Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bog plants - the rushes

There are more rushes than other emergent pond plants. We have such a grand variety, we can choose most any texture, shape, color and size we want. I love the horsetail rush, also known as the scouring rush (Equisetum hyemale) for you purists. It is the oldest plant that survives today that is found in fossil form exactly as it is found today.

It grew near my house when I was growing up in Michigan. We used to take it apart and use it as a pea shooter. It grows down here in New Orleans in the water or out. The stalks are smaller than they were when I was a youngster or maybe I am bigger.

One caution about horsetail: Be sure you keep it in the water. If you plant it in the ground, your garden will soon be covered in it. It will pop up everywhere, dozens of feet away from where you put it initially.

The corkscrew rush is another favorite of mine. Its curly stalks add a whimsical mood to the pond. You just never know where the stalks are going to turn next.

Use either or both of these rushes in your pond. As always put the top of the pot about an inch below the water. These plants will never disappoint.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Pond Plants, Taro

Taros are another emergent plant to use in your pond. Their broad leaves add a shape that contrasts well with the rushes and strap leaf irises. You can find taro in green, black and variegated. It will emerge from the water about 2' and, as all of the marginal plants, likes to have the top of its pot about an inch under the water.

Taro will grow well in the shade, one of few pond plants that will. It is also tropical, so sorry, you folks up north, you can have it only in the summer unless you wish to take it inside for the winter.

Taro is grown for its foliage rather than any flower.

Oh, if you let taro loose in the garden, you will be chasing it around trying to remove it for years. Keep it contained in the pot and in the pond. If it overgrows the pond, cut off the excess and give it to friend or compost it. Do not let it get into a public waterway.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pond Plants, Papyrus

I love both of these bog plants. Both are placed in the pond with the tops of their pots about a inch under the water and they grow profusely. Like the Umbrella Palm or Cyperus, if the top of a stalk falls in the water, a new plant will grow. It is almost as if the roots of these plants are on the top.
The Dwarf Papyrus is easier to handle than the giant and grows to about 2' tall. The Giant Papyrus gets to be close to 6' tall here in the South and can fall over if not planted in a wide pot. Here's what I do to keep them from falling over. Put the potted up plant into a much wider pot and then fill the wider pot up with gravel or sand. The downside to this is that the plant now needs four strong men to move it. I use the Giant Papyrus anyway because it is lovely waving in any breeze and adds such a strong architectural statement to the water garden.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pond Plants, Umbrella plants

Umbrella plants, sometimes called umbrella palms or cyperus grow as full sized plants up to 6' tall or as dwarfs about 10 inches tall.

The full sized umbrellas are invasive and will grow anywhere, in the water or out. In the south, I have seen them planted too close to a house and they have cracked the foundation, so be careful where you put them. That said, the plant is a great aquatic plant. It is immune to every disease I know of and if kept contained looks wonderful waving in the breeze. When a stalk gets old and turns brown, just whack it off at the bottom. If it grows out of its pot, just cut off the overgrowth and start a new pot. I usually cut the plant way back to about an inch tall in the fall, so new growth can come up in the spring. One wonderful thing about this plant: If the top umbrella part of the stalk falls in the water, a new plant will grow from that.

The dwarf umbrellas do not perform well for me in the water. I usually plant them in the ground and use as a ground cover. The plant spreads nicely and must be kept under control. But, I have not seen it disrupt foundations of houses.

I used the full sized umbrella in almost every pond I built because I knew that no matter how the owner might abuse it, it would just keep on growing.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Louisiana Iris

After we have put one bunch of oxygenating plants in the pond and covered at least 50% of the pond surface with floating plants, we can start putting in plants that stick up out of the water. One of my favorites is the state wildflower of Louisiana, the Louisiana Iris.

Originally, this iris was a deep purple and the bayous of Louisiana are still covered in purple in the early spring. After decades of hybridizing, the flower can be found in nurseries in every shade from almost black to red to white.

Not only can the Louisiana iris be planted in the pond, but it can thrive anywhere where it can keep its feet wet. I often put them in the pond and then continued them out of the pond to create a swath of irises blooming in the spring. When the iris is not in bloom the strap leaf adds a wonderful shape and texture in the landscape.

When you plant this iris in the pond, use a sandy soil and cover it with rocks or small stones, so the fish can't dig it out. Put the top of the pot about an inch below the water.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Floating Plants

When we are balancing the pond ecologically, we know we must include oxygenating plants, submerged grasses like anacharis, hornwort or cabomba.

As oxygenating plants are the workhorse of the balanced pond, floating plants are certainly the next most important. Oxygenating plants usually don't want to be in full sun, so the floating plants provide shade and the submerged plants can flourish. They also provide cool spots when the sun is beating down on the water and hiding places for fish when predators like local birds come looking for dinner. Some of the floating plants are mosaic, pictured above, parrots's feather, which can climb up and out of the pond, over the rocks. Water hyacinths, another floating plant can be noxious weeds and illegal in your state, so always check with your local extension service before introducing them into your pond. Water poppy and water clover are two other floaters that spread quickly, but are easily controlled and add another dimension to your waterscape.

