Ponds and fountains are wonderful additions to any outdoor space. Their soothing sounds make them key aspects in Feng Shui and healing gardens, and when you add a variety of water garden plants, they add enormous visual appeal as well.
Make Sure You Choose Plants for Every Part of Your Water Feature
Whether you’re creating a water garden, pond or a fountain, you’ll need a selection of different plants to suit various areas in and around the water gardens. Choose some species that will add height and color around the pond’s periphery, as well as those that will float on the water’s surface.
This creates a multi-layered effect, with contrasting hues and textures adding visual interest while also keeping your water garden healthy.
Here are 20 of the best and most beautiful water plants, pond plants, aquatic plants and varieties to choose from.
1. Broadleaf Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)
Sagittaria latifolia by John Munt, CC BY-NC 2.0
Also known as Indian potato”, this attractive perennial pond plant will thrive in your pond’s shallow edges. Once the last frost passes, plant tubers 1.5 to 2 inches deep in the rich, wet soil. Its lovely white flowers will rise about 15” above the water garden surface once mature.
As an added bonus, this beautiful plant’s buds, fruits, and tubers are all edible, making it an invaluable addition to your water garden and food garden.
2. Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Lysimachia nummularia, by anro0002, CC BY-SA 2.0
If your water garden is in the shade, consider planting Creeping Jenny around the periphery. It’s great for filling in open spaces around your pond or water garden, but will take over the entire area if you don’t maintain it.
3. Lotus or Water Lily (Nelumbo nucifera)
Water Lilies Nelumbo nucifera, by 小工友, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
Commonly referred to as water lilies, these stunning water plants add fragrance as well as beauty to your water garden. Water lily comes in a variety of hues. Water lilies dance on the surface of the water when mature.
4. Cattail (Typha spp.)
Typha domingensis, by Miguel Ángel García, CC BY 2.0
These edible plants are indigenous to North America, and grow in tall clumps in marshes and bogs around the continent. Just take note of the variety you’re planting: T. angustifolia thrives in deeper water, while T. latifolia prefers the shallows.
5. Pickerel Rush (Pontederia cordata)
Pontederia cordata, by Nick Turland, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This species needs full sunlight as it spreads its leaves and bright blue flowers across the water’s surface. Just note that it self-divides rather enthusiastically and can take over an entire pond or water garden. To combat this, plant rhizomes in terracotta pots, and then submerge those to keep it in check.
6. Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor)
Iris versicolor, by jackanapes, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
If you’re a fan of blue blooms, this is one to add to your collection. It grows wild in wetlands across North America, but can easily be transplanted or cultivated in home gardens.
Plant these in full sunlight around your water garden or pond’s edges where it’ll have wet feet, but not be fully submerged.
7. Mosquito Fern (Azolla pinnata)
Mosquito Fern, by Forest and Kim Starr, CC BY 2.0
This species grows so thickly across the water’s surface that it prevents mosquitoes from laying eggs, hence its name. It matures into a carpet of deep reddish brown, and it’s such a beneficial nitrogen fixer that it can be harvested and used as green manure in your vegetable beds.
8. Cardinal Flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
Cardinal Flower, by John Munt, CC BY-NC 2.0
Colour lovers will adore this species, which boasts stunning red-flowered spikes in late summer and early autumn. Plant in the wet soil about 12” away from the water’s edge, where it will stay damp, but not flooded. Then sit back and watch it attract butterflies and hummingbirds to your space.
9. Mosaic Plant (Ludwigia sedioides)
Mosaic Plant / Ludwigia sedioides, by TANAKA Juuyoh (田中十洋), CC BY 2.0
This tropical species will only thrive if you live in hardiness zones 8-12. It’s a floating bog plant that spread its mosaic-like leaves across the surface. That said, it’s another one of those water plants that will take over if allowed to. Plant in individual pots and submerge them to avoid a complete takeover.
10. Horsetail (Equisetum spp.)
Horsetail (Equisetum spp.), by Melanie Shaw Medical Herbalist, CC BY-ND 2.0
Members of the horsetail family thrive in bogs and wetlands all over the world, and add frilly visual interest around any water feature. These ancient perennial plants are hardy in zones 3 through 11, making them versatile in just about any climate.
Ruffled Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)
Pistia stratiotes, by Ahmad Fuad Morad, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
You might recognize this beautiful plant from Egypgian hieroglyphics, as these beautiful water plants have been cultivated for thousands of years. They’re ideal surface plants for warmer climates, but be careful if you have pets or small children: although they look like regular lettuces, they’re highly toxic if ingested.
