18 pond plants to fill in your water garden or pond

if you have a pond in your yard, no matter the size, do you have pond plants? if the answer is no, it could be a great time to consider adding them. pond plants are interesting, gorgeous, and they can be relatively easy to keep healthy when you get them into your pond. they can help improve the quality of the air around the pond, in the water, and they can enhance your pond’s feel or highlight a water feature.

also, did you know that pond plants are an important part of the biosphere? no matter which ecosystem you choose, you’ll find some type of plants, usually several. so, you’re spoilt for choice when you start trying to decide which pond plants you want to add to your area. since pond plants are plants that have specially adapted to grow in aquatic areas, they thrive in large and small bodies of water.

you can easily find deep floaters that don’t hold onto the soil and float freely in your pond, or there are free floaters that float along your pond’s surface. finally, you have rooted pond plants that have roots that hook to the soil but parts that reach up to the surface and float. are you intrigued? if so, take a look at our pick for the best pond plants to fill your pond or water garden below.

1. parrots feather

the first pond plant on the list is parrots feather. this plant comes with a deep underwater root system that can absorb nutrients straight from your pond or it can anchor directly into your pond’s substrate. it offers very small leaves that are feather-like, hence the name. the leaves branch from a slightly thicker stem. the leaves open wide during the day to help absorb the sun’s energy so the plant can photosynthesize. after the sun drops, the feather-like leaves close tightly until the sun comes back out.

you should be aware that this pond plant is classified as an invasive species. it earned this classification because it has the ability to rapidly grow once it gets in the water. the breakaway shoots and stems allow this plant to easily out-compete any native plants around it. if it does, it’ll stop light from penetrating the water. in turn, this reduces the amount of dissolved oxygen available, and other plants can photosynthesize.

1 parrots feather
狐尾藻 parrot’s feather by dennis wong / cc by 2.0

2. sweet flag

if you’re someone who is going to build a large pond, you may want to consider adding this pond plant. sweet flag can get up to 60-inches tall under the correct conditions, and it’s a perennial herb. it produces very leafy triple-edged stems. these stems are green at the base, and they slowly start to get darker the closer you get to the tip of each stem. the leaves have an elongated sword shape to them, and the edges have a slight wavy texture to them for visual interest.

this pond plant works best if you plant it in the margins or at the borders of your pond. if you want the plant to produce flowers, you’ll have to plant it in the margins. otherwise, you’ll just get the lush, green leaves without any flowers. this is a self-propagating plant through a system of creeping roots. the roots produce rhizomes that you can easily snip off and put elsewhere in your pond to grow more, or you can let them grow and spread freely.

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sweet flag – hampton ponds, westfield ma by rusty clark ~ 100k photos / cc by 2.0

3. water smartweed

anyone who has a koi pond can get away with planting this pond plant. water smartweed does best when you plant it along the muddy substrates in any shallow areas of your pond. this position allows the plant to absorb a host of essential nutrients. you could also leave it to float on the surface of your koi, and the plant will provide shaded areas for your koi. you’ll get a very thick stem with this plant, and it produces dagger-like leaves in an alternate pattern.

this pond plant also has a cluster of bright pink flowers through the summer months, so it’s a nice addition to your pond. if you want to propagate this plant, you’ll have to wait for the flowers to produce an oval-shaped, flattened, dark seed. you can easily collect this seed and plant it in a pot until you see it producing leaves and shoots. when it grows, you can transfer it to the margins of the pond in the soil. keep them away from areas where your koi could uproot and damage them.

3 water smartweed
water smartweed by j.n. stuart / cc by-nc-nd 2.0

4. water clover

this is a versatile pond plant that allows you to submerge it under the water to give it a very similar look to a traditional lucky four-leaf clover, or you can allow it to float across the surface. you can use it in a traditional pond or a koi pond if you want a little more shade for your fish. it also shelters them from the heat if you live in a very hot and humid area or have scorching summer temperatures. the koi won’t uproot or damage it as they feed either, so it’s hardy.

water clover is a pond plant that produces rhizomes. these rhizomes spread throughout your pond’s substrate. you’ll typically find it along the edge of the pond, and it thrives in sunny areas. you can cut the rhizomes and replant them in other areas if you want to see this plant elsewhere in your pond. just make sure it gets plenty of sun to be happy. it works very well to filter your pond water to help keep it clear and healthy for any other plants or koi.

