Ponds need water plants as much as they need water. Water plants for ponds help to aerate, oxygenate and shade pond water, and the best pond plants do it with bright displays of floral brilliance too.
I am by no means unbiased here as I grew up around ponds and conservations and have never built a garden without water, but my own biases aside, I would honestly urge every gardener to at least consider adding water to their garden.
In this article, we’re going to look at the best water plants for ponds to grow and look into the different types and their uses too.
While many pond plants are great to look at, others that often go under-sung thanks to their subtle, underwater presence, have just as important a presence to play, whether you’ve got a bustling wildlife pond, or a pristine water fountain.
What are Water Plants?
Water plants for ponds grow best within damp, or waterlogged conditions, either on pond edges (bog plants), or in the water itself (pond plants). In this article we’re going to look at the best water plants you can grow at home, including some unusual plants that grow best indoors in clean, clear vases of water.
Pond plants are relatively straightforward and I’m sure that like most gardeners, you will already have a good grasp of some of the most popular pond plants, like water lilies and iris, but did you know many tropical houseplants grow really well in water too, thanks to specially adapted roots?
There are seven subgroups of water plants that I want to demystify below:
- Marginal (or Emergent)
- Rafting (or floaters)
- Bog plants
Marginal pond plants grow best with their roots, and much or their stems fully immersed in water but can cope with boggy conditions for part of the year if ponds dry up.
For the best result when growing marginal plants like iris, or marsh marigold, plant them in perforated containers on shelves around the edge of a pond.
Submerged pond plants like water lilies, horsetail or rush like to be completely submerged, usually showing a small portion of the plant above the water.
The iconic water lily is the best example, with thick tangles of roots below the surface, often reaching 6-8ft from the base of a pond to the surface where it shows a few inches of leaf and a single flower at the end of each stem.
Oxygenators are nearly always forgotten about when ponds are first designed or planted up as they have little to no visual impact, and are often considered weeds, like duckweed, hornwort or Parrot’s Feather which grow either as surface plants or entirely underwater.
Oxygenating pond plants can come from all subsections of water plants though, whether they’re marginal, rafting, or fully submerged, they serve the same important purpose.
Rafting plants, like hornwort, don’t grow from central root systems at all and instead float around the surface of the pond with tiny roots attached to the base of each leaf, or clusters of leaves.
They can travel great distances in fresh water and often double up as efficient oxygenators too.
Carnivorous plants love having their roots kept wet and boggy, so thrive on the margins, or borders of ponds. These creepy natural wonders devour flies and other insects to make up for the lack of nutrients in wet soil, as minerals and nutrition can be difficult to come by on the edges of ponds where moisture dilutes goodness and neutralizes the soil.
Bog plants might not sound like the most appealing plants to grow in your garden but they provide excellent habitat and often flower much earlier in the year than other flowering perennials, so give color when it is most needed in the garden.
The other benefit of bog plants is that they make a great replacement for grass at the edge of ponds, which often becomes a slip hazard.
While most tropical plants we grow in our homes are epiphytic (soilless plants that attach to bark) or low lying plants, many of the climbing plants have a unique adaptation which allows them to thrive in water.
Almost any tropical plant that you can take nodal cuttings (or ‘chonks’) from will happily live in a vase of water for years. This is because they grow adapted roots to suit their environment.
Their water roots are incredibly disease-resistant, meaning that a simple drop of houseplant fertilizer in water changed once a week is more than enough to sustain a beautiful mature Monstera or devil’s ivy.
Why Add Water Plants for Ponds to Your Garden?
Pond plants help to clean your water, whether you keep a perfect fish pond or a murky wildlife haven. By oxygenating, aerating, and shading the water they provide habitat for wildlife, incredibly beautiful foliage and unique flowering habits, and even reduce running costs of pond filters and water features by cleaning the water.
It’s important to find the right mix of pond plants for any outdoor space. As well as choosing tall plants, underwater plants, and surface plants for visual impact, try to stick to a mix of 50% oxygenators, 25% drama, and 25% shading plants. That way you’ll need less than a few hours a year to keep your pond in check.
Why Add Water Plants to Your Home?
Tropical plants growing directly in water help to oxygenate and humidify your home. They reduce dust, and take toxic chemicals out of the air too, with far less maintenance and mess than houseplants grow in compost.
