Choosing Water Feature Plants

Choosing Water Feature Plants:
Piecing together a self-sustaining ecosystem

Choosing water plants for your feature is easy. All of the following plants are puzzle pieces that form a complete, self-sustaining ecosystem.  Remember, water plants should not cover more than 2/3s of the water’s surface. Overcrowding aquatic plants limits air circulation and light. These factors make disease more likely to occur.

Water Lilies, ex: Dauben, Jackwood, Chromatella….
Water lilies are one of the most well known aquatic plants because of their beautiful, colorful flowers. Water lilies are rooted in the soil and have long stems with a single, waxy leaf at the end each that reaches the surface. Water lilies usually need a three to five foot area in a pond, depending on the variety. Most water lilies bloom during the day, opening in the morning and closing in the late afternoon.

Night blooming water lilies are a great choice for the busy homeowner. Night bloomers open in the early evening and close in the late morning, depending on how much sunlight there is. A word of caution, these plants tend to grow larger and be more aggressively than other water lilies. It’s important to thin them out regularly, or face them killing off other varieties in the water feature. Depending on the size of the pond, I like to incorporate at least one night bloomer.

Marginal or Bog Plants, ex: Taro, Horsetail Rush, aquatic Canna…
Bog plants thrive in shallow water or mud and love to have their roots submerged. Most bog plants have a vertical growth pattern that gives another dimension to a water feature, as most water lilies and other plants tend to grow across the surface of the water. Bog plants also serve as a biological filter and help maintain water quality.

Floating Plants, ex: Water Hyacinth, Water Cabbage…
Floating plants freely float on the water’s surface. These plants develop large root systems that help filter nutrients from the water and provide a habitat for fish. Floating plants block sunlight, which also cuts down on algae growth.

Submerged or Oxygenating Plants, ex: Hornwort, Cabomba, Anacharis…
Submerged plants live underneath the surface of the water, providing oxygen for plants and fish. Many oxygenating plants are free floating, but some root in soil and can be hard to get rid of. Submerged plants are instrumental in maintaining a high level of water quality by using nitrogen in the water and depriving it from algae. Nitrogen is produced from fish waste and when plant material starts to decay. Oxygenating plants also make it easier to physically remove algae growth, which gets stuck on the plant’s leaves. Since submerged plants grow rapidly and need to be thinned regularly, algae is easily removed when thinning too.

Aquatic Plant Disposal
Please remember, aquatic plants and their waste should never be disposed of in streams or lakes. Since aquatic plants grow quickly, they can easily take over the native ecosystems. Many people may remember the 2002 incident where the aquatic weed Salvinia molesta took over Wahiawa’s 325-acre Lake Wilson. It took $1 million dollars from the state and countless volunteer hours to eradicate it. On the bright side, aquatic plants are rich in nitrogen and make a great addition to your compost pile.

As seen in the Landscape Industry Council of Hawaii‘s magazine Hawaiiscape in the February 2014 issue.

Don’t forget, Mulkern Landscaping offers landscaping services in Honolulu, Kailua, Kaneohe and Hawaii Kai.