Plants are probably the second most important element of any pond, apart from, obviously, water. See I did not mention soil at all. This is because soil isn’t necessary for you to grow plants in your ponds.
Gravels are, believe it or not, a better choice for growing plants than soil. You should choose gravel over soil because they keep the pond more healthy, are efficient in nutrient distribution and produce better quality harvest.
Whether or not can pond plants really grow in gravel isn’t the issue here, the main issue is how and why you should grow pond plants in gravel. Let me answer all these questions that are swirling around in your mind.
Growing Aquatic Pond Plants: Gravel Vs. Soil
As we have established earlier, gravel could be a much better choice as a growing base for plants than soil. But this statement goes against everything we have learnt till date. It might sound absolutely ridiculous to you because all of us have been told that we absolutely need soil to grow plants. But the fact couldn’t be more different.
So why should you believe me? Well, you don’t have to believe me, just have to look at a couple of facts.
Keeping the water clean
The first issue with planting plants in soil is that soil makes your pond water murky. No matter how hard you try to keep the water clean, you will not be able to do so if you have soil in your pond. Any disturbance will kick up dirt from the bottom and soon you wouldn’t be able to see anything in your pond.
But if you have gravel at the bottom, they will not make your water dirty at all, you will have a clear view of the beautiful pond you have worked so hard to build.
By the way, you can look at my article on how to clear murky pond water to understand what a menace it is and how to clean them out of your pond if it’s got soil in it.
Keeping algae at bay
Algae are a necessary evil for ponds. A small amount of algae is actually beneficial for the pond ecosystem as they provide food for the fish and supply oxygen. But problems arise when the amount of algae is too much.
You see, algae are a very opportunistic kind of plant whose reproduction rate can be compared to that of rabbits and mice in the animal world. If you have no idea about their reproduction, trust me, they grow fast.
So, even the slightest amount of sunlight and nutrients will result in an algal bloom so large that it may kill everything in your pond, including plants.
Sunlight isn’t something you can do anything about, as you need sunlight to keep everything in your pond alive. What you can do is to restrict their access to nutrients.
You can not do it if you have soil as soil releases nutrients automatically. But if you have gravel in your pond as the base, you have to manually add nutrients to the pond,which will be absorbed by the plants.
Now, of course some nutrients will also be taken in by the algae, but it won’t be enough for an algal bloom. Also, fish waste and other organic debris will also produce nutrients. To tackle this problem, add nitrifying bacteria that will process these nitrogenous nutrients.
How to add pond plants in gravel?
Planting plants in gravel is much easier and time efficient than planting them in soil. Follow a few easy steps and you will be done with the whole process.
Getting Rid of the Soil
The whole point of planting plants in gravel is to eliminate any sort of soil from your pond. So, clean the plant roots thoroughly so that there is no trace of soil or any debris in them. Don’t clean them roughly though, as it will harm the plant.
Placing the Plants
While planting submerged plants, first make a small hole in the gravel and then place the roots in them. You can also tie small and weighted gravel pieces into the roots to keep them in place. Then with some rocks, cover the roots for better placement and structure. Make sure the roots are sticking out from under the rock in a few places in order for them to get sunlight.
There is also the option to plant floating plants, but it is better not to do it. We will discuss the reasons in a minute.
Ensuring Nutrient Supply
After you are done placing the plants, you need to make sure the plant gets enough nutrients as gravel will do anything but provide them with nutrients. You have a couple of options here. Either you can add necessary nutrients yourself or you can make sure that your fish produces enough waste which can serve as nutrients. I would suggest you do the former as you can’t really rely entirely on fish waste.
As you can see, it is very easy to grow aquatic plants in gravel. Also, don’t freak out if you see the plants being limp. This is very common for them to be weak during the primary stages of their growth and getting acquainted with a new environment. They will stand upright when their stems become stronger.
Why should you Grow plants in gravel?
