Water Gardening Fall Finale

By Cyndie Thomas
Aurora, Colorado
Click images to enlarge


Shorter days, cooler nights and a decrease in hardy lily blooms are sure signals that another water gardening season is almost at an end. It's time to winterize.


 Until that first freeze arrives, there are a lot of maintenance items that need to be continued. Yellow lily pads and spent blossoms should be removed at the crown. Any dead or dying plant material in the pond should be removed. If, or when, black aphids arrive for their Fall feast, dislodge from the pads with a hard spray of water. Topping off the water level often puts pads under water for a long enough period of time to allow fish (if they are hungry enough) to enjoy a change in diet.

When leaves begin their annual descent, remove any that blow into the pond. If deciduous trees are in close proximity to your pond, bird netting can be stretched taut over the surface to keep leaves from falling in and polluting the pond. This will also assist by decreasing work at spring pond cleaning time.

 Aphid attack

 If you are over-wintering fish, the cleaner your pond is going into winter, the less the possibilities for health problems for fish during that time and early next spring. Make sure to keep mechanical filters clean, until they are shut down for the season. When water temperatures drop below 50-55 degrees, you should discontinue feeding fish.

Many water plants are perennial plants, meaning they will endure for a number of years, going dormant during the fall and winter

 Netted pond
seasons and returning the following spring season. There are a number of perennial water plants that are not winter hardy in our region due to our temperature extremes. These are often referred to as "tropicals." Well before the first frost, decide if you are going to over-winter any favorite tropical plants inside. Many do very well when cared for as houseplants. Prime candidates for this activity are: Cannas, Blue Bell (Ruellia), Gymnocoronis, Umbrella Palm and Papyrus (Cyperus), and Hibiscus.

The best time to bring in tropical perennials is around mid-September. If plants are left out too long they begin to start the adjustment toward going into dormancy. This makes the adjustment to the indoor environment more stressful.

Before you bring plants into the house, inspect for insects. Most insects can be dislodged with a hard spray of water from the hose. Bring in and place near a bright, sunny window. Remember not to place directly in front of a south or west window, as this could cause leaf burn. Use an old dishpan or any container that will hold water to set the potted plant in. Then keep a sufficient level of water to maintain the plant. The plants do not need to be submerged in the water as they were in the pond, just keep their feet constantly wet.

It is a good idea to hang a few sticky fly strips near plants to catch annoying gnats and other flying insects looking for a place to live. It is important to watch for any insect increase that may arise and treat promptly, before they get out of control. If any bugs are visible, crush with fingers or, if you are squeamish, use a q-tip. White flies and mealy bugs are among the worst to control if you let populations get out of hand. A hard spray of water from the shower should be tried first. A soapacide can be used as an alternate method. As plants will return to the pond, insecticides should be avoided. Systemic insecticides should never be used.

You should not fertilize again until next spring when you return the plant to the pond. At that time you may also wish to prune and/or re-pot the plant.

Another method used to over-winter many tropical water plants is to take cuttings. Asclepias, Ruellia, Gymnocoronis, and Hibiscus are ones easily propagated in this manner. Cuttings can be placed in water, in bright light. Add water as needed and fully change if it develops an odor. When a good root system emerges at the "jointed" points on the stem of plants, you can then pot them and maintain by placing in containers that hold water as discussed above.

After the first significant frost hits, remove all dying plant material. Lily pads below the surface should be removed, too. Hardy lilies, lotus and marginally hardy emergent plants should be placed in the deepest level of the pond. If the pond is not of sufficient depth and freezing of plant crowns may occur, move to a basement or garage. With plants still in their pots, wrap with damp newspaper and place in a plastic bag. Make sure to keep newspaper and soil damp.

Tropical lilies must be removed from the pond. As the water has cooled off it is possible that they have made tubers which will make new plants in the spring. A thorough search through the soil will reveal them. Tubers can be stored in jars or ziplock bags of moist sand in cool but not cold conditions. If the original crown has not overgrown the whole plant and pot can be stored as with hardies above with the possibility of additional tuber production in the damp soil. The original crown and rhizome, if firm and rot free, may survive to grow again.

Waterfalls can be shut down; pumps and filters should be cleaned and stored in an area where they will not freeze. If fish are left in the pond for the winter, an area should be left clear of freezing by placing a small pump in the pond with the outlet one to two inches below the surface. This allows for the exchange of gases, eliminating the demise of fish from a build up of ammonia from excrement or decaying matter. Aerators and surface heaters are also used for this purpose.

If you find life difficult without the sights and sound of your pond during dreary winter days, buy a table top fountain. Then begin planning where you can build your next pond in the spring.

 Spring Start by Cyndie Thomas

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