Florida Cooperative Extension Service
Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
University of Florida, Gainesville
John T. Woeste, Dean
Debbie Butts is Urban Horticulturist with the Hillsborough County Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS, Seffner, FL.
Jemy Hinton is Home Environmentalist with the Hillsborough County Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS, Seffner, FL.
Craig Watson is Multi-County Aquaculturist with the Hillsborough County Cooperative Extension Service, IFAS, Seffner, FL.
Ken Langeland is Associate Professor and Specialist in Aquatic Plants, Agronomy Department, Center for Aquatic Plants, IFAS,
University of Florida.
David Hall is a former Associate in the Department of Natural Science and Extension Botanist, IFAS, University of Florida.
Mike Kane is Assistant Professor and Tissue Culture Specialist in the Environmental Horticulture Department, IFAS, University of
Cover photographs taken by David Sutton, Ft. Lauderdale AREC, IFAS.
Aquascaping: Planting and Maintenance
The aesthetic and wildlife habitat value of ponds
and water retention areas can be greatly enhanced by
establishing and managing certain desirable plants.
Undesirable plants and lack of management will
result in an unsightly area and perhaps a health
hazard. Aquascaping is the term used to describe the
planting of aquatic and wetland plants. A good way
to describe aquascaping is landscaping in and around
water. Florida has seen a recent surge of interest in
aquascaping from both home owners and developers.
Whether dealing with a large or small, natural or man
made (detention, fish, etc.) pond, there are certain
guidelines that should be followed in order to reduce
future management problems.
This circular addresses planting and maintenance,
the two areas that account for most of the problems
people encounter in aquascaping.
Site selection and preparation are the first steps
toward successful aquascaping. Unless there is no
choice ( as in the case of some retention ponds), avoid
planting an aquascape in an area that isn't suited for
it. Examples of unsuitable sites are those where the
water level is extremely seasonal, or where runoff
from industry or agriculture will damage the
aquascape. Even if you have a perfect site for an
aquascaping project, the following steps should be
taken well in advance of the first planting.
1. Determine where the normal, or average, water
line will be. This is especially important in detention
pond plantings because the water line will vary in
many cases. Although some wetland plants will
tolerate dry and wet seasons, there are many that
will die if they are kept too wet or too dry. In cases
where the water varies, determine where the water
will be for the majority of the year, and designate
this as your average water level. This may require
the assistance of agencies such as the Soil Conser-
vation Service, the Water Management District for
your area, or simply observe the area for at least a
year before you plant. You may also want to locate
the pond near a source of well water, in order to
maintain the water level during dry periods.
2. Measure water depth and area of the site to be
aquascaped, paying special attention to the shore-
line and shallow areas where most work will take
place. Without proper measurements, it is hard to
determine the quantity and types of plants that
will be required. As you are measuring the depth,
it is a good idea to place stakes that represent
different depths. Later, these measurements will
assist in deciding the quantity and types of plants
you need, and during planting will let you know the
boundaries in which to plant them.
3. If desired, excavation can create planting zones
that originally did not exist in the area. Soil and
rocks removed to deepen one area can be used to
create shallow areas elsewhere, or can be incorpo-
rated into landscaping around the pond. Deepen-
ing the margins around the edge of a pond can help
manage plants that might invade into the water
(i.e. Torpedo Grass or Water Primrose). Detention
ponds designed for stormwater management must
be designed according to Florida Department of
Environmental Regulation (FDER) or Water Man-
agement District (WMD) guidelines. Therefore,
always check with DER, Stormwater Management
Section (904/488-0782), and local regulatory agen-
cies before beginning any excavation.
4. Develop a detailed plan that includes types and
numbers of plants needed. The accuracy and detail
of your measurements will play a key role in the
planting plan. For ease in planning, divide the
aquascape into three major planting zones: shore-
line, shallow water, and deep water (Figure 1). The
table at the end of this bulletin lists some plants
that can be used, including the zone in which they
will grow and suggested planting densities. A well
thought out plan will allow you to proceed quickly
during the actual planting, and will help ensure
survival of the plants.
