How to Grow a Specialty Garden


A flourish of nothing but glorious roses, the soothing quiet of trickling water: These are all possibly if you decide to design your own specialty garden. It's up to you to decide how special a garden you want.

There are many different kinds of specialty gardens. Some people prefer organic gardens, knowing that they've created healthy soil to ensure healthy plants. Rock gardens give people solace. Roses are beautiful and a delight to walk through. Water gardens are peaceful and beautiful, but require some work to maintain.

This specialty garden is serene and beautiful.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This specialty garden is serene.
See more pictures of specialty gardens.

In this article, we'll discuss how to grow a specialty garden.
  • Planting an Organic Garden

    Organic gardeners prefer to keep their yards clear of chemicals that could be potentially hazardous. They keep their gardens nicely in bloom without sprays or pesticides. To do this, they add organic matter to the soil. This soil enrichment becomes fertile and moist, which is the optimal condition for healthy plants. Composting is one of the primary methods of organic garden. In this section, we'll show you how to plant an organic garden.

  • Planting a Rock Garden

    There are as many reasons for building a rock garden as there are people who build them. Rockeries are an easy and unique way to reduce lawn care on a hard-to-mow slope. They can recreate a piece of nature in the back yard. They can add an element of movement to an excessively flat landscape. They make an ideal site for a collection of delicate alpine plants and are also perfect for highlighting less delicate but tiny plants that would otherwise go unnoticed. Learn how to plant and maintain a rock garden in this section.

  • Growing a Rose Garden

    Roses have been considered special since the dawn of history. The ancient Egyptians grew and appreciated them, as did the Chinese, the Greeks, and the Romans. Empress Josephine, Napoleon's wife, surrounded her palace, Malmaison, with every variety of rose then available. As immigrants flooded into the New World, they often carried rose bushes with them, sometime bringing them right across the continent in wagon trails. Learn how to grow a rose garden in your front or back yard.

  • Maintaining a Rose Garden

    Roses have traditionally been grown in gardens of their own because they don't particularly like competition from other plants. As recently as the 1800s, the beauty of the rose garden was fleeting. Roses burst into spectacular bloom for a short period in early summer and then showed nothing but foliage for the rest of the growing season. In this section, we'll show you how to maintain a rose garden through the winter and all year long.

  • Planning a Water Garden

    Water contributes a sense of peace and tranquility to a garden, making it more inviting, more romantic, and more livable. Whether the water garden is little more than an enlarged bird bath or an elaborate aquatic environment brimming with plant and animal life, its presence alone makes your yard a more pleasant place. Water cools the air on hot days and helps keep frost away on cold one. Learn how to plan for a water garden in this section.

  • Planting a Water Garden

    Many gardeners put off plans for a water garden because they think water gardens require too much effort to start. In the past, that was mostly true because water gardens were formed by poured concrete -- a technique limited to the wealthy. With different flexible and prefabricated liners, most gardeners can install the pool themselves. Now, most gardeners can plant a water garden at their leisure. We'll show you how in this section.

  • Maintaining a Water Garden

    Activated by hidden pumps, moving water also supplies a relaxing background of natural music. Water in the garden attracts birds and butterflies. Water gardens require little care and are no more difficult to maintain than the average flower garden. If you have fish, such as koi, you'll want to remember to feed them and to provide them with enough space because if they're happy, they'll get larger and multiply. Some knowledge of the care and maintenance of garden pools and aquatic plants is necessary, but we'll teach you what you need to know in this section.
There are many different kinds of specialty gardens to grow. Let's start by exploring the fundamentals of growing an organic garden in the next section.

Planting an Organic Garden

Organic gardeners shun the use of synthetic chemicals to keep their yards free from potential hazards. But the real success of organic gardens lies in the methods used to keep plants growing vigorously, without a heavy reliance on sprays. Organic gardening cuts right to the heart of the matter: soil.

Soil enriched with organic matter is moist and fertile.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Soil with organic matter is moist and fertile.

Soil is the life force of the garden. When enriched with organic matter, or compost, the soil becomes moist, fertile, and friable, which is ideal for healthy plants. It also nourishes a rich population of beneficial organisms such as earthworms and nutrient-releasing bacteria. And it harbors root-extending fungi that help make growing conditions optimal.

Make compost the lazy way by layering leaves, lawn clippings, and kitchen waste. Then simply leave it until it's ready. Nature's recyclers will take organic matter no matter how it is presented and turn it into rich, dark compost. This process just takes longer in an untended pile.

To begin your compost heap, dump yard scraps in a far corner of the yard. An ideal blend would be equal amounts of soft or green material (manure and fresh leaves) and brown or hard material (dead leaves and chopped twigs). Or, if you prefer, keep the compost materials neatly contained in a wooden slat or wire mesh bin. If you put an access door on the bottom of the bin, you can scoop out the finished compost at the bottom while the rest is still decaying.

Add compost starter or good garden soil to a new compost pile to help jump-start the decay of organic materials.Compost starter, available in garden centers or from mail-order garden catalogs, contains decay-causing microorganisms. Some brands also contain nutrients, enzymes, hormones, and other stimulants that help decomposers work as fast as possible. Special formulations can be particularly helpful for hard-to-compost, woody material like wood chips and sawdust or for quick decay of brown leaves.

