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Choosing Pond Plants

By Brett Fogle

A pond without plants is like cake without icing. Pond plants fight algae, give fish a hiding place against predators, and beautify our own little slice of paradise to plunk down in at the end of a tiring day.

Don’t smother your pond with plants, however. Start with half the surface area, and don’t let them cover more than two-thirds to three-quarters at their growing peak. Overcrowding stresses them out, and hey – it just looks bad!

Don’t let the terms “hardy” and “tropical” throw you when choosing plants for your pond. Just remember that these terms refer to the environment in which the plant has originally been adapted – and not to whether it can be thrown across the room or how well it looks in a fancy mixed drink.

Hardy pond plants, as a rule, can handle cold temperatures and frost. Of course, this is relative to your USDA agricultural zone, found here:

Ask your plant professional or check the plant’s label before taking home that plant that does great in Hawaii, but not so great in Maine.

Tropicals, on the other hand, pretty much hold true to what they’re called: They will take a nosedive if temperatures get much below 70 degrees, turning into a messy mush if it freezes.

But, ah, Grasshopper, there are ways to save even those hardy plants that aren’t quite up to a northern blizzard, as well as those tender-toed tropicals with which you’ve fallen madly in love.

Bury hardy pond plants, pot and all, into a south-facing part of your yard and cover with a thick, warm blanket of mulch. Or put them into a garage or basement, making sure they’re kept wet and have good air circulation.

Tropicals, on the other hand, need light and moisture year ‘round. If you don’t have a greenhouse, place tropicals in your sunniest window and keep misted, several times a day if possible, to provide the humidity they crave in order to flourish. “Grow lights” do a fabulous fake of the sun, however, and many tropical pond plants thrive under them.

Marginal pond plants – those that grow around the edges, or margins, of a pond – can be either hardy or tropical. Some hardy marginals are cattail, plantain, and rush. Tropical marginals include taro, spider lily, and water hibiscus. Of course there are legions more to lust after in both hardy and tropical marginals. Place marginals with their pot tops one to six inches under water. Very tall plants, like cattail, can be moved as deep as a foot beneath the surface one they’ve gotten full-sized.

Water lilies, however, like their water deep – between 18 and 30 inches – after starting the season in the 6”-12” shallower end. This gives them a nice, springtime shot of sunshine to get going again. And when the plant pro recommends those funny-looking pots with all the little holes in them, go for it. Pond plants poke their toes (roots) through them to develop tiny, nutrient-extracting feeder roots. Meshing with one another, these roots provide stability and protection against wind, kids, pets, and adults that have a tendency to stumble into them.

Fertilize pond plants when they need them. “Ha!” you say. “And when is that?” Well, go back to your plant pro, the Internet, or the plant label you so wisely saved. Each plant may have different requirements, but one rule of thumb: Plants need much more fertilizer in warm-weather months than when it’s cool outside.

So go have fun with your pond and your plants!

Brett Fogle is the owner of MacArthur Water Gardens and several pond-related websites including and He also publishes a free monthly newsletter called PondStuff! with a reader circulation of over 9,000 pond owners. To sign up for the free newsletter and receive a complimentary 'New Pond Owners Guide' for joining, just visit MacArthur Water Gardens << Specializing in pond filtration and clear water solutions >> ****************************************************************

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