Figure 1. Planting zones
Many aquatic plants are collected from the wild for
aquascapes. Always obtain permission from the prop-
erty owner before collecting aquatic plants from pri-
vate lands. Collection of aquatic and wetland plants
from state-owned lands requires a special permit
from the Florida Department of Natural Resources
(DNR), and various regulations apply. In addition,
possession of certain aquatic and wetland plants is
prohibited by DNR because of their potential to be
weeds (Table 1). Before collecting aquatic or wetland
plants from public lands, contact a DNR regional
biologist at one of the following locations:
West Palm Beach 407/793-5666
Table 1. Aquatic plants prohibited by rules of the Florida
Department of Natural Resources Division of Resource
Management Chapter 16C-52.1
(excluding S. minima)
Yellow, Green Cabomba
Hydrilla, Florida Elodea
Giant Sensitive Plant,
Water-aloe, Solider Plant
'Plants are added and deleted from Chapter 16C-52 periodically.
If there is difficulty in contacting a DNR regional
biologist, your county Cooperative Extension Service
Correct identification of plants collected in the
wild will be important to ensure that only desirable
plants are introduced into the aquascape. Be certain
that problem plants such as Hydrilla or duckweeds
are not introduced. All sediment should be washed
from the roots to minimize transfer of unwanted plant
seeds and fragments. Other publications that might
be useful aids for identifying aquatic plants are SP 35
Identification Manual for Wetland Plant Species of
Florida and Bul SP 51 Aquatic and Wetland Plants of
Florida. Publications are available from IFAS Publi-
cations, Building 664, University of Florida, Gaines-
ville, FL 32611. Write for current price.
Wet newspaper, plastic bags, and boxes should
be used to ensure that your plants are not damaged by
drying between gathering and planting. Extra care
should be taken to avoid damaging roots and rhi-
zomes when digging plants.
Several nurseries in Florida sell aquatic and
wetland plants. Although it will be more expensive
initially, it is advisable to obtain plant material from
a nursery rather than from the wild for several rea-
sons. Nursery-grown plants are usually higher qual-
ity than wild plants, and are available in a variety of
containers and sizes. Nursery-grown plants appear
to transplant better and fill in planted areas faster
than those collected from the wild. Purchase of plant
material from a reputable nursery will minimize the
potential for introduction ofundesirable plants. When
choosing a nursery from which to purchase plant
material ask for references and check to see if previ-
ous customers were satisfied. Purchase of plant
material from a reputable nursery should save money
in the long term. DNR regional biologists and Florida
Cooperative Extension Service Agents will assist in
locating aquatic and wetland plant suppliers.
Several aquatic and wetland nurseries are pro-
ducing some of their plants using a technique called
tissue culture propagation, or more commonly,
micropropagation. Micropropagation is defined as
the rapid multiplication of disease-free plants on a
sterile, defined, culture medium in glass or plastic
culture vessels under controlled conditions of light
and temperature. Plants are usually cultured in a
production laboratory where strict sanitary practices
are followed. Micropropagation of aquatic and wet-
land plants offers several advantages over using tra-
ditional propagation techniques including: elimina-
tion of the need for growers to maintain large stock
beds; year round production and availability of se-
lected species; establishment of different genetic lines
of the same species that are adapted to specific envi-
ronmental conditions; and production of vigorous and
highly branched plants, which may increase survival
and establishment when planted out.
In the future, micropropagation may make
available additional aquatic and wetland species that
are not used presently for aquascaping because they
are too difficult to propagate using traditional meth-
ods. Micropropagated plants are sold in liners or
other containers and are handled in the same manner
as other nursery grown plants. Additional informa-
tion on micropropagation is available in OHC 15
Handling and Establishment of Plantlets From Tis-
sue Culture Laboratories.
