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Frequently Asked Questions

Plant Culture & Care
 
 

 

  1. How many plants do I need in my water garden?
  2. What do water lilies do for my pond?
  3. How much sunlight does a water lily need to bloom?
  4. How long and when does a water lily bloom?
  5. How deep can water lilies grow?
  6. Are water lilies winter hardy?
  7. Which types of water lilies bloom at night?
  8. How can I keep my annual (tropical) water lily over the winter?
  9. Do I need to divide my water lilies?
  10. Can I fertilize my water lilies and bog plants while they are in the water?
  11. How much space does a lotus need to grow?
  12. What size pot do I need for a lotus?
  13. When does a lotus bloom?
  14. How much sunlight does a lotus need to bloom?
  15. Can I plant a lotus in a soil bottom pond?
  16. How do I maintain my aquatic plants?
  17. Do I need to divide my bog plants?
  18. Do I need to fertilize my aquatic plants? How? When?
  19. What kind of soil do I need for my aquatic plants?
  20. What size pots do I need for my aquatic plants?
  21. How can I fertilize and trim my water plants without getting into my pond?
  22. What do underwater plants do for my water garden?
  23. How many submerged plants (oxygenators) do I need?
  24. Do my submerged plants (oxygenators) over-winter?
  25. Will my plants grow in the winter?
  26. Will hyacinths and lettuce overwinter?
  27. I have aphids on my aquatic plants, how can I get rid of them?
  28. How can I protect plants from large fish?
  29. Will birds be attracted to my water garden?
  30. Can I plant carnivorous plants in a bog area?
  31. Will carnivorous plants live through the winter?

How many plants do I need in my water garden?
Plants are the most essential item for a successful water garden. They provide the pond with a cooling system by shading the water with their leaves. Try to establish a surface cover of 50 to 70 percent. Water lilies vary in cover from four to twenty-four square feet each. Each variety has a range of size that is determined by pot size and soil fertility. The larger the pot and the more fertilizer, the larger the plant will grow.

Submerged plants (sometimes called oxygenator plants) are planted at the rate of one bunch of unrooted cuttings per two square feet of pond surface area. These are potted several bunches per pot to conserve space on the bottom of the pond. These underwater plants cool the water much the same way a shade tree does. They are also useful as natural filters since they are planted in gravel and must take nutrients from the water. These plants also are great spawning media for goldfish.

Bog plants are chosen for their aesthetic beauty, not so much for their contribution to the ecological "balance". They should be selected for how they fit in to the landscape. Try to place them in the background so they do not obstruct the view of the water.

Lotus can be quite large if the full size varieties are given enough space and fertilizer. They can reach up to four feet above the water surface with leaves 15-18 inches in diameter or more. Some varieties are smaller with leaves standing only a foot or two off the water and twelve-inch leaves. Bowl lotuses are going to have four to six-inch leaves that will grow six inches above the water.

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What do water lilies do for my pond?
Water lilies are the cooling system for the water. They provide shade over the surface of the water, reducing the sunlight that actually penetrates the pond. This shading also reduces algae growth due to lower sunlight levels. The lilies also provide security to fish below by giving them cover to hide under.

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How much sunlight does a water lily need to bloom?
Most hybrids require six hours or more of direct sunlight to flower. Afternoon sun is better than morning sun since it is more intense. Sun all day long is best if possible. More sun means more flowers and leaves. There are a few varieties of water lilies that flower in less sunlight than six hours, but none will flower in less than four hours. The plant will still produce foliage, just no flower buds. Flowering is very dependent upon adequate fertilization.

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How long and when does a water lily bloom?
A water lily blooms in USDA Zone 6 (temperate USA) from May through early September. Depending upon the variety, the flowers open early to late morning and close mid to late afternoon. Each flower lasts four days before settling under the water to rot. The spent flowers should be removed when the flower fails to open after blooming. If properly fertilized and deadheaded the water lily should produce a continual supply of one to six (or more) flowers each day.

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How deep can water lilies grow?
Water lilies must have a minimum of ten inches of water over the soil surface in order to bloom. Deeper water keeps the root system cooler and shaded, encouraging better growth and flowering. Most lilies perform best in water depths twelve to twenty four inches. Larger varieties will grow quite well in up to four feet of water.

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Are water lilies winter hardy?
The groups of water lilies referred to as hardy are winter hardy herbaceous perennials in a pond where the root system does not actually freeze. The depth of the water garden determines whether or not the lily freezes in the winter. In hardiness Zone 6 (USDA) a water garden must be in a pond at least fifteen inches or deeper.

There are tropical or annual varieties that do not overwinter, or are not winter hardy.

