We’re paying more attention to our ponds than ever before, so why don’t we make them as colourful as possible?
April through to September (erratic British weather pending) is a time for koi, goldfish, pumps, filters, and setting up or maintaining ponds. But it’s also the key time for pond plants.
Pond plants have enjoyed a surge in popularity in recent years, largely down to Covid. With many working from home, sales have risen dramatically as more and more people choose to spend money on brightening up their gardens.
Well maintained foliage is good for ponds and their inhabitants. For one, wildlife benefits from the extra aquatic flora. And note that plants aren’t just an aesthetic addition to your pond but also a functional one. They utilise nitrates from the pond water, using it to feed themselves and denying it to nuisance algae, all while creating a beneficial ecosystem for both fish and wildlife. And, if chosen well, they can bring a startling palette of colours with them.
Different plants serve different roles, and these should be considered to utilise them to their best. Some cover the water, like the leaves of long-stemmed, deeper-dwelling waterlilies, Nymphaea spp., or Floating ferns, Salvinia natans, where the whole plant lives on the surface. Either will provide shelter for pondlife to lurk beneath, as well as creating a barrier to sunlight that could otherwise cause unsightly algae.
Meanwhile, submerged oxygenating plants may be used a spawning medium, doubling up as protection for the developing eggs and young.
Know your zones
Plants like to be within their ‘comfort zones’ in ponds — some like to be fully submerged, whereas others may just like to be a little bit soggy. Kept in the wrong zones they may even die, so it is important to know the placement for each. Most plants come with labels that tell you which area to place them, but failing that an experienced retailer can point you in the right direction.
There are five zones to be aware of. In zone 1 you’ll find those plants which like to be a little wet, that sit outside of the pond but are kept moist — think bog garden plants like Primula. These are often used to soften the edges of the pond, making it blend seamlessly into your garden. Bog garden plants love the nutrients that can be found in regular garden soil, but when kept too wet they can suffer with root rot and fungal diseases.
Zone 2, somewhere between 0-15cm deep, is where plants start to dip into the water properly, and is suitable for most marginal plants as well as some potted oxygenators. Marginals usually sit on a little shelf at the edge of the pond, but if no shelves are available then an upturned plant pot will do just as well. Put these plants in the water so the pots are only just submerged, but don’t let them drop lower than 5cm below the water’s surface.
Zone 3 is deeper, from 15cm to around 40-45cm, and is best suited for deep-water marginal plants. Tall, grassy types of marginals like Lesser bulrush, Typha angustifolia, as well as potted oxygenators like Water crowfoot, Ranunculus aquatilis, all do well here.
Zone 4 is the bottom of the pond, and home to the quintessential waterlilies and other deep-water species such as Water hawthorn, Aponogeton distachyos. These plants will spend their life at the bottom of the pond around 50-100cm depth. If lilies are placed in an area that’s too shallow, they will die. Adversely, if they are too deep then they will fail to flower.
Finally, zone 5 is the open water, for those plants that float on the surface. These are some of the easiest to keep as they don’t need to be potted or contained.
With that covered, let’s now take a look at some of the more colourful plants you can use to spruce up your pond…
Marsh marigold, Caltha palustris
The Mash marigold is an all-time favourite. A native British plant, its striking buttercup yellow flowers and hardy nature make it perfect for that initial pop of colour early on in the season.
It grows to around 60cm into a beautiful dome of upright stems and will come back every year. If it’s cut back after its initial flowering it will then flower yet again in late autumn.
As the name suggests it’s suited to zone 1 bog gardens, but it’s so versatile that it will also happily take to zone 2 — pop it on a shallow shelf and watch it grow. The nectar from its yellow foliage caters to insects that appear early on in the year and it also provides much-needed cover for frogs. A truly well-rounded plant.
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