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Some swampy plants for lazy gardeners

by Daniela Rizzo

Having a pond is a dream for a lot of people, a corner of aquatic wilderness at how where you can enjoy plants, fishes, frogs, birds—the whole amazing show of nature. For aquarium hobbyists, a pond is a natural expansion of their hobby, an outdoor extension of their indoor tanks. I’m a Central American cichlids fan, and in my tanks I have to limit myself to the toughest species such as Anubias and Vallisneria. But in my pond I love to maintain everything I can get to grow in it! Talking with other pondkeepers I’ve noticed the problem is always the same: the lack of time. We all have to fight with the work, the family management, and after there are sports, hobbies, take walks with dogs, change the aquarium water... Where can we find the time to dedicate to the pond and the energies to work in it, transplanting, fertilizing, caring for the naughty rare tropical Nymphaea who doesn’t produce any leaves? The answer is simple, obvious: as the dullest part of pond-keeping is caring for the plants, let’s choose species without a lot of demands; species that are easy to cultivate and to see blooming, reproducing. We haven’t a lot of time to waste, so no exotic and delicate Nymphaea or plants that need special care over winter. Here are some useful tips when selecting pond plants: Buy the plants only in the right season; if you’ve read (reading before buying is a wise behaviour) that Sagittaria need to be planted in September, then don’t get them in December! When you arrive at home with the new specimen, usually sold in plastic pots, don’t unpot and settle them in immediately, but across the next two or three days check if the chosen position is really the best and if necessary move them about. But which are the species without a lot of demands? Here’s some of my favourite plants for lazy gardeners! Alisma plantago-aquatica (Alismataceae) is widespread across the European temperate zones. This bog plant offers a weak resistance to the intense cold, during the winter the aereal part disappears but in the early spring new leaves sprout again. You can plant Alisma in a mix of sand, coarse and soil at a depth between 5 and 25 cm, in a mid-sunny position, but possibly far from fountains, strong surface movement can burn the leaves. To reproduce you can subdivide the plants, paying attention to the roots and making sure each plantlet has some healthy roots of its own.

Nymphaea escarboucle

Hibiscus coccineus leaf

Hibiscus coccineus flower

Eichornia crassipes flower

Eichornia crassipes 

Salvinia auriculata

Hedychium (Zingiberaceae) species originate from Indiaand Southeast Asia. They havebeautiful sweet smelling flowers like orchids, but don’t tolerate temperatures below 7°C.Not really swamp plants, theyare best settled on the banks in a rich soil. In the autumn is important to cut off floriferous stalks. These plants reproduce by stolons but you can also divide the rhizome.

The genus Hibiscus (Malvaceae) contains many species, but some, like H. syriacus, are too big for a pond. H. moscheutus (= H. palustris) is obviously the most suitable for a pond. Indigenous to the southern United States it loves sunny places and will grow up to 2.5 meters in height. The flowers are pink with darker inner part , they remain open only during one day but are a lot so the plant is in full bloom during all summer. Another good species is H. coccineus, also from the southern USA. During the winter it needs protection otherwise the leaves will die. This plant has amazing buds that become beautiful big red flowers from July to September. If you want to reproduce Hibiscus from seed you can sow in the spring, but if you divide matureplants in autumn you’ll have a delicious blossom next June. Cultivate them in a mix of soil and sand.

Hosta lancifolia (Liliaceae) is a perennial plant from China and Japan. This species is appreciated for its decorative green leaves and though it will do well in shady spots it needs good sunlight for several hours per day if it is to bloom. You can plant Hosta in fertil soil in March or October, from June till September you’ll enjoy the graceful lilac flowers. Hosta rarely produces seeds, so it is easier to reproduce this plant by splitting mature plants. Plants reared from seeds often do not look much like the parent plant.

Houttuyinia cordata (Saururaceae) comes from China and Japan and has very beautiful green leaves with red or white edges. Unusually for bog plants, Houttuyinia have a delicate scent that attracts butterflies. In March or September you can plant this species eight centimeters deep, laying horizontally the rhizome, during the summer the flowers will bloom, but if the season is warm we can have two flowering each year. This plant will reproduce without problems; you have only to wait! H. cordata can live in a shady corner of the pond, but to maintain the red leaf edge it needs strong but not direct sunlight.

