11 Aquatic Plants for Your Garden Pond

Growing aquatic plants is a great way to improve the look of your garden pond and make it appear more natural. Gardening expert Madison Moulton lists 11 aquatic plants that are perfectly suited to pond planting

aquatic plants for pond

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A pond can be a luxurious garden feature that instantly takes your landscaping to the next level. But a few aquatic plants are essential for it to look natural and blend with the rest of your backyard.

Aquatic or semi-aquatic plants, unlike most garden plants, love wet soil. Some are submerged in shallow water, while others grow completely under the water’s surface as they do in their native environments.

These 11 aquatic plants are ideal options to upgrade your garden pond. Some are classified as invasive in certain regions, so check your local resources before making a final decision.

Water Lily

Close-up of Water Lily in the pond. This is an aquatic plant with graceful and rounded floating leaves resting on the surface of the water. These leaves have a waxy texture and are dark green in color. Water lily flowers are stunning, large, yellowish in color with golden stamens. Flowers are made up of many petals arranged in layers, creating a visually pleasing and intricate structure.
These popular aquatic plants have large floating leaves and summer-blooming flowers.

Water lilies (Nymphaea) are the quintessential aquatic plant. They’re often the first thing to come to mind when gardeners want to fill a pond. It’s easy to see why these plants are so popular. The large and floating leaves are an attraction on their own, but the flowers that emerge in summer are when these plants truly shine.

Water lilies enhance a pond’s visual appeal and offer shade and protection to aquatic life if you keep fish in your pond or if it is a home for local amphibians. Their broad leaves also prevent excessive sunlight penetration, reducing algae growth that can quickly become a nuisance in garden ponds.

For optimal growth, plant water lilies in pots designed for aquatic plants and keep them in still water away from fountains. Place the pot at a depth of around 12 inches or more, depending on the variety you choose.

Creeping Jenny

Close-up of a blooming Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) in the garden. It is a low growing, creeping perennial known for its bright and cheerful appearance. Its leaves are small, round, bright green, resembling small coins. The leaves are dark green, arranged opposite each other along the stems. The flowers are bright yellow, cup-shaped with five petals.
This plant is a versatile groundcover with yellow flowers that can grow in various conditions, even submerged in water.

Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia) is a popular ground cover plant. It has the ability to spread and fill empty spaces with sunny yellow flowers quickly. Adding to its versatility, this moisture-loving plant grows low alongside streams and can even grow completely submerged, often used in indoor fish tanks.

This creeper creates a beautiful cascading effect over rocks or pond edges in garden ponds, looking even more attractive in full flower. The dense leaf growth also absorbs excess nitrate in water – especially important if you’re keeping fish in your pond.

Creeping Jenny adapts well to different conditions, thriving in full sun to partial shade. When planting, you can submerge it to control its spread or plant along the pond’s edge with most of the vine out of the water. Watch for rapid spread closely and trim often to stop the vine from taking over other parts of your garden.

Cardinal Flower

Close up of Lobelia cardinalis flowering plant in the garden. This is a bright perennial plant with lanceolate leaves, dark green in color, located in a rosette at the base of the plant and along the stems. The leaves have serrated edges. The plant produces magnificent tubular flowers in bright red. These flowers grow on tall, erect stems.
This native plant produces tall spikes of captivating red flowers that attract hummingbirds.

For something tall and eye-catching to stand out at the edges of your pond, you can’t go wrong with the cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis). This North American native is often found in wetlands and along stream banks, sporting eight-inch flowers in a captivating cardinal red.

The striking flowers attract hummingbirds, boosting biodiversity in your garden while improving the overall look of your pond. The tall spikes add a vertical element to low or ground-level ponds, ensuring they don’t get lost in landscaping.

Plant in fertile soil along your pond’s edge or in a partially submerged container, keeping in full sun to partial shade to boost flowering. Don’t bury the plants too deep. They appreciate moisture in the soil but not as much around green growth.  

