Pep up your Pond with Plants!

A garden without water is like roast beef without the Yorkshire pudding; it still tastes great but you know that something is missing!  Water as fundamental to our enjoyment of a garden is deep-rooted across human history and culture; just think of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, a Moorish palace garden, or the Long Water at Hampton Court as diverse examples.  And, of course, whether you have a mini pond or something approaching a small lake, having any water in your garden is brilliant for attracting wildlife. 

As we start to spend more time in our gardens with the weather improving, now is a great time to take stock of your pond plants.  Here is our quick guide to the types of plants that might complement your pond and where best to place them so they will thrive.

Moisture-loving plants

A plant described as ‘moisture loving’ will enjoy damp ground but it will not do well if it is permanently wet or water-logged.  Like most plants, they are prone to rot if left fully submerged.  Moisture-lovers won’t be suitable for planting in your pond but, if you have a damp but free-draining and perhaps shady area on the bank, they will do better there.  (Great to provide natural cover for any wildlife approaching for a drink!)

Some typical moisture-lovers include astilbe, Astrantia, fritillaria, helenium, lythrum, persicaria and some primula.

Marginal plants

By comparison, a marginal plant will like to keep it’s ‘toes’ wet and it’s foliage in the sun so will enjoy being planted in the shallow edges of your pond.  Do read the planting instructions carefully, however, as the term ‘marginal’ can cover a wide range of conditions: some marginals only like a centimetre or two of water around their roots, and will rot if the plant is fully submerged, while others can stand to be fully submerged for periods (often when they are dormant during the winter and water levels are likely to rise).

We have a range of marginals in stock, from shallow-water beauties like lychnis and lythrums, to those that will tolerate being submerged by a few centimetres, like mazus and some iris varieties.

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Deep-water plants

A true deep-water plant is one which has evolved to survive with the main plant under water all year round, although almost all grow leaves to shoot above or float on the surface of the water.  The classic example, of course, is the water lily (nymphaea) and many are fairly adaptable to their conditions: the deeper you plant them, the longer their leaf and flower stems will grow to float on the surface. Some water lilies can spread well over a metre wide so, if you only have a small pond but still want to enjoy them, we’d recommend some of the miniature or pygmy varieties.

Bog plants

What defines a bog plant is often less about how much water is around and more about how they will tolerate an acid soil.  In nature, bogs develop from decomposed plant material, causing them to tend to more acidic than other areas (a soil pH of 7 is considered neutral; acid soils can sometimes measure up to pH 3.5). Some varieties of fern and primula will cope in these conditions, but typical bog planting schemes will often include species like sundews and eriophorum (cotton grass).

Depending on the size of your pond, it is likely that you will want a mixture of marginal and deep-water plants, as well as perhaps some moisture-lovers to soften the edges.  Do check how big each can grow so you don’t end up over-crowding the space, although providing plenty of shade for your pond will help stop it getting clogged with algae and pond weed. Talk to our Garden Centre plant experts if you are in any doubt.

If you’d like build your own pond for wildlife, we love this page on RSPB website with instructions on how to build everything from a large pond, a mini-pond and bog garden: https://www.rspb.org.uk/birds-and-wildlife/advice/gardening-for-wildlife/water-for-wildlife/making-a-pond/

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