Make a Water Garden
Water is the magical elixir that brings life to all living beings. Encourage your child to recognize this by creating a magical garden that demonstrates the beauty of life's most important element—H2O. She will be entranced by the miracle of symbiosis: the close association of two or more organisms living together, often to their mutual benefit.
The plants in this barrel work together to oxygenate the water and keep each other healthy. Those that grow with their heads above water shade the surface and block the growth of algae, while providing a place for the fish to hide. The dangling roots of floaters absorb fish wastes. Submerged plants oxygenate the water. Critters help out too, keeping the water clean and mosquito free. The best choices for this water garden are mosquito fish, which can be obtained from your local water garden nursery. Avoid goldfish, as they overload the water with wastes.
What You Need:
- Wooden halfbarrel, at least 28 inches wide and 17 inches deep
- Bottle liquid dechlorinator
- 20-pound bag fine gravel
- Garden soil
- Six 6-inch-wide plastic containers
- Fertilizer tablets
- Several bricks
- Six water snails
- Six mosquito fish
- Water lettuce
- Water hyacinth
- Four-leaf clover
- Dwarf papyrus
- Dwarf water lily, such as an ‘Ellisiana’ or ‘Hermine’
What to Do:
- Set the barrel in a spot that receives three to four hours of sun daily (preferably gentle morning light) and is away from overhanging branches that may drop leaves.
- Ask your child to fill the container with water. Let it sit for a few days. At first the barrel may leak, but the wood will soon swell and hold the water.
- Drain, refill to within an inch of the rim, and add de-chlorinator.
Planting and Care:
- Begin planting when temperatures remain above 70°F. Floaters drift at the whim of the winds and need no anchor. The other plants must be potted if you did not buy them in containers. With your child, gently insert the roots of the Vallisneria and Cabomba into gravel-filled pots, and set them on the bottom of the barrel.
- For each of the other plants, invite your child to put garden soil and a fertilizer tablet in the bottom half of a 6-inch-wide plastic container. Support the plant while adding soil to a depth of 1 inch below the rim. The crown (where the roots meet the stem) should be visible. Top with a 1-inch layer of fine gravel. Using bricks or blocks to adjust the level of the pots, place the four-leaf clover, horsetail, and dwarf papyrus so that the top of the pot is about 6 inches below the water’s surface.
- Ask your child to set the potted water lily on the bottom of the barrel.
- Fish and snails should be added about two weeks after planting. They are usually sold in plastic bags filled with water. Before releasing, encourage your child to accustom them to the new water temperature by floating the closed bags in the barrel for fifteen minutes.
Make sure to keep the barrel filled with de-chlorinated water, and ask your child to pinch off yellowing leaves. If the container becomes overcrowded with floaters, compost them; never throw them into streams or lakes as they will choke out native plants. Don’t worry about slight algae growths.
Guests will be in awe of the amazing garden you and your child have created!