Compost Blends
Organic material decays most quickly if blended with approximately equal parts of the following:

Nitrogen-Rich Soft and Green Material: manure from chickens, cows, horses, rabbits, pigs, guinea pigs, and other herbivores; fruit and vegetable peels; grass clippings; green leaves; strips of turf; alfalfa

Carbon-Rich Brown and Hard Material: wood chips; ground-up twigs; sawdust; pruning scraps; autumn leaves; straw

Good garden or woodland soil, although not as high-tech nor as expensive as compost starter, contains native decomposers well able to tackle a compost pile. Sprinkle it among the yard scraps as you are building the pile.

Use perforated PVC pipes to aerate compost piles. An ideal compost pile will reach three to four feet high, which is big enough to get warm from the heat of decay. Why is heat important? High temperatures, when a pile is warm enough to steam on a cool morning, semi-sterilize the developing compost, killing disease spores, hibernating pests, and weed seeds.But the problem is that for decomposers to work efficiently enough to create heat, they need plenty of air, and not just at the surface of the pile. Aeration is traditionally provided by fluffing or turning the pile with a pitchfork, which can be hard work. But with a little advance planning and a perforated pipe, this can be avoided.

Learn tips on maintaining a compost pile and how to use fertilizer with optimal results in the next section.

The proper use of composting and fertilizers will ensure that your organic garden reaches its full harvest.

Start a compost pile on a bed of branched sticks that will allow air to rise from below. Add a perforated pipe in the center, building layers of old leaves, grass clippings, and other garden leftovers around it. The air will flow through the pipe into the compost pile.
  • Use on-site composting for easy soil improvement. Gather up old leaves, livestock manure, and/or green vegetable scraps and let them lie in or beside the garden until they rot, then work them into the soil. Or just heap them on the garden in the fall and till them into the soil. They will be decayed by spring. You can also dig a hole, dump in the yard waste, cover it with a little soil, and let it rot in privacy.

  • Expect to use more organic fertilizer, by volume, than synthetic chemical fertilizers. That's because organic fertilizers contain fewer nutrients by weight, averaging from 1 to about 6 or 7 percent. Contrast this with an inorganic lawn fertilizer that may contain up to 30 percent nitrogen, more than four times as much as organic fertilizer.

Fertilizers

Compost-Making Equipment

Wire composting bin

Stackable composting bin

Wooden composting bin

Vented plastic bins

Worm boxes

Compost tumbler

Compost inoculant

Garden fork

Compost thermometer

Sifting screen

More is not always better when it comes to fertilizers. Lower-dose organic fertilizers are unlikely to burn plant roots or cause nutrient overdoses. Many forms release their components slowly, providing a long-term nutrient supply instead of one intense nutrient blast. Organic fertilizers may also provide a spectrum of lesser nutrients, even enzymes and hormones that can benefit growth.

For details on how to use fertilizers properly, read the package labels. The volume of fertilizer required may vary depending on the kind of plant being fertilized and the time of year.
  • Use fish emulsion fertilizer to encourage a burst of growth from new plantings, potted flowers and vegetables, or anything that is growing a little too sluggishly for your taste. High-nitrogen fish emulsion dissolves in water and is easily absorbed and put to immediate use by the plant. For best results, follow the package directions.

  • Add toad houses to the garden to attract toads for natural pest control. Just as fairy-tale toads can be turned into handsome princes with just a kiss, ordinary toads become plant protectors just by hopping into the garden. They may not be pretty, but toads eat plenty of bugs, so you'll be glad to see them. To encourage toads to come to live in your garden, try the following:

  • Put several broken clay pots in the garden for toads to hide under.

    Be sure to read the package labels when using fertilizers.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Be sure to read the package labels when using fertilizers.

  • Water when the ground gets dry to keep the environment pleasant for amphibians.

  • Avoid spraying toxic chemicals on the garden.

  • Watch out for toads when tilling, hoeing, or shoveling or mowing.

  • Use organic repellents to chase away rodents and deer. Sprays made out of hot peppers, coyote or bobcat urine, rotten eggs, bonemeal, or bloodmeal, even castor oil, can make your garden plants unappetizing to herbivores. Reapply the repellents frequently, and always after rain, to maintain high protection levels.

  • Grow French or American marigolds to kill any nematodes in the garden soil. Nematodes, which are microscopic wormlike pests that can damage tomatoes, potatoes, and other crops, are killed by chemicals that are released by marigold roots and decaying foliage. You can plant marigolds in and around other nematode-susceptible plants. Or just till marigolds into the soil and let them decay before planting potatoes or tomatoes.
You definitely don't need sprays and pesticides to keep your garden at its finest. Just use these tips and you'll be an expert at organic gardening in any season.

Planting a Rock Garden

There are rock garden styles to suit every taste, but great care must be taken that the style chosen suits the site. For example, a huge mound of rocks rising out of nowhere will look very much out of place in a grassy lawn. Flat, craggy limestone, while attractive in its own right, will not suit a yard dominated by a fieldstone house. Remember, a rock garden is essentially a re-creation of a mountain slope. Picture this in your mind and try to create it on a scale that suits your growing space.

The easiest rock garden to plan is always a natural one. If your garden has a natural stone outcropping, you can easily bring out its beauty by cutting back invasive roots, removing a few shrubs and trees to increase sunlight, and possibly digging away some soil to better reveal the natural rock. Even a small rock outcropping can be used to advantage by adding similar rocks to repeat and accentuate the original pattern.

Slopes are ideally suited to rock gardens. Not only are they hard to maintain otherwise (just ask anyone who has tried to mow a hillside lawn) but it is also easy to integrate rocks into a slope and make it look as though they were put there by Mother Nature. Flat surfaces are not obvious choices for a rock garden, but don't rule them out entirely.