Blue Flag

Close-up of a Blue Flag (Iris versicolor) flowering plant in a garden near a pond. It is a charming and characteristic perennial plant. Its leaves are long and sword-like, growing in a fan-like arrangement from the base of the plant. The leaves are deep green and provide an attractive backdrop for the plant's striking flowers. The flowers consist of three upright petals called standards and three downward-curving petals called falls. The color of the petals varies from dark purple-blue to blue-violet, with characteristic white or yellow markings. The falls have a striking yellow or white central blotch, adding to the flower's allure.
This species of Iris features vibrantly patterned blue, violet, and yellow-centered flowers.

Another stunning native fit for a pond is Blue Flag (Iris versicolor). The specific epithet versicolor describes the colorfully patterned flowers, with patches of blue and violet and spots of yellow in the center. Naturally found in marshes or along streams where soil remains moist, this iris adds complementary blue – a rare color in nature – to any garden pond.

But color isn’t the only benefit of this plant. The strong root system can stabilize pond banks and look best when planted en masse. If you want to replicate the peaceful look of a natural pond out in the wild, this is the plant to choose.

Iris versicolor grows best in shallow water or muddy soil along the edges of ponds. Make sure you choose the native blue flag and not other wetland irises that are very invasive in some areas.

Water Mint

Close-up of a flowering Water Mint plant in the garden. The leaves are aromatic and release a pleasant minty scent when crushed. They are arranged opposite each other along the stems and are slightly toothed along the edges. The flowers of water mint are small and densely clustered in spikes at the tops of the stems. Flower spikes are light lavender in color.
Water mint has aromatic flowers and is suitable for pond growth due to its preference for wet soil.

Found in marshlands across Europe and naturalized in parts of the United States, water mint (Mentha aquatica) has all the benefits of regular garden mint in aroma and pollinator-attracting flowers. But the bonus of this variety is that it is suitable for growing in ponds, thriving in constantly moist or wet soil.

Unfortunately, it also shares one of the downsides of mint – vigorous growth. Water mint rhizomes spread quickly and aggressively, potentially taking over your pond and other parts of your garden if not controlled. Depending on your local regulations, growing in some areas is even illegal.

It’s best to keep them restricted by planting in pots, as you would out in the garden, to limit their spread. The ideal conditions for this plant are partial shade and shallow water or wet soil, as you would find on the edges of your pond. Be prepared to keep your shears handy and trim often.

Water Lettuce

Close-up of Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) in a pond. This is an aquatic plant with large, oval leaves, densely clustered in rosettes. The leaves have a thick texture and are covered in fine, soft hairs, which give them a velvety feel. The leaves are bright green in color and have a wavy or crinkled edge.
This floating plant features rosettes of non-edible rounded leaves resembling lettuce or cabbage.

Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) is arguably the most adorable aquatic plant on this list, with rosettes of rounded leaves that come together to resemble a head of lettuce or cabbage. Despite this resemblance, the leaves are not edible but are still incredibly useful in garden ponds.

Water lettuce is a natural filter, absorbing excess nutrients and limiting algae growth by shading the surfaces below. Its floating nature also offers shelter to smaller aquatic life, if there is any, in your garden pond.

These benefits do, unfortunately, come at a cost. Water lettuce is considered invasive in warmer areas of the US and is particularly problematic in Florida, where it blocks waterways and limits irrigation. Check your local resources to determine the invasive status in your area before you consider planting in your pond.

Hornwort

Close-up of a Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) in the water. It is an aquatic plant that lacks true leaves. Instead, it features long, slender, and feathery stems that are covered in whorls of finely divided, needle-like segments.
This perennial aquatic plant thrives submerged with long stems and needle-like leaves, enhancing water quality.

Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) is one of the few options on this list that thrives when completely submerged. The ethereal stems and needle-like leaves look stunning when swaying underwater or even floating on the surface of your pond. The stems can also reach an impressive ten feet long, still visible even in deep ponds.

Ceratophyllum demersum is often used in ponds and aquariums to improve water quality. It absorbs harmful compounds in pond water and uses those to fuel growth – a true win-win. It can also protect small fish from predators, giving them protection to dart in and out of.

To add to these benefits, it’s also remarkably easy to grow. All you need to do to plant hornwort in your pond is to drop a stem cutting into the pond and wait for it to grow. Aim for sunny to partially shaded spots to take advantage of its rapid growth.

