Step-By-Step Guide to Potting Up And Caring For Your Pond Plant
Plants that have arrived loose or bare root should ideally be planted up immediately. If this is not possible, they should still be unwrapped and placed in a bucket of water in a cool but frost-free place out of direct sunlight.
Plants that have arrived in pots should be stood in a bucket or tray of water in a frost-free place out of direct sunlight until you decide what to do with them. You can simply put them straight in your pond in the pots they came in if you wish, but in most cases we would recommend that you pot them on into a larger container for the best long-term result. Most pond plants do best in quite big pots which are not ideal to send through the post. We suggest a recommended pot size on each plant's page on our website. When you do pot them on or plant them out, ease off the existing pot. If this is difficult, you may find it easier if you snip the pot down the sides with scissors to open it up, and then take it off like that. Be careful if doing this – cut pot edges are surprisingly sharp. Old plant pots can be used for something else or put in the general rubbish bin.
Occasionally, you may want to grow plants directly in the ground in an area under water too deep, or too far from the bank, to easily dig a hole. In this case, you can place the plant in a ‘bag’ made from a square of hessian, together with some soil if necessary, and a few medium-sized stones as a weight. Draw together the ends of the hessian to create the ‘bag’ and tie them loosely with biodegradable string so that the stems of the crown are emerging from the top. Drop the bag into the water where you want the plant to be, making sure it will not be too deep for the plant to thrive. Keep an eye out to ensure the plants are not disturbed by fish or water birds while they gradually root into the pond.
If you are not planting straight into soil you will usually be potting your plant. You can use normal plastic garden pots (those with solid sides and the holes in the bottom) like any other potted plant if you wish. However, if possible, opt for open-mesh aquatic baskets; these allow greater contact between the plant’s roots and the pond water, and plants generally grow better in them and will last longer before needing re-potting. Most modern open-mesh baskets have quite fine mesh and do not require a hessian liner to hold the soil in, but if you are using very fine powdery soil or a basket with a very open mesh, you may possibly still need a liner. Newspaper will do as a liner if you have nothing else, but bear in mind that it is not long-lasting in the way that hessian liners are and may disintegrate if the pot is disturbed later. An alternative to pots is to use aquatic planting bags – these are flexible, permeable, mesh bags which will not leach soil out and which can be fitted into awkward places.
Do ensure that whatever pot you choose gives your plants enough room. Many aquatic plants, and waterlilies in particular, need the space for a large root area. Do not place these in small or cramped pots if you want them to perform and flower well. Small marginal plants, oxygenators, and miniature waterlilies can be started in pots of around 1 litre capacity, while larger marginal plants and other waterlilies are best started in pots of 2 to 5 litre capacity. We generally recommend that each variety of plant is potted individually, so that they are not competing for space in one pot. You can find more specific information on each plant's page on our website.
Pot the plant in a heavy, loamy soil. This is a soil which is composed of sand, silt and clay, rather than being a peat-based soil (which will tend to float and is not nourishing enough for the plant in the long term). If you are potting waterlilies or deep-water plants such as Orontiums you can even use a heavy clay soil. Special aquatic soil is available in most garden centres and this works well. Alternatively, normal garden soil from somewhere like a flowerbed, that has been raked or sieved to make it workable, can be used. Do not use standard potting compost or any garden soil that has recently been fertilised, as this can cause excessive algae and/or green water in the pond.
When you start potting up, firstly make sure that you have as many pots as you need, of the appropriate sizes, and any hessian liners that you need. Ensure you have enough soil for all your pots. You might also want to have some gravel to hand – a thin layer of fine, washed gravel over the top of the soil will improve the look of the plant, and help to prevent fish or birds from digging it up. A trowel or scoop to pour the soil into the pot is also useful, as it is easier than using your hand.
If using a hessian liner, start by placing this in the pot and checking it is big enough to cover the inside. Now fill approximately one third of your pot with soil, and press it down very firmly. Fold and smooth the hessian liner as necessary as the soil goes in. Place the plant in the pot; if it is a bare-root plant, spread its roots out with your hand. Hold the plant around its root ball or, for bare-root plants, at the base of the growing point (the growing point is the bit where the shoots and leaves emerge, also called the crown). Then carefully fill the rest of the pot with soil, firming it up as you go, and continuing to fold and smooth the liner, if using. Leave a small space at the top of the pot for the layer of gravel, if you are adding this. With bare-root plants, make sure the plant’s growing point is just above the soil level when you have finished.
Add the layer of gravel to finish off, if desired. Cut off any excess pot liner, if using this.
Sprinkle the plant with water using a watering can or similar until the soil is thoroughly soaked through. If you do not do this the soil may float away when you put the plant in the pond.
You are now ready to place the plant in your pond. The label will specify a minimum and maximum depth; the plant will grow best at the shallowest end of this range, as it will get the most light. Similarly, remember that most flowering pond plants will flower best when placed in a sunny spot.
If the weather is hot when the plant is first planted up and it begins to wilt, simply trim the wilting foliage back. This will not harm the plant.