This rock garden looks nice on a slope.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This rock garden looks nice on a slope.

Generally speaking, rock gardens should be placed in full sun; most plants you'll use in a rock garden love sunlight. Although you can create an attractive rock garden in a shady spot, your plant choices will be more limited.

Perhaps no other step is as important in planning a rock garden as choosing the right rocks. All too often, a "rock garden" consists of a pile of rounded river stones of various sizes and colors randomly strewn on the ground: Nothing could look more artificial! Instead, use rocks that are uniform in color and texture; ideally, they should be angular in shape with distinct lines or strata. If these similar rocks are placed at roughly the same angle, it will look as though Mother Nature deposited them.

Rounded rocks, however, need not be banished from the rock garden, but they should be similar in color and texture. For a natural look, set the first ones quite deeply in the ground. As more rocks are added, make sure that about half of each rock is hidden from sight.

Make sure some of the rocks are very large ones: true boulders. These larger rocks are the keystones of the rock garden. One rule of thumb: If it can be moved by one person, it's too small. Once the boulders are in place, medium-size rocks can be added. Smaller rocks will be needed to fill in any gaps.

Rock gardens are also ideal sites for waterfalls. Even a steady stream of water droplets landing in a tiny pond at the garden's base will do. In fact, smaller waterfalls are often the best choice for the home rockery: large cascades of frothy, foaming water are for very massive rock gardens.

Building a Rock Garden

Once the rocks have been chosen, prepare the site by excavating to the proper depth. Make sure you remove any weeds or lawn grasses now: You don't want them reappearing later between two heavy rocks where you can't get to them.

Most alpine plants require perfect drainage. If your soil is naturally heavy, put down a drainage layer of six inches of gravel or crushed rock. Cover this layer with landscape fabric or two inches of sand so the soil you add later won't percolate through. Unless the soil taken from the excavation already drains perfectly, mix it with an equal quantity of sand. If you don't intend to grow alpine plants, simply add about one-quarter compost or peat moss to increase the soil's organic content. If you intend to grow mostly alpine plants, check the soil's pH and amend it with ground limestone if necessary; alpine plants tend to prefer neutral to alkaline soils. Only a few rock garden plants (heathers and dwarf rhododendrons are among them) need acid soil.

The bellflower, a popular rock garden plant, doesn't need acidic soil.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
The bellflower, a popular rock garden plant, doesn't need acidic soil.

To "anchor" a rock garden to its landscape, consider adding a few minor rock outcrops in peripheral areas. Also, add to the base of the rock garden a flat area of gravel or crushed rock in the same shade as the dominate rock. This is known as a "scree garden." This will help prevent lawn grasses from invading the garden, and the effect will appear quite natural, as if bits and pieces of broken rock had fallen off the rock outcropping over the years.

In regions where droughts are frequent, consider adding an irrigation system from the outset. The simplest method is burying a perforated garden hose just below the surface of the soil: It can then be attached to a supply hose whenever watering is necessary.

Maintaining a Rock Garden

Rock gardens are not hard to maintain. In fact, most work simply involves removing weeds on a regular basis. Even this task will diminish as the rockery plants establish themselves and fill in any gaps where weeds might grow. By covering any exposed soil with a layer of crushed rock, weed seeds will have a difficult time getting started. In a rock garden, weeds must be removed by hand, preferably as soon as they appear. Herbicides, even when carefully sprayed, tend to drip down rock surfaces and harm desirable plants.

Less hardy rock garden plants can be protected during the winter with spruce or pine branches or some other light mulch. Fallen leaves and other moisture-retentive debris should be removed as soon as it accumulates; most alpine plants rot when in contact with damp materials.
Prune as needed to control any plants that spread beyond their limits. Many low-growing, matting alpine plants can also be cut back hard after flowering to encourage the formation of new, healthy growth. Finally, don't be afraid to move plants that appear unhappy.

Most of the information given above describes the preparing and planting of rock gardens for sunny sites. Although this is the most traditional form of rock garden, there is no reason you cannot produce a beautiful rock garden in shady conditions. Use a richer soil mix with plenty of organic matter since most shade-loving plants prefer a moisture-retentive mixture.

Learn how to plant a rose garden in the next section.

Growing a Rose Garden

Roses have long been a favorite of flower lovers, going as far back as the ancient Egyptians. Roses were once considered disease-ridden, one-shot wonders to floriferous denizens. The earliest roses usually bloomed only once a year, but they gave off wonderful aromas. Old-fashioned roses can grow into large, thorny bushes, more vigorous than a modern hybrid tea rose.

Classic Old-Fashioned Roses
Select these classic roses if you want a more formal garden.
  • Alba roses: Semi Plena, Konigin von Danemark
  • Bourbon roses: Louise Odier, Variegata de Bologna, Madame Isaac Pereire, Honorine de Brabant
  • Centrifolia roses: De Meaux
  • Damask roses: Madame Hardy, Comte de Chambord, Celsiana
  • Gallica roses: Rossa gallica officinalis, Cardinal de Richelieu
  • Moss roses: Mundi, Empress Josephine

Napoleon's wife, Empress Josephine, surrounded her palace with every variety of rose. In the early 1800s, reblooming roses from China were discovered and interbred with old-fashioned European roses to extend their bloom period. These hybrids had fewer thorns and petals but rebloomed through the summer. Breeding efforts focused on improving flower form and expanding color selection. The results were grandifloras, hybrid teas, and other long-blooming plants that required high maintenance.

