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Information About Water Gardens

Information About Water GardensPeople have always been inexplicably drawn to water, as it fills us with a sense of peace and calm. A water garden can be a way to incorporate that feeling into your landscape. Water gardens can be made from something as simple as a watertight, patio container or a more involved in-ground pond with plants, fish and a waterfall or fountain. The choice you make should fit your lifestyle, space and budget.

Where Should You Put a Pond?

  • Choose a location that receives a minimum of 5 hours of sunlight a day.
  • Avoid low spots or areas that accumulate runoff, and areas under large trees.
  • Choose a level spot.
  • Choose a spot where you can enjoy the pond.
  • Be sure it has access to an electrical outlet with ground fault indicator (GFI).
  • Be sure there is access to a fresh water source.

Creating an Inground Pond

  • Check local bylaws regarding fencing required around any water feature.
  • Before digging, call your utility company and have a location done for all buried service lines.
  • Decide on the shape you desire. Simple outlines are the easiest, and you can alter the look of the shape with plants.
  • Sloped sides with planting terraces that step down toward the deepest part of the pond will create a natural-looking water garden.
  • The terraces will allow you to plant a variety of material and create different habitats.
  • For northern areas, a pond depth of 24-36 inches is usually needed to prevent it from freezing in the winter.
  • Use any excavated soil to create a raised border around your pond or to build a waterfall area if desired. This removes the need to have the soil hauled away or relocate it elsewhere on the property.
  • Before adding plants or fish, allow a week for the chemicals in the tap water to neutralize.
  • It’s important for the water to circulate to keep the pond healthy. You can use a pump or a waterfall feature to accomplish this.

Each Square Meter of Pond Surface Will Require

  • One water lily or other rooted floating plant.
  • Three oxygenating plants.
  • One or two marginal plants.

*No more than half of the water’s surface should be covered with floating plants*

Small-Scale Water Garden Construction

  • Any watertight container can be used to construct a small water garden.
  • Make sure your container is clean.
  • If you’re putting fish in your garden, do not use any soaps, detergents or chemicals to clean the container. The residue will be toxic to the fish.

Construction Steps

  • Gather materials.
  • Pot water plants.
  • Set up the container with “shelves” to sit plants at their correct heights.
  • Fill the container with water.

Incorporating Water Plants

Information About Water GardensThere are four categories of water plants that can be used to create a perfect balance. Each of the four types of pond or container plants have their own planting methods and care.

  • Rooted Floating Plants – Also know as deep-water plants, the roots rest in the bottom of the pond, or in a container sitting on the bottom of the pond, and their leaves come up to the water’s surface. Many varieties produce flowers. These are sun-loving plants and can survive with 10-20 cm or more of water above the plant’s crown. The floating leaves shade the water, reducing the growth of algae while providing any fish with shade and a place to hide. An example is water lilies.
  • Submerged (Oxygenating) Plants – These plants grow with their roots anchored in soil, and the leaves remain underwater. Oxygenators keep the pond healthy and the water clear by absorbing excess nutrients, purifying the water, and reducing algae growth. They also absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the water, helping to support aquatic life. Another function of these plants is to provide food and shelter for any fish introduced into the pond. These plants multiply quickly and need to be cut back regularly. The excess plants are an excellent source of nutrients and are ideal additions to compost. An example is the Canadian Pondweed.
  • Floating Plants – These float on the water’s surface. They do not require soil or an anchoring point. The grow by taking their nutrients from the water. Floating plants help to control algae by shading the water surface and acting as natural filters, removing excess nutrients from the water. An example is the water hyacinth.
  • Marginal Plants – These grow in the shallow margins around the edge of a pond. They can be decorative, adding colour and height, as well as helping to blend the edges of the pond into the existing landscape. Marginal plants can act as a shelter from the wind. They also serve as a barrier at the water’s edge, protecting any frogs or fish from predators. An example is the water iris.


  • You will require a variety of materials. For the pond, you will need a container and bricks or paver stones to elevate plants. For the plants themselves, you require the plant, plastic pots, garden soil, newspaper, pea gravel or river pebbles, and a trowel or spade.
  • Keep your plants in a shady spot with a small amount of water while building the pond to prevent them from drying out.
  • Using plastic pots for the plants works best as they are light weight. Dark coloured or black pots work well as they are less visible in the water.
  • The best soil to use is a heavy clay garden soil.
  • Don’t use potting or container soil as it is too light and will float to the surface.
  • Compost will colour the water brown, so do not add any.
  • Do not use manure or add too much fertilizer to your water plants.
  • The best time to relocate or repot water plants is during the active growing season, which is the late spring to the end of summer.

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