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marsilea by kirill ignatyev / cc by-nc 2.0

5. hornwort

hornwort is a pond plant that you can use as a floating plant. however, you can also anchor it inside your substrate to keep it one area of your pond. what you do with it will depend entirely on the type of look you’re trying to achieve with your plants. if you do decide to add it and let it float along the surface, it can provide shelter for any wildlife you have in the pond. it can also help provide shade, and this can help prevent unwanted algae blooms from appearing during summer.

this pond plant offers a very long green stem. it’ll grow branches spaced around an inch apart on this stem, and the branches will eventually lead to needle-like leaves that are very thin and dark green. you can easily propagate this plant using asexual reproduction. all you have to do is remove some of the side shoots and anchor them in the soil. the pond’s ph should stay between 6.0 and 7.5, and the temperature between 59 and 86-degrees fahrenheit to accomplish propagation.

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hornwort by jason hollinger / cc by 2.0

6. water soldier

this unique pond plant is a perennial, and it has a set of serrated leaves that look very similar to how the top of a pineapple looks. the male plant will produce small clusters of tiny white flowers. the female plant will also produce one single white flower. this plant does best if you put it along your pond’s margins, and it can thrive in sunlight or shaded environments to allow you to spread it around your pond without worrying about stunting the growth.

during the warmer spring and summer months, this pond plant will float lazily on the water’s surface. the serrated leaves will break the surface of the water and protrude up. when the first cold snap comes before the winter, the plant will develop a protective layer of a slimy calcium carbonate. this protective layer will seal the plant and weigh it down so it sinks back  into the water before coming to rest on the pond’s floor. when the weather warms out, the protective layer will fade and the plant will float back up over and over again.

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vesikarikas; stratiotes aloides by urmas ojango / cc by-nc 2.0

7. water chestnut

ideally, the water chestnut is a pond plant that you’ll put in your pond’s marginal substrate. if you do, it’ll slowly form shoots that will eventually work their way up to your pond’s surface. once it does, it’ll form very rigid leaves in a diamond shape that floats on the water’s surface. just like any other floating species of plant you have in your pond, it works to shade the area around it to help prevent algae growth. it also provides a nice, cool shelter for any creatures you have in your pond like frogs or fish to live.

as a bonus, this pond plant is easy to propagate and move around your pond if you want to fill it in. the plant will produce very small vegetables during the year, and they’ll eventually sink to the bottom of the pond and end up buried in the substrate. this kickstarts the growth cycle all over again. also, these vegetables are very popular components in several chinese-based dishes all around the world.

7 water chestnut
eleocharis dulcis ‘variegata’ (chinese water chestnut) by john winder / cc by-nc-nd 2.0

8. floating watermoss

if you go by the name, you’d mistakenly think that this pond plant was a type of moss. however, it’s actually a type of fern that floats. this plant features three leaves. two of these leaves will use small pockets of air to float along your pond’s surface. you won’t see the third leaf on the surface. instead, this leaf acts like a root system. it stays submerged underneath the water and draws in nutrients to help the plant grow and thrive all summer long.

unfortunately, this pond plant requires more babying to keep it alive and healthy because it’s not very hardy, and it can quickly die if you don’t have the correct growing conditions. it has to be in a heated pond for one. you should situate this plant in a very sheltered area that gets a lot of direct sunlight each day. during the colder months, you want to remove this plant from your pond and bring it indoors in a heated aquatic environment if you want it to survive. put it back in your heated pond in the spring.

