For gardeners who work the soil, choosing the right plants for a water garden may be a new experience. Ponds and pools need more than just beautiful blooms, although it’s easy to get carried away when you’re deciding between peachy-pink water lilies, purple water hyacinths, and pure white lotus blossoms.
But ponds also need plants that serve a practical purpose: helping keep your watery ecosystem healthy and balanced. (Of course, practical plants can be beautiful, too.) The right choice for your water feature is a combination of plants that work in three ways:
- They oxygenate the water. This is especially important if you’re keeping fish, snails, or other aquatic creatures.
- They take up excess nutrients and phosphorus wastes from fish. Submerged plants (those that grow primarily underwater, although some of their leaves and stems may float on the surface) are great at filtering the water to keep it clean and clear.
- They provide shade to keep the water cooler and reduce algae. Shade plants also provide shelter for fish. Floaters are good choices for shade. These are plants that drift over the water, or that are anchored to the bottom of the pond by their roots while their foliage or flowers bob on the surface.
Large ponds can handle several plants, but small water gardens, like those in a half whiskey barrel, will do fine with 2 to 4 plants.Some aquatic plants reproduce fast, so you can start with one water hyacinth or water lettuce and let them multiply. If you find yourself with extras, compost them. Don’t toss them in natural water features, where they can become invasive.
You can also use marginal plants to add beauty to any marshy or spongy soil around your pond. If the area gets at least five hours of sun a day, bog plants like sedge and pitcher plants will thrive.
Tips for choosing water garden plants:
- Look for plants that flower at different times, so you’ll always have something in bloom.
- If you live in a cold climate, read up on the aquatic plants you’re growing. Some may need to be treated like annuals and replaced each year. Others can be brought inside as houseplants during the winter and returned to the pond in spring. Plants that grow from bulbs or rhizomes, such as cannas, may be potted up in moist sand and overwintered in a tub of water in a cool place (40-55 degrees F).
- Avoid crowding your water garden. Leave about 1/3 of the water’s surface open.
- For visual interest, use some plants that grow vertically and some that grow horizontally.
- Follow product directions when you fertilize, especially if you have fish or other aquatic life.
Submerged plants include:
- Anacharis, also known as waterweed
- Parrot Feather
Floating plants include:
- Water lettuce
- Water hyacinth
- Water lilies
Marginal plants include:
- Umbrella palm
- Iris Louisiana
Plant selections vary by store. A Home Depot Garden Center associate will be glad to help you find what you need or suggest alternatives.
Lotus image: Shutterstock/Klagvivik Viktor
Purple water hyacinth: Shutterstock/pan_kung