About Garden Ponds, Part 1
properly designed pond can be an attractive and satisfying focal point of tranquility, providing soft sound, fragrance, color and movement.
Even apartment residents with balconies can have beautiful water basins with aquatic plants and a fish or two. Homeowners on spacious residential lots can install larger water features. I’ve even seen swimming pools converted into impressive ponds.
Water gardens, perhaps even more than other types, require proper siting and setup. They can be labor-intensive and must have regular maintenance to look their best. A neglected pond is a sorry sight; one must commit fully to aquatic gardening, but the rewards are great.
Here are some suggestions to ensure success with garden ponds:
Location: Generally, aquatic plants are sun-lovers. Ponds should be located where they will get several hours of direct sun every day. For container gardens on shaded balconies, try to place them in the sunniest spot. Don’t place a pond in the ground in a low area that can fill with runoff after heavy rain. Make sure there is some way that the pond or container can be drained.
Size: Larger ponds, once correctly set up, tend to be more stable and resistant to changes in water quality and temperature. Even though ice and freezing conditions are not worrisome in our area, all ponds should be deep, rather than shallow—at least 14 to 16 inches. This applies to container gardens, too. Most preformed home center plastic ponds are far too shallow to function properly and are rarely attractive. If installing an in-ground pond, have it fabricated out of concrete or fiberglass or use a heavy rubberized liner. Don’t be afraid to use large ornamental planters or containers above ground. Depending upon the overall garden design, they can be stunning accents. If creating a balcony feature, use the largest container possible. Remember that water is heavy.
Water quality: Ponds function best when water gently circulates and passes through a biological filter that can be cleaned easily. A pond stocked with healthy plants will keep the water clear and support the community of microscopic life that ensures pond health. Know that home ponds naturally go through cycles that are seasonally dependent. In winter and spring, algae can grow faster than water lilies and other desirable plants. Too many fish can lead to poor water conditions.
Plants: It’s best to stock a mix: water lilies to shade up to 70 percent of the pond surface, bog plants to use as vertical accents, and floating plants that oxygenate and help purify the water. Aquatic plant fertilizer in tablet form used several times a year will boost flowering.
Fish: Lightly stock the pond with fish to avoid problems. Koi are large and messy, and will eat or destroy plants. Goldfish are a bit better and fine for larger ponds. African and other cichlids are aggressive and, if they escape into larger water bodies, a serious invasive threat to natural ecosystems. For small ponds and containers, the native mosquitofish, although rather drab, is active, fun to watch and a survivor. Another excellent candidate for small ponds and containers is the paradise fish—pretty, resistant to poor water quality and extreme temperatures, but difficult to find locally. It can be specially ordered or sourced online.
Next month, we’ll offer more water gardening tips and plant suggestions.
Harvey Bernstein is the horticulturist for Pinecrest Gardens.