September 23, 2011

Underwater Gardens ?
Why Not ! ?

Echinodorus amazonicus

Over the last 15 months I have written over 130 blogs about plants and all things terrestrial - horticultural. I thought it was well past due that I should speak about the world of underwater plants. The aquarium and water gardening business is a thriving one. Florida has a burgeoning set of aquatic businesses, split into several groups including aquatic plants and aquarium fish. It is indeed possible to have an underwater garden ( immersed), although the choices are more limited than a terrestrial above-water garden ( emersed). Very surprisingly, some "regular" foliage plant growers sell plants for the aquatic plant  market, a fact I found surprising when I worked in a foliage nursery 20 years ago. Quite a few "garden" plants can be grown underwater for a very long time. 

one of many beautiful

Cryptocoryne wendtii 'Red'

An aquatic Crinum lily ?
Yes, Crinum natans

Anubias pontederiifolia
The Coffee-Leaf Anubias
Many of the same criteria are needed for aquatic plants as for emersed plants: light, oxygen, and fertilizer, but in different proportions to the above-water landscape. Immersed plants need plenty of light, more than most people think. Good aquatic plant growers use at least 4 fluorescent light tubes on an aquarium. The better growers will use high-power fluorescent tubes in the 75-110 watt range per tube. Good oxygenation of the water helps in growing a great many aquatic plants, especially flowering plants. Aquatic plants need fertilizer,too, but great care must be taken not to overdose the aquarium with fertilizer salts. Aquatic plant growers suggest using purpose-built controlled release fertilizers such as Pond Tabs, Dynamite or Nutricote. Some aquarists correctly say that the fish will provide all the "fertilizer" the plants might need. 
The ideal state of an aquarium is to have a balance of plants and aquatic life such that they benefit each other equally.     

Dwarf Sagittaria
used as an underwater groundcover

Be careful not to over-plant an underwater garden ! Many aquatic plants grow fast, and can rapidly overtake an aquarium. Plant an aquarium sparsely at first and see how the plants adapt to your conditions. The aquarium becomes an underwater landscape. After you gain experience with aquatic plant growing, you'll see how well the fish and plants work well together. Many aquarists take pride in the underwater topography, landscape design and viewer perspectives of their aquariums. Give aquatic plants some credit for being a part of your garden.    

Craig Morell
Pinecrest Gardens

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