Best Plants for The Perfect Water Garden

Whether you are starting from scratch or restoring your pond after braving the winter weather, you have a vision of what that perfect pond should look like.  Evoking a feeling of peace, relaxation, and beauty can be hard to achieve but using water plants can help transform a typical pond into a radiant water garden that can act as the cornerstone of a garden landscape.  But what are the benefits of using water plants and which ones do you choose?  Well, take a deep breath, because we’re here to guide you in finding the best plants to create your perfect garden pond oasis. 

So why use pond plants?  Live water plants have many beneficial aspects besides adding a beautiful aesthetic to your pond.  These plants act as natural biological filters by absorbing certain metals, phosphates, nitrates and ammonium from the water. Plants also help increase oxygen production in the water, which helps to keep it aerated.  They naturally absorb carbon dioxide, releasing oxygen back into the air and water.  In addition, the pond will maintain oxygen through photosynthesis as well as shading the water to keep it cool, which keeps the oxygen in, and provides shelter for fish and other pond life.  The shade has a dual purpose of limiting algae growth by blocking excess sunlight and absorbing harmful nitrates that lead to their formation in the first place.  So to sum it up, plants are not only a beautiful decoration but they act as natural filters, add oxygen to the water, provide shade to cool the water and offer safety for fish, and limit the build up of algae, aka the grim reaper of water gardens.

Now that we discussed the benefits let’s talk about which plants to choose.  There are four main types of aquatic plant life. Each has a specific purpose and specific planting requirements to thrive in your pond. You will want to pick complementary plants that look good together and will also benefit the quality and health of the pond. The four main types of pond plants are oxygenating, marginal, deep water, and floating pond plants.  Before selecting pond plants, research your desired varieties to determine their needs, growth habits, and ultimate size.

Oxygenating Pond Plants

Oxygenating, commonly referred to as submerged, pond plants grow completely under water and introduce oxygen into the water.  They do a great job of removing excess nutrients from the water and at the same time clean your water by feeding on decaying organic material in your pond like leaves or fish waste.  Maintaining high oxygen levels is important to keep a healthy pond ecosystem.  This can be achieved by adding a number of oxygenating plants in addition to mechanical aeration products like aerators, nozzle kits or even decorative spitters.  Anacharis, also known as Brazilian Waterweed, with it’s beautiful light to bright green fern-like leaves and easy maintenance is an ideal pond plant for beginners.  It requires moderate lighting and anchors itself in the substrate by its roots, but will also grow when floating freely.  Cabomba, also known as Carolina Fanwort, is another highly recommended plant that requires moderate care, high lighting, and is distinguished by its fans of purple-backed lacy foliage, which are divided into narrow segments with green tops that are crowned with white flowers in summer.  We also recommend American Waterweed (Elodea) that bloom small white flowers at the surface and do well in milder climates, Water Pulsane (Ludwigia) that is fast growing and blooms small flowers with reddish or purple leaves, Water moss (Fontinalis antipyretica), Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum), Curled pondweed (Potamogeton crispus), and Hart's pennyroyal (Mentha cervina).  Establish these plants in baskets on pond shelves before sinking them to the bottom.

Marginal Pond Plants

Marginal pond plants or Shallow Marsh plants are lush vegetation placed in planting pots that grow in the shallow water or saturated soil around the rim or margins of a pond.   The bulk of the plant is out of the water in the air above and offers excellent natural filtration, while adding a very nice look to your pond.  They improve water quality by extracting excess detrimental nutrients from the pond environment before they can accumulate.  A shallow shelf is needed in your pond for these plants, but keep in mind this is often a perfect place for predators like raccoons to stand and eat your Koi or fish in the deeper waters next to the shelf. These colorful lush plants include Cattails, Horsetails, and Umbrella plants that are grass like in appearance.  Umbrella plants are tropical region aquatic plants that do well in shallow water and are named for their umbrella shaped leaves.  Cattails are the more common type of marginal plant and they’re easy to care for only needing natural lighting.  They appear green and tan and produce spikes of fuzzy brown blooms and beautiful grassy leaves.  Whether submerged or pond side, they add charm to any water garden.  Water Irises are also a highly recommended marginal plant.  They are easy to care for and are distinguished by their long sharp leaves and depending on the variety may produce flowers in colors ranging from blue, white, or yellow.  These plants are usually planted in pots then submerged and can bloom successfully in direct sunlight or partial shade. 

Deep Water Pond Plants

Staying true to its name, this species likes to be placed in deeper water. Deep water plants can give the appearance of a floating plant but are rooted in the bottom of the pond which allows the plant to grow to the surface of the water.  Leaves and flowers bloom and spread on the surface, which provides fish and other inhabitants with shade and cover from predators.  The most common types of deep water plants are Water Lilies and Lotus plants.  Water Lilies are popular for their easy care and ability to grow in most climates throughout North America in any season.  They have a peaceful temperament and are available in a variety of colors that will add both beauty and drama to accent your pond or water garden.  The Lotus is one of the oldest aquatic plants and is known for its large leaves, beauty, and fragrance.  This plant is also available in a number of colors and has easy care and maintenance. 

Floating Plants

Like deep water plants, floating water garden plants are easy to care for and provide much needed shade to the water below. This helps to keep the pond ecosystem healthy by cooling the water which protects your plants and fish and limits the growth of algae.  Their hanging roots act as a natural filter by removing nitrogen and phosphates from the water improving quality and clarity.  These are truly free floating plants as the main vegetation sits on the surface of the pond.  Their beautiful flowers disguise filtration and the other functions these plants serve.  The most popular types of floating plants are Water Hyacinths and Water Lettuce.  Water Hyacinths are annual in colder regions and perennial in warmer parts of North America.  They are recognized by their leathery foliage sprouting purple or blue flowers with glossy bulb-like leaves and their roots form a nest beneath them and are a great way to add a splash of color to your pond.  Water Lettuce is more of a tropical or warm weather plant.  The plant’s beautiful velvety foliage spreads across the surface and may produce inconspicuous white flowers.  The deep veined bright green leaves look like heads of lettuce floating on the water, which is why the plant is so appropriately named. Water Poppies produce small oval leaves and yellow flowers.  These are also a great choice of plant especially for Koi ponds as they grow quickly and give a pop of color to your pond while also reaping the benefits of the more popular floating plants.

Plants, in any state, offer a simple, natural solution to boosting pond health and enhancing beauty.  So start deciding which plants are right for your water garden and get to work!