Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Pacific Northwest
April, 2010
Regional Report

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What's a pond without a water lily? This beautiful lily flowers from early summer through early fall.

Make a Splash in Your Garden

I've always loved the sight and sound of water in the garden. Whether it's a tumbling, trickling fountain, a reflecting pool, or a pond fringed with beautiful water plants, I think water is wonderful element. The sound of water draws me to its source, while a still pool provides a place for me to pause and reflect on the day's events. The best thing about water gardens is, no matter how large or small your garden might be, you can create and enjoy a water feature.

Water Features Great and Small
My in-ground water garden was designed by my husband, who took his inspiration from nature. Only 3 feet deep in the center, the pond radiates out in a free form, following the contour of the land. At the widest point it measures 6 feet, with edges that slope gradually downward and are hidden by bog plants that help in the transition from barely damp to very moist soil conditions. These marginal plants stabilize the soil while providing color and interest to our water garden.

Within the pond we have a variety of upright and fountain-shaped plants, as well as those that float on the water surface. The finishing touch is an outcropping of rocks at one end of the pond that becomes a waterfall when we toggle the switch on a recycling pump.

If you don't have space for an in-ground pond, you can still create an attractive and easily maintained water garden. Start with a half-whiskey barrel or large pot that's at least 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide. This size will easily accommodate one water lily and three or four floating plants, such as water lettuce or water hyacinth. You'll still have room for a cattail, marsh marigold, or double-flowering arrowhead. The goal is to have 50 to 60 percent of the water surface covered with foliage. Shielding the surface this way will keep algae growth to a minimum.

Routine Maintenance
It barely takes a capful of water to attract female mosquitoes, so imagine how irresistible your water garden will appear to these egg-laying critters. I control mosquito larvae by stocking my pond with a handful of goldfish. They feed on algae, nibble on plant roots, and completely eliminate mosquito larvae all season long. In addition to being fun to watch, they also fertilize my plants.

If you don't want to rely on fish to control mosquito larvae, you can use the ecologically safe Mosquito Dunk tablets made with Bacillus thuringiensis, which will not harm your plants. You can fertilize your plants with Aquatic-Tab spikes placed directly into the pots.

To winterize the plants in my pond, I sink the pots containing water lilies to the bottom (about 3 feet from the surface) and cut the foliage from the marsh marigolds, arrowhead, and cattails. The floating duckweed, water lettuce, and water hyacinths are annual plants, so I scoop them up and toss them into the compost pile at the end of the season.

Our pond never freezes over during the winter months so the fish and the plants survive without any special preparations. When spring arrives we rake fallen leaves and other debris from the bottom of the pond, set the containers of water lilies on rocks or upturned nursery pots, and add fresh water as needed.

Entertainment Abounds
Robins are bold and visit our pond often to splash in the water near the edges. Juncos, a generally timid group of birds, sometimes bathe in the puddles that collect atop the lily leaves. One frog family has taken up residence near the north end of the pond. They regularly conduct family meetings on the lily pads, jumping from leaf to leaf as they snack on pesky insects.

We've had a number of four-legged creatures visit our pond over the years. Deer have stopped for a refreshing drink, and neighborhood cats sometimes sit and gaze into the water. Our most surprising visitors were a pair of golden retriever pups who decided to go for a swim when the pond was new.

By far the most frequent visitors to our pond are a family of raccoons. At first I thought they were cute as they timidly explored the water's surface. Their fear has vanished and now they brazenly raid the water garden, trampling the marsh marigolds and gleefully scooping up goldfish, leaving tattered leaves and floating petals in their wake. Raccoons may be cute from a distance, but I feel a lot less charitable toward them now that they've reduced the fish population by two-thirds.

Despite the frustration these uninvited visitors bring, I won't be bullied into giving up my water garden. I'll find some way to discourage them. My pond is my retreat; I love the sight and sounds of water in the garden!

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