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Pond Plant Care

Last Updated: 4/18/12

My plant-clogged 1800 gallon pond on 7/14/01, facing southwest.

General Information
Treating Plants to Kill Off Snails and Others
Potting
Detailed Description of How I Pot Up My Plants
Fertilizing
Pruning
Repotting
Potting and Repotting Information Table
The information on plant pests has moved to the plant pests page.

General Information

It is best to consult one of the books mentioned, the pond newsgroup, or a pond web site for plant care. I kind of have a black thumb. Nonetheless, I will describe what I do. Also, visit my plant lists for a long list of all of the plants sold in the six plant pond catalogs that I have, including Latin names, which are native, planting depths, plants' heights, zones, sun preferences, flower colors, costs through the various catalogs, and which ones I have tried.

Treating Plants to Kill Off Snails and Others

Information on treating live plants to kill of snails, parasites, algae, etc. can be found at my aquarium algae page. Be sure to read the section on precautions of using bleach to treat live plants. I used bleach most of time because it is a lot easier! The main difference in treating plants for aquariums versus ponds is the volume. Instead of treating a few aquarium plants in a few gallons, pond plants will need to be treated in larger tubs. Similar information on treating plants to kill snails can be found on my snail page.

One pond source says to soak pond plants in a 50 ppm KMnO4 (potassium permanganate) solution for one hour and then to quarantine the plants for two weeks. I have found about 0.5 Tablespoons of KMnO4 per gallon to be adequate for a one day soak. I skipped the quarantine and despite a day in KMnO4, I ended up with pond snails in my pond anyway. No big deal really for my pond since it contains so many species of animals and plants. Be careful with KMnO4, not only because it is poisonous, but because it will stain anything it touches a red color! Also, it can be hard to obtain. I only got some because I am a chemist and took some from work.

I no longer bother to treat plants that I buy.

Potting

I use Lerio pots that do not have holes. The only two sources that I have found for Lerio pots (1 gallons up to 200 gallons) were Aquamart, now AAA Pond Supply (1-800-245-5814; they have drastically reduced their pot choices over the years), and Paradise Water Gardens (1-800-955-0161). If you use pots with holes, you must put a layer of burlap in the pot or use soiless media. In my case, I plop in local clay dirt with the appropriate amount of fertilizer tabs and a few tablespoons of oyster shell (I did the oyster shell when I first wrote this section in the 90's but no longer use it). I do not add the fertilizer to submerged plant pots but I do plant them in dirt (again, I used to, times have changed! I either plant submerged plants in gravel or set them loose now.). The plants were soaked in potassium permanganate for a few hours. [I no longer treat plants either.] Then, they were rinsed and planted. The pot was topped with about an inch of medium sized pea gravel.

Lilies should have pots of about 5 gallons, lotus 7-15 gallons, and most marginals and submerged plants 1-2 gallons. Depths vary plant to plant but generally marginals go 0-3 inches deep, lotus 2-7 inches deep, lilies 6-24 inches deep, and submerged plants 12-24 inches deep. The depths are from the top of the pea gravel in the pot to the surface of the water on average. Thus, if you have pots that are 7 inches high, a marginal area of about 9-12 inches depth is best.

For submerged plants, groupings from one to ten may be put in one or two gallon pots. Be sure to remove any lead weights, rubber bands, etc. first before putting in the pot. Some submerged plants like anacharis, hornwort, cabomba, etc. do not require dirt in the pot and can be potted in pea gravel.

More information on potting and re-potting aquatic plants can be found at these sites. The links were last checked on 5/19/06 with three removed since they went out of business (and have no archive of their planting information!):

Watergarden.com
Planting a Water Garden

Detailed Description of How I Pot Up My Plants

Some people have asked how I pot my plants so this is how I do it. First, I get the appropriate Lerio pot that I bought from Aquamart, now AAA Pond Supply. For lilies, I use 5 gallons, and for most marginals, I use 2 gallons. Then, I also get the following supplies: wheelbarrow, bucket, water hose, utility knife (if repotting), plant trimmers, PondTabbs (fertilizer), lily tube feeder (available at most pond stores now) if doing a lily, shovel, and medium-sized pea gravel. I then go to the abandoned garden where I have a pile of dirt, most of which came from digging out various ponds. I fill the wheelbarrow up with dirt, avoiding rocks, excess leaves, and sticks. A few leaves are okay. Going back to my work area on the lawn in the shade or on the porch, I fill the Lerio pot about 5/8 full with dirt. If I intend to pot or repot a lily, I also now put in a lily feeder before filling up with dirt. If I am repotting, I use the utility knife to cut off the old pot unless the plant is not root bound (it usually is), cut up the plant with the trimmers and a shovel if necessary, and clean off the pieces. Then, I waterlog the new pot by letting the hose gently add water to the top of the dirt, turning to mud. I pour off any extra water and let all the bubbles out of the dirt. If potting something 5 gallons or more, I do not waterlog the pot because I could not lift it if I did.

