The 13 Best Pond Plants to Help Your Aquatic Garden Flourish

These water-loving plants will thrive around a natural water feature in your landscape

If you’ve installed a garden pond and it’s looking a bit barren, it’s time to add some plants. Tuck them in between the rocks or edgings, install a swath of plants to create an edging or even plant a tree or two to cast a reflection on the water. Plants are just as much of a part of the edging of a pond in the wild as stones or boulders, so adding plants is essential if you want to replicate a natural garden or simply hide the paving that keeps the perimeter from eroding. Don’t overlook adding plants if your pond is more contemporary in style and the paving plays a more pivotal role in the design. You may not want to add them to the edges, but they’re a perfect foil nearby.

Get Started: How to Build a Fish Pond

 

Pond Plants 1Paradise Restored Landscaping & Exterior Design, original photo on Houzz

 

Getting started. When you start looking for plants, the first thing to consider is their water needs. The soil next to a pond or stream will often be moister, or even soggy, than soil in other areas of the garden. Plants that like regular to plenty of water will be happy next to any water feature. If they love boggy soil, consider the edge of a pond an ideal spot. Drought-tolerant plants, however, may suffer, no matter how well your soil drains.

This doesn’t necessarily mean you’re exempt from watering, especially in a dry climate. You’ll still need to keep an eye on the plants to be sure they get what they need.

Even if the water is plentiful, you still need to match your plants to the amount of sun they’ll get. If your pond gets full sun, you’ll need to choose plants that can handle being in bright light. If your garden is shadier, you’ll want plants that are happiest without full sun, although some sun lovers will tolerate less-than-optimal conditions. Look for plants that would seem at home in the woods or even in a jungle.

Design ideas. Too much of a good thing is still too much, whether you’re talking about design or chocolate — OK, maybe not chocolate. Just as you want to intersperse your plants with the hardscaping around your pond, you’ll most likely want to intersperse different types of plants rather than choosing just one, especially if you want a more naturalistic style.

Fortunately, you have plenty of options to choose from. Line a woodlands-inspired pond with ferns, grasses and delicate flowering plants; choose plants with vivid flowers or foliage to stand out in a sunny spot; or go full-on tropical to mimic a jungle setting. Ready to plant? The 13 plants listed below are good choices to start with.

 

Leopard Plant

(Farfugium japonicum)

Native to Japan and eastern Asia

 

You may not be familiar with leopard plant, but if you have a pond in a partially shady location and plenty of water, it’s a plant you’ll want to get to know better. This plant stands out, even in the shade. It grows to about 2 feet high and wide, with wide, speckled leaves on long stalks and 2-foot-tall flower stems topped with large daisy-like yellow flowers.

The tops are hardy to about 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 28.9 degrees Celsius, and the plant dies back at 0 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 17.8 degrees Celsius (USDA zones 7 to 10; find your zone).

 

Pond Plants 2Turnbull Griffin Haesloop, original photo on Houzz

 

Giant chain ferns line a garden path.

 

Giant Chain Fern

(Woodwardia fimbriata)

Native to the west coast of North America, including Nevada and Arizona

 

Ferns are a go-to for creating a woodland feel, especially around a pond, and giant chain fern makes a statement. It can reach 9 feet tall in mild and wet regions, though 4 to 5 feet tall and 3 feet wide is more likely. It does best in partial to full shade, and wants regular water at a minimum and ample water if possible. Giant chain fern also wants moist, enriched soil and would be happiest if you add a layer of mulch. It does best if you grow from nursery plants, rather than dividing and transplanting, and will grow quickly. Giant chain fern is hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (zones 3 to 9).

 

Globeflower

(Trollius spp.)

Native to the Northern Hemisphere

 

Globeflowers do best when they’re in a continually damp location, so they’ll shine, thanks to their bright flowers, when planted next to a pond. They do best in partial shade, unless they’re in a cool-summer climate, and can’t take heat or drought.

