Aquatic plants low maintenance?

July 22, 2011

The soothing sound of moving water makes a pond a popular garden feature. Add plants to a pond, and you’ve created a water garden. It’s more than just a name change, however. Water plants soften and naturalize constructed water features and play a vital role in establishing a pond’s balanced ecosystem.

Water plants are an excellent natural filter. For instance, if you have fish in your pond, the plants’ primary nutrient source is the very waste the fish produce. The fish and plants have a nice partnership. In return for the nutrients, the plants provide food and shelter for the fish. Water plants are also a natural algae deterrent. They consume the nutrients algae need to thrive and their leaves add shade to the water, reducing the sunlight that makes algae grow.

There are a wide range of water plants to consider. But, selection becomes easier when you follow a few basic guidelines. Aquatic plants are grouped into categories based loosely on growth habits and their placement in the pond. Each group – submerged, floating and marginal – plays a different role in the water garden.

Submerged plants can thrive in as much as three feet of water and include the showy water lily, the delicate water hawthorn and the largely unnoticed but crucial oxygenators such as eel grass and sagittaria. While the lilies and hawthorns add drama to your pond, their less flashy peers the oxygenators are extremely beneficial for water quality. This group of plants releases oxygen into the water and competes with algae for the excess nutrients the algae needs to survive. Add oxygenators to fight the green slime that can grow in water gardens.

Fish love the cover of floating plants such as delicate fairy moss or duckweed, as well as popular water hyacinth and water lettuce (However, they are ilegal in Florida). Floaters also provide an overhead smorgasbord for the fish, which graze on the snails and worms that attach to the plants’ dangling, filter-like root systems. You do need to be careful with floaters because they quickly multiply. Start with a few plants to avoid too much coverage. You don’t want your entire water surface to be covered because your submerged oxygenating plants need sunlight; your fish like the warmth of the sun; and exposed water surface allows healthy oxygen exchange.

Marginals are planted in shallow water (2-8 inches) and come in many varieties such as cattail, iris, cardinal flower and the rush/sedge family. A broad description of these plants is that their roots are underwater and their stems, leaves and flowers are above the water’s surface. While marginals are usually added to ponds for their beauty, they, too, provide shelter and filtration for pond dwellers such as fish and frogs. Birds and insects are attracted by their flowers.

When it comes time to place plants in your water feature, consider sunlight, water movement and, just as you do when planting in the dirt, heights and textures to enhance the pond’s appearance. Most water plants need sunlight to reach their potential, but there are shade-tolerant plants, including water hawthorn and marsh marigold. Consider the water movement in your pond before placing plants. For instance, water lilies prefer still water so plant them away from waterfalls and streams. Place oxygen-loving reeds and water mints in fast moving water.

Aquatic plants require little maintenance, which might be one of their most attractive features. In contrast to the weeding, fertilizing, pruning and watering terrestrial gardeners know and love, pond plants only need to be fed once a month during growing season and, of course, weeding and watering isn’t an issue. You should remove spent flowers and dead leaves and stalks to prevent the build-up of silt and algae in your pond. In the summer, sit back and enjoy the plants’ beautiful blooms and textures. When winter returns, there are at least two opinions on what to do. Some water gardeners prune their plants and place them in a deeper portion of the pond that will not freeze. Others prefer a more natural approach and leave the plants in place. In spring, if you’ve moved your plants, return them to their original placement. Aquatic plants are generally in stock May through Labor Day. Stop by to learn more about how these plants are important additions to the health of your pond … and a lovely way to add variety to your peaceful garden.

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Landscaping with rocks

July 8, 2011

There are literally 101 ways of landscaping with rocks, and probably hundreds more. When many people think about landscaping they focus only on flowers, ground covers, shrubs and trees. The elements missing in this type of landscape design are stones and rocks, which provide varying heights and contours that keep the backyard landscape interesting and unique. Successfully integrating rocks into your landscape turns them into a focal point – each rock being placed to create a specific look and feel.

Additionally if you’re using natural rock, it looks like it’s part of your yard’s natural environment even if you purchased the stone elsewhere. Of course the greatest advantage of using rocks in your garden is they require no watering, trimming, or fuss.

Having rocks in your landscape changes the overall feel of your yard. Think of a Zen rock garden as one example. It’s both beautiful and relaxing, and has a practical application for individuals who enjoy moving meditations. Other ideas include using stone in combination with water features for a deep-forest atmosphere, or lava rock for a tropical paradise. The potential combinations are only limited by the space available, the budget and your imagination.

Choosing Rocks for your Landscape

Landscaping with rocks means taking a little time to educate yourself on the different types of rocks available to you. There’s a huge difference in cost and materials comparing a water feature with stone to decorative ground cover. Not all rock is the same in terms of durability.

Additionally you also have fake rock from which to choose. Fake rock is lighter and comes in custom sizes and colors. These stones offer the advantage of having hollow areas that are perfect for storing tools or hiding unappealing eyesores (like exposed piping).

Accent Landscape Boulders

Accent boulders help you build levels into your landscape without bringing in extra soil. They also give the whole landscape design a unique character that impacts the view with a little drama and interesting angles.

One of the keys to using accent boulders effectively is making them appear as if they literally grew out of that spot. Putting the bottom of the stone down about 4″-6″ achieves that effect, particularly in combination with decorative grasses nearby.

Planning and Placement of your Landscape Rocks

Use graph paper and try a couple of different plans for the landscape. Landscaping with rocks, and particularly boulders, is heavy work. You want to get the placement right on the first try. When drawing your rock design I would suggest grouping your rocks in sets of three, four, or five, in various sizes and shapes. This type of plan creates a natural appeal rather than something that seems formal and contrived.

An alternative to graph paper is using computerized landscaping software. This gives you a three-dimensional rendering of what your drafts will look like outdoors.

Types of Landscape Rocks

Small to medium sized rocks have a lot of flexibility in your landscape design. Use small stones in place of mulch in combination with landscape fabric for weed control, for example. Small stones help with drainage around pools and patios, and make a textural filler around trees too.

Place medium sized stones so as to create garden pathways. Or, use them as a natural support for a top heavy plant. Medium sized stones also create rustic borders and low-lying walls with a little engineering.

Three very popular natural stones for landscaping with rocks are flagstone, schist and river rock. The flat nature of flagstone and its unique shape makes it ideal for creating patios and pathways. Smaller pieces can be attached to garden boxes or fountains for a cobbled look.

Schist comes in a wide variety of colors, which is one reason why people like using it in landscape design. Schist has long, thin rock layers that work well in small garden streams. Blueschist provides striking appeal for wallscapes. Greenschist stands out when polished to a marble finish, and Chert has stripes of black for a dramatic backdrop in ponds.

As the name implies, river rock comes from rivers and has soft, round edges. This makes it a good option for landscape designs requiring draining. Of course river rock also suits water features beautifully. Scatter a few river rocks around areas that attract butterflies to give them a soft surface for landing.

Whether you want a splash of texture and natural colors for ground covering or a full-out rock garden, landscaping with rocks is a great choice. Rocks endure the elements and truly offer one-of-a-kind uniqueness in sizes and shapes, some of which are sure to fit your plans.

Use artificial rocks to cover unattractive areas or as clever hiding holes for tools, then bring natural rocks of all sizes into the landscape to tie your theme together perfectly.

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