Whether from the wild or from a nursery, plants
should be handled with great care to avoid injury. The
largest threats to them are drying and heat, so all
planting should be conducted in the early morning or
late afternoon to avoid the hot midday sun. Plants
should be kept in the water until planted, including
those to be placed in the shoreline zone. While these
plants have leaves and stems that grow above the
water, their roots will dry out quickly when exposed
to the air. Do not leave plants in the trunk of a car or
in the back of a truck where they will overheat.
Planting aquatic plants is similar to planting
terrestrial plants: make a hole big enough for their
roots to be completely covered, place the plant into the
hole and cover with soil. When planting, start with
plants in the deep water zones and work back up the
banks. It is best to get the planting done as quickly as
possible to avoid heat and drying, even though this
can increase mistakes. For large projects, a crew
trained and familiar with the project should be used.
It is advisable to plant clumps of like plants on
the smallest centers that are economically possible,
and leave areas of open water between these clumps.
Clumps of like plants will create attractive concentra-
tions of color, and the open water will allow attractive
reflections and varied habitat. This type of planting
will also minimize the potential for colonization of
unwanted plants among the clumps and allow for
maintenance of weeds in the open areas with mini-
mum impact to the desired vegetation.
While a well-planted aquascape will ensure initial
success, it will be necessary to include regular main-
tenance for continued success. Early maintenance
should include replacement of any plants that have
died and management of undesirable aquatic plants
or weeds that find their way into the aquascape.
Steps to control undesirable plants are most impor-
tant because Florida has an abundance of aquatic
plants. Many of these aquatic plants have been
introduced from other countries and have become
weeds that will quickly take over an aquascape if left
During the first year after planting, any unde-
sirable plants should be manually removed as much
as possible to minimize their establishment. Herbi-
cides should be used sparingly during this time be-
cause new plantings may be more sensitive to herbi-
cides than they might be when they are mature.
After the aquascape is established, herbicides
may be used more heavily. This will probably be
necessary as more undesirable aquatic plants become
introduced and established. Several herbicides are
registered by the United States Environmental Pro-
tection Agency (EPA) for application to aquatic sites.
Only herbicides that are registered by the EPA and
the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer
Services for use in aquatic sites can be used legally. If
only woody vegetation is in the aquascape, triploid
grass carp can be used to keep the water free of
herbaceous vegetation. A permit from the Florida
Game and Fresh Water Fish Commission is neces-
sary before obtaining grass carp.
Common undesirable aquatic plants that occur
in aquascapes include various species of filamentous
algae, Torpedo Grass, Cat-tails (Typha spp.) and
Proliferating Spikerushes (Eleocharis spp.). If it is
done on a routine basis, experienced applicators can
selectively control many undesirable plants in
aquascapes with minimum harm to desirable plants
by careful herbicide selection and application, as well
as other methods. This selective control is time
consuming and expensive. However, regular mainte-
nance is far more desirable than waiting until a small
problem becomes large. Certain aquatic weeds, such
as Proliferating Spikerushes, are very difficult to
control, and some death or damage to the desirable
plants may have to be accepted. Additional informa-
tion on control of undesirable aquatic and wetland
plants is available in Circular 707 Weed Control in
Aquaculture and Farm Ponds.
Pondowners may find it best to obtain the ser-
vices of a commercial aquatic plant management firm
to maintain the aquascape. Don't wait too long.
