Pond Plants on the Cheap

Introduction: Pond Plants on the Cheap

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.

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    11 years ago on Step 4

    really good idea and love the 2 tier pond. Great idea that has my brain rolling lol Have you ever heard of bleaching plants? I am not sure exactly how to do it or what the exact ratio is but I think it was like 25% bleach to 75% water or something and it will supposedly kill any unwanted pests and algae as well.Just a thought...


    11 years ago on Introduction

    I am a lazy pond lover. A maintenance free pond is critical for me. Mine is 4x8 with a bog area on the surrounding. Early in spring, I plant watercress in the bog area. It is cheap and clears the water of winter residues in 2 days I never feed the fish as I want them to eat the mosquito larvae (okay, I spend nearly an hour to catch them to move them to the pool for winter). Evaporation is the biggest problem but I manage to collect rain water with a barrel to add it to the pond. When out of rain water I just open the hose in the barrel and let it sit for 48 hours so the chlorine can dissipate. A pond is nice to attract wildlife in your garden.


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    This year my water is so clear it looks good enough to drink! Some of last years' plands have taken root and overwintered well. (wild cala lily, water lilys and some long bladed grasses about 3 feet long) I have a good supply of priceless (as in no price) watercress locally as well. So far I have not tried it as the lovely yellow spring flowers soon give way to a lot of greens. (edible greens by the way). Your comments tempted me enough though to try it. I'm also going to add a bubbler and try stocking fishing minnows for... well bait fishing.LOL


    12 years ago on Introduction

    Good idea, but why remove debris, bugs, and "undesirables"? If the plants are appropriate for your pond, wouldn't the stuff clinging to them be appropriate also? L


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Not especially - the pond is far more enclosed, with a far smaller volume of water, so any chemical processes the debris, bugs, etc. begin or are part of will be far more profound. You could have a massive algae bloom within a few days (first-hand experience there!), or pH, oxygen, nitrogen, ammonia etc. levels can rapidly shift, killing your fish and frogs (also first-hand experience, from a different source - a bullfrog from a swamp nearby traveled to our pond and brought a parasite that killed all of our koi and goldfish within two weeks...long story short, the water snails that also inhabited our pond died, rotted, causing chemical imbalances that took out our plants too) Also, a lot of fish, frog and insect eggs are laid on the roots or leaves of water plants, most of which are invasive, require harsh treatments, and cost tons to destroy. If you live in a West Nile danger zone, don't ever touch the native plants (it may be illegal in these zones too) - a swarm of deadly mosquitoes is not worth saving a few dollars. Despite those warnings, Arctic put together a nice instructable for gathering plants. I'd seriously recommend against this kind of scavenging though if your pond supports fish or frogs.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    I should add that our climate and my pond is too small in volume to support fish and frogs overwinter. So my intent here is to make a nice water effect with sound. To keep the water clear and clean aquatic plants are required. We are not in an active West Nile scare area either. The cleaning of the plants and eliminating as much as I can of insect life is to keep excess bugs out of my yard. I'm sure there are areas worldwide where I'd never consider this idea. I've been successful with a similar idea in an aquarium using native aquatic plants, creek minows, and a few crayfish. Worked wonderful until the last fish was demised by the last crayfish. Great way to teach kids the wonders of nature and the food chain.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Nice way to spin fish decimation - that would actually spark a really good experiment in a biology class: have the class study indigenous plants, decide as a group whether a class aquarium can support a pond ecosystem, and work to stabilize it in case it goes awry. We can't collect native fish in our area (plants are okay though, as long as you don't dump them anywhere else), so we've had to improvise with mixing the ecosystems. We winter our fish over (our pond is deep enough, as long as we use a low-level heater), but our worst time of the year is autumn...no matter what, leaves keep getting in the pond and rotting. We found out purely by accident that a small sprig of lavender is actually very good at cleaning the pond - keeps algae from blooming and clears the water nicely. There's a limit to how much you can put in, so it requires a bit of experimentation, but its a nice cheap solution. Now we drop in a small amount when we add a new plant to help clean the pond until everything has re-stabilized.


    Reply 12 years ago on Introduction

    Right, so you want to take good care on your plant selection? I guess some of these are used to fast-flowing water, and don't suit ponds as well as others. L