Water enhances any garden, and there’s a wide range of aquatic plants that will thrive in a pond – be they fully submerged, floating on the surface or growing on the pond edge, as a ‘marginal’. Discover our pick of the best plants for garden ponds, with advice on how to grow them.
If you have a garden pond, no matter how small or large, then you’ll be able to grow aquatic plants. In addition to looking attractive, pond plants can provide useful surface cover and shelter for aquatic wildlife. Oxygenating plants can also help to keep the water clear.
Grow pond plants in aquatic compost, topped with grit, and choose plants that are suited for the space you have available. The required planting depth varies from species to species, with some plants needing just 2.5cm of water above their crown, and others needing 30cm or more.
More advice on making and planting a pond:
- Tips for a shady pond
- How to repot pond plants in spring
- Tips for summer pond maintenance
- Ways to improve your pond
- Plants for bog gardens
Pond plants: jump links
- Marginal pond plants
- Oxygenating pond plants
- Small pond and container pond plants
- Wildlife pond plants
Advice for buying pond plants
Here’s our advice for buying the right pond plants for your garden pond, and where to buy online.
- To keep your pond healthy and looking beautiful, it’s best to include a mixture of different types of plants – marginal, oxygenating and floating
- Always check the depth of water that a pond plant should grow in, so you know where to place it in your pond and can be sure your pond is deep enough
- Choose plants that are suited to the size of your pond, as some can grow rapidly, swamping a small pond
- Never plant invasive plants in your pond. Check the government’s Be Plant Wise site for information on the plants to avoid
Where to buy pond plants online
Browse our list of the best pond plants:
Pond plants: Marginal plants
Marginals grow in shallow water or damp soil at the edges of ponds. They’re as important as oxygenating plants for healthy pond life. Native flowering marginals are good for attracting flying insects, while their foliage will give aquatic wildlife shelter as well as habitat for laying eggs.
While they’re essential to help disguise the edges of ponds, marginals are also important when it comes to thinking about the design of your planting scheme. Look at your pond in the same way as a border and consider how plants will work together – for example as part of a colour scheme, or for textural contrasts. And it’s not just wildlife ponds that benefit from marginals – they’re important for adding height and contrast in formal ponds too.
In this clip from Gardeners’ World, Monty Don guides you through the process of planting a marginal plant, lesser spearwort (Ranunuculus flammula). He explains why it’s important to use an aquatic basket and aquatic compost, then shows you how to plant it for the best, most natural results:
Check out our pick of the best marginal plants for ponds:
An elegant marginal plant, Butomus umbellatus bears attractive flowers up to 3cm across, which attract hoverflies and butterflies. The pink flowers are gathered in an umbel on tall stems, above twisted, grassy foliage. Give this flowering rush plenty of room and divide clumps regularly, as it will not flower well if congested.
An attractive pond plant, Caltha palustris has bold glossy leaves, and yellow, buttercup-like flowers on tall stems in late spring and early summer that draw in pollinating insects. This marsh marigold grows naturally alongside streams and in shallow water around ponds, ditches and wet woodlands, and is a good plant for a shady pond. It’s a strong clump-forming plant, so best planted in baskets in shallow water at the edge of a pond, and divided every couple of years.
Carex elata ‘Aurea’
Carex elata ‘Aurea’ is a vigorous, long-lasting sedge, that’s ideal for growing in the boggy ground around the edge of a pond, where its vivid yellow-green foliage will soften the edges and be reflected in the water. It can also be grown as a marginal plant and is a popular choice for borders with heavy soil. Allow to reach its required size and divide when necessary. Grows best in shade, but will tolerate sun.
The Egyptian paper rush is a tender marginal plant, so plant in a pot, resting in water, ready to move to a sheltered spot over the winter months. It’s worth the effort if you want to add exotic architectural foliage to your pond. The tall, bright green, upright stems are crowned with tufted umbels, so it’ll stand out among other more natural plants.
Houttuynia cordata ‘Chameleon’
An unusual-looking plant, the chameleon plant is one that people either love or think is a bit strange. It’s low-growing and gives good cover around a pond’s edge, with fetching red, green and cream variegated leaves, and small white flowers. It will grow in shade.
Yellow flag iris is a fantastic choice for a large, sunny pond. The sword-shaped leaves are distinctive and the bright yellow flowers are typically elegant iris blooms, appearing in late-spring. It makes a wonderful display when planted in large drifts or naturalised among other marginals. The rhizomes should be divided every two years, after the plant has flowered.
Purple loosestrife is a native wildflower that adds height to bog gardens and the margins of ponds. The nectar-rich purple blooms of Lythrum salicaria are a magnet for wildlife, such as bees and butterflies, and bring colour through summer and into autumn. Divide every two years.
Planted in a sunny spot, this marginal aquatic produces really unusual yellow flower spikes in early summer. Golden club provides great vertical interest and is an eye-catching, curious addition to any pond.
Pickerel weed is one of the best marginals for injecting some colour into pond planting schemes. In late summer, the sword-shaped leaves form a green backdrop for masses of bright purple flowers that attract pollinating insects.
Pond plants: Oxygenating plants
Oxygenating plants are vital for maintaining a healthy garden pond. They grow mainly underwater, producing oxygen and absorbing impurities, which help keep the pond clear and clean. They also limit the spread of unwanted algaes by competing with them for nutrients.
Submerged plants produce oxygen during the day and provide cover for aquatic life, such as newts and frogs. Some oxygenators have dual functionality, being only partly submerged. This boosts oxygen levels in the water, while leaves and stems above the water level offer shade, protection and food for wildlife.
