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Pond Plants

N Siam Blue Waterlily

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The selection of Pond Plants is as varied as the colors of Koi. Most ponders will choose plants not only for the visual effects but for the benefits they have for your water and fish.

Any pond with some area of still water can be home to a few water lilies or an elegant lotus. Most water gardeners will grow underwater plants because of the important biological functions they perform. On the margins of your pond, you can plant a single clump of exquisite Japanese irises or a vast collection of wetland plants and cattails. If you grow roses in another area of your garden, a formal pool surrounded by rose topiaries might be appropriate. On a sweeping lawn, you might choose a slightly less formal water feature with a single dramatic clump of ornamental grasses or a huge swath of them, depending on the size of both the yard and the pond.

One of the advantages of having a water feature is that it lets you extend the range of pond plants featured in your garden to include those that enjoy growing in or around water. A pond offers endless possibilities for adding plants or rearranging those you already have, plus the added enticement of fish and other pond animals.

Water complements the plants in a garden beautifully. It can create tranquil, reflective areas as a contrast to some lively planting, or it can bustle along in a stream, in contrast to the static plants, creating a sparkling streak of silver.

Water can also produce noise, such as the tinkling of a fountain or the more regular pouring of a waterspout. The movement of water in a stream can also be very soothing to watch.

Choosing Plants

Look for plants that blend with the design of your water feature and the rest of your yard. Whether your design is formal or informal will affect the way you use plants.

There are a number of practical uses of plants that you should consider for around your water garden: for reducing wind, discouraging predators, framing view, and defining paths. You will certainly want to take advantage of your ponds ability to reflect plants with colorful foliage and dramatic shapes, and to situate fragrant plants near benches or other stopping places.

Water Lilies

Pink Grapefruit Waterlily

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Water lilies are available in hardy and tropical varieties. They both come in a wide variety of colors, shapes, and sizes and the leaves provide fish with shade from the heat of the summer sun, cooling the water and making algae control easier too. Waterlilies will also help to start the nitrogen cycle in your pond.

The majority of waterlilies need plentiful sunshine to do well (six or so hours per day), but some can get by with as little as three hours. Some blue-hued waterlilies do better than most in spots where there is some shade. The larger flowered tropical Director George T. Moore tolerates some shade, as does the smaller tropical Dauben. Some yellow ones to consider include: hardy Joey Tomocik, hardy Chromatella, & hardy Charlene Strawn.

Red-hued ones actually may hold their color a little longer with less exposure to the hot sun (generally speaking, they don't do well in hot climates). Examples are hardy Attraction, hardy Escarboucle, and hardy Lucida.

A common practice for your pond plants is to put your water lilies in a pot that is two or more times deeper than the soil. If you normally plant your lilies in 8 inches of soil use a 16-20 inch pot with your normal 8 inches of soil. The Koi will now have to stand on his head to have access to your plant and most fish do not like this.

Don’t forget to put your large rocks on top of the soil. It is best to keep your prized plants in shallower water and at locations harder for your Koi to reach.

Koi have high nutritional requirements and need certain levels of vitamin C and protein. Your plant leaves can become a nutrition source. It’s a good idea to supplement their food occasionally. You can give your Koi salad leaves, cabbage, spinach, melons, citrus, and proteins such as earthworms, chicken and shrimp. Give them a small amount two or more times daily.

Frequent feedings and varied foods will give your Koi less incentive to chew on plants.

Examples of Water Lilies: Colorado, Escarboucle (Nymphaea Escarboucle), James Brydon (Nymphaea James Brydon), Joanne Pring (Nymphaea Joanne Pring), Joey Tomocik (Nymphaea Joey Tomocik), Perry's Baby Red (Nymphaea Perry's Baby Red), Perry's Fire Opal (Nymphaea Perry's Fire Opal), & Texas Dawn (Nymphaea Texas Dawn).

You can rotate your pots in and out of the pond to give your Koi a treat and it gives time for other plotted plants to sit out and recover. Water celery (Oenanthe japonica) and water cress (Nasturtuium officinale are especially good for this. Duck Weed (Lemma minor) and mosquito fern (Azolla) are floating plants that multiply rapidly in standing water.

