Aquatic Plants Are All Wet

Both cattail and duckweed are native.

Home gardens and landscapes should be compatible with their respective climates. For local chaparral climates, plants that do not need much watering through the long and dry summers are appropriate. Aquatic plants are the extreme opposite. They require regular replenishment of the ponds that they inhabit. Arid warmth increases their need for water.

Aquatic plant can not be ‘drought tolerant’. Several, such as duckweed, water lettuce and water hyacinth, float over the surface of water. Water lily and lotus inhabit the mud below the water, and extend their foliage to float over the surface of the water. Waterweeds stay completely submerged, with or without roots. Aquatic plants need water for their survival.

Marginally aquatic plants are somewhat less dependent on water. Cattail and yellow flag iris inhabit shallow ponds and saturated soil, but can survive if their situations drain for a while. If they stay too dry for too long, they can initiate dormancy, and then recover when saturation resumes. Canna inhabits either shores of shallow ponds, or evenly moist soil.

Regardless, all aquatic plants require maintenance that is completely different from what terrestrial plants require. Even those that need only minimal maintenance will eventually necessitate muddy and messy interaction. Much of such interaction is under water that is difficult to see through while murky. Aquatic plants are innately heavy and totally sloppy.

Moreover, some common aquatic plants grow like weeds. Water hyacinth and giant reed are two of the most invasive exotic species in California. So, not only are they sloppy, but they are also voluminous! Because they are very invasive, they should not inhabit ponds that they could escape. Besides, giant reed is too overwhelming for most home gardens.

Few home gardens include natural ponds or water sources to contain as ponds. Garden ponds are therefore mostly contained within some sort of sealed infrastructure, and need replenishment to compensate for evaporation. Fountains aerate the water for a healthier ecosystem, but also increase evaporation. Some tall aquatic plants also consume water, as the foliage that extends above water transpires.

Ponds Cannot Conserve Water

Aquatic plants provide shelter for goldfish who eat mosquitoes.

During a drought, there really is no way to use less water in a garden pond. Aquatic plants can not survive without adequate water; not to mention fish! Pumps that circulate water must stay submerged to operate properly, and to not get damaged by operating without water. Some degree of water needs to be added regularly to compensate for evaporation.

Water does not evaporate from below the surface of the water. Therefore, depth is irrelevant to water loss. The area of the surface of the water is more important. Sunlight and wind accelerate evaporation. So do fountains or pumps that broadcast water through the air for circulation. Aquatic plants that stand above the surface of the water lose water to evaporation from foliar surfaces.

Yet, most of us who enjoy gardening cannot resist growing aquatic plants if a pond is available. Not only do they provide distinctive foliage and bloom, they also provide shelter for goldfish or minnows that control mosquitoes. They keep water clearer by competing with algae.

Submerged aquatic plants, like anacharis, do everything in the water. Some do not even need soil to root into. Because they do not come above the surface of the water, they do not affect evaporation. None of the floating plants, like water hyacinth, water lettuce and duck weed, have any use for soil either, although some of the leafiest sorts can accelerate evaporation.

Water lilies and lotus are emergent aquatic plants, which naturally live in mud on the bottom of ponds, but develop foliage and flowers that emerge and float on the surface. Although they have the potential to affect evaporation, most are more likely to inhibit evaporation by keeping water shaded. In garden ponds, they must be potted, and should be under at least a foot of water.

Relative to other aquatic plants, bog plants such as cattails, aquatic cannnas, and blue or yellow flag iris consume the most water from saturated soil at or just below the surface of a pond. They produce the most foliage that stands well above the water. Like water lilies and lotus, bog plants need to be potted, but with the tops of their soil barely below the surface of the water.

Pots should be low and wide, and obviously do not need drainage holes. Unnecessary holes only spill a bit of soil, and allow roots to escape and grab onto the bottom of a pond. Good old fashioned soil (yes, dirt from the garden) is fine. Good quality potting soil merely floats away.