Nice ponds are a pleasure to enjoy. The sound of running water offers peace and tranquility.
You got a nice pond but it is kind of bare.
You want to get and keep the water clear.
You know it requires live plants to clear water.
You want healthy water for fish and frogs to survive.
But, you don't have a lot of cash to buy a lot of plants.
No need for cash. Use what nature provides for most if not all of your plants. To see what plants grow and thrive in your area get out and enjoy nature paths along waterfronts. Avoid nature preserves and man made waterfronts. Riversides and lakefronts are reasonably close to most people.
Lookup and learn which aquatic plants are native to your region. This planning may take a year, as you want to know your plants. You want to see and recognize them in all seasons. You want to avoid moving plants that are, rare, exotic, protected, invasive species. You also want to avoid plants that will take over your pond or outgrow its welcome.
In my area of Ontario there are literally dozens of readily available interesting but common plants. The plants that grow down by your local rivers and lakes should also grow in your pond. They might die off if the pond conditions are not close enough to its native environment or if the pond is not deep enough. Found local aquatic plants that grow like weeds are easily replaced each spring.
Step 1: The Actual Hunting and Gathering
You will need some simple basic tools for nature shopping or harvesting plant.
1) A long handled net. This can be made from a painter's adjustable extension pole for extra reach or even any long pole with a small fish net attached. A hook on the other end can also come in handy. Cost is easily under $10.
2) Zip-loc type baggies that seal well.
3) Rubber boots and or hip waters may be necessary depending on your water access and waterfront. A small boat can also come in useful so you can approach the plants from the deeper side.
Ok, now head out in to the swamp, wetland, and roadside ditch, whatever. Always keep a lookout for potential sites, while driving or riding about.
You are looking for accessible wetlands. Although you may have to hike or walk to them, those off the beaten path are usually the best. Also keep in mind that if an area is choked with bulrushes, not much else is there. At least that has been my experience. You want a riverbank, creek or waterfront place with open shallow water. On lakesides you will find more interesting surface vegetation on the downwind side in shallow weedy bays.
Scoop or pull interesting plants in with your long handles net and save in baggies. Try and keep you plants separate, one kind per baggie and make notes on location type found, water depth, sun/shade, sand/soil, etc. and possible names. Try not to bring unwanted floaters, snails, algae etc but the findings will be cleaned and researched at home.
Step 2: So Let’s See What You Got Then
When you bring home your "shopping, catch or harvest". It will need to be cleaned and sorted. You will find that even though you were fairly careful selecting your produce in the wild, there are things in the water you would likely prefer not to introduce into your pond. With good lighting (sunlight is best) and white basins or trays you will notice movement of tiny or larger beasties matter moving about.
You'll also need a work area with the following -
1) tubs or basins in which to float and sort plants.
2) Sharp scissors or cutters
3) Sand or pebbles
4) Burlap or mesh, something the roots can eventually grow through.
5) Aquatic planter pots so dirt and plants remain in contact. You may also be able to use mesh type baskets in plastic or even plastic bags with sufficient holes so the roots can grow through.
6) For really small plants like duckweed, a paintbrush and spoon come in handy.
On my most recent trip, I found what I believe is Wild Calla, some kind of unknown long leafy aquatic plant (likely underwater weed), and duckweed.
1) Dump the contents of a baggie into a basin of tap water of similar temperature to where the native plant location was. Shake and slosh everything about to remove debris, bugs, and undesirables. Separate the plants into bunches if they are small, or singles if they are larger and place them into clean basins to soak.
2) Transfer to a third washbasin. The chemicals in the tap water should kill a lot of the little contaminants beasties as well provide a chance to pick off and clean the plants manually.
Step 3: Potting Up Plants
You will need some planters that will let water in. Gardening centers or aquatic plant sellers usually have square or round pots that have perforated holes throughout. They come in several sizes and heights. If you need them really shallow like I did in this project consider cutting the size down with scissors. The upper deck pool to my pond is only 3-6" deep.
1) Cut a piece of burlap to line the planter. The idea here is to hold in the soil so it doesnt all wash away.
2) Put a few small stones in the bottom of the planter for ballast, to keep the planter sunk and not drifting about.
3) Put a layer of planting soil into next.
4) Place the plants so they have room to grow, tuck in the roots.
5) Fill planter with more soil.
6) Top off the soil with small pea gravel to keep the soil contained.
7) Get the plants back in the water where they are happiest ASAP.
Step 4: Sit Back and Enjoy Your Pond Plants
Now you can sit back and enjoy your pond plants, knowing you saved a kings ransom on special aquatic plants. Or at least freed up your cash to buy those special plants not native to your area.
A few final words of caution when gathering native plants
1) Stay away from conservation, preservation properties.
2) Take only plants that are in abundance.
3) If your pond drains into other waters, waterways etc, you need to be very careful of the plants you relocate. Stick with ones downstream of your pond so you dont contaminate the environment.
4) Never use invasive species, even blown seeds and birds will spread them.