Plants are what transform a water feature into a water garden. They complement the design, add interest, create unity and balance, add color and establish a natural transition from water to land. Plants also work to improve water quality, provide hiding area for young fry, aquatic insects and other invertebrates; in turn provide foraging area for fish. In earth bottom ponds a densely planted perimeter will also deter sediment and nutrient runoff. Their absence can negate a contractor’s credibility and more importantly leave money on the table.
Plants are often overlooked and are a valuable source of revenue in the landscape plan. Additionally clients often feel slighted when the plant selection and planting is left to them; as if the job is incomplete. There are a few avid gardeners that prefer to do it themselves but that segment of the population is relatively small. A good understanding of plants and their growing habits can prove invaluable when selecting or recommending plant choices for the water feature as well as adding to your bottom line.
I frequently field calls from customers who have had plants used inappropriately in their garden ponds and been disheartened that the contractor wasn’t knowledgeable. In some cases the plants used have aggressive tendencies and if they aren’t planted in a way that provides boundaries they can impose themselves all over the garden pond. It’s kind of like planting Kudzu in the backyard garden. It comes down to the philosophy that we often hear in other parts of the green industry; Right Plant – Right Place. In the case of Kudzu the absence of natural predators creates an imbalance.
In another instance planting a tree that thrives in the shade out in an open field will likely result in a very unhappy tree that will be prone to insect and disease predation The poor choice of location weakens the tree and affects its ability to fend off predation. To relate that philosophy to the water garden it would be like planting water lilies in a woodland pond with no direct sunlight. They won’t thrive and will become victims of predation if the absence of sunlight doesn’t kill them first.
As a contractor if you haven’t been planting your water gardens you owe it to yourself to become educated or at least align yourself with a grower who is. As a service we will quote a planting plan for anyone who can provide a picture and a few details of the pond like shallow water areas, shelf width, maximum depths, etc. Also if the pond is designed with planting pockets there are restrictions on what plants will mind their manners in a relatively free and open growing area. Often the problem that lies in gravel areas (planting pockets) is that some plant roots like to hang on to gravel making long-term maintenance problematic. After extended periods of growth they will eventually need to be maintained and heavy equipment may be required because the dense growth and gravel are impermeable to modern hand tools. It is difficult to cut through plant roots that have gravel attached to the roots. Serious consideration should be given to the plant selection and long-term success or failure prior to execution. Alternative substrates, like calcined clay can be substituted for gravel to ease maintenance. It is lighter weight and easier to cut through than gravel so it is better suited to plants like iris that have clingy root systems.
Some landscape contractors have been successful creating planting pockets and establishing plants without any media at all. This type of hydroponic growing has huge benefits beyond easing the process of plant maintenance. Fish fry, insects, tadpoles, bacteria, etc. will all prosper in the open root environment. Nutrients are then derived directly from the water body rather than from a soil or clay substrate.
Shoreline restoration in large ponds is another area that is increasingly a place for earning additional revenue. Certainly many of the communities in which garden pond work is performed may have storm water ponds that are in disrepair. Be on the lookout for eroded banks that are not only unsightly but contribute to sediment accumulations in the pond. Excavation can be performed to prep the banks for Wetland Carpets, which are pre-planted coir mats. Both Maryland Aquatic Nurseries and Charleston Aquatic Nurseries offer them shipped via common carrier on pallets.
The establishment of the plants prior to the Carpet installation keeps predators like geese and ducks at bay because the rooted plants are not easily plucked out as they can be following traditional plug planting methods. Additionally the Wetland Carpets deter further erosion. Weed growth under the Carpet is deterred by the thickness of the mat. Weed seeds can’t germinate and penetrate the coir so the more favorable plants have an opportunity to become established without having to compete. Spot treatments for weeds with herbicide will then eliminate the competition until the shoreline fills in. Color and foliage combinations can be selected to accommodate specific height requirements. Native and/or nonnative plants can be used based on the sight and situation. Lively and beautiful perimeters (no mow zones) can increase property values and definitely change the way the ponds are perceived by the community. Our experience has been that what begins as an eyesore in the community transforms into a focal point, attracting the attention of resident and visitors.
In addition to Wetland Carpets, the Floating Wetlands have been instrumental in improving water quality and nutrient uptake via plants in deteriorated pond situations. Research continues to mount supporting Floating Wetlands as a viable option to improve water quality. Bottom aeration is combined with rafted plants whose roots hang below the floating raft. Nutrient rich water is circulated from the bottom up toward the roots for enhanced nutrient absorption. Several plants have proven highly effective at nutrient uptake: *Hibiscus moschuetos, Decodon verticillata* and *Justicia Americana* are at the top of the list of plants that are both attractive and functional. Like the Wetland Carpets, the Floating Wetlands have generated excitement and enthusiasm in the community.
Landscape contractors need to be especially aware what happens after they leave. A sound knowledge of plant material is the key to satisfying customers. Plants are often overlooked and are a valuable source of revenue in the landscape plan so that knowledge won’t be going to waste. Additionally clients often feel slighted if the plant selection and planting is left to them; it is frequently perceived as an incomplete job. More consumers are willing to pay for your expertise. A good understanding of plants and their growing habits can prove invaluable when selecting or recommending plant choices for the water feature as well as adding to your bottom line.
*Wetland Carpets and Floating Wetlands are available from both Charleston Aquatic Nurseries and Maryland Aquatic Nurseries.*