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Which types of water lilies bloom at night?
Tropical or perennial water lilies are the only ones that have night blooming capabilities.

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How can I keep my annual (tropical) water lily over the winter?
Tropical Lilies are often enough of a pain to overwinter, that they are treated as annuals. Many people that have tried, end up replacing them annually after experiencing the normal delay in getting to the first flowers.

The water lily root is removed from the pond in fall before the water temperature reaches 55 degrees. Rinse the soil from the roots and remove the walnut shape tuber from the bottom of the root. Sometimes this does not form, and the lily will not be salvageable. Lay the tuber on a wire rack to dry for a few days. Place the dried tuber into a jar of distilled water that is kept at 50-55 degrees.

Set up a pan of water with a couple inches of sand in the bottom in a sunny window. An aquarium heater will help you maintain 70 degree water temperature to force sprouting. Bury the tuber right side up in the sand (right at the top). When the tuber sprouts new growth, allow growth to develop to three or four floating leaves. The new plantlet will be attached with an umbilical-like stem below the new root system. Cut this stem and replant the tiny water lily into a small pot of soil into water that is also in water that is 70 degrees. You may find this takes as much as 60-90 days to the first flower. This works quite well, but takes longer than most people want to wait, but it is interesting to watch.

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Do I need to divide my water lilies?
Water lilies need to be divided every three or four seasons to maintain full growth potential. Dividing encourages fresh, vigorous growth that promotes flowering. Water lilies are divided at any time during spring through late summer. One division is planted per pot to avoid crowding of the rhizomes. Plant in a wide shallow pot, two to five gallons in size (or more) for best results. Place the cut end of the root at the edge of the pot with the growth end pointing towards the center of the pot. Placing the plant at the edge of the pot gives the plant room to spread across the entire pot.

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Can I fertilize my water lilies and bog plants while they are in the water?
Fertilizer can be applied to the water lilies and aquatic plants even while they are in the pond. Never remove the plants from the pond to fertilize. The name-brand fertilizer tablets are hard enough to stay intact going through the water. Press a finger into the soil to make a hole about three or four inches deep. Push a fertilizer tablet into the hole and squeeze the soil around the hole to close the tablet into the soil. Fertilize according to the tablet manufacturers instructions.

To fertilize without getting into the water, use the Injecta-Tab tool, a hand-held device that allows the insertion of the fertilizer tablet from outside of the pond. The tablet is positioned in the end of the tool. The tool is pushed into the soil, the tablet is released into the hole made by the tool, and the soil is tamped back into place to prevent release of the nutrients into the water.

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How much space does a lotus need to grow?
Full size lotus varieties need as much space as possible to flourish. The more space the better. If planted into a soil bottom or earthen pond, the plants can easily take over the entire pond up to several feet deep. The average water garden does not have enough room to allow unlimited growth, but as much room as possible should be given the lotus. Plant in a ten gallon pot or larger. When planted in a twenty to thirty inch wide tub, the plant may grow to 36-60 inches tall. The leaves may be as large as 24 inches across with flowers held above the leaves. Fertilized regularly, the lotus will be full with many 8-15-inch flowers in July and August.

Bowl lotus varieties are smaller versions that require less space and are not as invasive as a full size lotus. They are suited to a one or two gallon pot since they only grow to about a foot or less tall. The leaves are from four to eight inches in diameter. The flowers are four to six inches in diameter and are barely held above the leaves. The bowl lotus requires considerably less fertilizer to perform well.

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What size pot do I need for a lotus?
Full size lotus varieties require at least seven to ten gallons of soil for best results. Plant the lotus in as large as possible containers for maximum growth potential. The pot size should be the largest for the scale of the garden or as large as can be handled. If a pond is not large enough, the lotus pot can be buried to ground level outside of the pond, thus making a second mini-pond just for the lotus. In hardiness zone 6 (USDA) a ten-gallon pot two thirds full of soil, with water to the top of the pot, is adequate for the lotus to over-winter in place.

Bowl lotus or small varieties can grow in as little as one or two gallons of soil. They prefer an inch or two of water over their soil, so a four-gallon pot half filled with soil and half with water makes a nice miniature lotus pond.

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When does a lotus bloom?
Lotus bloom in hardiness zone 6 (USDA) in early to mid July, until late August. In warmer climates or cooler climates, the lotus bloom season will be earlier or later.

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How much sunlight does a lotus need to bloom?
A lotus will flower in six hours or more direct sunlight. More sunlight means more flowering and stronger stems for leaves and flowers. Lower sunlight duration makes stems weak, allowing leaves to fall over easily. Flowering is dependent upon adequate fertilization.

