edges of the pond, consider taking marginal plants and sticking them between already-placed boulders. The plants will begin to grow between the rocks, which will give the area a pop of color, and the roots will help anchor the rocks in place.

Cattails (Typha sp.)

The leaves of cattails can grow to a height of 3 to 10 feet, and they are one of the most commonly found plants in large marshes and ponds. When provided the right conditions, these plants can spread quickly, and as long as they aren’t planted in water that’s too deep, they will be able to take in as much water and sun as they need to thrive. Depending on the type, cattails can typically thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-10, and most types will require full sun.

Bog plants

These types of plants will grow well in damp soil around the edge of the pond, and they prefer that only the tips of their roots be submerged. They will also do well in water that’s slow-moving to still.

Horsetails (Equisetum arvense) 

Horsetails can either be seen as a nuisance or an accent herb, and they are closely related to ferns. Horsetails will reproduce through spores and they also have deep rhizome systems that can tunnel up to 3 feet under the soil. These plants will have a bushy appearance with branches, but they don’t have true leaves. They thrive in ponds and bogs and will flourish in poor soil. They prefer half of the day in sun and grow well in USDA Hardiness Zones 7-10.

Submerged plants

These plant types are often called oxygenated and will anchor their roots in the soil while their leaves stay underwater.

Typically speaking, their leaves will usually look hairy and fern-like, and they play a pretty significant part in helping maintain the natural balance of the pond, as they can use waste nutrients and help purify the water.

American water willow (Justicea Americana)

The American water willow can grow to be up to 3 to 4 feet tall, and it grows best in shallow water or mud. Their flowers produce in small clusters on stalks from the leaves’ axils, and they are colored white and purple and grow to be about ½ inch across. They do best in partial to full sun and will typically bloom in May, June, July, August, and September. They thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-10.

Floating plantsShutterstock 760807600

These free-floating plans don’t need soil or a base to thrive, as they will be suspended on the surface of the water. They not only provide beautiful decoration, but they also give shade and can help reduce algae growth.

Bladderwort (Utricularia spp.)

These plants are small and linear with underwater stems with bladder-like traps that contain trigger hairs at their openings, and their yellow, two-lipped flowers will grow on the top of the water. Their ‘bladders’ are used to trap small water organisms, much like a Venus fly trap. They will need full sun exposure and will do well in USDA Hardiness Zones 4-8.

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