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
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 www.landsteward.org 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
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 float freely on the surface and shade the water,
reducing the amount of sunlight needed by algae. Examples: Water
Hyacinth, Water Lettuce, Parrots' Feather.
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.
More suited for pond-type environments than container water gardens.
Examples include: Horsetail Rush, aquatic Canna, purple or pink
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
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 firstname.lastname@example.org and for resources and
additional information, including archived Plant Man columns, visit
where you can also subscribe to Steve's free e-mailed newsletter.