GOT MUCK? GET THE GUNK OUT
THE WONDERFUL WORLD OF WATER PLANTS
By Dayleen Van Ryswyk aka “The Koi Lady”
Can you believe the summer is almost over and the kids are going back to school soon? Every year the summer seems to be over faster and faster. When I was a kid, summer seemed to last forever. I remember spending a lot of time in my Grandmas garden, sneaking into the strawberry patch and eating as many of the super sweet berries as I could before she caught me. I think I probably ate more snap peas as I picked them for dinner that night than what actually made it into her kitchen. I have so many fond memories of Grandmas garden, and not just for what I snuck while in it but for the fantastic flowers she grew. I think her specialty must have been sweet peas and petunias because they were everywhere and they were fantastic!
I often wonder what my two sons will remember most about me and my gardens. I really don’t grow any vegetables; they wouldn’t eat them anyway if I did. I don’t think a vegetable has crossed either of their lips since I fed them baby food, they are so fussy now. I expect that their memories will be more of the ponds and Koi fish. When I was a kid, no one had their own pond, no one I knew anyway. My kids have grown up with ponds, lots of ponds. My youngest son Alex has more of an interest in my pond business than our older son has. This summer I overheard Alex in the plant greenhouse, explaining the pros and cons of different water plants and even recommending different varieties as being “his favorite”. I thought it was quite cute and I was rather impressed that he had favorites and even knew anything about water plants. He’s very keen on the Koi and knows most of the Japanese names but who knew he was also a plant connoisseur.
Customers are always asking me to recommend plants to them, which I’m happy to do because I can show them some of my favorites. With water plants, and all things really, you should try something new. This year there were a few new plants introduced into the water garden market. One of them is called Society Garlic (Tulbaghia violacea ‘variegata’ zones 7-10 this little plant is clumping with variegated grey/green foliage with a cream stripe. It gets cute little purple flowers and has a medium to strong garlic smell to it. I’ve potted it up in a floating planter island in one of my ponds and it looks great. Another plant that’s somewhat new and looks great in my floating planter is the Fiber Optic plant (Scirpus cornuus) zone 7-10. This little plant really does look like those weird fiber optic lights. It only gets about 8” high and has these little silvery pearls on the tips of its leaves which looks really neat. Its clumping habit makes it well suited to baskets and floating planter islands because it really fills in open spaces, making your baskets look fuller.
Some of my other favorite marginal plants are really the tried and true kind. The kind of plant that will come back year after year and just get better with age….wish we were all so lucky! Bowles Golden (Carex elata) zone 5-9 is a fantastic grass because of its bright yellow/gold foliage, the contrast between it and a darker plant is fantastic. Mine have gotten quite large (2’x 2’) and really clump nicely. Up against my blue spuce tree, it really stands out. It seems quite hardy as it’s survived several very cold winters of -28. Yes, it does sometimes get that cold here in Kelowna.
A water plant that has that wow factor is the water hibiscus (Hibiscus moscheutus) zone 5-10. Mine gets about 4-5’ tall and is covered in huge 6-8” blooms of deep pink. The plant is usually available in shades of white and pale pink to dark reddish pink. I find it can be slow to get started in the spring and sometimes just when you think it didn’t make it through winter, you see a tiny shoot. If you think yours didn’t survive, give it another week or two to see if it’s ok before you give up on it.
The next few plants can be totally submerged, which is especially helpful to people that don’t have planting ledges in their ponds or are looking for that plant that can go a little deeper in the pond. Parrot Feather (myriophyllum aquaticum) zone 4-9 is one of those plants that everyone points at in my pond and says “what’s that?” or “I want that one” It’s a submersed plant that grows up to the surface and floats at the top. Its long stems are all fuzzy looking and resemble feathers, hence the name. It gives great surface coverage and a safe place for your fish to hide. The fuzzy part closes up at night and is a good oxygenator. You can either plant it in a pot or a floating planter or you can simply poke some stems between your rocks in your water. It’s a fun, easy plant.
Water violet (Hottonia palustris) zone 5-9 can be fully submerged up to 12” deep and the flower stem will come up, out of the water. It’s fern like foliage is very soft looking and comes in a frosty gray colour, the flowers are pink and scented. This is another good plant for oxygenating your water.
Mare’s Tail (Hippuris vulgaris) zone 4-9 is one of those tried and true varieties that I don’t think you can kill. It can be planted quite deep, I’ve seen it almost 2’ down and it comes right up out of the water like little miniature Christmas trees. I have this plant in one of my streams and it seems to really help with filtration as well as oxygenation.
For the tropical plant lovers out there, one of my favorites is called Imperial Taro (colocasia ‘illustris’) zone 8-10 this beauty gets between 3’-4’ high and has amazing black leaves with bright green veins. It looks very tropical and can add a Hawaiian feeling to your pond. I have grown it in the pond in a pretty pot and in my floating planter islands and it does very well. It seems to prefer to have its feet wet rather than be deeper in the water and it makes a very easy house plant during the winter. Just bring it into your house before frost and keep it in a dish of water or in a pot without a drain hole to keep it damp. It will be very happy inside for the winter.
Hands down, one of the best plants for shading your water and helping keep your water clear is the water Hyacinth (eichornia crassipes) zone 9-11. This floating plant is actually illegal in many southern states because it can become very prolific and choke out whole lakes. Of course here in Canada that isn’t going to be a problem. It’s that prolific nature that actually makes the plant my number one pick for clearing green water, helping filter pollutants from your pond and give your fish a place to spawn. It multiplies fast, which shades the water, helping to keep the algae from growing. It’s very long dangling roots absorb huge amounts of nutrients from your water, helping to keep it clear and the roots are a spawning medium for your fish and a great place for the fry to hide. When it starts to take over your pond, just toss some in the compost. I do find though that not every pond can grow water hyacinth as well as others and I believe it’s the PH of your water that can be the culprit. I find that a PH over 7.4-7.6, though perfect for your fish is less than ideal for the hyacinth. They seem to prefer a lower PH, lower than what your fish would like. If you find yourself unable to grow water hyacinth very well, try the Parrots feather, it doesn’t seem to care about PH.
I look forward to seeing what next year will hold for new water plants. I really love variegated varieties and hope there are lots of new ones to try. Remember, the more plants the better your water quality will be. Happy ponding!