Five small water plants for containers

Now's the time for planning a container water garden and choosing small plants to go in it.

Courtesy of Mary-Kate Mackey
Dwarf umbrella plant is a good candidate for container water gardening.
Courtesy of Mary-Kate Mackey
Papyrus 'King Tut' towers over its pot.

OK,  I’m not in seasonal denial. Right now, when the weather is rotten, really is the best time to discover the latest and greatest, the hottest and most helpful, the water plants that will bring you delight.

Now is the season to garden in your mind. Now is the time to study your garden, fill catalogs with stickies that denote your choices, race around the Internet, and make lists. Lots of lists.

After all, you wouldn’t go to the supermarket without a list. But most of us, drawn out to the nurseries by the siren song of a warm spring day come woefully unprepared — victims of our own impulsive plant lust.

This is great for the horticultural industry, but not so good for the gardener who wanders the property, gallon can in hand — trying to figure one more place where you could squeeze in something green and growing.

Start your lists now
Bird watchers have life lists, why shouldn’t gardeners have plant lists? From time to time this winter, I will write about plants you could include on your list. Plants whose water requirements would work for you — in water, around water, and even those that take little water.

Your list can include categories — the plant’s name, size, sun/shade requirements, and a column for why you liked it (fragrance? shiny foliage?). You could have a column for where you picture it in your garden. And one more for possible sources.

Keeping a list of water-loving plants is particularly important because many grow hugely in one season. Without careful planning ahead, water plants can quickly gallop beyond their assigned space.

My Papyrus ‘King Tut,'' so small and delicate when it was sent to me to trial from Spring Meadow Nursery has absurdly outgrown the proportions of its pot and now hovers well above my head — I was too much in a hurry last spring to note the plant tag.

Container culture
The five plants listed below are happy living in the confines of containers — I use large pots that measure from two feet wide on up. A water-filled container with a grouping of small plants is one of the easiest introductions to water gardening. The denizens of streams banks and bogs offer a wonderful variety in terms of leaf form and presence.

And water containers are low-maintenance. Place plants still in their own pots on a shelf in the water and top up to overflowing every few days to discourage mosquito larvae (or float a mosquito dunk). Don’t worry if you go away on a hot summer weekend—your plants won’t stress when their water level drops a few inches before you return.

Five for water containers
•     Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’ is highly invasive on land, so a water container controls the roots. It’s a great way to enjoy the spectacular leaves splashed with yellow and red — just never let its feet touch the ground. Zone 6-11, sun/shade.

•    Dwarf unbrella grass, Cyperus involucratus Baby Tut displays two-foot stems that splay out at the top like umbrella ribs or a green fireworks pattern. Use as an annual in sun/part shade.

•    Dwarf sweet flag, Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon,’ has pale green- and cream-striped foliage, to one foot. It’s a terrific upright colorful accent in Zones 6-9, sun/ part shade

•    Lemon Bacopa softens container edges. The tiny rounded, lemon-scented leaves float on the water surface and it displays blue or white flowers in sun/part shade. Use as an annual.

•    Pickerel rush shows off dramatic three-foot tall leaves and blue flowers all summer, loved by bees and butterflies in Zones 3-11, sun/part shade.

Do you have favorite candidates for water containers? Have you put together a particularly attractive combination? Let’s share the ideas from our mind-gardens all winter. After all, you can replant your garden 50 times in your head — and it’s a lot cheaper that way.

Mary-Kate Mackey, co-author of “Sunset’s Secret Gardens — 153 Design Tips from the Pros” and contributor to the “Sunset Western Garden Book,” writes a monthly column for the Hartley Greenhouse webpage and numerous articles for Fine Gardening, Sunset, and other magazines. She teaches at the University of Oregon’s School of Journalism & Communication. She will be writing about water in the garden for Diggin’ It. 

Editor’s note: To read more by Mary-Kate, check our blog archive. Gardening articles on a variety of topics can be found at the Monitor’s main gardening page. Also see our RSS feed. You may want to visit Gardening With the Monitor on Flickr. Take part in the discussions and get answers to your gardening questions. If you join the group (it’s free), you can upload your garden photos and enter our next contest.

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