Hartley Magazine

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Six Plants for Water Gardens in Containers – the most xeric plants live in water

The hot weather chore of watering container plants can make you feel like you’re trapped in a perpetual motion machine. What, wilted again?

However, you can enjoy wonderful containers that need little extra care when the temperatures soar. Simply choose plants that will consent to grow in bog conditions. Place them pot and all in a watertight container and fill up with water. Even when the level drops, the plants thrive with occasional topping off.

To find out which candidates are best suited for these containers, I turn to Vanca Lumsden, owner of Albe Rustics, and former Northwest water plant purveyor. Along with the usual pond denizens, Vanca tells me that you can persuade some common nursery plants to live the life aquatic. All you need is time.

She says, “If you just take home, say, a canna, and plop it up to its shoulders in water, you’ll drown it.”

Turns out, plants that can grow both ways have different roots when in soil surrounded by air than when in soil surrounded by water. To make the watery shift requires growing a new set of roots.

“Start by buying the smallest pot you can get,” Vanca says. “A four-inch is perfect. It’s cheaper, and the plant at this size is growing fast.”

Place it, pot and all, in a saucer. Pour in enough water to keep the drain holes at the bottom covered.

By the end of a week, tip the plant out of its pot and examine the root ball. If you spot new growth at the water line, raise the level in the saucer by an inch and you’re well on your way to submerging the whole plant.

However, “if the plant pulls its little feet up,” as Vanca puts it, “it’s not going to make it in water.”

Vanca encourages experimentation. “You have to be willing to kill,” she says. But your search need not be random. She notes, “There are often clues in a plant’s Latin second name that will help you.”

For instance, a second name like “aquatica” is a good indication. But also consider “fontana” (like fountain), “elodes” (bog-loving) “palustrus” (of marshes) and “uliginosa’ (also marshes).

To get you started, here are six plants that will happily convert. In colder zones, the containers can be overwintered in a cool greenhouse or frost-free garage.

  • Calla ‘Green Goddess’
  • Canna ‘Pretoria’
  • Carex ‘Bowles Golden’
  • Lysimachia nummularia ‘Aurea’
  • Papryus ‘Little Tut’
  • Salvia uliginosa