Best Plants for Water Gardens: 14 Gorgeous Options

Have you always wished that you could create a water garden in your yard to enjoy the peaceful ambiance of a pond? Well, we’ve got the best water garden plants to help you make that wish a reality!

Traditionally, water gardens are meant to resemble naturally occurring fresh-water aquatic habitats such as ponds and streams.

In addition to adding landscaping elements like rock features, you can add your own unique touch to your water garden by choosing the kinds of flowering plants and shrubs that you prefer. The options are plentiful. However, be sure to choose plants that will do well in wet environments with moist, rocky soil.

In this article, we’ve made it our goal to help you select the best plants for your water garden!

Best Pond Plants

A water garden is basically a pond ecosystem. This means that it will be prone to algae overgrowth just like a natural pond unless you take measures to prevent this from happening.

The good news is that it’s possible to keep a balanced ecosystem in your water garden without adding huge amounts of chemicals. Believe it or not, adding plants, rocks, and fish can help to keep the water clean.

Certain aquatic plants, such as water lilies, prevent algae build-up. These plants will absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen back into the water. Their long roots soak up other excess nutrients in the water, cleansing it so that your water is once again clear enough to cast a reflection.

Below, we’ll share some of the best plants for water gardens and ponds. These plants are not only beautiful but also highly functional in helping to maintain a healthy ecosystem in your water garden.

1. Frogbit

As its name implies, European Frogbit may attract a few amphibians to your watering hole. It will produce small, lovely white flowers that appear to float on the surface of your water garden.

2. Water Hyacinth

Like regular Hyacinth, Water Hyacinth will bear beautiful purple flowers. Adding this plant to your water garden will give your pond the appearance of an artist’s canvas filled with layers of purple paint.

3. Lotus Flowers

Lotus blossoms have a timeless quality that will give your garden an effortless appeal. Lotus flowers frequently appear in Asian-style gardens. Their beautiful blooms are considered “emergent,” because they actually rise above the surface of the water (unlike Waterlilies, which float on the surface).

4. Water Lettuce

As you can probably tell from its name, Water Lettuce is one of the humbler varieties of floating pond plants. It’s not as stylish or as colorful as Waterlilies or Lotus flowers, which are usually seen in ornamental ponds. However, its leaves are well-crafted and attractive.

It will also help cleanse your water naturally and efficiently.

5. Waterlilies

In our opinion, Waterlilies are really the quintessential water garden plant. Their long aquatic roots will stretch down into the bottom of your pond, while the flowers remain floating gently on the surface.

The French impressionist painter, Claude Monet, made waterlilies world-famous when he painted giant canvases filled with them. His paintings of waterlilies were based on his own lush water gardens located at his home and studio in Giverny, France.

These gorgeous water plants remind us of catching bullfrogs as a child and the joy of paddling in a rowboat on a hot summer day.

Marginal Plants

Let’s continue on with some marginal plant options. These plants will thrive on the margins of ponds and other freshwater environments, like bogs and streams.

6. Duckweed

Duckweed has long, soft, billowy leaves that emerge from the water and bend in the breeze. This plant will help to prevent algae overgrowth in your water garden. Plus, it will immediately give your water garden the feel of a natural pond.

7. Yellow Flag Iris

There are several varieties of Iris that will thrive around a water garden, depending on your planting zone. Popular Iris varieties include the Rabbit-Ear Iris, Southern Blue Flag Iris, and the Rocky Mountain Iris.

An Iris’ roots need plenty of room to spread out. So, if your water garden container isn’t very large, consider planting Iris flowers on the margins rather than directly in the pond.

8. Phlox

Hardy perennials, including Phlox and Iris, have strong roots that can dig deep into the rocky soil, take hold, and flourish for years to come. The quaint petals of Phlox offer an old-fashioned, cottage-look that complements rustic-style water gardens.