 

Flowers in shades of yellow to yellow-orange bloom in spring and summer. T. chinensis reaches 3 feet high and 1½ feet wide, with 2-inch flowers. T. x cultorum hybrids are slighter smaller, at 2 feet high and 1½ feet wide, with 3-inch blooms. Globeflowers are hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (zones 3 to 6).

 

Gunnera

(Gunnera spp.)

Native to South America

 

If you want something big and exotic, then gunnera is the plant for you. These plants are huge, reaching 8 feet tall and at least as wide. The veined and notched leaves can also reach 4 to 8 feet across, giving them the sometimes-used common name dinosaur food.

Grow them for their size and their tropical appearance. They do best in partial shade with plenty of water and rich soil. Feed three times a year, from when they start to grow in spring and through the summer. These plants also want overhead water, especially when the humidity is low or the air is dry. The leaves will stay green for a year in mild-winter climates but die back elsewhere. Gunneras are hardy to minus 0 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 17.8 degrees Celsius (zones 7 to 10).

 

Pond Plants 3Three Dogs & A Girl Garden Design, original photo on Houzz

 

A row of ‘Sweet Tea’ heucherellas in front of oakleaf hydrangeas (Hydrangea quercifolia)

Heucherella Hybrids

(x Heucherella)

Garden hybrid

 

Don’t let its somewhat awkward name stop you from adding heucherella to the edge of a lightly shaded pond. This hybrid of coral bells (Heuchera) and foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia), which occasionally goes by the name foamy bells, forms clumps about 4 to 6 inches high and 1 foot wide, with bicolored heart-shaped foliage that can reach about 4 inches across in shades ranging from gold to green to dark brown.

Provide regular water and rich, well-draining soil. Heucherellas are hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 34.4 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 9).

 

Japanese Painted Fern

(Athyrium niponicum var. pictum)

Native to East Asia

 

If you love ferns but prefer them to be on the smaller side, consider delicate Japanese painted fern, which will add <a href=”http://www.houzz.com/ideabooks/4402644/list/color-guide-how-to-work-with-lavender”>shades of lavender</a> to silver to a shady pond edge. These are relatively small ferns, with fronds that are only a foot to 1½ feet long. They prefer partial to full shade but display their best color when they get some morning sun. They also can handle more sun if their feet are constantly moist.

Plant them in rich, damp soil and provide ample water. Leave fronds that have died on the plants until spring, and cut back after new fronds emerge. Japanese painted ferns are hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (zones 3 to 8).

 

Japanese Sedge

(Carex morrowii)

Native to Japan

 

Sedges are a classic choice for a pond, and Japanese sedge is one of the best for home gardens. It reaches about 1 foot to 1½ feet tall, with drooping leaves, and can be equally effective as a single specimen plant tucked into a pond border or used as a longer edging option. Green leaves are the most common, but you’ll also find ones with white or yellow markings.

Provide regular water and full sun to partial shade. Japanese sedges are evergreen, a bonus in winter, although their foliage may turn reddish when it’s colder. They’re hardy to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 28.9 degrees Celsius (zones 5 to 9).

 

 

Pond Plants 4Donald Pell – Gardens, original photo on Houzz

 

Ligularia ‘Desdemona’

 

Ligularia

(Ligularia spp.)

Native to east Asia

 

Ligularias, sometimes known as leopard plants, demand ample water, rich soil and partial shade or dappled sun. Give them those conditions and keep the humidity up and the heat down, and they’ll reward you with long-lived clumps of dark leaves topped by daisy-like yellow flowers from midsummer into fall for years. Ligularias are hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 34.4 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 8).

 

Lilyturf

(Liriope spp.)

Native to Asia

 

Looking for a reliable grass-like plant? Lilyturf is as much at home at the edge of a pond as it is in the rest of the garden. It also shares garden space well with other plants, and its long, drooping leaves in shades of light to dark green and late-summer to fall flowers add softness. It does best in filtered sun, though it can take full sun in cool-summer areas.