Traditional rose gardens are rather formal affairs. The beds are often laid out in geometric patterns, with tree roses at each corner and an arbor of climbing roses at the center or rear. Your home rose garden doesn't have to be quite so static. As long as proper planting distances are respected, the rose garden can take on any appearance from a near-formal style to a flowing island with an irregular outline. The only rule that really should be followed is that taller plants should go in the center or rear of the bed.

Purists grow only roses in a rose garden. Gardeners with less stringent ideas can introduce spring-flowering bulbs, noninvasive perennials, low-growing annuals, or other plants. The upkeep of these other plants should not damage the roses they are designed to set off. If you're really adventurous, you can develop an entire garden of roses in individual containers on a patio or balcony.

Although roses are quite specific in their needs, you can find a place for them with a little searching in just about any yard. The first requirement is plenty of sun: six hours or more a day if possible. Some roses will do well with less. Early morning sun is better than late afternoon sun since the flowers last longer under cooler conditions.

Now, roses will adapt to most moderately fertile soils, even sandy ones. Just make sure you work in plenty of organic matter: compost, well-rotted manure, etc. Test the soil for pH before planting. Roses prefer a pH of 6.5 to 6.8, although they will tolerate levels from 6.0 to 7.5. Any soil that is extremely acid or alkaline should be corrected by adding, respectively, lime or powdered sulphur.

Good drainage is essential in the rose garden. If your soil is constantly damp, consider either adding drainage tiles or raising the bed 8 to 10 inches above ground level. Soil that drains too well can be improved by adding organic material and through careful irrigation. In well-drained soil, you can plant the rose deeper than in heavy soil, covering the graft with insulating soil. In cold climates, the graft union should be planted 2 to 3 inches below the soil line.

Proper placement is also essential for a successful rose garden. Avoid areas near large trees and shrubs, since roses are intolerant of root competition. A certain amount of air circulation is beneficial, so avoid low-lying pockets. Windy spots can be moderated by using a windbreak. In cold climates, planting on a slight slope will help prevent damage from a late spring frost.

Bare-root or packaged roses are best planted in spring after all danger of frost has passed. In the deep South, the cooler winter months are the ideal planting time. Container-grown roses can theoretically be planted any time during the growing season. Avoid planting during the dry, hot summer months.

Planting Bare-Root Roses
  1. Dig a hole 15 to 18 inches deep and equally wide. Mix an abundant amount of organic matter into the removed soil. Form a firm cone of this improved soil in the center of the hole.

    Dig a hole up to 18 inches deep to plant bare-root roses.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Dig a hole up to 18 inches deep
    to plant bare-root roses.

  2. Remove packaging from the rose and prune lightly, removing any broken canes and cutting the others back to 8 inches.The pruning cut should be 1/4 inch above an outward-pointing bud. Trim the roots to about 8 inches and spread them out. Set the plant on the cone. Make sure the bud union is at the proper depth for your climate.

    Lightly prune.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Lightly prune.

  3. Fill the hole with the improved soil to two-thirds of its depth, working it in among the roots and firming carefully.

    Fill the hole with the improved soil, working it in the roots.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Fill the hole with the improved soil,
    working it in the roots.

  4. Fill the depression surrounding the plant with water and let drain. Then fill the remainder of the hole with the improved soil.

    Fill the depression surrounding the plant with water.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Fill the depression
    surrounding the plant with water.

  5. Mound soil up around the base of the plant until growth begins. (This may be a few weeks.) After growth begins, remove the mound of soil.

    Mound soil around the base of the plant.
    ©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
    Mound soil around the base of the plant.

Plant around rose bushes with low or medium-height fragrant herbs such as mint, sweet marjoram, oregano, thyme, bush basil, and German chamomile. These herbs provide an attractive cover for the barren bases of many roses and release an odor that can screen the plant from rose-eating pests. They will also provide a nice harvest for the kitchen. Forget about eating the herbs, however, if you spray the rose with chemicals unsuited for edible plants.

Learn how to maintain roses in the next section.

Maintaining a Rose Garden

Roses can be difficult to maintain if you don't know how to care for them. With these tips, you'll be on your way to maintain a beautiful rose garden.

Fertilizing

When you mix abundant organic material into the planting soil, you establish a good basis for healthy growth. Occasional applications of fertilizer rich in phosphate, however, can be useful if your soil is low in phosphorous. Wait until growth has begun in spring before fertilizing. A second application can be made in midsummer. Avoid fertilizing in the fall since it can promote late growth, which reduces hardiness.

Wait until growth has begun before fertilizing roses.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
Wait until growth has begun before fertilizing.

Watering

Recently planted roses should be watered carefully to make sure they don't dry out. Keep the soil moist but not wet. Established roses are more resilient but still require watering during periods of drought. In dry climates, regular irrigation may be necessary. Apply water slowly over a period of several hours so it soaks deeply into the soil. Frequent, brief waterings will not moisten the plant's entire root system. An organic mulch, applied in early summer at the base of the plant, will help keep roots cool and moist, even during periods of moderate drought.

Pruning Roses
  1. Pruning is necessary to maintain healthy roses. If left entirely on their own, rose plants will produce dense, tangled growth, which opens a path to disease. Roses are best pruned at the end of the dormant season, just as buds are swelling but before new leaves appear. First prune out dead or diseased growth, then any branches that rub together. Young plants should be further pruned to about four stems, which are called canes, by removing weaker canes. Established plants can be allowed eight or more canes, especially in warmer climates. Prune the remaining canes back to about one-half (in cold climates) to one-third their original height. Pruning will open up the plant, letting in light and circulation, and it will also stimulate growth of young, healthy canes.