12. Taro (Colocasia esculenta)
Colocasia esculenta leaves, by Starr Environmental, CC BY 2.0
You may have eaten taro root before, especially if you’re a fan of dim sum. If you’re looking for dual-purpose water plants that are both gorgeous and edible, look no further. Grow your taro plants in wet, well-draining soil around your water feature’s periphery, then harvest their mature tubers for your dinner table.
13. Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)
“A Rainy Day”, by 小佳 顏, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
This species is as stunning as it is highly invasive. They’ll only bloom in groups, so keep yours corralled with a hula hoop or submerged woven basket, and watch their vibrant lavender flowers explode on stems that can reach 3 feet in height. They’re perennial in zones 9+, annuals everywhere else.
14. Calla Lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)
Calla Lily, by snowpeak, CC BY 2.0
If you’re in a hardiness zone 6 and up, consider planting some calla lilies. Although they’re more commonly thought of as bouquet flowers than water plants, these beauties are easy to grow in the wet soil around ponds and fountains.
15. Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)
Purple Loosestrife, by Johnson Cameraface, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
A purple flower lover’s dream! This species can grow up to 4 feet tall, so plant it in a marshy area that gets full sun, and needs both colour and height. It’s perennial in zones 7+, but can be grown as an annual everywhere else.
16. Water Poppy (Hydrocleys nymphoides)
“Gelbe Blüte des Wassermohn”, by pilot_micha, CC BY-NC 2.0
Plant these beauties in container water gardens filled with rich soil, and submerge those container water gardens along your pond’s shallowest edges. Their gorgeous glossy leaves will sit just on the water’s surface, and the bright yellow blooms will attract bees all summer long. If you’re in a hardiness zone below 9, bring them inside and keep them in water tubs for winter or they’ll die off.
17. Pitcher Plant (Sarracenia spp.)
S. flava x (alata x leucophylla), by aarongunnar, CC BY-SA 2.0
Water features tend to attract unwanted insects, so having carnivorous plants around is a great way to reduce their numbers. Grow these in full sun, in submerged pots containing equal parts perlite and peat moss. Just make sure that their crowns stay above water. If you live in zones 8 and below, bring them indoors as soon as frost threatens.
18. Rodgers Flower (Rodgersia pinnata)
Rodgersia pinnata, by ngawangchodron, CC BY-NC 2.0
These large-leaved water plants are gorgeous, but very fussy about where they’ll grow. That said, if you’re in zones 5-7, you’re in luck. Cultivate them around the edges of your pond or water gardens, in partial shade—they’ll burn in direct sunlight.
19. Water Mint (Mentha aquatica)
Water Mint, by Julie K, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0
Pale purple, star-like blooms attract all kinds of butterflies to your space. Like all other mint (Mentha) species, it’s wonderfully fragrant, and can also take over the area if it isn’t contained. That said, you can plant it directly into the soil to prevent erosion, to good effect.
20. Water Wisteria (Hygrophila difformis)
Hygrophila difformis, by StevenANichols, CC BY-NC 2.0
Although these are common aquatic plants, it can be cultivated outdoors in your pond water gardens if you live in a tropical area. In fact, these aquatic plants are ideal for outdoor fish ponds, as it’s a great source of both food and shelter.
Water Plant Terminology
Water garden plants are divided into a few main categories.
- Floating Plants / Floaters: These plants grow and float on the water surface and are not anchored to the soil at all. They absorb nutrients from the water directly and do not need soil to grow.
- Marginal Plants: These plants live with their roots under the water but the rest of the plant is above the surface
- Submerged Plants: These water plants grow at the bottom of ponds and that live completely under water
The Many Benefits of Water Garden Plants
In addition to being stunning, water plants provide countless other benefits to your pond or fountain. They oxygenate and filter the water, making it healthier for fish and frogs. These animals also benefit from the shelter that leaves offer, as the plants hide them from predators.
Best of all, since these plants in water gardens absorb nutrients while also blocking out sunlight, they help to limit algae growth in your water feature. This means a lot less maintenance around your pond and water gardens all season long.
Other floating plants and water plants to consider include:
- Sweet Flag – grow the Sweet Flag water plant for its striking foliage. The sweet flag water plant also attracts dragonflies
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.