How to Grow Indoor Water Plants
Alternatively, try something like lucky bamboo, which has less of a positive impact in your home, but is incredibly easy to grow and usually costs less than $5 in most DIY stores.
To grow tropical plants as water plants, just make sure you keep the water fresh. Change the water every week, and if you don’t have access to rainwater, boil tap water and leave it to thaw before using it on your plants. This helps to slightly reduce chlorine and chemicals in tap water.
Best Water Plants for Ponds to Grow
1. Parrot’s Feather (Myriophyllum aquaticum)
Parrot’s Feather is an invasive pond plant that can quickly take over small ponds, but for larger ponds, they help oxygenate the water and provide masses of habitat for native wildlife and amphibians.
You can order Parrot’s Feather plants online, and they are literally the easiest plant in the world to plant. Simply throw the plant into the water, let it sink and that’s it.
In a couple of weeks, you’ll start to see it spreading around the pond, which reduces duckweed on the surface, and shades the bottom of the pond, which is particularly useful if you have fish.
2. White Calla Lilies (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
Calla lilies love moisture but are often grown in containers. If you ever notice calla lilies drying out or failing to bloom, try planting them right next to a pond. They thrive in boggy conditions, and can even be grown as marginal plants with their roots fully submerged.
The other option for Calla lilies is to grow them indoors in vases. Their roots will quickly grow out and fill vases, so use a straight necked vase so you can get them out again.
See our in-depth growing and care guide for Calla lilies here.
3. Amazon Frogbit (Limnobium laevigatum)
Frogbits are such beautiful plants, growing happily indoors or out in the garden in warmer regions. They look like miniature water lilies, with tiny white flowers and lily pads that are usually less than half an inch across.
They clump into rafts and float around the surface of ponds, but work best in fish tanks where they can float around in the current created by a filter.
For a simple table centerpiece that will just get better and better with time, buy some frogbit from an aquatics center, or a garden center with a water plant section, and place it in a glass bowl filled with filtered water.
Change the water once every two-three weeks to prevent it from stagnating.
4. Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
Hornwort, despite its unfortunate name, is a graceful plant that drifts underwater and loves gentle currents. If you’ve got running water in the garden, or fish pond filters that help to activate the water, plant some hornwort which will attach itself to rocks or fallen leaves at the bottom of a pond and just drift slowly back and forth providing nesting space for amphibians and fish.
5. Rough Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)
Rough horsetail is the water plant version of the invasive land plant marestail. Thankfully, horsetail is nowhere near as invasive as marestail and can be easily controlled as it doesn’t spread beyond the border of a pond.
The upright spires of segmented leaves have lasted since prehistory and outlived the dinosaurs. If you ever want to amaze kids, try pulling them apart as they separate perfectly along their segments with a gentle pop.
6. Mosquito Fern (Azolla)
Mosquito fern is a really useful plant to use as a pest repellent. They won’t work straight away, but mosquitos don’t like laying their eggs in ponds where mosquito fern grows.
Their reluctance to lay eggs will reduce the number of flying pests in the garden in summer, and these gorgeous rafting plants grow incredibly quickly so provide fast impact in a fish pond.
Do be aware that they can become invasive unless you have amphibians or fish in your pond, who help control the spread of the plant.
7. Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)
Papyrus work as marginal plants, submerged pond plants, and bog plants. Essentially, if there’s water, papyrus will be happy. If you’re not familiar with this famous Egyptian paper plant, it has tall grassy spires, capped with umbrellas of stiff grassy leaves.
The entire plant can be harvested and mashed into pulp which is easy to dry out into homemade paper, but it also makes excellent compost.
8. Mosaic Flower (Ludwigia sedoides)
Mosaic flowers get their name from their mosaic-tiled leaves, which float across the water’s surface like water lilies, creating ever more intricate patterns as they mature.
Their flowers are insignificant yellow buds, but they are well worth buying if you want more unusual pond plants that stand out in a formal water feature.
9. Flag Iris (Iris pseudacorus)
Flag iris are marginal plants but can grow happily in boggy conditions too around the edge of ponds. Provided they are planted shallowly, their rhizomes will quickly spread and continue self-seeding around the edge of ponds where they develop and create rafts of roots that give shade to large ponds.
10. Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)
For something a little different indoors, try water hyacinths which grow well in vases, or bowls of water on the kitchen table in a bright, sunny room. Their fragrance is even more potent than standard hyacinths thanks to the boosted water content which helps feed their nectar.
Water hyacinths grow happily outdoors in most of the US, but can spread quickly in ponds so will need dividing or cutting back each year once they establish.
11. Water Lily (Nymphaea)
No water plant list is complete without the humble waterlily. The classic lily pad grows natively in almost every corner of the world and is slow to spread, easy to divide, and even easier to plant.
When you first buy a water lily root ball or a bagged plant, they will be in a smallish perforated pot filled with gritty soil. That soil has no nutrients and the roots quickly extend beyond the container looking for minerals in the water.
As the root balls grow you will need to reach into the pond and pull it out every 2-3 years, and simply cut it in two. Either place the other half somewhere else or give it to a friend.
12. Marsh Marigold (Caltha palustris)
For a splash of spring color, try marsh marigolds. Marsh marigolds are typically sold as bog plants, but we’ve grown them in all sorts of conditions.
They grow well, fully submerged in deep water, or in shallow edges of ponds, but wherever they are there is no better spring color in the garden than these humble pond plants.
What I love even more than their spring color is their summer seed heads, like tiny sparklers at the end of fizzing canes.
13. Cattail (Typha)
Cattail grows in the margins of lakes but can be submerged fully in shallow garden ponds. Their stems reach over 6ft tall in summer and help provide some privacy for wildlife, as well as you, as you sit on the edge of a pond out of view of neighbors or family for a little peace and quiet.
14. River Lily (Crinum pedunculatum)
For southern states, try River Lily, an intensely fragrant lily which doesn’t have any particular visual impact, but attracts hordes of pollinators into the garden with its sweet fragrance, which is actually heightened by water, which helps carry its scent further on warm afternoons and misty mornings.
15. Creeping Jenny
Creeping Jenny is probably the most beautiful plant you’ve ever pulled out of the garden. It grows as a weed all over the Americas and Europe and spreads faster than most gardeners can handle, but is easily contained in rockeries around ponds, and loves trailing into the water with its popping yellow flowers on brash, clumsy, green strings of leaves.
16. Water Crowfoot
Water crowfoot loves running water and naturalizes well into ponds with waterfalls, or circulation pumps. The thin strands of leaves often look like seaweed with thick water-filled stems hosting rows and rows of gorgeous white flowers in summer which stick out above the water showing no signs of foliage at all.
17. Water Hawthorn
You’d be forgiven for thinking that water hawthorn and water lily were the same plants, but there is a distinct difference between their leaves, and the orchid-like flowers of water hawthorn are just stop-and-stare gorgeous.
The spotted base of each flower petal leads insects right down into the center of the plant to pollinate, just like foxgloves, but with a low growing, trailing leaf which behaves like a water lily for most of the year, and reaching up above the water’s surface when water starts evaporating in summer.
18. Club Rush
Club rush is a marginal plant that actually seems to prefer boggy conditions rather than submersion, so plant it right at the edge of a pond for best results. Its spiked flower heads are best experienced in fall when they dry out and leave beautiful fluffy seed heads at the end of tall stalks.
19. Water violet
The candelabra of delicate white flowers that leap out of the water on long slender stems, often seen in wildlife reserves as a way to bring pollinating insects into pond edges, are the work of the Water Violet. These plants might look mystical, but they are incredibly easy to grow.
Though they are less common than most pond plants, good aquatics centers and garden centers do sell water violets in spring.
20. Water forget-me-not
The marginal water forget-me-not is identical to its land-loving cousin but sits happily submerged in deep water, or safely on the edge of a pond if you’ve got a marginal shelf to plant onto.
The delicate baby blue flowers are iconic in cottage garden planting and work wonderfully in any wildlife garden.
21. Water lettuce
Water lettuce isn’t for the faint hearted gardener, as it spreads, and spreads, and spreads. This Amazonian crop can be contained but loves floating in freshwater, so requires plenty of oxygenators to support its roots, and is suited to larger ponds.
Fish love nibbling at water lettuce, and it creates a safe landing pad for small birds or insects that need a drink.
22. Water Shamrock
Water shamrock, also called water clover, is considered a weed in most of the US but is easily contained in ponds and unlikely to spread through gardens.