  2. Cut canes 1/4 inch above an outward-pointing bud at a 45% to 60% angle.

  3. During the rose's growing period, remove any weak or dead growth and any suckers growing from the base. To encourage maximum flower size, many rose enthusiasts disbud; that is, they pinch out all buds except one per stem. Deadhead (prune off flower stems when the blooms fade) to stimulate repeated flowering.
Pruning Shrub and Climbing Roses

Shrub and climbing roses require less pruning than bush roses. Their pruning needs are limited to pruning out any winter-damaged stems and weak growth. Occasionally, thick, older canes should be removed to allow room for younger, more vigorous ones. Climbing roses can be deadheaded in the same way as bush roses to encourage repeated flowering. Shrub roses, on the other hand, will produce colorful hips for added color in the fall and winter if their faded flowers are not removed.

This shrub rose produces great color in every season.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This shrub rose produces great color in every season.

Winter Protection

In climates where temperatures rarely drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit, winter protection is not necessary. Where temperatures drop below 10 degrees Fahrenheit but only rarely below zero, protection is optional, but soil-mounding is recommended. The further temperatures drop below 0 degrees Fahrenheit, the greater the protection needed.

Rose growers in the north often practice the "Minnesota tip" method for winter protection. Dig a trench the height of the rose, from the root zone outward. Tip or push the entire shrub into the trench and cover with soil. In spring-uncover the rose and set it upright for a new season of growth.
  1. Mound soil up around the plant to a depth of 12 inches. If necessary, surround the plant with a ring of wire mesh or a rose collar.

  2. Once the ground freezes, place a thick mulch of organic matter around the plant. This will help prevent the alternate freezing and thawing of the ground that does so much harm.

  3. In very cold climates, instead of mulch cover the shrubs with a basket or commercial rose cone, pruning just enough so the covering can be put in place. If you use plastic foam rose cones, punch a few air holes to allow some air circulation.

  4. All winter protections should be removed when the danger of severe frost is over. If possible, remove protections on a cloudy day so tender, new growing tips are not burned by sudden exposure to strong sun.
Protecting Climbers and Tree Roses
  1. Climbing roses need special winter protection in cold climates. Bend the stems over and hold them in place with stakes. Mound soil over the stems. In very cold climates, dig a trench next to the plants and bury the canes for the winter, mounding up even more soil.

  2. A tree rose, whose bud union is even more exposed to cold air than other roses, should be buried entirely in cold climates. Dig up the root ball and place the entire plant in a deep trench. In the spring, delicately remove the soil and place the plant back into its original position.
Pest Management

Roses have the reputation of suffering greatly from pests and diseases. However, a regular program of prevention backed up with prompt treatment of any incipient infestations will keep your roses healthy year-round.

A healthy rose.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A healthy rose.

Start by keeping your rose garden meticulously clean. Remove weak, diseased, or dead stems by pruning 1 inch below the damaged section into healthy tissue. Remove fallen petals and leaves without delay. Don't allow weeds to grow; they may harbor insects and disease. Cultivate the soil regularly to expose insect and diseases to the sun. Most insects can be removed with a spray of water or by shaking the bush over a basin of soapy water. Diseases that can't be eliminated by pruning can be controlled by applying appropriate pesticides.

Control black spot by planning ahead. Black spot, which marks leaves with black spots and then kills them, can spread up the plant and cause complete defoliation. Its damage is not pretty. But it can be avoided. Buy disease-resistant roses, including many of the landscape roses, polyantha roses such as The Fairy, and even disease-resistant hybrid tea roses like Olympiad.

Sprays with baking soda can prevent black spot infection. Simply mix 2 teaspooons baking soda in 2 quarts water with 1/2 teaspoon corn oil. Shake well, put in a sprayer, and go to work. Even disease-resistant shrub roses can benefit from this in extra-humid or wet weather. Rake up and destroy any leaves infested with black spot. This helps eliminate spores that would otherwise reinfect healthy leaves.


Disease-Resistant Roses

Until recently, bush roses such as hybrid teas and grandifloras were developed strictly for their flowers. As a result, they were often inherently susceptible to disease and required regular, year-long pesticide treatments to remain healthy. This situation is changing, and newer hybrids are often chosen specifically with disease resistance in mind.

It would be impossible to prepare a complete list of disease-resistant roses: Not only are new ones being developed all the time but the same rose can be disease resistant in one area but quite susceptible in another. Check with a garden center or a local rose society to learn which roses are best suited to your locality.

Take good care of your roses so they will stay relatively free of pests and diseases. Roses can be susceptible to a wide variety of problems, especially if they are growing weakly. Make sure they have well-drained, fertile soil. Water roses during dry weather and mulch them to conserve moisture. Prune to ensure each cane receives sun and good air circulation. With this kind of treatment, problems will be few and far between.

In our next section, we'll show you how to plan a water garden.

Planning a Water Garden

Until recently, water gardens were beyond the reach of many gardeners. Concrete -- expensive and difficult to install -- was the main material used in construction. Concrete also required special care to use and maintain. Most people had little choice but to call professionals for planning and installation, adding to the expense. A water garden was something one dreamed of but did not actually own.

Times have changed. With more modern pool lining materials -- PVC and fiberglass are currently the main ones -- material costs have dropped enormously and installation is easily carried out by anyone. You don't even have to know how to nail two boards together to be able to install a water garden.

Although water gardens can be placed just about anywhere, you may find the choice of sites limited depending on the type of plants you want to grow. If your goal is a simple reflecting pool, the choice of a location is up to you. But most people dream of a water garden brimming with water lilies and other aquatic plants.

