Water gardens bloom with opportunity


CANFIELD, Ohio – Gardening is a booming hobby for both urban and rural dwellers across the country. Sooner or later, people with flower gardens will feature some type of water element in their display, according to Ron Thomas, manager of Colonial Gardens retail center near Vienna, Ohio.

Homeowners’ desire to create aquatic focal points in the backyard garden has created a new industry, as landscapers and garden centers diversify and specialize in helping landowners create water gardens.

Self-built. Six years ago, Harry Copp of Campbell, Ohio, set his mind on building an attention-getting waterscape in his back yard. He wanted to attract wildlife to his property, and his work got noticed.

“I didn’t have the nerve to just go for it and put the pond in, so I started slow and built the thing backward,” Copp said. “It didn’t look like anything. Everybody wanted to know what on earth I was doing. “

Copp planted a large number of auxiliary plants in the part of his lawn farthest from the house and soon-to-be water garden area. He also placed rocks throughout the yard and ran 400 feet of drain tile, foreseeing his final goal.

Over the next three years, Copp turned the former location of his above-ground swimming pool into a backyard paradise.

Today, Copp’s creation has a six-tier waterfall and 11-by-13 foot pond loaded with water lilies. His project attracts a variety of birds, butterflies and insects, along with other wildlife like raccoons, deer and neighborhood dogs and cats.

“I really feel that it is well worth all the effort when I see all that’s attracted to my garden now,” Copp said.

“Even if one of those things is the neighbor’s dog taking a bath at my place everyday,” he joked.

Growing interest. Copp’s water garden is one of more than 30 featured in Colonial Gardens’ July 2002 Tour of Ponds. The tour features waterscapes in Trumbull, Mahoning and Columbiana counties.

Ponds have become big business for garden centers and landscapers. Interest in water gardens started seven or eight years ago, and has exploded in the tri-county region in the past four years, Thomas said.

Colonial Gardens now maintains between 300 and 400 water gardens on private and public property.

Build it right. Like traditional ponds, the enjoyment a water garden can provide directly relates to its construction, Thomas said.

“It’s really nice to be out there listening to the waterfall and seeing the plants and fish. It’s not so enjoyable to see too much algae or dead fish,” Thomas said.

Retail centers usually offer design and construction services, or can help property owners take the steps to build their own pond. A number of retailers also offer kits complete with a preformed pond liner and instructions.

“I would rather talk anybody out of a pond that they’re not able to take care of, then to talk them into building a pond,” Thomas said.

When selecting a site, both Copp and Thomas recommend choosing a well-drained area that gets at least six hours of sunlight each day to warm the water and to aid in plant growth. It’s also recommended to avoid areas with several trees, since falling leaves will create cleaning issues.

When laying out his pond, Copp used a garden hose to explore how different shapes suited his plans, then marked his final decision with spray paint. All dirt excavated from the garden area was then used as backfill and in building up the waterfall area.

“When you design your pond, make it whatever shape you want,” Copp said.

Water for the garden. When digging, sides should be terraced to hold plant containers, and a layer of 3 to 4 inches of sand should be spread before installing the rubber liner, according to Thomas. This layer helps keep roots from protruding and damaging the liner.

River rock and other stones are then placed in and around the pond to cover and protect the liner from the sun’s ultraviolet rays and to create a more natural look.

“When the pond is filled and the liner holds water, it’s really an accomplishment,” Copp said. “You’ll get excited and want to get the thing built.”

Mechanical assets. When designing a pond, it’s equally important to install pumps and hoses to ensure functionality.

Pumps help correct net oxygen loss in the water, which can result in fish kills. Without properly sized hoses, a pump will burn out faster.

A variety of pumps are made specifically for water gardens, but submersible sump pumps can also be used, Thomas said.

“The bad thing about those pumps is that they’re not made for continual running, so they will die sooner,” Thomas said.

Any pond larger than 50 gallons needs an installed pump to avoid stagnant water, Thomas said.

“If you want to hear the sound of the water moving, you’ll need to move the water even faster,” Thomas said.

Adding the color. Without plants, a water garden is but a pool of water, according to Eric Norland and Charles Behnke, Ohio State University Extension specialists. Numerous plant species, both native and tropical, may be used in the water garden.

Several types of bog plants are available at garden centers and nurseries for stocking a pond at the recommended rate of 40 percent to 60 percent of the pond’s surface.

“Plants are what you need to keep the pond clean. It’s up to you to decide what plants to put in there,” Thomas said.

Most water greenery is planted by either dropping a weighted bunch of plants into the pond, where they root in the bottom, or by placing potted plants directly into the water.

Cattails and water lilies should always be left in the pot to prevent the plants from taking over the pond, Thomas said.

“No chemical will take care of a problem with cattails, and lilies will get so thick you won’t be able to see your fish,” he said.

“Fish are really hearty, and if you’ve got the right sized pump and enough plants, you’ll be fine” year-round, Thomas said.

A number of decorative fish, including koi, comets and goldfish, can be stocked in water gardens. Some garden owners also choose to stock bluegill or other small fish.

“Only put in what you will enjoy. If you want to let the kids fish for bluegill in the pond, that’s great,” Thomas said.

No regrets. “The biggest thing we’re seeing is a lot of ponds going in incorrectly. All we want is for people to do it right.

“Water gardens should really get down to the premise, their purpose. It’s relaxation and enjoyment, not frustration,” Thomas said.

For more information on water gardens, contact your local garden retailer or Colonial Gardens at 330-539-5964.

Maintaining water garden water quality takes time

CANFIELD, Ohio – Garden pond water quality is an issue for even the most experienced water gardener.

“A good definition of clean water is that you should be able to see your fingers when you’re elbow deep,” in the pond, but not have crystal clear water, says Ron Thomas, manager of Colonial Gardens retail center near Vienna, Ohio.

The biological cleanliness and balance of the water is good for the fish and plants, he said.

Check annually. A variety of monitoring should be performed annually or more often, including tests for salt, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates. Tests aim to maintain buffering capacity, the ability of the water to balance the pH naturally.

Once a pond is installed, the pH fluctuates greatly, Thomas said.

“If you get too many fish in there and not enough plants, your pH will spike. It’s important to test the water and if anything is off in the pond, it’s guaranteed to be directly related to the water,” Thomas said.

(You can contact Andrea Myers at 1-800-837-3419, ext. 22, or by e-mail at amyers@farmanddairy.com.)


Up-to-date agriculture news in your inbox!