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Make your water garden from a variety of aquatic plants By Ralph E. Mitchell Whether you have a small pond or just a half-barrel water garden on your patio, water gardens are popular and attractive landscape features. Florida has the warmth and sunshine to provide ideal growing conditions for aquatic plants. Keeping in mind to avoid seriously invasive aquatic plants such as water hyacinth and water lettuce and to never toss unwanted plants into local waterways, the home water gardener has a sizeable pallet of plant materials to work with. Only about one percent of all plants are aquatic and adapted to flooded soils that are unsuitable for most plants. I’m sure that you have noticed how plants best adapted to well-drained areas will quickly wilt and die in flooded areas that become low or absent in oxygen. Aquatic plants are especially adapted to thrive in low oxygen situations. These plants are generally classified according to their growth habit. For instance, some aquatic plants grow on the edge of water bodies and are called marginal. Some, such as water lilies, have floating leaves. Others simply float in the water. Several types of aquatic plants are totally submerged. Good examples of marginal plants are Alligator flag and pickerelweed. These plants are rooted into the soil. Alligator weed has large foliage and small purplish flowers. Pickerel weed, growing to three to four feet tall, is noted for its bluish-purple, white or pink spike of flowers which are very attractive to pollinators such as honeybees. These two plants do best at the edge of the water garden along the shoreline. The classic floating-leaved plant is the water lily. Lotus plants also fit into this category although they have some leaves held above the surface. Only the leaves and the flowers are exposed on the surface, while the rest of the plant is underwater. On the other hand, true floating plants have no connections and simply float to be carried by the wind and currents. Duckweed is an example of a floating plant that has contact with the surface. Bladderworts are completely under the water and drift freely. Plants that are considered submerged are completely underwater and rooted into the bottom. These types of plants are great for producing oxygen in the water garden. Eelgrass is an example of this type of water garden feature. Most water gardeners are looking for marginal and floating leaf plants that will display flowers and attractive foliage. Stick to cultivated plant materials that are readily available through many retail garden centers and aquarium supply shops. There are also regional native plant nurseries that supply such plants. A quick Internet search will also provide numerous water gardening sources with on-line catalogs. For more information on all types of Florida Gardening subjects, please contact our Master Gardeners on the Plant Lifeline at 764-4340 from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Our office is located at 25550 Harborview Road, Suite 3 in Port Charlotte. Our Plant Clinics are available across the county: Demonstration Garden every Thursday from 9 to 11 a.m. Englewood/Charlotte Public Library 9 a.m. to noon every Monday. Mid County Regional Library first and third Thursday of the month from 1 to 3 p.m. Monthly Plant Clinics are Saturdays from 9 a.m. to noon at the following locations: Cape Haze Publix first Saturday of the month; Peachland Promenades Publix ‹ second Saturday of the month; Home Depot Murdock and Home Depot Punta Gorda the third Saturday of the month Ralph Mitchell is the county extension director/horticulture agent for the Charlotte County Cooperative Extension Service. You may contact him by e-mail [email protected] You may also contact a volunteer Master Gardener from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday at 764-4340 or by e-mail [email protected] Resource: Worden, E. C. & Sutton, D. L. (2005) Florida Native Aquatic Plants for Ornamental Water Gardens. The University of Florida Extension Service, IFAS.