With the addition of floating plants that cover at least one half of the pond surface, you have balanced your pond and lessened the maintenance immeasurably. And less maintenance makes us all happy.

As with all plants, floating plants will not survive with koi in the pond.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Spring really is coming

We are soldiering through February, here in New Orleans with rain and upstate NY with a dozen feet of snow. But spring is coming.

I am going to start selling live plants on my web site at in March, so I want to spend some time talking about different kinds of plants and why we either need or love them.

The work horse of ponds is the underwater or submerged plant. You cannot have an ecologically balanced pond without submerged vegetation.

Many kinds can be used, (anacharis, cabomba, hornwort and more), but the most popular and efficient is anacharis, pictured above. The underwater plant feeds your fish, but it grows faster than they can eat it. The underwater plant give off oxygen that the fish breathe. And the fish waste feeds the plant. There are even a couple more advantages of submerged vegetation: It filters the water and keeps it crystal clear and because it floats around your fish can hide under it and avoid predators.

One caveat about anacharis and many other types of submerged grasses: They can be invasive and therefore considered noxious weeds in some states. Be sure to check with your local extension service before purchasing any, not just from me, but anywhere. Do not introduce anything to your pond that could escape into native waters, spread wildly and harm the ecobalance of the body of water.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Good grief, for the last two days we have had weather in the 70's. For three days before that we had hard freezes. What's a pond to do. Luckily for all of us, ponds are living organisms and survive most anything, even human intervention. Fish are swimming again and out of torpor. So do we feed them? No. Not until spring. When temperatures are consistently over 55 degrees, you may feed your fish.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pond cleaning questions

Question from a pond keeper:

I have had my pond for three years now. the bottom is covered with small rocks about 3 inches deep for natural bacteria surface. The water has been crystal clear for the last 2 years. Its 6 ft x 12 ft, 3 ft deep. I use a skimmer and biofalls system, with a 4000 gal/hr pump for 1000 gal water. I hear you say to clean out the entire pond every year. Others say to let it ride.

Some of my plants have even escaped the plastic pots and have rooted into the rock bottom. I change the water regularly. Is there any harm in letting it go without eliminating the bacteria colonies that have built up in the bottom? I'm thinking .... if its clear, and not broken, don't fix it? What do you all think?

Pond Expert Carolyn Weise answers:

You have more than a substrate of rocks down there by now. You have a layer of silt that is building up into a living layer of soil, which is anaerobic. If you decided to empty the pond and muck it out, you would know in an instant how awful it was. With ponds, it really isn't out of sight out of mind. What you do not see can really be a problem waiting to happen.

Reply to Carolyn's answer:

What sort of problems could this cause? in the summertime, I have to change my filter daily, the koi waste plugs it quickly. and when I rinse it out, if I let that water sit for a day or two, it does smell like sewerage. (but all my plants and vegetables love it, makes them grow good), really the only thing i check for regularly is the ph levels. If the fish do not eat when I throw in food, I know somethings up. or after a long rain, that always brings it down. I just add baking soda and its back up. What else should I be looking for?

Carolyn replies:

You just mentioned a few very important ones. The idea that the fish would not eat is a very serious one and should be prevented at all cost. It is significant of poor water quality. Remember, all water toxicity is not visible by the naked eye and pH is not the only parameter that affects your fish health. The pond is a big part of your biological filtration. If not kept clean, the water suffers greatly, ergo, do the fish.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Winter in New Orleans

New Orleans is having its typical month of simply awful weather. It's raining almost daily. The temperatures are not cold, in the 40's and 50's, but it is gray and drizzly all the time. The Carnival parades are starting and it's difficult to mount a parade in the rain and cold. Mardi Gras, the culmination of the Carnival season is February 20th, so in less than 3 weeks the madness will be over for another year.
And what about our ponds. Most Carnival participants don't give two hoots about their ponds during the season. Frankly, in this weather, all I want to do is look outside from a heated house.
We can, though, make sure we are ready for spring because it really is just around the corner. Make sure your garden tools are sharp, well oiled and ready to go. Check your pond supplies. Do you have left over chemicals or fertilizer from last fall. Chances are they have lost their punch, so pitch them. Check your fish net. Is it holding together or will you lose the first fish you try to catch this spring? What about your pump? Is it clean and ready to go back into the pond? Here where we rarely freeze, we leave our pumps in the pond, but where the weather stays below freezing, you have removed your pump and stored it in water in the garage, right? Check all your hoses and tubing; make sure it has not cracked and is still supple and ready to go. Check your hose clamps. They fail just when you have used the last one you have on hand, so put hose clamps on your hardware store list.
Get ready. Spring really is coming. Look for azaleas soon!