Also known as oxygenators, submerged pond plants live entirely underwater – well, almost. They do flower and the flowers will rise to the surface of the pond for pollination. However, most of these flowers are insignificant and don’t constitute a compelling reason to purchase the plants. Submerged pond plants act as a wonderful natural filter in your pond, consuming excess nutrients. Here are some great reasons why you need submerged plants in your pond.
For the most part, submerged plants take their nutrients directly from the water, which means they compete with algae for their dinner. Algae is nothing more than a single-celled, green aquatic plant (the first weed in the garden, we like to say). Being bigger, more voracious, and better-looking than algae, submerged pond plants usually end up with most of the food, thereby starving the algae out (like a healthy vegetable garden or a healthy lawn). So, if algae control is at the top of your list for maintaining your pond, you’ll want to add a few oxygenators to the water garden.
Another great function that submerged aquatic plants serves is providing areas for fish to spawn and baby fish (fry) to hide.
Purchasing (or adopting) and Planting
When purchasing submerged plants, you’ll find they are usually sold in bunches of stem cuttings and are available weighted or unweighted. Weighted bunches have a weight tied to the bunch that helps keep the plant in place at the bottom of the pond. If you’re unable to find weighted plants, simply tuck their ends under a rock to keep them from traveling and floating into your skimmer (or being plucked up by your Koi).
Weighted bunches can be tossed into your pond. Unweighted plants can be planted in an aquatic plant pot with gravel, sand, or potting media. If you have a rock substrate, you can easily plant them directly into the pond. Most submerged pond plants prefer water that is 24” to 36” deep, except for hornwort which floats near the surface of the water.
Adopting pond plants from other people’s ponds carries a few caveats, and we have a separate blog on that subject.
Types of Submerged Pond Plants
Just like with marginals and waterlilies, some pond owners have their favorite submerged plants. Here are four of the more popular varieties that are all native to North America.
Anacharis – Egeria densa
Anacharis is the most popular of the submerged plants. It grows rooted in pond substrate or potted in sand or pond plant media. It has tiny white flowers that develop on the surface of the water in the summer. Each stem has short, thin leaves whorled around it, like a bottle brush, and can grow up to six feet in length. Hardy in Zones 5-11.
Hornwort – Ceratophyllum demersum
Hornwort grows as a dense, rootless mass that floats below the surface of the pond. It has very small white flowers in the summer that often look like pollen floating on the surface. Keep these wanderers in place by weighting them with a rock. Hardy in Zones 5-11.
Cabomba – Cabomba caroliniana
Cabomba lays completely flat when growing out of the water but produces a beautiful fan when submerged under water. The tops of the finely cut leaves are dark green and the underside is dark red. Cabomba bears small white flowers in summer. The fronds of cabomba are softer than hornwort, and therefore, more agreeable to pond fish. Hardy in Zones 5-11.
Eel Grass – Vallisneria americana
Eel grass has long, eel-like leaves that grow from a rooted runner planted in the pond substrate or in a pot with pond plant media. It grows 24 to 36 inches long and forms a thick mat across the bottom of the pond. There are many varieties of eel grass, each with different growing habits such as a corkscrew form and some that have red foliage. Hardy in Zones 4-11.
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Which type of pond owner are you? Do you love fish and enjoy keeping koi as pets? Or maybe you’re an avid gardener that desired a pond so you could expand your outdoor plant and flower options. The majority of pond owners choose a pond in order to enjoy its overall beauty in addition to the soothing sound of the waterfall and/or stream. Regardless of which type of pond owner you are, it’s important to understand why you need plants in your pond and how they enhance the overall ecosystem.
Plants Play An Important Role In An Ecosystem Pond
Aquatic Plants provide beauty and naturalization while offering the plant enthusiast a whole new world of plant choices. Most importantly, they help balance the pond ecosystem by providing valuable biological filtration that removes nitrogen, ammonia, nitrates, and other minerals from the water that algae would otherwise feed and flourish upon. All this minimizes pond maintenance, leaving more time to enjoy your beautiful water garden. Without hardworking aquatic plants, your pond would not be able to function as its own little ecosystem.
Aquatic Plants Provide Food and Shelter
The plants in your pond provide food, shade, and protection for the fish, wildlife, and aquatic life that live in and around the pond. They also provide areas for fish to spawn and a safe place for frogs and toads to lay their eggs. But plants don’t even need to be in the pond in order to help your wildlife. Plants placed around the edges of your pond attract birds looking for food and shelter, while blooming plants attract beneficial insects, butterflies, and others to your watery paradise.
Waterlilies, the most popular of all aquatic plants, spread a multitude of leaves across the surface that shades the water. This natural umbrella comes in beautiful hues of green, providing shade that keeps the water at a comfortable temperature for your fish, as well as aids in preventing algae growth.
Aquatic Plants Add Visual Beauty
Aquatic plants also provide pleasure to the pond lover. There’s something special and delightful when seeing a frog pop its head up between the lily pads, or watching him pause on top of the round leaf. Equally interesting is spotting a dragonfly zipping around the pond and coming to rest on a waterlily bloom. This euphoric paradise wouldn’t be possible without the plants.
Being in the presence of all of the lush plantings creates an atmosphere of a tropical paradise without the expense and travel time of a formal vacation.
What Happens If There Are No Pond Plants?
