Container water garden: a fun and easy project!

The Plant Man column for publication the week of 05/23/04 - 05/29/04 (772 words)
The Plant Man by Steve Jones
Container water garden: a fun and easy project!
A water feature is a charming addition to your landscape. But with water comes the potential problem of mosquitoes!
If you aren't able to live by the ocean or beside a lake or river, you can always bring the water to you in the form of a water garden. Today I'll give you some ideas and resources for a water garden and hopefully show you that water does not always come with a "skeeter farm!"
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about "rain gardens" as a way to make use of stormwater run-off in a way that served both practical and aesthetic purposes. If you missed that column, you can find it (and all previous columns) at Click on "The Plant Man" then scroll down to find the rain garden column.
Unlike a rain garden, a water garden is a decorative feature that you keep filled with water, rather than allowing it to dry up between rain storms.
Water gardens can vary from a large pond to a small pot on your patio. As long as it includes both water and living plants... it's essentially a water garden! If this is your first venture, I suggest you consider a container water garden as a way to test your interest and skill level without investing a lot of time or money.
I found an excellent resource on the Internet that you will find very helpful if you're thinking about adding any kind of water feature to your landscape. You can find a direct link to their web site from this column archived at my web site. The horticultural experts at Colorado State University offer a lot of practical advice and many excellent pictures of water gardens.
If you decide on a container water garden, a good size would be 12 to 24 inches wide by 12 to16 inches deep. You can use just about any type of container, as long as it is non-porous and non-toxic. Placing a liner inside a wooden barrel (or a half barrel) can provide a rustic look, and of course plastic containers are both lightweight and easy to use. Consider grouping two or more water garden containers of differing heights and sizes for a really pleasing effect.
The Colorado State horticulturists point out that the "golden rule" is that the plants should not occupy more than 2/3 of the water's surface to allow for growth and essential air circulation.
There are four different categories of plants for water gardens:
Floating plants Floating plants float freely on the surface and shade the water, reducing the amount of sunlight needed by algae. Examples: Water Hyacinth, Water Lettuce, Parrots' Feather.
Surface plants Although surface plants also float on the surface, their roots are in the soil below the surface. Examples: Water lilies, Lotus, Water Hawthorne, Yellow Floating Heart.
Submerged (oxygenating) plants These plants maintain the water quality by feeding on the nitrogen from decaying plants (depriving algae of a food source) and creating oxygen. Examples: Hornwort, Cabomba, Jungle Vall.
Bog plants More suited for pond-type environments than container water gardens. Examples include: Horsetail Rush, aquatic Canna, purple or pink Pickerel Rush, variegated Water Celery, Black Taro.
I suggest submerging a low-flow pump to your container as way of keeping the water fresh. If this was a pond, or a larger, more permanent water feature, you could bury the electric cable. That's not practical with a container water garden, but if you use a dark-colored cable (not the neon orange kind!) it can become fairly inconspicuous.
You'll want to position your self-contained water garden where it can enjoy about six hours of sunshine per day. If you place your container on a small dolly, you can even move it around!
As for mosquitoes, container water gardens are far less likely than standing water to be a breeding place for mosquito larvae because living plants keep the water from becoming stagnant. If you DO notice skeeter larvae, over fill the container and let the larvae gently flow over the top with the water.
In a future column, I'll suggest ways for keeping mosquitoes and other pests away from your landscape. Meanwhile, enjoy the sight and sound of your container water garden, and drop me an e-mail if you have questions or comments.
The Plant Man is here to help. Send you questions about trees, shrubs and landscaping to and for resources and additional information, including archived Plant Man columns, visit where you can also subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter.
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