Updated lists of Commercial Applicators can be ob-
tained from the DNR Regional Aquatic Plant Biolo-
gists or the Cooperative Extension Service office in
Regulations concerning collection of aquatic plants
and the necessity of using only registered herbicides
has already been discussed. The FDER and WMDs
also have promulgated criteria associated with sev-
eral other aspects of the construction and mainte-
nance of certain aquatic and wetland sites used for
stormwater management. These include but are not
limited to restrictions relative to minimum size, length
to width ratios, storage volume, and erosion sediment
and sediment control during construction. Questions
pertaining to pond construction, aquascape planting
and maintenance in these situations can be answered
by contacting the FDER, Stormwater Management
Section in Tallahassee, or the regional WMD in which
you are located, as follows:
Northwest Florida WMD 904/539-5999
Southwest Florida WMD 904/796-7211
St. Johns River WMD 904/328-8321
Suwannee River WMD 904/362-1001
South Florida WMD 407/686-8800
Counties and local governments may also have
guidelines or policies pertaining to planting and man-
agement of stormwater management ponds and cre-
ated wetlands, as well as public safety and flood
control criteria. Your local public works director or
drainage engineer should be contacted if there are
Management of aquatic plants with herbicides
or by mechanical means in certain sites may require
a permit from DNR. A DNR regional biologist or the
Cooperative Extension Service in your county can
help you determine if a permit is required. Although
a licence is not currently required to purchase or
apply any aquatic herbicides, IFAS urges everyone
who applies herbicides to become a Certified Aquatic
Pesticide Applicator. The Cooperative Extension Ser-
vice will provide information pertaining to certifica-
Aquascaping can provide an aesthetic as well as
monetary increase in the value of a property (with a
relatively small investment). In addition, when Florida
native plants are used, a habitat for aquatic animals
can be established that will provide hours of pleasure
for people in the area. However, if inferior quality
plants are used for planting, if the planting is not
done properly, or if a regular maintenance schedule is
not employed, the end result can be more of a problem
than an asset. Always be sure that your aquascaping
is done according to current state and local policies.
Good luck in your endeavors to enhance Florida's
FOR FURTHER INFORMATION on specific
topics such as aquatic plant biology, physiology, ecol-
ogy, utilization, or management, the reader is
encouraged to contact:
Aquatic Plant Information Retrieval System
University of Florida, IFAS
7922 NW 71st Street
Gainesville, Florida 32606 USA
10' on center
*Grows to 50' or more. Tolerates flooding
and drought. Deciduous tree. Repro-
duces by seeds. Can grow in permanent
Blue Flag Iris 1' to 2' on center in clumps Blue showy flowers in early spring. Grows
Iris hexagona 2' to 5'. Attractive green herbaceous
foliage. Perennial. Reproduces by seed
or division. Can grow in permanent water.
Button Bush 5' on center *Deciduous shrub or small tree. Grows to
Cephalanthus occidentalis 25'. Unusual 1" to 2" round balls of flow-
ers in summer. Fruits eaten by wildlife.
Reproduces freely from seed. Can grow
in permanent water.
Cardinal Flower 1' on center in clumps Herbaceous perennial grows to 4'. Many
Lobelia cardinalis deep red flowers from July to September.
Cannot tolerate drying. Reproduces by
seeds. Will grow in permanent water.
Cinnamon Fern 2' on center *Deciduous fern. Grows to 3'. Succulent.
Osmunda cinnomomea "Fiddleheads" and cinnamon-colored
spore-bearing leaves add interest in the
spring. Reproduces by spores and
rhizomes. Can only endure intermittent
Cordgrass 2' on center Tufted 3' to 6' grass. Reproduces by
Spartina bakeri seeds or clump fragmenting.
Fetterbush, Shiny Lyonia 5' on center Evergreen shrub. Grows to 10'. Shiny,
Lyonia lucida leathery foliage. Waxy urn-shaped flowers
are pale to dark pink in spring. Repro-
duces by seeds. Can only endure flooding
for short periods.
Florida Elm 10' on center *Deciduous tree. Grows to 60'. Dark
Ulmus floridana green foliage turning bright yellow in fall.
Excellent shade tree. Reproduces by
seeds. Endures intermittent flooding.
Golden Canna 1' to 2' on center Herbaceous perennial. Grows to 2' to 4'.
Canna flaccida Showy yellow flowers from spring through
fall. Reproduces by seeds and rhizomes.
Endures intermittent flooding.
Hackberry, Sugarberry 15' on center *Deciduous tree. Grows to 50' or more,
Celtis laevigata with spreading foliage. Rusty red persis-
tent berries. Very trashy. Reproduces by
seeds. Can not take much flooding.
