Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Western Mountains and High Plains
May, 2005
Regional Report

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Water gardening in containers saves space and takes less time to maintain than you might think.

A Water Garden in a Pot

If you've dreamed of creating a water garden, but don't have much space, try water gardening in a tub or other container. It's not hard to make an attractive and unique aquatic feature in a small space. I like the idea of having one on my east-facing balcony.

If It Holds Water, It Can Hold a Water Garden
You can use almost anything that can hold water for the garden: water garden tubs, troughs, old sinks or bathtubs, and of course the old standby -- the half-barrel. If you use wine or whiskey barrels, be aware that the toxins that remain in the wood can foul the water and may kill plants. I suggest that you line the barrel with a durable plastic liner.

The size of the container will determine how many plants you can place in the water feature. For example, a half-barrel can comfortably hold one water lily, two or three marginal plants, and an oxygenator plant; in smaller pots, you may have to omit the water lily, but there are excellent substitutes, such as water snowflake.

A Balance of Plants
Select plants with contrasting forms and textures to add interest to your water feature, such as an upright sweet flag and a spreading chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata). And it's best to choose plants that have a modest spread, such as dwarf water lilies, rather than the larger varieties. You also can add a handful of floating plants, such as duckweed, water fern, water lettuce, or water hyacinth. Don't forget to add an oxygenating plant, such as parrot's feather, arrowhead, or waterweed. These help to maintain an ecological balance in the water and can be anchored in the bottom in gravel or rocks.

Place your container water garden in a proper site. Remember that most water lilies do best with six hours of sunlight and a touch of shade in the afternoon. Keep the container away from trees because as they shed leaves, you will have to do some cleanup. One of the most important requirements is that the container be placed on a level surface.

Fill the container with water to within a few inches of the rim. If it is treated with chlorine, let the water stand overnight before adding the plants. Then, just simply place or toss in your floating plants, adding the tropical kinds after the danger of frost has passed in your area. Pot up water lilies and marginal water plants in regular garden soil. Do not use potting mixtures or compost, as these will float out of the pots and foul the water.

Upkeep of a container water garden couldn't be simpler. Healthy water lilies will bloom all summer long. Individual flowers generally last for three days before sinking below the water's surface, at which time they can be pruned away and removed. You'll need to occasionally prune away yellow or dead foliage from other plants.

If algae should become a problem, scrape off what you can and wait for your plants to mature. Mosquitoes can be controlled by adding some mosquito fish (Gambusia) or goldfish.

So, now you see, you can have a water feature, even on that second floor balcony!

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