This places a major limit on where the water garden can be placed, since water lilies require at least six hours of full sun per day to grow well (a few species will tolerate as few as four hours). Most other flowering aquatic plants also require abundant light; plants grown for their foliage alone are more tolerant. If you want to get the most out of your water garden, select a sunny location.

The amount of space available is also a factor. Even the tiniest yards have room for a small water garden (people have been known to raise goldfish and a single dwarf water lily in a tub on a balcony), but a truly balanced water garden with a variety of plants and animals takes a fair amount of space.

Pool depth is also a consideration. For a simple reflecting pool, you'll need only a few inches of water, but very shallow pools are subject to extreme temperature change, which is not conducive to living organisms such as plants and fish. A minimum depth of 18 inches for much of the pond's area is desirable. To overwinter plants and fish in cold climates, at least part of the pond should drop to three feet.

The shape of the pond will depend a great deal on the effect you wish to create. Square, rectangular, round, or oval ponds give a formal appearance to the yard, an effect heightened by using fountains. If you keep your yard neatly mowed, if shrubs and hedges are carefully trimmed, and other plantings are in formal beds, a geometric pond will suit it perfectly. If, on the other hand, your yard is composed of mixed borders and naturalistic plantings, a formal water garden would look out of place.

An irregularly shaped pond, perhaps with a border planting of bog plants to soften its appearance even further, would be more appropriate. Sometimes rectilinear or circular pools fit perfectly into matched settings. If you're unsure, try laying out the pool shape of your choice with a piece of garden hose, then look at it from every angle. It is far easier to spend a day or so testing different pond shapes and locations with a hose than to move an established water garden.


The topography of the site should also be considered. Ponds should not be placed in the lowest section of the yard: Any overflow could quickly turn the area into a bog. Make sure there is some possibility for drainage. If you plan to include a naturalistic cascade or waterfall, a yard with a somewhat abrupt slope is most fitting.

Finally, check with your municipality concerning zoning laws and fencing codes. Many cities and towns make no distinction between a water garden and a swimming pool. Security fencing may be required. For further security, you might want to wait until your children are past the toddler stage before you install a water garden.

Installing Your Own Pool

Many people these days choose to install their own garden pools. If that's your choice, there are two main alternatives: flexible liners and prefabricated pools. Both are inexpensive and can be installed by two people in a single weekend. Concrete pools are more expensive and require greater skills: It is generally best to contact a professional landscaper for planning and construction.

The pool surface itself must be perfectly even (one edge can be a bit lower to allow rainwater to drain away). If your yard is on a slope, you may have to dig further down at the higher end or even shore up the lower one to obtain the desired effect. Use a level throughout the installation process to make sure your pool remains on the level.

An even pool surface made the constuctioin of this pond a success.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
An even pool surface made the constuctioin of this pond a success.

Installing a flexible liner is the easiest and least expensive process for the nonspecialist. Be sure to use a liner specifically designed for water gardens, not just any sheet of plastic. Currently, PVC liners are most popular; dark shades will give the most natural effect. The thicker your liner is, the longer it will last and the more it will cost. Since light degrades plastic, look for liners with enhanced UV protection, especially if your pond is a shallow one. Rubber liners are the most durable but also the most costly.

To calculate the proper size for your liner, measure the width and length of the planned pool at the widest points, add twice the pool's depth and then tack on an extra foot for overlap. For example, a pool 10 feet long, 6 feet wide, and 2 feet deep would require a liner 15 feet long (10. + (2 ( 2.) + 1.) and 11 feet wide (6. + (2 ( 2.) + 1.).

Installing a Flexible Liner
  1. Outline the pool with a piece of garden hose. If your pool will be square or rectangular, use string staked carefully into place to do the outline. A framing square will be necessary to get a 90% angle at the corners.

  2. Dig out the pond to two inches more than the desired depth. Leave shelves about 6 to 18 inches (9 inches is average) deep in areas where you intend to place emergent plants such as cattails. Don't cut the edges perfectly perpendicular or they may collapse: A slight angle (about 20%) is best. As you dig, use a straight board with a level to make sure the pond's edge is perfectly level. If you'll be edging your pond in field stone, remove a further layer of sod from around its edges so the stones can be set evenly with the surrounding soil.

  3. Remove any stones, sticks, or other debris from the pool bottom and sides, then line the entire surface with two inches of damp sand. You may want to install a piece of landscape fabric over the sand for further protection against piercing, especially if you are using an inexpensive grade of liner.

  4. Spread the liner carefully over the excavation, folding it carefully at corners or curves. Mold the liner to the hole by pushing with your feet (remove your shoes first). Use stones to hold it in place.

  5. Slowly add water, smoothing out wrinkles as the pool fills.

  6. Cut away any excess liner, leaving six inches of liner overlapping at all points. Cover the overlap with soil or paving stones.
Installing a Prefabricated Liner
  1. Outline the pool's position with a piece of garden hose. Dig out the hole two inches wider and deeper than the required depth, making sure to take into account any built-in shelves. The final excavation should be a perfect image of the liner's form.

  2. Line the excavation with two inches of wet sand, checking as you go to make sure the base is level. Place the shell in the hole.

  3. Add water slowly, filling in the area around the shell with sand as you go. Add edging if desired.
In the next section, we'll discuss how to plant a water garden.