Plant lilyturf in well-draining soil and provide regular water. Giant lilyturf (L. gigantea) reaches 3 feet tall and equally wide, with lavender-blue flower spikes. It takes full shade. The popular big blue lilyturf (L. muscari) is shorter, reaching about 1 foot to 1½ feet tall and slightly wider, with flowers in shades of white and purple. It takes more sun than the other lilyturfs but needs shade where it’s hot. The smaller creeping lily turf (L. spicata) grows to less than a foot high, with thin, sprawling dark green foliage and white flowers. It does best in shade.

Lilyturf can get old and shabby, so trim back older foliage in spring after new foliage emerges (you can mow creeping lilyturf). Lilyturf is hardy to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 34.4 degrees Celsius (zones 4 to 10).

 

Meadowsweet

(Filipendula spp.)

 

Turn to meadowsweet when you want to add some color to a shaded pond. Astilbe-like white, pink and red fragrant flower plumes rise above the lower-growing foliage in midsummer. It does best out of full sun with well-draining soil and ample water.

Queen of the prairie (F. rubra) is the tallest, growing up to 8 feet tall. F. purpurea is slightly smaller, at 3 to 4 feet tall, while dropwort (F. vulgaris) is more compact, with plumes topping out at about 3 feet. Dropwort can also take more sun than the other species. Hardiness varies by species, but generally meadowsweet is hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (zones 3 to 9).

 

Pond Plants 5Bliss Garden Design, original photo on Houzz

 

Moor Grass

(Molinia caerulea)

Native to Europe, Asia and North Africa

 

If you’re landscaping around a sun-drenched pond and looking for a good ornamental grass, moor grass might be the answer. Its clumps of light green leaves stay fairly low, but it’s more noted for its summer flowers. They rise on stalks above the base, starting in shades of light yellow to purple and then darkening as fall approaches.

Of the two most commonly found species, purple moor grass (M. c. ssp. caerulea), is smaller, with clumps that are about 1 foot to 2 feet high and flowers in shades of purple on stalks reaching 2 to 3 feet high. Tall moor grass (M. c. ssp. arundincea) forms clumps that can reach up to 3 feet high and wide, with flower stems from 5 to 8 feet tall. If you’re looking for a tallgrass, ‘Karl Foerster’ has long been a favorite of gardeners.

Moor grass likes full sun to partial shade and moist conditions, so provide ample water; it dislikes alkaline soil, so will suffer there. It’s slow to get established but will last long after that. Moor grass is hardy to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 28.9 degrees Celsius (zones 5 to 9).

 

Ornamental Rhubarb

(Rheum spp.)

 

Like its edible cousin, ornamental rhubarb likes sun and lots of water. It grows best in rich, well-draining soil, reaching 4 to 10 feet tall with 2- to 3-foot-wide leaves. Red, pink or white flowers appear in late spring and early summer, and the leaves are showstoppers at other times. They’re hardy to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 28.9 degrees Celsius (zones 5 to 7).

Caution: The leaves are poisonous if ingested.

 

Rodgersia

(Rodgersia spp.)

Native to China and Japan

 

Rodgersia has a reputation of being an excellent choice for a woodland garden, thanks to its love of dappled shade, its green foliage, which turns more bronze-ish in fall, and its airy flowers in shades of white to pink that appear in summer. Add in its need for plenty of water, and it’s the perfect choice for the edge of a pond.

 

Pond Plants 6CYAN Horticulture, original photo on Houzz

 

Rodgersia in bloom

 

Plant it in full to partial sun (especially in hot conditions) in rich soil, in a spot where you can enjoy both the flowers and the foliage. R. pinnata, probably the most commonly seen rodgersia, reaches 4 feet tall and 2½ feet wide; other species can be as tall as 6 feet. Rodgersias are hardy to minus 20 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 28.9 degrees Celsius (zones 5 to 7).

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