Making a Big Impact with Small Waterscapes

Published on October 24, 2022

Mini lotus planter
A mini lotus planter can be set anywhere for maximum enjoyment all summer long.

Wouldn’t we all love to see a large-scale pond in every yard in America? Unfortunately, not all potential customers have the space or budget for a gigantic, six-figure pond in their backyards.

We are well versed in all the reasons why large bodies of water are beneficial to the local ecosystem and create tranquil places to relax. Here are some ideas for achieving the same benefits of a large-scale waterscape on a smaller scale.

Patio Ponds

This illustration provides a visual explanation of the key elements needed for a thriving pond in a patio pot. Each pot requires a combination of a marginal and floater at the top of the pot, and then an oxygenator and waterlily placed at the bottom of the pot.

The easiest solution of all is a patio pond. A simple 16-inch-diameter bowl can allow for plants and fish to happily live all summer long until the first hard frost. Installation is super easy, and so is the maintenance — no pumps required if you have the right combination of plants. With the right combination of plant life, you emulate a natural pond, and the results are beauty and harmony without all the gadgets.

Each pot needs an oxygenator to pump oxygen into the water during daylight hours and help control algae. Add a marginal plant; we suggest a mixed container for added interest. You can also use a pitcher plant (sarracenia) to serve double duty — one for interest and a second to eat bugs.

Lotus plants are hot right now and surging in demand. Another way to add interest to the patio with aquatic plants is a mini lotus planter. The plant is still so unique and really provides that wow factor. Its portable size makes it much easier for the customer to bring it indoors to protect it from frost and animals after the blooming season.

Add a waterlily as the true centerpiece of the patio pond. Our new favorite introduction for 2023 is ‘Aurora.’ It is a changeable hardy waterlily that goes from apricot to orange and even burgundy. Lastly, add a floater to filter out sunlight, and supplies shade to keep the water cool. An optional element is a few tiny goldfish to entertain children and the household cat.

Rain Gardens

Place planters with sedge and spiral rush in a rain garden for easy installation and maintenance.

Rain gardens are also gaining momentum. “No-mow May” is great, but what are you supposed to do for the rest of the summer? Whether you have a drainage issue, want to be more water-wise by managing rain runoff, or are simply tired of mowing your lawn for good, these are all perfectly valid reasons for ditching the lawn and creating a rain garden.

The ecological benefits are endless — no gas mower, no fertilizers, no watering and more time to do the fun gardening chores. To make a successful rain garden, we suggest picking the proper marginal aquatic plants that will keep your area weed-free and aesthetically pleasing. Select plants that have a clump-forming habit. These plants can stand the occasional standing water.

For example, cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) is a staple marginal plant that is hardy in Zones 3 – 8 and can be a magnet for butterflies and hummingbirds. The Iris genus provides a lot of options to choose from — Louisiana, Blue Water and Japanese, to name a few. Our favorite at the moment is ‘Ann Chowning,’ which has deep-red, velvety flowers with yellow highlights (Zones 4 – 9). Sweet flag (Acorus) is also a pond-edge staple, with its green and white vertically striped, sword-shaped leaves (Zones 3 – 8).

Lobelia cardinalis is a staple marginal plant in any form of water feature and attracts butterflies.

Blue or spiral rush (Juncus) produces a fascinating clump of twisted, dark-green, spaghetti-like leaves that deer tend to leave alone in Zones 4 – 9. Deer also avoid sedge (Carex), which thrives in shady areas as upright, glassy-looking clumps with glowing yellow leaves. Sedge can also produce greenish flowers in late spring, but it’s generally grown for its showy foliage (Zones 5 – 9). If color is what you’re looking for, pickerel rush (Pontederia) can produce intense blue flowers all summer long in the same hardiness zone.

We do generally recommend staying away from bottom terrestrial plants such as horsetail (Equisetum) and Cattails (Typha), as these plants tend to take over the rain garden and crowd out your other carefully selected plants.

The possibilities are endless in creating a space that attracts the right type of wildlife and makes any yard an ecological sanctuary; however, we all can and should do our part to keep the ecosystem healthy. To maximize the ecological benefits of a rain garden, be sure to pick plants that are bee friendly and grown without the use of neonicotinoids. Reputable nurseries will be able to guide you to the plants that meet these criteria.

Pondless Waterfalls        

Pregrown planters provide 3 to 6 plants in one compact container. Use the 8-inch version in a patio pond; use the 14-inch version in and around rain gardens and pondless waterfalls.

Another great way to deal with water runoff and keep it contained to your property is to direct water to a large, in-ground reservoir. Not only do pondless waterfalls promote wildlife, but they also provide a peaceful and relaxing focal point in your yard.

Pondless waterfalls are easier to maintain than a pond. As there is no pond, you can’t keep fish, which means you will spend less time cleaning fish waste and more time appreciating the beauty of your water feature.

While fish need aquatic plants to survive, aquatic plants do not need fish. So, you can still add aquatic plants to this feature and achieve the same ecological benefits. The simplest way is to strategically place planters around the waterfall.

Iris and cardinal flower also work well around pondless waterfalls. Integrate red rotala, a must-have oxygenator for Zones 9 – 11, which can keep the plant environment healthy and still provide beauty with its blue-flower spikes and waxy-green foliage. Canna, especially the CannaSol series, is a compact, well managed plant that still shines in the garden and provides room for other plants (Zones 7 – 10).

Iris Louisiana ‘Ann Chowning’ is a standout in any water feature.

In Zones 8 – 10, use elephant ears (Colocasia) and lemon bacopa to fill out the water garden. Our new favorite variety of elephant ears is ‘Diamond Head,’ which has dark, shiny, black leaves with black stems instead of the traditional green color. The lemon bacopa provides fragrant, violet-blue flowers that bloom all summer long. Water wisteria (Hygrophila difformis) is also a great option for these hardy zones and doubles as an oxygenator. It produces clouds of finely cut, graceful foliage below and above the water line. Small flowers emerge where the leaves join the coppery colored stems.

For more information on how to use aquatic plants in your landscape projects, we have a national sales group at Netherland Bulb Company to help guide you through the plant-selection process. Email us at contactus@netherlandbulb.com or call us at 800/788.8547. 

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