The plant itself is then examined. Dead or rotting parts are cut off. The plant is set onto the dirt roots down. More dirt is gently set around the roots, leaving the crown (growing site) well exposed. A few PondTabbs are inserted into the dirt (1 per gallon) not directly touching the plant (if I am using a lily feeder, I put the PondTabbs down the feeder right before putting in the pond as well). I tear up my hands rinsing the pea gravel in the bucket (I use pea gravel from my ponds that is dirty; a rinse is fine for clean gravel) and cover the mud with the gravel up to the rim. Then, I again let the hose add water to the pot but this time up to the rim and slow enough to keep the mud under the gravel. I let it finish burping up air before hauling it in the wheelbarrow over to the pond, getting in the pond, and letting the pot come down fast onto the water. Once the bottom of the pot is touching the water, I lower it slowly until pond water runs into the pot. Some dirt will still come out. Then, since it is in the water, the pot is easy to move anywhere in the pond for final sitting.

Fertilizing

During growing season, I add one Pondtabb (a brand name) per gallon to the lilies, lotus, and some of the marginals about every 5 weeks. I never fertilize the submerged plants. Each week, I used to add some liquid plant food but I only did that for a few years. Since my pond is so big and the liquid is expensive, I did not add the full recommended dose (only about 5%). Most fast-growing marginals can do without a lot of fertilizer, and then they grow slower. Plants in an established pond need very little fertilizer and then only the ones potted in pots without holes.

Pruning

Whenever you see yellow lily leaves, remove them by snapping them at the base. These large leaves can really pollute the pond. Also, remove yellowed lotus leaves. You can also remove spent lily blooms. Use pruners to cut dead and dying foliage from marginals. In the fall, cut off all yellow and brown leaves of most pond plants. After the first frost, cut marginals to about 1 inch over the water line. Seed heads on marginals can be removed if desired. They can be left on for decoration, for food for wildlife, or to mature to be planted either by a person or naturally. Removing large seed pods like those of iris can help the plant concentrate its energy elsewhere.

Repotting

A lily pot out of the 1800 gallon pond in April of 2003 ready to be repotted.

Most plants will need repotting every year or two. If you do not repot them, they will often stop flowering and may die. Either put the plant in a larger pot or divide it into a number of pots. Visit one of the plant sites listed on the plant page or pond links page for lots of details on repotting. It is best to repot in the spring but it can be done from mid-spring to early fall. The lilies, cattails, and rushes filled out their pots in my pond after less than a year. I have to repot the cattails which were totally root bound every spring. Most other marginals (besides cattails) only need repotting every two or three years. Lilies and lotus generally require repotting every two years. After two years, the lilies in my pond in five gallon pots needed repotting. The pots had to be cut off since they were so root bound. Most of the plants were discarded or stuck in tub gardens. Extra plants, especially lilies and lotus, can be tossed onto compost piles or shared with other ponders. Some marginals like iris and sweetflag can be planted out of the pond in moist areas. Iris should be repotted in the fall or at least after they bloom in spring. If you have extras, post a message to a pond forum (see a list here) and include where you are. You may soon be besieged with people wanting your excess plants.

Information on dividing hardy water lilies can found by entering "dividing water lilies" into most search engines. I would list some here but I just got thousands of sites in a search!

To see 16 pond and iris photos and information about my repotting of three iris on 9/4/06, check out this page.

Potting and Repotting Information Table

Plant Type Size Pots Best Used Depth of Water over Pot Surface Fertilizer Needed Frequency of Repotting Best Time of Year to Repot
Water Lilies 5 or more gallons 6 inches to 2 feet Yes, monthly during growing season About every 2 years Mid-spring best; okay through summer
Lotuses 10 or more gallons (20-100 gallons best) 2 to 12 inches Yes, monthly during growing season About every 2 years; depends on pot size and variety Early to mid-spring only (March in USA Zone 6/7); do not disturb roots during growing season
Water Iris 2 to 5 gallons 2 to 10 inches Maybe About every 2 years Late summer or early fall best (September in USA Zone 6/7)
Submerged Plants 1 to 5 gallons depending on number of plants 1 to 3 feet No May not be necessary; fish keep pruned Late spring through early fall
Fast Growing Marginal Plants 2 to 5 gallons Varies from just wet to a foot May not be necessary Every 1 to 2 years Late spring or early fall best; okay spring through fall
Slow Growing Marginal Plants 1 to 2 gallons Varies from just wet to a foot Yes Every 2 to 3 years Late spring or early fall best; okay spring through fall



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Go to the main plant page (full index).
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Go to the pond algae index.
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