The four symmetrical leaves are identical to four-leaved clovers, but of no direct relation, providing a gentle nod to Ireland without having to seed clovers into your lawn.
23. Persicaria amphibia (Amphibious bistort)
Persicaria is in the knotweed family but is nowhere near as invasive or damaging as the infamous Japanese Knotweed. They are easy to grow and have unique pink flower spikes that add a touch of drama to ponds of any size.
Paired with horsetail, or other tall structural plants they create an idyllic vista across a water’s edge.
24. Astilbe (False Goat’s Beard)
Astilbe doesn’t need boggy conditions but will definitely thank you for them. These naturally water-loving plants thrive along the edges of ponds, with their roots sitting in consistently moist soil.
Their fluffy flower heads look like cotton candy in summer, and their flower spikes stay looking good even when they’ve finished flowering, providing excellent structure well into winter.
25. Camassia esculenta
The true blue flowers of Camassia esculenta are perfect for bordering ponds. They thrive in shady, damp conditions, and produce reliable blue blooms right through late spring and early summer.
They are fairly slow to spread, so won’t give instant impact, but are easy to manage and maintain.
How to Plant Pond Plants
Planting a pond plant isn’t as simple as potting them into compost and dropping them into a pond. Compost can often leach nutrients, and acids into pond water and should really be avoided.
Instead, rely on the nutrients in the pond itself to feed your plants, and cover pond plants with grit in a perforated basket so that they can root out into the water. The grit will simply prevent them from floating away or bobbing on the surface.
You’ll need a few bespoke tools to get started with pond plants:
- Remove your pond plant from its current basket, and pop it straight into a larger basket.
- Pond plants aren’t affected by potting up like other plants, and won’t become waterlogged in larger pots, so it’s best to pot up a few sizes to avoid having to pot up again for a few years (you can use a hessian sack, or plant rings for this step depending on the plant).
- Cover the plant’s roots with grit to help weigh it down.
- Find the right depth in your pond, and gently lower your plant to the bottom.
- Hold the plant at the bottom for a while until air bubbles stop rising. When you let go, the plant should stay in place. If it begins to float, keep holding it down.
Note: For rafting pond plants, or floating pond plants either weigh them down with a plant ring or simply toss them into the water after giving them a chance to acclimatize by mixing their existing water with some from the pond.
Water Plants for Ponds FAQs
Are water plants hard to care for?
Generally speaking, water plants for ponds are easy to care for. Some species are fast spreading and are often considered invasive, but if you have limited ponds they can’t spread beyond their edges, so are easy to manage, opening up a whole world of naturalistic planting that you can’t get in the rest of the garden.
What is the most popular water plant?
Water lilies are always a go-to water plant, but in recent years a lean towards more wildlife-friendly planting has seen species like Club rush and Hornwort make a welcome return to our gardens.
Often it can be planted like Lotus though that gardeners lean towards for impactful and fragrant pond plants.
Where to buy water plants?
Water plants for ponds can be bought online, but are generally best bought in DIY stores and garden centers. Personally, I prefer looking around aquatics centers and fish shops, where outdoor pond plants are often stored outside and sold to interested buyers.
Get to know your local shops and you’ll soon find somewhere with reliable and interesting stock.
How to control pond plant pests?
Pond plants don’t tend to suffer from pests, though some pond beetles can eat the underside of leaves, and if your pond plant is suffering from poorly oxygenated water, tadpoles can feed on the decaying leaves.
The best solution to these problems is adding native fish and oxygenating plants, which help control beetle populations and algae, as well as fertilizing and oxygenating the water.
Should you fertilize or feed water plants?
Pond plants don’t need feeding, so once you’ve planted them, leave them to it. If they seem to be struggling this is usually due to overfeeding from rotting leaves at the base of the pond, or too few oxygenating plants.
Are you planning to make a koi pond? See our list of the best koi pond plants here.
Grow Beautiful Water Plants for Ponds
No garden is truly complete without a pond, and no pond is complete without pond plants. Whether you’re creating a perfect raised water feature, or even a swimming pool, adding some well-considered plants can add a touch of horticultural class to the project, and set it apart from your neighbors.
There are literally thousands of pond plants to choose from, but in this article, we’ve chosen some of the easiest to grow, and the most impactful water plants for ponds you can grow in the US, so make the most of the summer weather and get out and garden.