water garden

Water gardens

Water gardens enhance the quality of outdoor living by creating ambiance, screening out street noise and providing relaxing havens from hectic days.  They also provide focal points for entertaining, places to observe nature and the chance to enjoy a unique palette of plant life. 

If water gardening hasn't been in your landscape routine, don't be intimidated by the challenge of a new learning curve.  It's not as difficult or as steep as you might expect.  Click on the topics below for answers to questions and information that can set you off on a whole new gardening waterway. 

Are water gardens water-wise?
Water features that are poorly designed, poorly constructed, have no fish or plant life or have vigorous waterfalls will waste water.  On the other hand, properly designed and constructed water features are water wise.  Here are the points to keep in mind:

  • Studies have shown that maintaining water gardens requires a little or no more water than maintaining turfgrass.
  • Proper design is the key to being water-wise.  Properly constructed waterfalls minimize evaporation.
  • Multiple, smaller waterfalls have less evaporation than vigorous falls.
  • Waterfalls that fall into a deep pool will lose less water than those where water splashes down and across rocks below.
  • Increasing the surface area covered by water plants minimizes evaporation.
  • Taller plantings and placing berms (mounds of soil and plantings) around the edge reduce water loss.
  • Pondless water features are especially water conserving -- and are a good choice when there are small children around.  Even though they are "pondless," they still grow great water plants.

Planning questions
If you are considering adding a water feature to your landscape, here are some questions to help you think about what type water garden is best for your needs.

What is the primary reason you want a water feature/garden? Do you need to muffle street noise? Do you want to keep fish and if so, how exotic? Will your water garden be a focal point to be enjoyed from both the indoors and outdoors? Will it be a landscape destination for sitting, entertaining, relaxing?

Do you have young children? There are special safety considerations if you have young children around your home and you need to take those into account in deciding the type and placement of a water garden in your landscape.

What kind of water sounds do you want? Soothing sounds, crashing falls, bubbling brooks require planning ahead of time. What do you want to hear?

How much maintenance are you willing to do? Good design and construction minimize maintenance, but as with any landscape feature, some maintenance will be needed  If you want outside help from a maintenance service, that's an option, too.

Do you know about extra costs? Water features will add slight increases to your water and electricity costs.

Size and location

  • A pond smaller than 10 x 15 ft. area is too small to be ecologically sound as a body of water.  The pond must be large enough to support plant life and fish.
  • Water gardens are interactive, so they need to be close to where people can enjoy them -- usually, close to decks and patios where people spend their outdoor time.
  • For more naturalistic streams and waterfalls, the ideal path originates from the north, flowing to the east and south and terminating in the southwest.  This path mimics water flow typically found in nature.
  • Southwestern locations are least desirable because they have direct sun during most of the day which is a perfect growing environment for algae.
  • Eastern locations are most desirable because they have protection from cold winter winds, and also allow for morning sun and afternoon shade.
  • If the most desirable placement options won't work for your property, work with a professional to maximize your best option for locating the water garden.

What are the maintenance requirements?
The biggest complaint from homeowners about water features is they can't keep the water clean -- and that complaint is more pronounced when the water feature does NOT contain plant life. Water gardens and ponds constitute an ecosystem that sustains plant and fish life and, ironically, requires low to minimal maintenance. 

Here's what one water gardener reports. "While plain water flowing over rocks seems simpler, it's just the opposite. When you apply algaecide to a water feature, the dead algae become decaying matter at the bottom that then becomes the fodder to produce more algae." 

"In my own pond, some years I've used only one-quarter teaspoon of chemicals. Other years, due to excessive heat, I used up to a cup. But that's far fewer chemicals and less expense than treatments by the gallon."

Water plants that are great in Colorado
How does a water garden grow? Try these proven plant recommendations for color, texture and overall garden health.  We've listed 4 categories of plants that are great options in Colorado.

Hardy Water Plants - The lily and lotus can be over-wintered at the bottom of a pond or placed in posts in the garden area, protected with mulch.  These plants are hardy in most areas of Colorado:

Sweet Flag - Acorus calamus
Marsh marigold - Caltha palustris
Golden Water Sedge - Carex elata
Dwarf Horsetail - Equisetum scorpoides
Water Hibiscus - Hibiscus moscheutos palustris
Chameleon Plant - Houttuynia cordata 'Chameleon'
Yellow Flag - Iris pseodacorus
Japanese Iris - Iris ensata
Blue Water Iris - Iris versicolor
Lotus - Nelumbo
Hardy Water Lily - Nymphae
Blue Pickerel - Pontederia cordata
Arrowhead - Sagittaria lancifolia
Lizard's Tail - Saurus cernus
Dwarf Cattail - Typha laxmannii
Zebra Rush - Scirpus zebrinus 
Tropical Water Plants - These annuals may be used indoors during winter months as houseplants, with the exception of the Tropical Water Lily.
Water Canna - Canna
Elephant Ears - Taro - Colocasia esculenta
Umbrella Palm - Cyperus alternifolius
Tropical Water Lily - Nymphaea 
Submerged Plants - Essential to pond ecology, these plants are oxygenators that filter unwanted nutrients, helping to maintain clear water.
Hornwart - Ceratophyllum demersum
Anacharis - Egeria densa
Common Eloda - Elodea Canadensis
Foxtail - Myriophyllum heterophyllum 
Floating Water Plants - Use these plants to shade the surface of the water and provide cover for fish.  These important plants absorb nutrients through their hanging roots.  Invasive in warmer climates, they are good choices for Colorado.
Water Hyacinth - Eichornia crassipes
Water Lettuce - Pistia stratiotes
 

Photo courtesy David Winger, 2009

 
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