Planting a Water Garden

Aquatic plants -- aside from being attractive in their own right -- offer numerous advantages to the water gardener. They help filter impurities from the water and, by cutting off intense sunlight, they keep the pond cooler for fish and reduce excessive algae build-up. Aquatic plants also help integrate the water garden into the rest of the landscape. There are several different types of aquatic plants, and each has its own use.

Floating plants are the most "aquatic" of all water garden plants. They simply float on the surface of the water. They help filter the water and cut out sunlight, reducing algae. Many of these are tiny plants, and they help nourish the fish in the pool. Typical examples are duckweed (Lemna) and floating ferns (Salvinia and Azolla). Floating plants may be beached by excessively strong currents, so they do best in still waters.

Submerged plants live out most of their life cycle underwater. Although not very visible, they are essential to a healthy pool because they oxygenate and filter the water, competing directly with algae. For maximum effect, calculate about one cluster of submerged plants per square foot of pool surface. Submerged plants are generally sold unrooted in bunches and should be planted in containers that are then placed at the bottom of the pool. For reduced algae development, about one-third of the pool should be filled with submerged plants.

Emergent plants are the largest and most popular group of aquatic plants. Their roots are solidly anchored in the soil underwater, but their leaves and flowers rise above the water level, where they are easily visible. They are generally grown in baskets placed at the proper depth in the pool. Some, like water lilies, have floating leaves. Others have leaves that rise well above the water. Emergent plants help filter and oxygenate the water and, by their shading effect, reduce algae by cutting off sunlight. Typical emergents include water lilies and lotus. Usually, enough floating-leaf emergents should be used to cover more than half the water surface of the pool.

Bog plants differ from emergent plants in that they grow in wet soil but not with their root systems entirely submerged. There is no clear distinction between bog and emergent plants; many plants are equally at home in wet soil (the official realm of the bog plant) and inundated soil (emergent plant territory). Many common "emergent" plants can also grow as bog plants, including cattails, pickerel rush, and arrowhead. They usually do not appreciate dry soil and should be kept constantly moist.

A water garden with bog plants and emergent plants.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
A water garden with bog plants
and emergent plants.

On the other hand, many so-called "garden plants" can grow in marshy conditions. This latter group includes such popular perennials as forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides), bee balm (Monarda didyma), moneywort (Lysimachia nummularia), and chameleon plant (Houttuynia cordata 'Variegata').

Bog plants are most easily maintained by planting them in pots and placing them on low shelves in the pool itself. It is also quite easy to dig a shallow hole at the lower edge of the water garden and cover it with a piece of leftover liner. Filled with soil again, it will remain moderately moist at all times: a perfect habitat for bog plants of all kinds.

Besides being classified as floating, submerged, emergent, or bog, aquatic plants can also be grouped under the labels tropical or hardy. Hardy aquatic plants are those that can be left outdoors year-round just about anywhere in North America. Tropical ones are either treated as annuals in cold climates or brought indoors for the winter.

Special water lily pots, pans, and tubs (generally made of plastic or rubber) are available, but just about any container of appropriate size can be used for aquatic plants. Plastic dish pans, for example, are an ideal size and shape for water lilies and lotus. Plants with less extensive root systems will grow well in ordinary flower pots or even plastic pails. Generally, the containers should be wider than they are deep since water garden plants generally have shallow root systems that spread horizontally. There is no need for drainage holes in aquatic plant containers.

Water lilies and lotus need plenty of root space. Although they can grow in containers holding as little as 9 quarts of soil, 11 quarts is better. Larger containers will allow for future expansion without repotting. Other aquatic and bog plants can be planted in any size container suitable to their root system but give them some room for future expansion. Most aquatic plants will rapidly fill up any container you give them.

Avoid artificial soil mixes, which are too light and tend to float away. Even regular garden soil is likely to cloud the water. Instead, use a heavy garden soil with a fair amount of clay. Do not use soil from a natural pond since it may contain weed seeds or host unwanted pests.

Hose off the plant before potting it up. Carefully spread the roots in the container and fill with soil. Place the crowns at or just below the soil surface. Insert a slow-release fertilizer tablet for aquatic plants (about one per five quarts of soil) as you add soil. Cover the soil with a 1/2 inch layer of rinsed gravel to prevent the soil from floating out. Soak thoroughly before placing the pot in the pool. Containers are easily raised to the required depth by placing bricks or inverted containers under them.

Submerged plants are usually sold as cuttings. Insert the cut ends into sand or soil and cover with gravel as mentioned above. There is no need to add fertilizer tablets since these plants get their nutrients from the water around them.

Animal Life in the Water Garden

Plants are not the only things you'll want to raise in a water garden. Fish are also quite popular. They need surprisingly little care and add so much enjoyment to the experience of water gardening that few water gardens are without them. They also help equilibrate the pool and eliminate unwanted insects.

Don't overstock the pool. You'll need only one inch of fish for every five gallons of water; the fish will grow over time. Don't introduce fish to a freshly filled pond: Wait at least a day for the chlorine to evaporate and preferably two or three weeks. Fish are generally sold in plastic bags of water. Let these bags float in the pool for about 20 minutes before releasing the fish. This allows the fish to adjust to the new water temperature. Feed fish lightly with commercial goldfish food. Fish will get much of their food from the animal and plant life that forms in any pool.

This water garden benefits from the fish that inhabit it.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
This water garden benefits from the fish that inhabit it.

Goldfish and koi (Japanese carp) are popular fish for a water garden, and both make colorful and lively guests. They will actually multiply when happy with their conditions. Match the size of your fish to the size of your pond. Koi need lots of space.

