Planting for Year-Round Color Inside and Outside the Pond

Published on June 27, 2024

In the evening, the color foliage comes alive with lighting

Luther Burbank once said, “Flowers always make people better, happier, and more helpful; they are the sunshine, food and medicine to the mind.” 

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As a company that operates within the Northeast United States, TRD Designs & Aquascapes East has seasonal limitations to our landscaping, making the choosing and gathering of the foliage in and around the water feature that much more crucial.

It’s been long said that nature’s masterpiece is a waterfall. Enhancing that waterfall with interesting foliage makes it masterful!

The dreary appearance of the winter and fall, along with the unpredictable nature of spring showers, highlights the need to incorporate as much color as possible in and around the water feature for maximum enjoyment throughout the year.  

Knowing how to install a pond that can be enjoyed in the spring and summer is one thing, but keeping the water feature beautiful and interesting all year round is an art in itself. I do that by adding colorful trees and shrubs such as birch trees, red dogwood, blue spruce and evergreens. 

This brings us to one of our specialties — landscaping around water features and carefully selecting the plants and flowers that would make a marked difference in the natural appearance and functionality of what is a man-made feature.

We focus not only on the plants that are in the water feature, but also on those outside the water feature, as they are equally important. 

Protecting Ecosystems with Pond Plants

While beautifying our water features is the primary target, the importance of pond plants is also a vital part of protecting the curated ecosystem of a pond. Planting vegetation in and around the pond doesn’t only serve the purpose of making your water features look more natural and colorful, but it also includes preventing erosion, providing shade and habitat for aquatic wildlife and acting as a biological water filter. 

One such plant that accomplishes many of our objectives would be the waterlily, an easy addition to a pond that also provides a verdant green touch to the surface water. With an array of 60 waterlily varieties to choose from, whether hardy or tropical, they are an important piece of the puzzle in establishing a bright-blooming effect to your pond. The hardy waterlily will burst forth in magnificent hues, blooming continuously from May through September.  

On the other hand, tropical water lilies are annuals in colder regions. Most have exotic-looking lily pads and flowers that garner attention whenever they are put in use. 

Cleopatra Canna
Aquatic plants (left) play a huge roll in softening the boulder work. My favorite plant, the Cleopatra Canna (right), with its torch-like flower, steals the show.

Planting for year-round color with foliage plants

The flower industry today is not just about flowering. The colorful foliage plants available today have just as much interest as flowers do. For example, the canna industry has stolen the show when used in water features, border plantings and containers. With there being 33 types of canna lilies, the striking stripes, variegated creamy white, green, red, orange and black leaves have earned a lot of praise.  

My favorite is the Cleopatra Canna that showcases its deep red and green leaves. The unique flower resembles a torch with red and speckled yellow petals. There’s even a dwarf variety! Tropicanna Black, Bengal Tiger, Apricot Dream and Australia, to name a few, create quite an extended show inside or outside of your water feature. 

Planting for Year-round Color with Flowering Annuals

Who knew that you could incorporate geraniums into the riparian edges of your water feature? It wasn’t until about five years ago when I experimented with three varieties and, lo and behold, they survived and actually thrived. I discovered that the trick is to plant the crown of the plant a little higher than the water’s edge, add a handful of potting mix, and cover with river rock. Doing so, you’ve added another layer of beauty to your water features. 

The old standbys — impatiens — also work wonders for your water feature. They do quite well as a marginal plant in water features. If you ever want a splash of color, standard impatiens have a massive array of colors to choose from. Personally, I love the mesmerizing, carpet-like appearance along the water’s edge. From deep shade to part sun, impatiens are a no-maintenance annual that you will love all season long. 

Another really interesting annual we use is Iresene. My two favorite varieties are Blazing Rose and Aureoreticulata. Blazing Rose has deep purple red leaves with pink veins, while Aureoreticulata has green leaves with a creamy yellow vein. Both varieties are quite unique with their growth habit and add an unusual effect of wildness to your water feature. 

Allium bulbs, (left) commonly referred to as ornamental onions, are a sign of good luck and prosperity. Lime colors ( right) continue to rock the plant world. This is my favorite, Lemon Plant Blazin’ Lime Iresine.

Perimeter Plantings 

When we finish a water feature, the phrase “like a kid in a candy store” comes to mind. I just love that I have total control of selecting all the plant materials. When I am at the nursery selecting plant materials, I bring pictures of the areas that we’re planting. Having a plan is great, but having pictures of the areas to be landscaped really helps you acquire the correct number of plants for each area.  

The foliage is selected based on conditions such as light requirements, terrain, blooming cycles, textures, growth, height, width and color. Keep in mind that you want to avoid obstructing the view of the water feature. Our main objective is to soften the boulder work and rock at the same time, allowing maximum visibility. 

 A Horse with Blinders 

Tom Dieck's Top 25 Favorite Plants

I often explain to our clients that we want their eyes to be held to the water feature and not drifting — much like horse trainers who use blinders on horses to limit distractions, thus helping them focus on what’s straight ahead. The same theory can be applied to landscaping. To accomplish that, we usually use evergreens as a backdrop to our water features.  

Green Giant arborvitae, spruces, hollies and various pines will stop the eye and force you to focus on the focal points. With that in place, the flowering shrubs, perennials and ground covers are used to paint the rest of the canvas. 

Remember to have fun with your team. Teach the reasoning behind your thought process of your plant selections and placements. Details, details, details. It’s the last 10% that counts the most. I’ve always thought that, when it’s all said and done, it’s the landscaping that makes or breaks a water feature. With the right plant choices, blooming cycles, textures and colors, ultimately that will make the difference between an ordinary water feature or an extraordinary water feature.

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