Many Florida gardeners miss out on the opportunity to add a water feature to their gardens. “I don’t have room for a pond.” they say. Some add, “Ponds cost too much and are too hard to maintain.” If you’re thinking about adding a large koi pond in your back yard you might be right, but I’d like you to consider the possibility of another sort of water feature, one that even a 12th floor condo owner could enjoy!
Since the beginning of humanity, water has meant the difference between life and death. Water quenched thirst, provided food, and was used for transportation. To this day the mere sight and sound of water is universally relaxing, it imparts a sense of primeval security. A large waterfall is not required to achieve this tranquil effect; a small water feature can do a remarkable job of transforming a small garden or patio into an oasis.
Self-contained fountains are now popular acquisitions for the garden, and there is no easier way to introduce the soothing sound of bubbling water. The sound will travel a surprising distance! With a few craft skills you can make your own, the most difficult part may be to find a large decorative pot that doesn’t have any holes in it. Pottery will need to be glazed (non-porous) to effectively hold water, or consider plastic alternatives. If the pot you fall in love with does have holes, don’t fret; the holes can be plugged by sealing smooth pieces of glass or Plexiglas over the holes with pure silicone sealant. Fill with water; add a small submersible pump and some creative plumbing to force the water to the surface and you have your own “babbling brook”.
But can a miniature pond ecosystem be grown in such a container? If you have a sunny spot, yes. You can enjoy water lilies and dwarf cattails, even on your 12th floor balcony! You’ll need a large pot similar to the one described above, at least 18” across inside the lip. Find a plastic nursery pot(s) that fits into the bottom of your “pond” container, and fill it with a mix of coarse sand and composted cow manure (2:1). Don’t use a commercial potting mix, as it will float.
Florida is rife with native aquatic plants perfect for a small pond. Consider purple pickerel rush (Pontederia cordata), lizard’s tail (Saururus cernuus), or horsetail (Equisetum hyemale) as emergent plants for the background of your pondscape. Water lilies will bloom in a bright enough location; dwarf varieties grow well in a container. Make sure their crown is always under water and remember that hardy lilies will go dormant in the wintertime (such as native Nymphaea mexicana). A dwarf tropical lily with blue flowers to try is Nymphaea ‘Dauben’. Another satisfying plant is the water snowflake (Nymphoides aquatica) with its floating leaves and abundant white flowers. A word of caution when selecting plants: exotic aquatic plants can easily escape into our moist Florida environment. Be a good steward and make sure no divisions or seeds of your exotics end up in the wrong areas.
Plant your aquatic plants in your nursery pot just as you would terrestrial plants, and then cover the soil surface with gravel for a decorative touch. Slowly sink the planted pot into your water container with the top of the nursery pot about 6-12” below the surface of the water. Chlorinated tap water won’t hurt your plants, but wait several days if you intend to introduce fish into your patio pond.
Small fish are a great way to control mosquito larvae and they add interest and movement to your pond. Native mosquito fish (Gambusia sp.) are tough, and small, colorful pet store fish such as Guppies, Mollies, and Platys work well, too. If you don’t want fish, mosquito dunks effectively kill off larvae. Contrary to popular belief, as long as the pot is wider than the depth, water circulation is not necessary for oxygenation of the water, small fish and plants will survive quite nicely in “stagnant” water as long as there is enough water surface area for gas exchange.
Maintaining a patio pond is really quite simple, just cut off dead leaves weekly, and keep the pond topped off with water. You can fertilize your plants with specially formulated fertilizer tablets, but remember to use sparingly as you don’t want to push growth in a small container. Use just enough fertilizer (particularly during the warm season) to keep plants healthy. Expect an algae bloom (green water) a few weeks after you start your pond; this should stabilize in time. Frequent water changes and algaecides will only exacerbate the problem.
Your pocket pond will give you calming pleasure every time you view it, and it will change the nature of space around it. It’s a water feature that almost anyone can create and enjoy. And best of all, you didn’t have to hire a backhoe!
Living Waters Garden Center & Gift Shop
375 US Highway 41 Bypass, Venice
The Backyard Getaway Store
2930 N. Tamiami Trail, Sarasota
Slocum Water Gardens
1101 Cypress Gardens Blvd.
Winter Haven, FL 33884
Aqua Mart, Inc.
P.O. Box 547399
Orlando, FL 32854-7399
Books – Helen Nash’s books are quite good, but there are tons out there to choose from.