Corkscrew Rush

Close-up of a Corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus) plant with water drops in a garden. Its leaves are long, slender, and cylindrical. Stems are spiral.
This water ornamental plant features spiraled stems, thriving in wet soil along pond edges.

If quirky is what you’re after in your garden pond, look no further than corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus). This plant is named after the spiraled stems that resemble corkscrews, creating a unique and eye-catching feature wherever it is planted.

Corkscrew rush thrives in wet soil and grows best along the edges of ponds. The base can also be slightly submerged, leaving the curled stems to sprawl on the top of the water. Once they’re in the right environment, they require little care to look their best year-round.

Plant it in a container and submerge it in shallow water (no more than four inches above the crown) or moist soils along a pond’s edge. It can be aggressive in warmer climates, so be prepared to control its spread if you’re planting directly in the pond.

Pickerelweed 

Close-up of Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) flowering plants. It is an attractive aquatic plant with colorful leaves and flowers. The leaves are heart-shaped, relatively large, with pronounced veins and a glossy green color. The flowers grow on tall erect stems in inflorescences that rise above the surface of the water. Flowers consist of three petals, which are connected into a tube, giving them a tubular shape. The flowers are blue-violet.
This aquatic native plant has purple flowers and dense green growth.

Pickerelweed has a somewhat off-putting name but is a wonderful pond plant to attract pollinators and other wildlife into your garden. The entire plant is large, growing about two feet wide with dense green leaf growth and delicate purple flowers that emerge from summer to fall.

Pickerelweed provides food and a habitat for many animals, particularly beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. Its dense growth also fills empty spaces at the end of your pond with ease, helping stabilize the soil and limit erosion simultaneously.

For pickerelweed to thrive, it should be planted in shallow waters so the leaves are not buried too deeply. A full sun position will ensure full flowering, but they can also grow in light shade. Although it spreads through rhizomes, growth is usually easily managed.

Cattails

Close-up of common cattail (Typha latifolia) flowering plants in a sunny garden. Its leaves are long, flat, and blade-like, resembling tall grass. The flowers look like dense cylindrical spikes that rise above the leaves. Each flower spike is composed of two parts: the female part, known as the brown "cattail," which contains the developing seeds, and the male part, a finer and often longer portion above the cattail.
This plant produces distinctive brown flower spikes and offers erosion prevention.

The common cattail (Typha latifolia) is instantly recognizable for the brown flower spikes that lend the plant its common name. Like water lilies, they are an iconic aquatic plant found growing along rivers and ponds in many habitats.

Opinion is divided on cattails. Some aim to grow them, while others consider them annoying weeds that need removal. But there are a few benefits to growing this plant, from helping wildlife to preventing erosion, that can make them worthwhile choices if you’re willing to control their spread. Their impressive height also adds some extra drama to pond landscapes, especially when in flower.

While cattails grow best in shallow water, they can survive planted around ten inches below the pond surface. It’s vital to keep them controlled and remove any spreading plants to stop them from taking over your entire pond.

Water Forget-Me-Not

Close-up of Water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides) flowering plant. It is an enchanting aquatic plant known for its delicate beauty. Its leaves are elongated and narrow, grow in a rosette. The leaves are bright green and have a slightly hairy texture, giving them a soft and appealing appearance. The flowers grow on thin stems and are collected in clusters. The flowers are tiny, with five sky-blue petals and a yellow eye in the center.
This herbaceous perennial features charming blue and yellow flowers.

For something a little more delicate and compact compared to the stately cattail, water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides) is an ideal option for smaller ponds. This plant sports adorable sky-blue flowers with yellow centers that can instantly brighten your day (and your pond).

This plant’s love of wet soil or shallow water makes it perfect for lining a small pond or planting in aquatic containers. The flowers will pop up in summer and attract bees to your pond, helping other plants in your garden, too. It grows low and continues to produce new shoots without becoming aggressive.

Plant in shallow water or wet soil surrounding your pond, in full sun to partial shade. Dividing every few years will refresh the plant and prevent overcrowding.

Final Thoughts

A pond is a great addition to any garden, made even more impressive with the addition of a few aquatic plants. Choose the right species for your region and consider their preferred conditions to help them thrive.

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