Nothing brings a new pond alive so quickly as adding some plants. Once you’ve selected some good examples, all that remains to do is plant them – and that usually involves using either pond baskets or planting into beds. Both approaches have their place – and each has its own particular advantages.
Containers and Pond Baskets
Most of the plants you’ll buy will come in some kind of pot or basket – and growing them this way in your own pond has a lot to recommend it.
There are many designs of purpose-made pots and containers, but generally speaking they are intended to do a fairly similar job. Compared with normal plant pots, pond baskets tend to have broader, flatter bases, which helps them to stay stable in the water, especially when holding some of the taller types of marginal plants. It also makes them better suited to fitting on the narrow planting shelves typically seen in many proprietary pre-formed pond liners.
The sides of these containers are typically made of plastic mesh, with the strips usually fairly widely spaced to allow easy movement of water and dissolved gases. In most cases, it is necessary to line them before use, to keep the growing medium in place, although some types of the pots and containers on sale have fine mesh sides anyway which makes this unnecessary. For the old-time water gardeners, hessian sacking used to be the material of choice, but these days closely-woven polypropylene tends to be the thing most pond keepers use.
Containers range in size from around 2 inch (5cm) pots for very small water features, to 16 or 18 inch (40 or 45cm) baskets and there are also large circular bowls with solid sides, designed to be used to keep the more rapidly growing types of water lilies from taking over the pond.
The main advantage of this type of planting lies in its convenience. With baskets, it’s a simple matter to rearrange your planting regime if and when you want to and any necessary maintenance, pruning or division is very easy to do. For plants such as water lilies which need to be gradually lowered to their correct final position, container planting is the only way to go.
Although in natural lakes – and specially created wildlife ponds – the plants grow in the soil at the bottom, in the ornamental garden pond, this is seldom a good approach since the most vigorous kinds will quickly swamp their neighbours and removing them is made difficult.
The permanent planting bed is a way of allowing fast-growing or invasive plants to grow in a near-natural way, without allowing them to choke the whole pond.
Planting beds in the deep water at the bottom of the pond are fairly straightforward to establish, but those for marginals normally need to be built-in to the pond during construction. You need to allow a deeper than usual shelf, of at least 10 inches (25cm) in depth and width, with a small retaining wall to keep the soil in place.
To avoid too much disturbance, beds are normally planted up ahead of the pond being finally filled with water.
The main bonus of this type of planting is that it allows plants to maintain a natural look, while preventing them from spreading too much and it also provides greater stability to taller plants, especially in windy areas. However, planting beds are not really for fish-keepers – unless they’re happy to never see their fish again through all that muddy water!
An attractive pond is a highpoint in any garden – and whether you opt for beds or baskets – getting the planting right can make all the difference.