Eliminate plants from the ecosystem pond and what you have is the equivalent of a lawn without a landscape. Not to mention, you’ve greatly reduced the beneficial filtration in the pond. By itself, clean and clear water has an attractive quality, but in order to make it naturally clear, plants are an absolute necessity.
A common misconception is that pond plants are hard to grow and difficult to maintain. The fact is, most aquatic plants are easy to grow provided they’re planted at the right depth and are receiving the proper amount of sunlight for that particular plant.
Aquatic Plants are Nature’s Filters
Each type of aquatic plant has its own set of requirements for optimum growth. The more a plant grows, the more food it needs. Pond plants thrive off the same nutrients as algae, so when they’re larger and consuming more nutrients, they’re starving algae of its food source. The more your plants consume, the less algae you’ll have in your pond. Bonus!
Some plants prefer to be planted in the stream because they thrive on higher oxygen levels that exist in moving water. Other plants prefer calm, still-water environments. Each aquatic plant species has its own requirements for water depth. Some prefer to grow in deeper areas of the pond, while others will only tolerate getting their feet wet in very shallow water. Having a good assortment of plants whose roots reach different depths, consuming different nutrients at each level of the pond, will provide your pond with broad-spectrum filtration.
Mix It Up with a Variety of Aquatic Plants
It’s always best to select a variety of plants for your pond. Mix it up and have fun with the colorful array of flowers, textures, and plant heights. Variety is what makes a water garden so interesting!
For an exciting color palette in your pond, try different varieties of waterlilies. And don’t be afraid to invest in tropical waterlilies, too. They come in unique colors and some bloom at night which is an advantage for people who work during the day. When you head out to your pond for a bit of relaxation after work, your night bloomers will greet you with open petals: welcome home!
When it comes to marginals and floating plants, there is an almost overwhelming array from which to choose. You can go with old standbys such as pickerel plant, cattail (dwarf is best for most backyard ponds), lizard’s tail, etc. Or you could try more exotic options like cardinal flowers, cannas, taros, and rushes.
Now That You Know Why Plants are Important in a Pond
Learning a little more about the role of plants in your pond is important to help you better understand the ecosystem you have in your very own yard. When it comes to keeping plants in your water garden, remember to stay educated and have fun. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new plants, but for best results, read up on their requirements before adding them to your pond.
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Adding plants to your pond can enhance its beauty, provide shade, improve water quality, and create a more natural ecosystem. Aquatic plants look amazing during our Phoenix summer months when all of our terrestrial plants are looking parched. The diversity of that aquatic plant life can be improved through plant exchanges with other pond owners. Pond people overall are generous and we love to share! Plant exchanges are common in pond clubs, during garden tours, etc.
If you're considering introducing plants from another person's pond into yours, it's advisable to follow some best practice procedures to ensure a successful transfer, as well as minimize the risk of introducing unwanted pests or diseases.
At The Pond Gnome, we have strict policies in place about processing the aquatic plants that come to us through donations or plant thinning during pond service. Only when they’ve been through the processing operation, do they then go into our greenhouse for introduction into the ponds that we build or maintain.
Generally, gather relevant information about the plants, including their species, growth habits, maintenance requirements, and any potential pests or diseases associated with them. This knowledge will help you make informed decisions and prevent any unwanted surprises. A quick search engine scan should do the trick if the pond owner doesn't know. You’ll want this information in order to put the right plant in the right place. For example, you don’t want a 3’ tall and wide plant in the front of your pond that might block your view into the pond. And some aquatic plants do better in calm deep water, while others prefer shallow riffling water.
Quarantine and Inspect
To minimize the risk of introducing pests, diseases, or unwanted critters into your pond (via eggs), it's a good idea to quarantine the plants (just like you would do for a new fish introduction). Keep the plants in a separate container filled with pond water for a couple of weeks. Take this time to observe the plants for any signs of pests, diseases, or abnormalities.
Rinse and Clean
Once the quarantine period is over, thoroughly rinse the plants using fresh water to remove any debris, sediment, or unwanted organisms or eggs that might have attached to them. Be gentle during this process to avoid damaging the plant's delicate roots or foliage.
Choose the Right Planting Location
Identify the ideal planting location within your pond based on the plant's specific requirements and growth habits. Some plants prefer deeper water, while others thrive in shallow areas or along the pond's edge. Consider factors such as sunlight exposure and water movement. Proper placement will promote healthy growth and prevent overcrowding.
Plant the transferred plants in your pond by gently placing their roots into the rock substrate or anchoring them in appropriate containers, depending on how your pond is built. Ensure the plants are firmly secured, preventing them from floating away or becoming dislodged or blowing over in a monsoon. Take care not to damage the plant's roots during planting, as healthy root systems are vital for their establishment and growth.
Monitor and Maintain
Regularly monitor the newly added plants for any signs of stress, disease, or adverse reactions to the location. Keep in mind that aquatic plants typically look a bit sad right after transplant, so have a bit of patience here. Prune the plants when necessary to control their growth and prevent overcrowding – and don’t forget to thin the roots occasionally to avoid water displacement leaks. By providing proper care and attention, you'll ensure the plants thrive and contribute positively to your pond ecosystem.
Adding plants from another person's pond to your own can be an exciting way to diversify your aquatic garden. By following these best practices, you can minimize the risk of introducing unwanted pests or diseases while promoting the successful establishment and growth of the transferred plants. Remember, maintaining a healthy and balanced pond ecosystem is key, so choose your plants wisely and provide them with the care they need to flourish.
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