SHORELINE PLANTS (continued)
10' on center
Evergreen tree. Grows to about 65'.
Showy white fragrant flowers during the
summer. Reproduces by seeds. Cannot
take constant flooding.
Meadow Beauty 1' on center Herbaceous perennial. Grows 1'to 2' tall.
Rhexia spp. Flowers showy, delicate, pale to dark pink.
Reproduces from seeds. Can grow in
Pop Ash 10' on center *Deciduous tree to 40'. Winged fruit in late
Fraxinus caroliniana summer to fall. Reproduces from seeds.
Can grow in permanent water.
Red Anise 5' on center Aromatic evergreen shrub or small tree.
Illicium floridanum Grows to 25'. Brilliant red, star-shaped
flowers in spring. Reproduces by seeds.
Does not like flooding or drying.
Red Cedar 10' on center Evergreen. Grows 20' to 40'. Tree with
Juniperus silicicola Aromatic heartwood. Reproduces by
seeds. Tolerates drought. Endures
intermittent flooding on occasion.
Red Maple 10' on center *Deciduous tree. Grows to 40' or more.
Acer rubrum Spreading branches, foliage with good fall
color. Flowers in early spring. Flowers
and fruits greenish, brownish, or bright red.
Reproduces by seeds. Endures intermit-
Royal Fern 1'to 2' on center Extremely attractive, ornamental, rhizo-
Osmunda regalis matous, perennial fern. Lacy evergreen
fronds. Reproduces by spores. Endures
St. John's Wort 1' to 2' on center Small evergreen shrubs. Grows to 3' to 8'
Hypericum spp. depending on species. Showy yellow
flowers late spring to fall. Reproduces by
seeds. Endures intermittent flooding.
Soft Rush 2' to 3' on center Grows into a 3' to 6' rush. Reproduces by
Juncus effusus seeds and rhizomes. Endures extensive
Swamp Bay 10' on center Evergreen shrub or small tree to 40'.
Persea palustrus Leaves aromatic. Reproduces from seeds.
Does not like much flooding.
Swamp Dogwood 5' to 8' on center *Deciduous shrub or small tree. Grows to
Cornus foemina 15'. Flat-topped terminal flower clusters in
spring followed by bluish fruits which are
prized by birds. Reproduces by seeds.
Endures intermittent flooding.
SHORELINE PLANTS (continued)
1' to 2' on center or
as a specimen.
Grows into a 4' to 6' shrub. Showy, large
red flowers in spring and summer. Repro-
duces by seeds. Endures intermittent
Swamp Tupelo, Black Gum 10' to 20' on center *Deciduous tree. Grows to 130'. Flowers
Nyssa sylvatica are excellent nectar source. Dark blue
var. biflora fruits eaten by mammals and birds.
Brilliant autumn color. Reproduces by
seeds. Can grow in permanent water.
Sweet Gum 10' on center *Brilliant green foliage often turns shades
Liquidambar styraciflua of purple in fall. Grows to 50' or more.
Leaf and seed pod litter in fall is heavy.
Reproduces by seeds. Can take a little
Sweetbay Magnolia 10' on center Evergreen tree. Grows to 80'. Large,
Magnolia virginiana white flowers in spring. Silvery leaf under
sides are showy in a breeze. Reproduces
by seeds. Endures intermittent, long-
Tickseed 1' on center Perennial sunflower with rich yellow ray
Coreopsis spp. flowers anytime from spring to fall. Repro-
duces by seeds. Can grow in standing
Virginia Willow 5' on center Evergreen shrub or small tree to 10'.
Itea virginica Compact terminal flower spikes in spring.
Burgundy winter color. Reproduces by
seeds and suckers. Endures intermittent
Wax Myrtle 5' on center Evergreen shrub or small tree. Grows to
Myrica cerifera 20'. Waxy blue fruits on female plants.
Leaves aromatic when crushed.
Reproduces prolifically from seeds and by
suckers. Endures long-standing water.