9. Tiger Lilies

These orange Tiger Lilies will add drama and excitement to your water garden. They are exceptionally strong and can grow almost twice as tall as Daylilies. Their bold orange color is flecked with black specks, giving them their name.

10. Horsetails

Marsh and river plants residing at the edges of your water garden will help filter the water naturally. Horsetails contribute both texture and function. Their shape will create an interesting silhouette around your water garden or pond at sunrise and dusk.

11. Marsh Marigold

These lively, cheerful flowers grow naturally on the margins of riverbeds and marshland. Marsh marigolds remind us of buttercups, but they are much more hardy plants. The bright yellow tones of these flowers would look beautiful lining any water garden.

12. Astilbe (Goat’s Beard)

Astilbe, which is also known as Goat’s Beard, does best in partly shaded water gardens. With its plume-like flowers, this shade-loving plant adds an airy, feathery quality to any landscape around a water garden. Incidentally, the resemblance to a goat’s beard is spot-on here, however, Astilbe also comes in other colors besides white.

13. Hostas

This water garden is flanked by Hostas. With their large variegated leaves, tall stems, and attractive light purple flowers, hostas are a hardy choice. They do well in shadier areas with wet soils with good drainage. Hostas will bring interest and dimension to the marginal areas of your outdoor water garden or pond.

14. Cardinal Flower

Lobelia cardinalis, also known as Cardinal Flower, is a bold shade of crimson red. As you might have suspected, it’s named for the bright red plumage on a male cardinal. Cardinal Flowers are also perfect plants for attracting butterflies and hummingbirds.

Ruby-throated hummingbirds will especially enjoy feeding upon the nectar from this flower. Plant it beside your water garden or pond, and you might spot a hummingbird doing exactly that!

Preventing Algae Overgrowth

Now that we’ve gone over some of the most beautiful and cleansing water garden plants, let’s take a look at some other ways in which you can keep your water garden pristine.

Add Fish and Rocks

Fish consume algae, so adding koi fish to your water garden is another great way to keep your water garden naturally aerated and algae-free. Plus, these fish are simply stunning to look at with their bright gold and amber colors.

Rocks provide a home for beneficial bacteria that naturally breakdown organic debris, such as leaves, mosquito larvae, or dirt. This debris can accumulate over time in your water garden, especially during periods of hot, muggy weather.

Plants, fish, and rocks will each contribute to creating and maintaining a healthy pond ecosystem in your water garden. However, it is important to remember that nature works on its own time frame. Some things just can’t be rushed – and good things are worth waiting for.

You’ll need to give each of the elements – the fish, aquatic plants, and naturally occurring bacteria – adequate time to filter the water. This process can take several weeks. In the end, you will have a balanced ecosystem in your water garden.

Pond Filters, Pumps, and Clarifiers

However, if you prefer to minimize the maintenance time involved so that you can enjoy your water garden right away, then you might want to go ahead and install a filtration system in your water garden to keep the water clean. A pump will prevent the water from becoming stagnant. Meanwhile, the filter will remove any natural debris that can end up your pond.

A good filtration system with a clarifier will keep the water aerated by adding back oxygen, preventing further algae build-up, and removing dead algae blooms. This is important for keeping mosquitos and other water-loving insects from setting up shop and laying eggs in your water garden.

Here’s an example of a submersible pond filtration system on Amazon.

Pennington Aquagarden , Inpond 5 in 1, Pond & Water Pump, Filter, UV Clarifier, LED Spotlight and Fountain , All in One solution for a Clean, Clear and Beautiful pond , For Ponds up to 200 Gallons
  • Instant solution for a clear and healthy pond: combined efficient pump and filtration package for ponds up to 200 gallons
  • A comprehensive range of three fountain heads, fittings and adjusters included
  • The built in 5 watt UV clarifier light kills green water and algae
  • The filter contains effective mechanical and biological filtration to keep our water clean and healthy
  • Ceramic biomedia - supports large populations of friendly bacteria creating a clear and healthy pond

Last update on 2024-05-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

This is a good all-in-one solution because it combines a water pump, a filtration system, and a built in UV clarifier for algae removal. Plus, it even includes a decorative water fountain with automatic LED lighting.