Goldfish and koi will overwinter nicely in warm climates or in deep ponds in cold ones. Elsewhere, they can be brought indoors and kept in a large container in a cool spot over the winter. Fish remain inactive during cold weather and will not need to be fed during that time.

Most other animals for garden pools are considered "scavengers," meaning they eat detritus and other debris. This helps keep the water clean. Check with your local water garden supplier for snails, tadpoles, freshwater clams, and the like that are suited to your climate.

We'll show you how to maintain a water garden in the final section.

Maintaining a Water Garden

Moving water is not required in a water garden -- aquatic plants, for example, grow best in still water -- but a waterfall or fountain adds several advantages. Moving water is better aerated than still water so fish do better. A filter can easily be added to any pump, making water clearer. But the main reason for including a pump in your water garden is aesthetic: People enjoy the sound and sight of moving water.

Care should be taken to avoid creating strong currents or excessive splashing near aquatic plants or they can be damaged. Fountains especially are not conducive to plant life, as their spray can reach considerable distances under strong winds. Waterfalls can usually be separated from water lilies and other plants by placing the cascade at one end of the pool and installing a few well-placed rocks to diffuse the current.

Choose the form of moving water that best corresponds to your pool. Fountains and other pool ornaments are best for formal pools. Waterfalls cascading over rocks work well for irregular pools in a more natural setting. And simple underwater filter systems suit any kind of pool.

There is no lack of choices among fountains: cones, sprays, jets, bubble effects, or pretty much whatever you want. Pipe heads can also be fitted to ornamental statues, ceramic jars, or bamboo pipes. When installing a fountain, make sure the height of the spray is not more than half the diameter of the pond; otherwise much of the water will end up being sprayed out of the pool during windy periods.

If your yard has a natural slope, consider installing a waterfall: It will help integrate your water garden into the rest of the landscape. Waterfalls can also be used in flat areas, but care should be taken that the resulting raised section doesn't stick out like a sore thumb. Place tall plants or a fence behind the waterfall to ease this potential problem. The combination of rock gardens and waterfalls is a natural one since the waterfall is set off by rocks anyway and rock garden plants, generally low-growing, won't block the view of the resulting stream.

Prefabricated waterfall units are readily available and easily installed. They may consist of an entirely preformed section with several tiers, or they may be individual catch basins designed to be placed so that each one slightly overhangs the previous one. It is also easy to make your own waterfall using a section or sections of flexible liner.


There is a wide variety of pumps available for water gardens. The pump should be chosen according to the quantity of water to be moved, the distance the water has to cover, and the height the water is to be pushed. For example, it requires much more power to pump a fast-moving stream of water five feet up and ten feet from the pool for an extensive waterfall than to simply filter the water in a pond. Pumps generally come with charts detailing their capacity. Ask the supplier to help you choose if you have any doubts.


Always select a pump somewhat stronger than your needs, just in case. The pump should never have a rate of flow per hour greater than the capacity of the pond, but it should be able to circulate nearly half the pool's water per hour. To calculate the approximate volume of your pool, multiply its length by its width by its depth (in inches). This gives the number of cubic inches. Divide this by 231 to obtain the number of gallons. For example, a pool 10 feet (120 inches) by 6 feet (72 inches) by 18 inches deep would have a volume of 155,520 cubic inches, or 673 gallons. A pump rated at 300 gallons per hour would be adequate.

The pump in this water garden keeps water flowing.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.
The pump in this water garden keeps water flowing.

Water filters are not necessary for a healthy pond, but they do help keep the water clear and the pool free of debris. Mechanical filters are still the most popular and need only regular cleaning or replacement of the filter. Biological filters take up more space but need little upkeep.

Choosing a Pump

The most commonly used pump is a submersible pump, which can be placed out of sight under water. For small ponds, a 24-volt pump may be sufficient. Larger ones using a regular 110-volt house current are the norm for larger pools. If there is no electrical outlet near the pond, have one installed by an electrician. Any underground wiring should be placed at least 18 inches deep and run through PVC piping to avoid accidental breakage. A ground fault circuit interrupter is recommended in all cases.

Maintaining a Water Garden

Keeping a water garden attractive and healthy is surprisingly easy.
  • Occasionally remove plants to prune away dead or dying leaves. While you're at it, insert fertilizer tablets, about one per five quarts, into their containers.

  • Remove any dead leaves and other organic material that has accumulated on the pool bottom.

  • An occasional spray with a hose will knock any aphids that have developed on plant leaves into the water where fish will eat them.

  • Clean the filter occasionally according to the manufacturer's instructions.

  • Add water as necessary to maintain the proper water level.
Winter Care

Winter care is also quite simple. In most climates, hardy plants can be left as they are. In cold climates, though, sink even hardy plants in the deepest part of the pond (three feet or more) to prevent freezing. In extremely cold areas, pools will freeze to the bottom. Tropical plants must be brought indoors for the winter in all but the warmest climates.

It is normal for the water in a garden to turn soupy green upon occasion, especially early in the spring or when nutrient-rich fresh water is added, which can cause a rapid increase in the algae population called a "bloom." If the pool is properly balanced, with plenty of oxygenating plants to reduce the carbon dioxide level, abundant floating or emergent plants to absorb nutrients and shade algae out, fish and scavengers to consume the algae, and some water circulation, algae blooms should be of short duration. But don't expect water in a garden pool to be perfectly clear. That isn't any healthier for fish and plants than green water.


Whether your preference is for a water garden, rose garden, rock garden, or organic garden, a specialty garden can be the perfect piece for your landscape.

2006 Publications International, Ltd.