SHALLOW WATER PLANTS
2' to 3' on center
Showy white flowers year round. Repro-
duces by rhizomes and seeds.
Swamp Lily 2' to 3' on center Showy green foliage and white fragrant
Crinum americanum flowers year round. Reproduces by seeds.
Pickerelweed 2' to 3' on center Waxy, sagittate foliage with blue, spiked
Pontederia cordata blooms throughout year. Reproduces by
rhizomes and seeds. Commonly available
Bur-marigold 3' on center Grows to 4' in water. Bright yellow flowers
Bidens laevis in late fall and winter. Reproduces by
Golden Club 2' to 3' on center Velvety bluish-green clusters of leaves.
Orontium aquaticum Yellow flowers on club-shaped, stalked
spikes. Reproduces by seeds.
Spikerush 3' on center Attractive light green upright stems. Dense
Eleocharis cellosa growth habit has been shown to retard
E. interstincta growth of weeds. Recommended for
monoculture plantings. Reproduces by
seeds and rhizomes.
Southern Bulrush, Giant Bulrush 6' on center Light green erect stems. Grows to 10'.
Scirpus californicus Yellow-brown scale flowers at tops of
stems add color in spring. Reproduces
Softstem Bulrush, Giant Bulrush by seeds and rhizomes. Can spread into
Scirpus validus deep water.
DEEP WATER PLANTS
Species Planting Density Comments
Fragrant Water Lily 3 to 5 plants every 25' Day blooming, fragrant white flowers
Nymphaea odorata except in winter. Spreads by rhizomes
American Lotus 3 to 5 plants every 25' Very showy yellow blooms and persisting
Nelumbo lutea woody seed pods. Blooms in summer.
Spreads quickly by seeds and can easily
become a pest.
Spatterdock 3 to 5 plants every 25' Flowers yellow, not showy. Can be a pest
Nuphar luteum as it spreads even into deep water by
seeds and rhizomes.
PLANTS TO AVOID
Bog-mat or Mud-midget
Shoreline and shallow
Shoreline and shallow
Shallow water, deep
Shoreline and shallow
Shoreline and shallow
Floating aquatic herb
South Florida's most noxious woody pest
Extremely invasive, occluding all other
plants. Sluggish waters.
Extremely invasive. Crowds and shades
out other plants.
Extremely invasive. Crowds out all other
Extremely invasive. Infests any quiet water
and completely occludes all other plants.
Extremely invasive occluding all other
plants. Infests quiet water.
Unsightly submersed plant that is the
number one aquatic weed problem in the
Extremely invasive exotic. Crowds and
shades out other plants.
Very difficult to control and unsightly.
Rhizomes invade other plants crowding
them out. Very difficult to control.
Introduced pest which can completely
cover pond surface.
Water Spangles, Water Fern
Shoreline and Floating
Shoreline and Floating
Floating aquatic herb
Forms solid layer on water surface.
Infests quiet or sluggish water. Can
completely cover pond surface.
Can completely cover surface of quiet or
slow moving water.
*Deciduous trees may cause problems because they drop all of their leaves at the same time every year.
Printing of this publication was funded in part through a cooperative agreement between the IFAS Center for
Aquatic Plants and the Florida Department of Natural Resources, Bureau of Aquatic Plant Management.
COOPERATIVE EXTENSION SERVICE. UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA, INSTITUTE OF FOOD AND AGRICULTURAL SCIENCES, John T.
Woeste, Director, in cooperation with the United States Department of Agriculture, publishes this information to further the purpose of the May
8 and June 30, 1914 Acts of Congress: and is authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and
institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap or national origin. Single copies of extension publications (excluding
4-H and youth publications) are available free to Florida residents from county extension offices. Information on bulk rates or copies for out-
of-state purchasers is available from C.M. Hinton Publications Distribution Center, IFAS Building 664, University of Florida, Gainesville, Florida
32911. Before publicizing this publication, editors should contact this address to determine availability. Printed 5/91.
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