It’s that time of year again in the water gardening world, the season we all daydream about through the cold winter months – or is that just me? Summer is on our doorstep, bringing with it the promise of long, sunny days and ponds overflowing with lush foliage and blooms. It’s also the time of year, as I recall from my days working at a retail nursery, when customers begin to arrive in droves, eager to plunge into another season of this addictive hobby. Some are newcomers to the scene, others are seasoned pros – all are in search of the best aquatic plants for their pools.
Which begs the question – what are the top-selling aquatic plants in the trade right now, and what makes them so popular?
For the answers, we asked a few of the top aquatic nurseries to share with us the plants that are in demand from their customers. If you don’t grow or sell these plants now, you may want to consider adding them to your offerings!
Waterlilies – Nymphaea hybrids
It goes without saying that just about every customer out there wants a waterlily for their pond, and the following hybrids are flying out of the sales pools.
** ‘Joey Tomocik’** – This introduction by the late hybridizer Kirk Strawn was grown and evaluated at Denver Botanic Gardens by water gardens curator Joe Tomocik. Named for Joe’s daughter, this lily has become a mainstay in the ponds of water gardeners everywhere. It is recognized as the brightest yellow hardy waterlily, with brilliant 4 to 6˝ blooms held above mottled leaves.
** ‘Colorado’** – Another graduate of the Denver Botanic Gardens trials, ‘Colorado’ is a beautiful “changeable” waterlily – meaning that the blooms can have a range of colors depending on the season of the year and the climate of the area where it is grown. In the case of ‘Colorado,’ flower petals range from shades of salmon pink to pale creamy yellow to deep orange, often all on the same bloom! It is no wonder that it is a perennial favorite of water gardeners around the world.
** ‘Attraction’** – This classic red hardy waterlily dates back to 1910, when it was introduced by French hybridizer Joseph Latour-Marliac. With large cup-shaped blooms composed of deep red petals, this lily remains one of the most popular hybrids on the market today.
** ‘Clyde Ikins’** – Yet another outstanding Strawn hybrid, this hardy lily showcases large, soft yellow to peach blooms that often stand high above the water’s surface. It is in demand for its prolific blooms from early summer through fall, as well as for the fact that the flowers tend to stay open later in the afternoon than other hardies.
** ‘Texas Dawn’** – Hybridized by Ken Landon and introduced to the trade in 1990, this hardy waterlily boasts large yellow blooms tinged with a hint of pink. These flowers are held high above deep green, mottled leaves. A fragrant and prolific bloomer, it holds up well in high heat areas like its home state of Texas.
** ‘Lindsey Woods’** – Introduced by Nelson’s Water Gardens in 2000, this beautiful tropical waterlily was named in honor of a close friend of the Nelson’s daughter who lost her battle with cancer in 1999. This unique plant boasts flower buds that are nearly black in color, opening to blooms of purple with what appear to be brush strokes of darker purple along the edges of the petals. Leaves are heavily mottled with green and deep purple, and the plant is viviparous to boot! A portion of the proceeds from the sale of every plant goes to Texas Children’s Hospital.
‘Panama Pacific’ – Another standout viviparous tropical, ‘Panama Pacific’ was hybridized by William Tricker in 1914. Solid green leaves are highlighted by vibrant purple blooms with bright yellow centers, making this plant a long-time favorite of waterlily enthusiasts. It is also known to be tolerant of a bit more shade than many other waterlilies.
Growing along the edges of the pond in shallow water or damp soil, marginal plants add height, lush foliage, and colorful blooms to the water garden’s edge. Here are some of the current best sellers on the market.
Pickerel Plant – Pontederia cordata This native aquatic plant boasts glossy green, heart-shaped leaves topped with spikes of light purple blooms in early summer. Growing 2´ to 3´ in height, it makes a great addition to the edges of a lightly shaded pond or stream.
Lemon Bacopa – Bacopa caroliniana A trailing tropical plant with tiny, brilliant blue flowers and bright green leaves, this lush ground cover grows well in full sun along the banks of the pond, in a bog, or even in a container water garden. When crushed, the foliage has a strong lemon fragrance, giving it its common name.
Dwarf Papyrus – Cyperus papyrus ‘King Tut’ All of the beauty of the giant Papyrus, but in a smaller, more compact form! This popular hybrid can grow 3´ to 4´ tall, with the characteristic thread-like green leaves held atop sturdy stalks.
Miniature Cattail – Typha minima This finely textured cattail looks great when planted in drifts along the edge of a pond or stream, and is also perfect for use in small water gardens or containers. Tiny, light brown catkins appear in the summer months. Grows best in full sun to part shade, where it grows 1´ to 2´ tall.
Black Magic Taro – Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ Also known as elephant ear, taro has become a favorite summertime planting for pond keepers, and none is more in demand than ‘Black Magic.’ This deep purple to almost black colored hybrid grows 3´ to 4´ tall and thrives in moist soil or shallow water in full sun. Hardy to zone 7 or 8, it can be planted in the garden and heavily mulched for the winter months, or the tubers can be stored and replanted come late spring.
Giant Horsetail – Equisetum hyemale ‘Robustum’ The segmented leaves and towering height (often over 5´) of this marginal plant make it a great selection for display in the background of a planting. It also looks great when planted in front of a wall or in a large container. Prefers full sun and will grow well in damp soil or shallow water. Can become a nuisance with its running growth habit.
Creeping Spearwort – Ranunculus flammula A great selection for water gardeners in cooler climates, this delicate marginal is an eye-catcher when it blooms, showcasing a profusion of bright yellow buttercup-like flowers. Grows well in full sun to light shade, reaching 1´ to 2´ in height.
Variegated Water Celery – Oenanthe javanica ‘Flamingo’ A low-growing perennial grown for its beautiful foliage, which resembles celery leaves and includes shades of cream, pink, and green. Prefers cooler climates, where it grows well in full sun or part shade alongside a pond or stream.
Water Hyacinth– Eichhornia crassipes One of the best-selling pond plants regardless of the region due to its effective use as a filtration plant. Glossy green leaves have an air-filled sac at the base, which keeps the plant afloat, while the extensive root systems trail in the water below and pull nutrients from the water column. Though outstanding in its ability to keep pond water clean and clear, it is a very fast spreader and is therefore prohibited in many southern states, where it has been known to successfully overwinter. Grows best in full sun.
Water Lettuce – Pistia stratiotes Resembling small heads of lettuce that float across the pond surface, this tropical plant is also a native of South America. It grows best in light shade and also provides excellent filtration for pond water. Check the invasive status of both floating plants for your area before purchasing, and remember to never add these plants to natural waterways.
Water Hawthorne – Aponogeton distachyos Another bestseller for many water garden nurseries, this floating-leaved plant has long, lance shaped leaves and pure white bracts of vanilla scented blooms. One thing that makes this plant special, and especially desirable to pond owners, is the fact that it grows and blooms from fall through spring, a time when waterlilies and many other pond plants are dormant. It is known to seed into the pond bottom or into containers nearby, so extra care should be taken to remove blooms before seeds form. Grows best in full sun.
We would like to thank the following companies for assistance with this article:
Burns Water Gardens
Maryland Aquatic Nurseries
Nelson Water Gardens
The Water Garden
Company Sarah P. Duke Gardens
Bio Tamara Kilbane is the horticulturist in charge of aquatic plants at Denver Botanic Gardens in Denver, Colorado. A graduate of Oregon State University,...
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