Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
New England
May, 2005
Regional Report

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Cover about 3/4 of the surface of a water garden with plants to reduce algae growth.

Water Wishes

Like many people, I'm drawn to water. The sound, the movement, all those negative ions that are purported to bring peace of mind -- whatever it is, I love it. When I was young I fantasized about living on a houseboat (must have been prompted by some Disney movie); now my fantasy is to live next to water -- ocean, lake, pond, stream, I'm not picky -- and be able to hear the sounds at night.

But until I can bring myself to the water's edge, I'll bring the water to me. My sights are set on building a small pond/water garden that people can visit and sit alongside, that will bring frogs and birds and other creatures, not to mention an excuse to grow some water lilies and other water-loving plants. In trying to sell my family on the idea (it means work), I've encountered some misconceptions about water gardens that I'd like to dispel, just in case they might be keeping you from taking the plunge.

Misconception #1: You need to have a natural spring to feed into a pond or water garden.
While it would be impractical to keep a large pond full without a spring, that's not necessary for an in-ground water garden. As long as you have a hose that will reach it, you can keep the level up when water evaporates.

Misconception #2: A water garden without running water will become stagnant and full of algae.
The right balance of plants can keep a water garden healthy. Keeping about 75 percent of the surface covered with plants will reduce algae growth. Fish also help. A dribbling hose or fountain or other means of moving the water will help too, but certain water plants, such as water lilies, don't like a lot of splashing.

Misconception #3: A water garden will be a breeding ground for mosquitoes.
Fish love mosquito larvae. Mosquito fish are the best control but goldfish will help too. If your garden isn't big enough for fish, there's a product called Mosquito Dunks that you can float in the water. The dunks contain the biological insecticide Bacillus thuringiensis, which kills mosquito larvae.

Misconception #4: Water gardens require more upkeep than regular gardens.
Not so, as long as you have a good balance of plants and creatures. These include: some floating plants to help cover the surface and reduce algae growth; some submerged plants called oxygenators that add oxygen to the air and help control algae; and some snails and fish.

Misconception #5: A water garden should be located in a low spot.
Think of all the dirty water and debris that would run right into your water garden if it were in a low spot. This would keep fouling the water and make it harder to keep it in balance. A flat spot, yes; a low spot, no.

Misconception #6: A water garden has to be deep to keep water lilies and goldfish alive.
It all depends on whether you're willing to bring the lilies and the goldfish indoors for winter. Hardy water lilies are the best choice for New England, and they only need about 12 to 18 inches of depth in the summer. In fall you will most likely need to bring in all of your floating and submerged plants, anyway, and store them in a basement, unless your water garden is deeper than the extreme maximum ice depth in your area.

In our region goldfish need a pool about 3 to 4 feet deep, or deeper than the extreme maximum ice depth if they are to survive outside in the winter. If your water garden is shallower, you can scoop them up with a net in fall and keep them indoors in a fish tank during the winter.

If an in-ground water garden isn't in the cards this year, you can still grow a gorgeous water lily in a container water garden. My half-barrel garden even attracts wildlife ... my dog loves taking a drink.

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