Other Useful Cleansing Products

If you have small children who enjoy playing in the yard, you already know that keeping your water garden as clean and insect-free as possible is an absolute must. Here are a few other products that can be used in conjunction with filtering water garden plants:

UV Clarifiers

In addition to adding some of the best plants for water gardens, consider a UV clarifier to keep your water garden clear of algae. A UV clarifier harnesses the natural power of the sun’s ultraviolet light to prevent green algae blooms.

UV Clarifiers work in conjunction with a full filtration system. The clarifier prevents green algae from reproducing, then sends the dead algae into your filtration system where it can be processed and removed from your pond. The best part is that it takes only a few minutes to install. You can place it out of sight so that it is not visible in your water garden.

Last update on 2024-05-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Filter Starter Tablets

It’s also a good idea to add Filter Starter Tablets to your filtration system. Although it’s not absolutely necessary, these tablets will add beneficial bacteria back into your pond. If you are already installing a mechanical filtration system, filter starter tablets will not entail much more of an additional cost.

TetraPond Submersible Flat Box Filter, For 250 To 500 Gallon Ponds
  • SUBMERSIBLE FILTER: Flat box filter prevents pump from clogging and keeps pond water clear and clean.
  • PARTS INCLUDED: Coarse and fine foam pads, tubing and three hose fittings.
  • CONVENIENT: Attach to various pump inlets – easy to detach for cleaning.
  • WARRANTY: Includes a 1-year limited warranty – see product packaging for details.
  • USAGE: Ideal for use with ponds up to 500 gallons.

Last update on 2024-05-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Koi Pond Natural Clarifier

Remember, you can still add fish, rocks, and plants to naturally filter your water garden even if you choose to install a mechanical filtration system, clarifier, and pump. But if you do have fish in your water garden, you might want to select a UV Clarifier made especially with koi ponds in mind.

API POND ACCU-CLEAR Pond Water Clarifier 32-Ounce Bottle
  • Contains one (1) API POND ACCU-CLEAR Pond Water Clarifier 32-Ounce Bottle
  • Helps clear cloudy pond water of dirt, silt and floating particles
  • Clumps floating particles into large clusters that can be easily removed by a pond filter
  • Works quickly and improves the overall efficiency of your pond filter
  • Use weekly or when cloudy water is observed in freshwater ponds

Last update on 2024-05-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

The bottom line? Natural elements such as rocks, fish, and the best plants for water gardens can work in conjunction with a mechanized filtration system, pump, and clarifier to keep your pond in tip-top shape.

You Water Garden and Wildlife

You might be wondering: “will a water garden attract more wildlife to my yard?”. The answer is yes, but it partly depends on the types of plants that you choose.

Thirsty critters may inevitably be drawn to your water garden while looking for a drink on a hot summer day. This includes your dog, who will likely view it as a great opportunity to slurp down, splash in, and cool off.

We can’t necessarily help you keep your dog out of your water garden. But if you want to intentionally attract beautiful creatures like birds or butterflies, it turns out that some of the best plants for water gardens will also provide natural food sources for these creatures.

Try adding native flowering plants such as joe-pye weed, black-eyed Susan, bee-balm, and cardinal flowers in the landscape surrounding your water garden in order to draw birds and butterflies close by.

Meanwhile, if you don’t mind dragonflies (since they are transitory visitors and one of the prettier insects), then consider also adding a few plants to grab their interest. Pickerelweed, sweet flag and soft rush will each invite dragonflies to hover around your water garden or pond.

Final Thoughts

To really create the authentic look and feel of a pond in your yard, be sure to incorporate some of the best plants for water gardens. Above all, these plants will make your water garden feel like a charming, natural watering hole, right in your own backyard. Then, simply take a seat and admire nature’s beauty all around you!