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Mr. Smarty Plants - More than you want to know about planting a pond in Austin Texas

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Friday - December 10, 2010

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Best of Smarty, Water Gardens
Title: More than you want to know about planting a pond in Austin Texas
Answered by: Leslie Uppinghouse

QUESTION:

Winterizing Water Garden QA from Nov 27 Austin American-Statesman: Would the garden (60-gal aluminum) with those plants (papyrus, horsetail, water lily) be placed in the sun, shade, part shade or ? I would love to have a similar water garden that is so easy to take care of and love the minnow idea. Thank you!

ANSWER:

Water gardens can be as complicated or as simple as you want them to be. Outdoors or indoors, as large as a natural pond or as small as a fish bowl, growing aquatic plants can open you up to a whole new obsession.

When adding a pond, think first about where it is going to go and what you want the finished product to look like. If you are going for big, then a tank pond is a fun, inexpensive and easy way to go. Galvanized water tanks are made for livestock to drink out of. They come in several shapes and sizes. They usually have a drain on them which is handy and they often will last 20-40 years before becoming leaky. Tank ponds allow you some water depth without costing you an arm and a leg. They're light to move when empty, which is a plus.

If you are looking for a more formal look then check in with your local nursery. Most have a tremendous selection of glazed pottery with no holes, which make perfect ponds. These types of ponds can look quite fancy. There are tall column shapes, perfect for an architectural look. Add a horsetail, Equisetum hyemale (Canuela) for some drama and height or choose a lily, Nelumbo lutea (American lotus) for a lower and simpler look. Water containers draw the eye and command attention in the garden, so think about what type of effect you want to create.

A tip for a ceramic pond: Make sure that it is thick enough to protect itself from the cold without cracking, and make sure that it is glazed on the inside of the pot.

To give yourself the most freedom for plant choices, try and place the pond in part sun, part shade. If your pond is shallow and in the full Texas sun then you may have to think about the water heating up past the comfort level of the plants and any fish you might acquire. If it is plenty deep and you would like a lot of blooming flowers, then you can go ahead and place it in the full sun. You can have a pond in full shade as long as the plants you have chosen prefer shade. So research the light requirements of each plant you choose. 

Here is a tip that might sound silly but ends up being quite important: Do not fill the pond up with water first, save that step for last. It takes very little water for those big tank ponds to become too heavy to move. Place it first and make sure it is level, or else you will have a shallow end and a deep end. Trust Mr. Smarty Plants on this one, it is very sad when it happens and a huge waste of water to start over. Place the container first and keep it empty while you place your plants.

Planting is easy. For one you don't have to transplant your charges. You can put the container they came in straight into the pond. If your pond is deep, you won't see the container at all. If it is shallow and you don't want to see a black plastic pot, then be creative and transplant it into a pretty glazed ceramic pot ( glazed inside and out) or even a thick glass vase. You just have to make sure that you weigh down the new transplant with some stones to keep the plant from floating out of the new container.

Depth is the only tricky part with the planting. Let's say you have a 6'x2' tank pond and this holds 144 gallons. The plants you have may only be in one gallon containers. Rather than dropping them off into the pond to sink to the bottom, create a little shelf for them to sit on. Determining the depth of the shelf is simple. If you have a gallon water lily then set the plant deep enough so that only the top of the lily pad is resting on the top of the water. If you want a lily in a shallow pond that fine too. There your lily pad will float away from the container for the length of the stem. In a shallow application just make sure that the top of the pot is covered with water. With any erect plant use this rule of thumb: Rest the plant container deep enough so that they top of the pot is a couple of inches deeper than the water surface. If you have plants that are not supposed to be submerged but like to have their toes wet, then you can set that shelf to be above ground. The shelf doesn't need to be fancy. Just something that won't float away that you can set your plant containers on, so they can be closer to the waters surface. Rocks, bricks or old ceramic pots work great.

Watch the sun come and go and make sure that there is enough light for the plants you have chosen to be happy. Fill in a bit of water and check again to see that it is level. If everything looks good to go, then lastly fill the pond up with water. Don't be dismayed if you see some dirt float out of your pots. This will settle to the bottom of the pond in no time. If you have a shallow pond and you don't want to see any dirt at all, a turkey baster works well as an underwater vacuum cleaner.

Now for the fun part. Time to decide what to put in your pond. Go to the Plant Database on this web site and search for Texas, choose perennial and then hit wet, in your soil moisture section. This should bring up all of the perennials in Texas that can have the soil saturated with water. You should see over 200 species from that search. When you find a species that you like, click on the record and read all about it. You will need to pay attention to the growing conditions section to make sure it would be happy completely submerged or if it would rather just have its toes wet.

If you have a big tank then you can plant big, you can even do small trees. You can have bushes, ground cover, anything that you can design in a garden in the ground you can mimic in the water. If your plants are happy then they will grow and multiply, quickly. When designing what to put in your pond, leave room for the plants to grow and multiply, just as you would in the garden. For an adult perennial garden in the ground, you would allow three to four years for it to mature. In a pond this will happen in a year or less. This is why there are so many local pond societies and organizations. When you have a pond you start to produce a lot of pond plants. You might check around on line for local organizations in your area and talk to a few folks, for their tips and advice. If you do, our bet is that by the end of the conversation you are offered a starter lily or a goldfish.

Once your pond is completed, sit back and enjoy your special feature and let nature take its course. Scoop out leaves every now and then and top off the water if it gets low. The plants will keep it clean. Enjoy the birds playing and bathing and the call of frogs in the evenings. You will enjoy these scenes for years to come.


Taxodium distichum


Justicia americana


Nelumbo lutea

 

 

 

 

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