8 floating watermoss
salvinia natans by eran finkle / cc by 2.0

9. frogbit

this pond plant looks very similar to a more traditional water lily. however, it’s much smaller in size than water lilies. on this plant, the leaves form a rosette. the rosettes will surround a white flower. this flower will start to bloom in july or early august and last for a few weeks. it offers leaves that sit on the surface of your pond to provide shade and shelter for any smaller critters. since it shades the water, it can also keep it cooler to help prevent algae blooms.

you do want to plant this pond plant just like you would a traditional water lily. so, you have to put it in a pot and add substrate to the pot. set the pot in the shallow areas of your pond and allow the plant to grow. however, you should note that this plant has earned the invasive species in north america’s great lakes and parts of canada. this is due to the plant’s fast growth rate and the ability to do well in a huge range of water conditions. so, it can take over if you don’t keep an eye on it.

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frogbit by debs-eye / cc by-nc-nd 2.0

10. corkscrew rush

this pond plant is an evergreen perennial, and it’ll eventually form larger clusters of leafless, corkscrew-like stems. one odd point about this plant is that it can produce brown flowers in smaller clumps at seemingly random intervals. it may produce them one summer and then not again for a year or two. this is a versatile pick for your pond that you can easily plant in any type of substrate along the border of your pond. the root systems will stay moist enough here to sustain healthy growth.

this pond plant can easily give all of the smaller creatures a larger habitat to hide and live in inside your pond. it can lend a natural look to your pond as it grows along the edges to help fill in any dead space. if you want to have more of this plant, you can easily propagate it using rhizome separation. once you separate them, you can replant them in other areas along the border of your pond.

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plants make the pond by matt wyczalkowski / cc by-nc 2.0

11. water lettuce

this is a green floating pond plant that mimics the look of lettuce, hence the name. you may have heard it referred to as the water cabbage too. you’ll get very soft but thick leaves with this plant that make it look like opening cabbage or lettuce. you can easily find this plant in south america’s tropical freshwater bodies, and it’s also found in southeast asia, africa, and throughout indonesia growing wild. it’s very popular for adding visual interest to ponds.

however, since this pond plant can populate very quickly in almost every type of tropical freshwater, it’s listed as an invasive species. it can easily outstrip other native plants. this is a very easy plant for a beginner to take care of, as long as you put it in a location with a decent amount of light. you should also add fertilizer to the water to encourage it to reproduce by itself without any help from you.

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water lettuce (pistia) by jim mullhaupt / cc by-nc-nd 2.0

12. duckweed

this pond plant is a smaller species that floats on the surface of the water. you’ll typically find it floating in very big masses in rivers, ponds, and lakes. it’s also a very popular aquarium plant in large and small setups. this is notably one of the easiest types of aquatic plants to keep alive, and this is part of the reason why it’s so popular. all you really have to do to this plant is put it in a body of water with nutrients in it, and you want to make sure it has a decent amount of light.

this pond plant also uses asexual reproduction, and this means that it’ll multiply by itself very quickly once you meet the bare minimum for growing conditions. they’ll help filter your pond water by absorbing harmful elements and any excess nutrients. the roots don’t stick right to the substrate either, and this provides a nice hiding spot for juvenile fry or guppies to safely hide from predatory fish.

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duckweed by liu tao / cc by-nc-nd 2.0

13. rough horsetail

this pond plant works wonderfully if you need to add a little height and vertical presence to your pond. in ideal growing conditions, this plant has no problem getting at least three feet tall. you can also find dwarf varieties that only get around eight inches tall at full maturity, and it would be easy to layer these plants to fill in large or small gaps along your pond. this plant does grow very aggressively when it gets in the water, so you do have to keep an eye on it.

if you want to control how rapidly this pond plant grows and prevent it from taking over, you can put it in a container before submerging the entire container into the pond. these plants are toxic to cattle and horses, so keep this in mind when you plant them. also, they’ll add texture to your pond. they have lighter green stalks with darker green rough horizontal stripes at various intervals.