Iris (Iridaceae). Hundreds are the species and varieties of Iris, all the I. laevigata, Iris pseudoacorus and I. kaempferi are suitable for ponds where they live in 15 45 cm deep water. I. kaempferi comes from China and Japan, is a strong plant and during the winter can live in dry soil. The flowers, white, violet, pink appear in June. The plant produces many stolons but if you want to reproduce Iris by seeds you have to waitApril. Remember: this plant doesn’t like hard, alkaline water or earth and direct sunlight. Iris can grow up to 80 cm and are perfect for pond borders, planted in clumps.

Lysimachia nummularia (Primulaceae) This genus is found across Europe, America and Asia, in bogs and along inundated riverbanks. L. nummularia can live in any position but needs sun to produce yellow flowers. The leaves are rounded and lie on the water surface in“branches” long up to 40 centimeters. Don’t submerge Lysimachia, she lives well in very shallow water, at a depth of 5-10 cm. From May to September the plants bloom, and in September you can divide the pot contents into new plants using soil mixed with sand.

Mentha aquatica (Labiatae) is a perfect addition to every pond; you can cultivate this cosmopolitan plant for years without problems. During harsh winters the leaves die but the plant will spring into life once it gets warmer. This plant prefers shady positions; if the sun is too strong the leaves turn pale green. The little white or lilac flowers bloom from May through to the end of summer. One Mentha is settled in and thriving, you’ll have new nice plants spreading into your pond without any extra effort!

Mimulus ringens (Scrophulariaceae) lives in North America and is a beautiful plant with small violet flowers that thrives in shady positions and in shallow water up to 10 cm deep. It can reach 50 cm in height and is a good plant for covering the banks of the pond. The hanging, light green leaves and the violet flowers make an interesting contrast. If you plant your Mimulus in September, by the next year you’ll have many clumps of this plant that you can divide and move to new locations. This is a rather robust plant: last year I transplanted young Mimulus that were in flower during a hot July (not recommended) and they continued producing flowers and new leaves without any trouble!

Pontederia cordata (Pontederiaceae) is spread in the temperate zones of North America. This high plant (up to 1 meter) is recommended for big ponds where it prefers sunny places that are warm and either stagnant or feebly flowing. You have to plant them at a depth of 20 cm maximum in a rich soil. From June to September the soft, downy buds will bloom. In April or May you can cut the rhizome (always with a sharp knife to avoid mould and rotting) and bury the portions in 6-7 cm
deep water. If the plant is happy it will alsoproduce new plants as stolons, and these can be cut away and replanted. Not a plant for ponds with freshwater turtles: mine have eaten a 60 cm tall Pontederia in just one day!

Sagittaria sagittifolia (Alismataceae) comes from Europe but many other species of this genus live in America and Asia. Above water, this plant has large and decorative arrowshaped leaves (sagitta means “arrow” in Greek, hence the name). Below the waterline the leaves are different and rather ribbon-like. In June plant only young specimens; large specimens tend to be disturbed by the sun and wind. During the summer the plant blooms; the male flowers don’t ripen at the same time with female ones to avoid self-pollination. The stolons of all species of Sagittaria carry small light-blue or green tubers (regarded as eatable in Asia) in which the plant stores reserves of nourishing matter for the cold winter. To reproduce this species you can subdivide the rhizome in March or cut off from the mother plant any new daughter plants that form.And now is the turn of floating plants, to be successful in their cultivation we need warm air and water, stagnant water and rich soil in the ground to release nourishing substances to the floating roots. Remember: goldfishes and freshwater turtles love small floating plants as meal.

Eichornia crassipes (Pontederiaceae) originates from Central America but by now has infested warm water in all the temperate world. In the wild Eichornia creates floating islands that give harbour to thousand of fishes (perfect plant for cichlid-lovers). This plant can live also in very shallow water with the roots in the ground. Rarely she produces seeds but new plants grow during the summer when temperature reaches 25°C. If you haven’t success with Eichornia the main problem is the poorness of the water.

Pistia stratiotes (Araceae) is diffused through the temperate zones in all the world where the temperature flows between 20° and 30°C. Loves sunny and shady places but fears water drops on the leaves and poor water. If the velvety nice leaves turn yellow iron is needed. In the summer Pistia will produce new plants.

Salvinia auriculata (Salviniaceae) lives in the Tropical America and absolutely wants sun, warm air and fertil soil. If the light is enough the leaves crowd together lifting their edge from the water as an ear, hence th name auriculata. Salvinia reproduces by spores. And now you have only to try and enjoy your pond! 

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