Now that we have known how to plant plants in gravel, now it is time for you to know the reason to grow plants in gravel instead of soil. In addition to algae control and cleanliness of water that were discussed before, there are a few more advantages to growing plants in gravel. This procedure of growing plants without soil is called hydroponics. The reasons to choose hydroponics are:
1. Uncontaminated Plants
The plants that are grown with hydroponics are done so in very clean and controlled environments. As there is less outside influence on them than their soil grown counterparts, they are basically uncontaminated. The fruits and vegetables that are produced in this method are usually in pristine conditions.
2. Nutrient Enriched Harvest
The plants grown with hydroponics are supplied with rich nutrients manually. This results in the plants being in perfect health and the fruits they bear are also full of nutrients
3. Adding Much Needed Beauty
As gravel keeps the water clean, you can enjoy the beauty of your pond even more. The plants and fish will be more visible even from a distance.
What are the Drawbacks of Hydroponics?
As great a method as hydroponics is, it has some drawbacks that might make you think twice. It is better to know them before you make any decision.
It is more costly
Hydroponics will cost you a lot more at first than regular soil based plant growing. Not only will you need to buy nutrients and other stuff such as lights etc, the setting up process is also quite expensive. But after setting them up once, the cost will go down as you will have fish waste and other debris which will serve as nutrients.
The Harvest will be non organic
To be classified as organic, fruits, vegetables or any kind of crops will have to be grown on soil. As the very concept of hydroponics is based on the absence of soil, the fruits and vegetables produced will not be classified as organic.
Plants become fragile
It has been seen that plants that grow in a hydroponic system tend to be weaker and more fragile than the ones who grow on soil. Even the slight misadjustment of the lighting system will kill them.
Diseases spread more easily
As the plants are fragile in nature, they are more susceptible to diseases. Once one plant gets a disease, all other plants get the same disease very quickly. And I do mean very quickly as it has been seen that the entire plant population has become sick in a matter of hours.
What plants can be grown in gravel?
You can literally grow every kind of aquatic plant into gravel. But even among these, there are a few plants which are the best choices.
This bog plant ( plants which can grow on the muddy surroundings of a pond) resembles mini bamboos. Their growth should be kept in check as they can grow very fast and can be very aggressive.
Ogon Golden Sweet Flag
This grass-like plant is a marginal plant and is a great choice to have in a pond.
Only a couple of inches in length, this plant is an excellent choice for the edges of the rocks to be softened. They also provide much needed beauty to the pond with their brightly coloured leaves.
Having spiked flowers that are blue, white or pink lavender in colour, they are a decorative plant you will want to have in your pond.
These plants not only make your pond look good, but also provide much needed shed. They grow to a whooping 48 inches in length.
Why shouldn’t you plant floating plants in gravel?
As I stated earlier, it is better not to plant floating plants like water lilies in gravel. Both Water lilies and Lotuses are very aggressive in nature. The entire pond will be taken over by them in no time if you plant them in gravel. Also, their rate of reproduction is also high and they reproduce all throughout the year except for winter. So, it will be difficult to control them for most of the year.
What to do if the plants are dug up by the fish regularly?
Another major issue that you will face while planting plants in gravels is the fish in the pond will regularly dig up the plants. The best solution to this problem is to use a bog filter. This is a filter that simulates a bog area with the benefits of a gravel base. Putting the plants in a bog filter will prevent the fishes from getting to the plants and digging them out as fish can not enter these filters.
What should you do if the plants do not grow?
If you see a lack of growth in your plants, don’t get alarmed. It is very natural for the plants to be weak and have stunted growth in the early stages. The plants will take some time to acclimatise with the pond’s environment and absorb nutrients. After they have done so, they will thrive.
Let’s make a gravel garden
As we have seen before, you can really grow plants in gravel. Not only can you grow them, but you can grow them better if you use gravel instead of soil.
Although it will set you back some bucks in the early stages, the long term results will make everything worth it. So, forget what you have learnt so far in your life about the necessity of soil in plant growth and start using gravel to grow plants in your ponds.