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North Central USA

The Early Bird Gets the Worm

by Joe Summers, St. Louis, Missouri
Images by Mel Jackson - Click to enlarge

You certainly have heard the expression, “the early bird gets the worm.” Although not totally true about your water garden, it is true that early-blooming plants garner the early attention. Two showstopper plants in early spring -- water hawthorne (Aponogeton distachyos) and marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) -- add that burst of color we all need after a long winter. 

The lily-like water hawthorne produces extremely attractive, shiny, elliptical, dark green leaves that sometimes display a tinge of purple. Each floating pad measures about two inches (five centimeters) wide by six inches (fifteen centimeters) long.

Water hawthorne, a southern Africa native, grows in full sun to partial shade. It thrives in as little as six inches (15 centimeters) of water and can handle depths up to four feet (1.2 meters). The plant prefers cool (around 60 to 70 F. degrees) water. This works out nicely in the US upper mid-west region because water hawthorne emerges from dormancy in March and soon begins to flower. As the water warms in summer and hardy waterlilies start flowering, water hawthorne goes dormant because it does not like the summer heat. Often in the fall when waterlilies go dormant, water hawthorne pops up and extends the bloom season well into winter.

Water hawthorne produces pure white flowers with tiny black centers. Their blooms emit a very pleasant vanilla fragrance detectable three to six feet (0.9 to1.8 meters) away.

^ v Aponogeton distachyos
Marsh marigold makes a very nice companion plant to water hawthorne for early color in the pond. When you visit your pond while marsh marigolds bloom, you know that spring has officially arrived. Marsh marigold boasts vivid yellow-gold blooms that are simple in appearance. They approximately equal the diameter of a US quarter coin (1.1 inches, 2.7 centimeters), although the key is not the size, but the quantity. Marsh marigold blooms freely, and then blooms some more.

Caltha palustris
The glossy green and heart-shaped foliage resembles that of violets. A clump-forming plant that prefers full sun to part shade, it reaches heights of 12 to 18 inches (30 to 46 centimeters) with an equal spread. For best results, plant marsh marigold just under the water surface. However, they grow nicely up to a depth of four inches (10 centimeters). Just like water hawthorne, marsh marigold goes dormant during summer’s heat. This makes room for the pond plants that like to spread out.
When your goal is to have early color in the water garden, then choose either of these two winners. Better yet, choose both and truly enjoy a wonderful plant treat.  

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