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Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals

Making a Water Garden in a Tub (page 3 of 3)

by Ann Whitman

Beyond the Basics

If you get excited about water gardening, try grouping several containers. Plant space-hungry cat tail, lotus, arrowhead, or water hyacinth in decorative containers, and arrange them to display their different heights and textures. Stack containers of mixed plants at different levels, and install a circulating pump to create waterfalls.

Also use multiple containers to grow plants with different needs. Water lilies, for example, prefer warm, deep, still water, but watercress needs cool, shallow, circulating water. Group the tubs in a corner of your deck or make them the focal point of your patio. Add a few potted palms to complete your tranquil retreat.

Edible Water Plants: Seven Choices for Containers

* Violet-stemmed taro (Colocasia esculenta 'Fontanesia', sometimes sold as Xanthosoma violacea). Harvest tubers from dormant plants that have grown vigorously during the previous season. Steam, bake, or fry the starchy tubers, removing the fibrous brown skin before eating. When cooked, taro has a mild, nutty flavor.

* Chinese water chestnut (Eleocharis tuberosa). Harvest corms from dormant plants. Peel off the thick outer cover and slice the crisp, white flesh into salads and stir-fries.

* Water spinach (Ipomoea aquatica). Pick young shoots and leaves from this vigorous vine, and use as a green vegetable in Asian dishes or as a substitute for spinach.

* Common watercress (Nasturtium officinale). Pick bright green leaves and small shoots, and add them to salads and sandwiches for a peppery flavor.

* Yellow pond lily (Nuphar lutea). Dig roots during dormant season in fall or early spring; scrub and add to soups and stews. Dry seeds in warm oven, and remove the kernels. Boil lightly, and serve like corn.

* Arrowhead or duck potato (Sagittaria latifolia). Harvest starchy tubers in fall when the tops die and the plant is dormant. Peel and boil or bake like potatoes.

* Cat tail (Typha latifolia). Collect yellow pollen to use as flour. Gather young shoots, and slice them into salads, or boil for 15 minutes. The green flower spikes can also be boiled for 5 minutes and eaten. After the plants become dormant, dig the roots, and harvest the sprouts of next season's growth; boil for 10 minutes.

Basic Tub Garden

For a container water garden about the size of a half whiskey barrel (or for every square yard of water surface), you will need:

2 bunches of oxygenating or submerged plants

1 water lily or floating plants that will cover 60 to 70 percent of the surface

1 or 2 bog plants for height (optional)

2 trap-door water snails (Viviparus malleatus) to eat algae

2 or 3 mosquito fish, goldfish, or guppies (each 2 inches long) to eat insects

Fill the tub with water, and let it sit for a day or two. Place the potted oxygenating plants and water lily on the bottom of the tub. Set potted bog plants on inverted flowerpots or clean bricks so that the water level comes just above the soil line. Wait two to three weeks before adding fish.

Remove dead leaves and plant debris regularly, and replace water lost to evaporation, but don't change any water. Within a few weeks, the aquatic plants will starve the algae, and the water should clear. If it doesn't, add another pot of oxygenating plants.

Ann Whitman writes and gardens in Bolton, Vermont. Her most recent book is Organic Gardening For Dummies (Hungry Minds Inc., 2001; $17).

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