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Can I plant a lotus in a soil bottom pond?
Unless full coverage of the pond is desired, it is not recommended to plant a lotus in a soil bottom pond. It will take the entire pond over in a few years, up to six feet deep or more. If a full pond is desired, the show can be quite dramatic. The unlimited soil allows the lotus to grow to full potential.

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How do I maintain my aquatic plants?
Water lilies must be given fertilizer tablets according to the frequency recommended by the manufacturer. This promotes healthy and vigorous foliage and flowers throughout the season. As leaves age and turn yellow and when flowers are spent, they should be pinched back at the soil level. This reduces decomposing plant matter in the water and keeps the water cleaner. Removing older plant parts invigorates the plant, promoting active growth. Repot the water lilies as needed every three years or so to keep roots strong and healthy.

Bog plants must also be fertilized according to recommended rates on a regular basis. The older yellow leaves and dead flowers should be removed regularly to encourage new growth. Repot as needed to keep the roots from being bound by the pot.

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Do I need to divide my bog plants?
Bog plants are divided only when the pot can no longer accommodate the root system. The plant may simply break out of the pot and continue growing outside of the pot. The plant may become top heavy once the plant has more plant above the water than the weight of the soil can support. Increase the pot size if the pond has room or divide the plant and start a new pot over again. Bog plants are divided during periods of active growth, usually before or after flowering.

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Do I need to fertilize my aquatic plants? How? When?
All aquatic plants, except the submerged plants (like Anacharis) should be fertilized with tablet type fertilizers. Submerged plants are not fertilized at all. Water lilies are heavy feeders for the best foliage and flower production. They are fed according to label instructions either monthly or once in spring and once in summer if a slow release fertilizer is used. Water lilies are fertilized when the first floating leaves appear in spring. Bog plants are fed when they have started growing actively. Lotuses are given their tablets once the first leaves reach the surface of the water. The tablet is inserted into the soil, finger-deep approximately three inches from the growing points of the plants. After withdrawing the finger that pushed the tablet into the soil, the soil is squeezed around the tablet to prevent it from releasing nutrients into the water.

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What kind of soil do I need for my aquatic plants?
Heavy clay loam topsoil is the best soil for water lilies, lotus and bog plants. This is the type of soil found in a vegetable or flower garden. Avoid lightweight soil amendments that might float on the water after potting. Soils with insecticides and herbicides should not be used. Do not use low quality subsoil for potting. Commercially bagged soils must not be used unless specifically labeled for aquatic plants. Other soil mixes contain lightweight particles that float, covering the pond surface.

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What size pots do I need for my aquatic plants?
Always plant in as large a pot as possible to give the plants room to thrive. The main limitation on pot size is the ability to move a pot once it is full of soil. The more soil a plant has, the larger and fuller the plant.

Water lilies are usually started in one or two gallon pots. A four to five gallon pot is better if the pond has space for larger pots. A four and a half-gallon pot measures sixteen inches in diameter by seven inches deep. A wide shallow pot matches the growth habit of the spreading root system of a water lily. Larger pot sizes produce larger leaves and flowers and are suitable for larger and deeper ponds. Plant in as large a pot as possible to reduce repotting frequency.

Bog plants are planted in one or two-gallon pots to start or they can be placed in larger pots if desired. The weight of the soil is a factor in how large the pot might be. Large soil volumes mean larger plants and better flowering. Spreading root systems (like Cattail or Thalia) do well in wide pots. Clump-habit plants like Golden Club do not need width as much as depth. Planting large plants in large, deep containers can allow placing the plant at the proper water depth even out in deep water without putting anything under the plant to raise it.

Submerged plants (oxygenators) are planted in gravel to anchor them down while depriving them of nutrition normally gotten from soil. These unrooted plants are bunched and held together with rubber bands when purchased. The maximum number of plants in a pot depends on the pot size. Plant up to four bunches per four-inch pot (quart), sixteen bunches per eight-inch pot (one gallon), or twenty-five bunches per ten-inch pot (two gallon). More plants in fewer pots reduce the number of pots on the bottom of the pond.

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How can I fertilize and trim my water plants without getting into my pond?
There are tools available to trim and fertilize water lilies and plants. These hand-held devices allow the gardener to pinch (Lily-Prune) or trim (Plant Retriever and Trimmer) the leaf stems while standing outside of the pond. A fertilizer tablet injector (Injecta-Tab) makes the insertion of the tablets easy from the edge of the pond. This method is great for someone with limited mobility or for pond maintenance in cold weather.

What do underwater plants do for my water garden?
Underwater plants such as Anacharis or Cabomba are often called oxygenating plants. They provide oxygen during the day, but like any other plant, they use oxygen during the night. Their main function in the pond is cooling the water by shading. They are planted in gravel instead of soil to force them to extract nutrients from the water that would otherwise feed algae growth. These plants make a great spawning media for goldfish, giving a place for the fish to deposit eggs for fertilization and a place for their baby fish to have protection from being eaten by the adults.