Tip: Even with heavy garden soil, a potted plant may need extra weight to stay submerged and in its assigned place. An easy way to assure extra stability is to put a few rocks in the bottom of the pot first, it will act as a counter weight.


lotus picture

Before you get your heart set on growing the exotic-looking lotus, be sure you can meet its needs. Although the plant can be grown almost anywhere in North America, for it to produce those spectacular flowers and pods, it needs warm temperatures. Lotus need two or even three consecutive months of temperatures over 80° F.

They are hardy to Zone 4 in a pond that doesn't freeze at their root level and will bloom after about three months when daytime temperatures average 80°F, although they do not do well in climates where temperatures are routinely 90° to 100°F. Although there are only two species, Nelumbo nucifera and N. lutea, there are hundred of cultivars, most derived from N. nucifera.

The majority of lotuses are day-bloomers. On the day they open, they close again by mid-afternoon. But for the next two or three days, they remain open even at night. They are fragrant and are often huge. After the petals fall, the seedpod expands and turns brown. It's frequently cut for use in dried arrangements.

Lotuses are greedy feeders, they will do well with constant montly feeding. Lotus will never bloom as well as water lilies.

Water Hyacinth

pictures of water gardens

Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) this is a beautiful floating plant with purple flowers. It is prohibited in at least six southern states in the US but in colder climates it is useful in improving water quality and clarity. The dangling roots collect sediment and consume excess nutrients. You will need to remove these plants before the first frost to keep decaying matter from remaining in the pond during winter.

American frog’s bit (Limnobium spongia) this plant is a favorite snack of the herbivorous turtles (hence the name). The so called sponge on the underside of the leaf is more dominant and often causes the leaves to stand upright instead of lying on the water’s surface.

Cape honeysuckle is a flowering plant you can plant around the edges of your pond and it attracts hummingbirds.

Marginal Plants

A marginal, sometimes called a “bog” plant, is a plant that, in nature, grows on the sides of a pond or in a damp area. They can supply “vertical interest” as well as variety and color.

Marginal plants will require very little maintaince. Being a part of your water garden will cover the basic need of water, and they do not require fertilizing. It is best to plant these in pots, not only to contain them but to have easy access as well.

Many marginal plants can be planted in nothing but gravel or large pebbles without soil. This not only weights them down, it slows their growth and compels them to take all their nutrients from the water. This technique is particularly worthwhile in larger ponds or ones with lots of plants. Marginal plants will do their best in shallow water; along the edges of the pond.

Marginals of tropical origin should not be placed in water colder than 70° F. All marginal, tropical or hardy, should prosper and even flower their first year in your Koi garden.

Examples of Marginal Plants are Arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia), Canna (Canna x generalis), Cattail (Typha species), Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum), Iris (Iris species and hybrids), Lizard's Tail (Saururus cernuus), Mosaic Plant (Ludwigia sedioides), Papyrus, Umbrella Palm (Cyperus species and cultivars), Taro, Elephant's Ear (Colocasia esculenta), Sweet Flag, Japanese Rush (Acorus calumus), Pickerel Rush, Pickerel Weed (Pontederia cordata), & Spike Rush, Fiber-optic Plant (Eleocharis montevidensis).

Floating Pond Plants

Some of the common floaters are duckweed, bogbean and water clover. What this diverse group has in common is an ability to grow without soil. Their roots dangle down from beneath their leaves into the water below and manage to derive what nutrient they need.

Benefits of floaters are they are a tasty treat for your Koi and they flourish in full sun. But some will tolerate part-day shade and still manage to bloom. Most floaters tend to prefer still water.

Floaters are a welcome addition to your pond because they help fulfill the requirement of two-thirds water coverage that leads to a healthy pond, plus they provide shelter for Koi and pond fish along with using nutrients that might otherwise feed unwanted amounts of algae.

Floaters and Submerged Plants tend to grow very easily, this means you will need to keep them trimmed back so they don't take over your pond.

Underwater Plants or Oxygenators

Oxygenators are essential to the health of a garden pond and to any resident fish. Even though they are not as conspicuous as marginals and floating plants, they play an important role in keeping a pond beautiful. Not only do they provide oxygen to fish, something to snack on and an area for young fish fry to hide, oxygenators help absorb nitrates from the water.

Underwater plants use excess nutrients from fish waste, uneaten fish food, etc., for nutrients, which helps cut down on algae. While these plants are appreciated for their beauty in aquariums, underwater pond plants take a backseat to the more showy floating plants.