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horsetails by victoria / cc by-nc-nd 2.0

14. umbrella palm

this pond plant is a favorite because it can easily grow to an impressive height. unlike a lot of the plants that top out at water level or a foot or so over, this one can easily get up to six feet tall at full maturity. it’ll allow you to easily create a soft backdrop for your shorter aquatic plants to shine. you should keep this plant in a container though to help control how it spreads because it has a reputation for growing very rapidly, and it can easily engulf entire edges of your pond if you don’t keep an eye on it.

it’s very common to put this pond plant in a plastic tub. this tub is large enough to support the bigger plant’s size while being strong enough to contain it. you won’t need to add dirt to the tub because the plant will pull all of the nutrients it needs from the pond water. however, adding substrate at the start can help the plant establish itself. you can also safely cut the plant’s root ball to split it and it’ll quickly grow back without any damage.

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umbrella palm by dinesh valke / cc by-sa 2.0

15. water forget-me-not

with this pretty pond plant, you’ll get a very dense foliage mat. it also produces very pretty pink or blue flowers that stand out against the green foliage. this plant does best when you put them by water features that make the water move, like waterfalls. you can easily stick any stem cuttings you make with this plant in between the rocks by and around a waterfall to ensure they get fast enough moving water to thrive. they won’t do well in stagnant ponds.

this pond plant does like to be in more shallow water. so, it’s easy to plant it along the edges of your pond as long as there is some movement in the water. it can get up to an impressive 28-inches high at full maturity, and you can encourage this plant to branch out by pinching them as they grow. the flowers will grow in smaller clusters on top of a thick green stem that rises out of the water.

15 water forget me not
myosotis scorpioides by andreas rockstein / cc by-sa 2.0

16. papyrus

papyrus is one pond plant that straddles the line between a bog plant and a marginal plant. if you get certain bog plants, they can stand in a small amount of water, and marginal plants don’t need to be directly in your pond water at all to do well. this is a marginal plant, and it’ll thrive if you plant it in a small amount of standing water like by the edge of your pond. as a bonus, you can also plant it in a container and grow it in the ground like you would any other plant, as long as you keep the soil saturated.

this pond plant has a unique look that is interesting enough to serve as your water feature’s focal point. when this plant gets too big to manage easily, you can split it, place one division right back in your pond, and use the other division somewhere else in the pond or in a container. some homeowners like to grow this plant on their patios in larger pots.

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papyrus by michael wallace / cc by-nc-nd 2.0

17. fairy fern

fairy moss is a lovely pond plant that fits very well in any sized koi pond. left alone, this plant can easily grow into a very thick cluster that floats on the surface of the water and blocks out the light. this lowers the water temperature for the koi to live more comfortably, and it also helps reduce the chances of algae growth or an algae bloom appearing on the water.

if you live in an area that is warm all year-round, this plant can easily grow to be such a thick cluster that it can create a barrier over the water that prevents mosquitoes from laying eggs. you’ll get very tight clusters of small leaves that range in color from light green to a deeper reddish brown tinge. they’ll propagate by themselves and keep spreading unless you keep them in check. you can do this by periodically harvesting them and putting the plant in your compost bin to break down.

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fairy moss by willhein fyles / cc by-nc-nd 2.0

18. water purslane

there are many viable species of this pond plant available, and one of the most common that people put into their koi ponds is red ludwigia. it does require to be in a location that gets direct sunlight for six to eight hours a day to do well as it won’t thrive in shaded conditions. you can use it as a floating or submerged plant, and this adds a layer of versatility to this plant that many of the others don’t offer. it also works well in small or large ponds.

when you have this pond plant, it’ll give you purple or red leaves that are very visually interesting and pop against the water. it can also produce very small flowers with the correct growing conditions. it’s very fast-growing, so you do want to keep an eye on it. when you have it in your pond, it’ll help oxygenate the water to make it healthier for any fish or plants.

18 water purslane
lythrum portula by –tico– / cc by-nc-nd 2.0

bottom line

these 18 pond plants can help spruce up your pond while enhancing how natural it looks. since we offer submerged plants, plants that do well along the edges of the pond, and plants that float on the water, you can easily mix and match them to fill in any open areas to create a lush look. the plants will complement one another and help keep your pond healthier and cooler all summer long.

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