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How many submerged plants (oxygenators) do I need?
The usual recommendation is to figure the square footage of the surface of the pond, and then plant one bunch of submerged plants per two square feet. (A Square feet divided by two equals the number of submerged plant bunches needed). Another way to decide the number needed is to stock the water garden with one quart pot (four to six bunches) for every ten square feet. Try to minimize the number of pots by using larger pots to hold more bunches of submerged plants.

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Do my submerged plants (oxygenators) over-winter?
Submerged plants like Anacharis or Cabomba are winter-hardy and can overwinter in Hardiness Zone 6 (USDA). These plants break up in cold water and often do not look good by the time spring comes. On sunny winter days, fish swim around in the plants and break them up while they are brittle in the cold water. The fish also eats the plants on warmer winter days. These things combined cause the submerged plants to look messy by the beginning of spring. Many water gardeners prefer to replace them annually so they look good for the beginning of the season even though the plants could make it through another season with some care.

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Will my plants grow in the winter?
Like other herbaceous perennials, aquatic plants go dormant during the winter and appear to die off. The roots remain alive and put out new growth in the spring. Some water gardeners prefer to cut back the dried foliage, while others appreciate the beauty of the dried leaves and stems during the winter, then cut them back in early spring.

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Will hyacinths and lettuce overwinter?
Floating tropical plants do not over-winter well unless in a greenhouse. Most water gardeners are not successful trying to keep the plants indoors through the winter. Treat them as annuals and replace them each year. This avoids the mess, smell and time required to successfully bringing the floaters through the winter.

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I have aphids on my aquatic plants, how can I get rid of them?
The only spray that is recommended for application on water plants is a natural biological control called Blade Runner. This product controls aphids, caterpillars and mites on water plants. The natural silica formula desiccates and dehydrates the insect pest. It can be mixed with water or applied dry.

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How can I protect plants from large fish?
The best way to protect aquatic plants from large fish is to keep fish in a separate pond from the plants. The water should flow into the plant part of the pond from the fish area, then return to the fish portion of the pond over a waterfall. The plants clean the water for the fish while remaining protected from the voracious large fish.

Since it is not always practical to separate fish from plants. A submerged plant protector is a handy way to keep fish away from the submerged plants. This submerged net is weighted at the bottom and has a floating hoop at the top. The plant is inserted through the net opening, and then a drawstring is closed around the plant. This contains the submerged plant completely. For plants with floating leaves, the same system is used to enclose the pot and the lower part of the plant. The leaves emerge from the partially closed drawstring and grow to or through the surface. The net can be closed around the pot and soil surface only while allowing the water lily to grow normally. The net prevents the large fish from digging into the soil and uprooting the plant.

A floating island of netting is available to protect floating plants from large fish. The floating island consists of a black cloth mesh that is supported by a floating ring at the top and closed by a drawstring at the bottom. The drawstring can be closed completely for floating plants, or can be closed around a pot rim to keep fish away from water lilies while allowing unimpeded growth.

Some water gardeners find that by simply placing larger gravel over the soil surface is sufficient to deter nosy large fish.

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Will birds be attracted to my water garden?
Birds are attracted to the water garden for a variety of reasons. Many songbirds require water for drinking and find it in the shallows of a pond or waterfall. The less splashy parts of a waterfall are great for a birdbath. They dip and splash in the puddles and pools as the water cascades down the hillside. Birds are often seen bathing in the shallow water over the bog plants that are planted in pots. An inch or two of water is all that is needed to attract birds to the water garden.

Certain plants attract Hummingbirds to the water garden with their flowers. The brilliant red tubes of the Cardinal Flower are a Hummingbird haven. Likewise, the Hummingbirds seek out the flowers of the Pickerel Rushes. Other birds are attracted to the seeds of aquatic plants as a food source. Aquatic grasses and Thalia produce hordes of seeds that birds consume as soon as the fruit ripens.

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Can I plant carnivorous plants in a bog area?
A true bog area consists of a very acid, peat-sand mix instead of soil. In a water garden, an artificial bog area can be created by substituting peat and sand for soil in an edge of the water garden. Carnivorous plants, like the Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia) are hardy in Zone 6 (USDA) and adapt well to an area where the planting zone is wet on the bottom, but can dry on the top. They do not tolerate any fertilization or high pH (5.5-6.9 is ideal).

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Will carnivorous plants live through the winter?
Pitcher Plants are hardy in Zone 6 (USDA) with a layer of mulch for winter protection.

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