Some underwater plants, such as Cabomba and Anacharis, will sent flowers to the water surface. You will also enjoy the beauty of your underwater plants when you watch your fish swimming in and out from under them. Keep these key pond plants healthy by allowing some open water surface area so that they get enough light for photosynthesis.

Toxic Plants

You need to be aware of the types of plants you buy as some can be toxic to your fish. Different parts of a plant may be toxic, the leaves, stems, or roots, have varying chemical properties, and a leaf might not be toxic where a root is.

Before adding your plants consider what part of the plant your fish will have access to. If you are unsure if a certain plant is toxic and you cannot find any information about it, find an alternate plant. On this website I have a list of Toxic Plants, and do not think just becuase a certain plant is not on this list that it will be fine, these are just the ones I know of so far.

For More Information and a List of Toxic Plants and Parts Click Here

Low-Maintenance Pond Plants

Scientific Name Zones Height Why Low Maintenance?
Bog Bean 3 to 8 6 to 9" Does not grow as aggressively as other creeping plants, so it needs less pruning.
Golden Club 5 to 11 1 to 2 feet Has few pests and diseases, will grow in shade or sun, does not need replanting or fertilizers.
Variegated Rabbit
Ear Iris
4 to 9 18 to 24" Grows well in moving water where others won't, helps in nutrient reduction in the pond.
Blue Flag Iris 4 to 9 1 to 2 feet A little more difficult to keep than other irises but does well in earth-bottom ponds and areas with moist soil.
Siberian Pink Cups 6 to 9 2 to 8" So small that it won't ever take over a pond, can be tucked into waterfalls. If it goes dormant, it will bounce back without intervention.
Water Forget-Me-Not 3 to 9 2 to 6" Dormancy during very warm and cold periods mean that it does not need to be overwintered. Excess is easily removed from the pond.
Pitcher Plants 3 to 10 6 to 24" Doesn't need fertilizers. Only maintenance is removing dead foliage once a year.


All children love being around water. Water can be dangerous, especially to young children, so very careful thought must be given before you start to dig deep holes in your backyard for ponds of any kind. There are various attractive compromises. It is possible to create relatively safe features in which water bubbles out of say, a rock and then disappears between fixed stones into a safe underground reservoir. This idea leaves no surface water, which can prove to be dangerous. Or you could have a shallow, natural-style pond which can be both educational and safe. You could also build a waterfall that empties into a shallow stream.

If you do decide to have a pond and you have small children make sure and surround your pond with a fence or cover the pond with heavy netting.

If you decide that a water garden is not the garden you need because of your little ones then try this website: www.enjoy-your-garden.com
Your garden is one of your greatest assets. Whether you want a peaceful plant filled sanctuary, extra living and entertaining space, or somewhere to grow your own vegetables, our tips and information will help you create a garden for year round pleasure and enjoyment.

If you need an activity for your little ones to do while you stay busy with your pond, let them plant flowers.

Easy plants for children to grow are:

  • Antirrhimum
  • Calendula
  • Helianthus annuus
  • Lathyrus odoratus
  • Lobelia
  • Tagetes
  • Thunbergia alata
  • Tropaeolum majus

Your children will thank you!

Click Here for the Hardness Zones

Click Here for Frost Dates

More Articles on Pond Plants

Unwanted Plants and Weeds or Plants to be used for Koi Food:

Pond Algae Control

Hornwort and Duckweed

Duckweed Plant

Water Lettuce

Water Hyacinth

Water Primrose

Planktonic Algae

Filamentous Algae






Parrot Feather


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4 Steps to Keep your Water Plants Alive and Healthy

  • Keep plants healthy and well-fed.
  • Regularly spray foliage to wash away potential pests (a good time to do this is when you are topping off your pond).
  • Trim off dying blossoms and leaves that can harbor intruders.
  • Repot or divide aquatics before they become over crowded which will cause pests.

Watch for slight changes in your plants appearance and conditions. The first symptom of something being wrong with a pond plant is changing leaf colors. Not the normal yellowing from mature leaves as they fade and die, it's a color change from the healthy deep green to a sickly yellow, this is a sure sign of a nutrient deficiency. If this is left untreated it will lead to plant starvation, which leads to reduced blooms, which leads to increased pests.

A waterlily may have distored pads in spring because of a nutrient deficiency that it will outgrow after repotting. Crispy and curled leaves (or flowers) are caused by excessive heat or drought.

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