Choose native plants as they’ll withstand cold and ice through the winter months. They’re also unlikely to upset the balance of natural waterways, should they ‘escape’ your garden pond. It’s a good idea to have a mix of oxygenators if your pond is large enough. Plants can then be thinned out in spring, if necessary.
A common British native, hornwort is a permanently submerged oxygenating plant. It’s best suited to a still water pond in sun or partial shade. The dark green feathery foliage floats in the water, growing loosely. Can be thinned out in summer. Leave the dark coloured stems and only take out the yellow or clear coloured ones.
This British native oxygenating plant, water moss, grows deep under the surface of the water. The dark green branched stems and foliage will cope with still ponds or moving water and it will grow in sun or partial shade. It will spread, but can be easily managed by removing clumps by hand.
This is a dual-pupose plant, functioning as a good oxygenator with pretty flowers above water. The foliage is attractive and feathery, with pink primrose-like flowers appearing above the water in May to June. Water violet needs a minimum water depth of 60cm. Although it can be a little tricky to settle into a new pond at first, it will spread easily once it is happily established.
An evergreen annual or short-lived herbaceous perennial. Isolepis cernua grows as a marginal aquatic plant, where it will also help to oxygenate the water, though it can be grown in bog gardens and container ponds, too. Creamy-white flowers dot the grassy foliage in summer. Slender club rush will grow in shade.
This British native oxygenating plant, spiked water milfoil, has submerged olive green feathery foliage. Small yellow and red flowers appearing above the water surface between May and August. It suits all sizes of pond, as long as there is a minimum depth of 30cm and a max of 90cm. It’s easy to confuse with other non-native milfoils.
This submerged British native oxygenating plant has olive green, slightly seaweed-like foliage. Curled pondweed produces small pinkish flowers above the surface in early summer. It grows equally well in sunny or partially shaded ponds and spreads easily. If it’s a new introduction to your pond, leave it to fill up to one third of the pond, then thin out older stems regularly to keep under control.
This is a British native oxygenator that is mostly submerged with some foliage appearing on the surface and white flowers in May. Water crowfoot will draw in the hoverflies, bees and butterflies. It will tolerate most water conditions including streams and rivers. It doesn’t generally require any maintenance.
Pond plants: small ponds and container ponds
No room for a garden pond? Then why not create a container pond – ideal for a patio, small garden or balcony. By choosing compact or miniature pond plants you can create a beautiful and thriving eco-system in a small pond or container pond.
Place your pond plants in aquatic baskets, to help control their spread. And use a purpose-made grid or some bricks to create shelves in your container pond that you can put marginal plants onto. As container ponds are shallow, they need to be regularly topped up with rainwater.
Check out our pick of the best container pond plants:
Originally from North America, apache beads is a marginal aquatic plant with large, scented white flowers, often with a flash of pink. The broad green leaves of Anemopsis california turn red in autumn, bringing late season interest. It will grow in shade.
Blue flag is a beautiful marginal plant with attractive purple flowers from May to June, that are held above erect narrow green foliage. Iris versicolor is popular with pollinators and, like many irises, will grow well in a small pond or container pond. It is hungry though, so will appreciate some feeding with aquatic feed tablets.
Nymphaea ‘Walter Pagels’
A dwarf waterlily that’s ideal for small ponds and larger container ponds. It will cover some of the water surface. Remove any dying foliage or flowers regularly. Waterlilies are hungry plants, so feed with aquatic feed tabs. For tiny ponds and smaller container ponds, opt for miniature waterlilies, such as Nymphaea ‘Pygmaea Rubra’.
Oenanthe javanica ‘Flamingo’
The delicate leaves, with interesting pink and white margins, bring colour to a pond from spring through to autumn. Oenanthe javanica ‘Flamingo’ is a marginal plant and is good for shading the surface of the pond. Water dropwort also has small white flowers.
Marsh cinquefoil is a marginal that helps to cover the pond surface, shading the water and providing cover for wildlife. Potentilla palustris bears unusual, deep red flowers that are loved by bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
Miniature rushes are perfect for container ponds, and this compact bulrush, or dwarf reed mace, is a great option. Narrow male flower spikes on top of oval female ones add interest in a small space. Grow Typha minima in a basket to stop it from spreading too rapidly.
Pond plants: wildlife ponds
Creating a pond in a garden is one of the best things you can do for wildlife – they provide habitats, breeding grounds, food, water and shelter for a wide variety of wildlife, from invertebrates and amphibians to birds.
Many pond plants attract pollinators when in flower, including bees, hoverflies, wasps, moths and butterflies. Many pond plants have single flowers, which are the most attractive to pollinating insects.
- Creating a wildlife pond
- Attract wildlife to your garden pond
- How to pond dip your garden pond
- Native plants for wildlife ponds
Check our guide to some of the best plants for wildlife ponds:
With globe-shaped, lilac flowers from June to September, this marginal plant is a magnet for bees, butterflies and hoverflies. Water mint is native, but a vigorous grower so best suited to larger ponds. Grow in a basket to help contain it. Will tolerate shade.
The yellow funnel-like flowers with small red dots of the common monkey flower provide colour through summer, and are good for attracting pollinators. It’s a marginal plant and although not native to the UK, it will still be popular with insects.
This British native produces its delicate blue flowers from May to July. Water forget-me-not provides shelter for aquatic larvae such as tadpoles, and newts lay their eggs in the leaves. It also attracts butterflies, hoverflies and bees. It is perennial and will grow over the edges of ponds and container ponds to soften the feature, while providing a good habitat for aquatic wildlife. Plant in sun or part shade, directly into the soil in shallow water, or in a basket with aquatic compost. Divide it every few years.
From May to September Nymphaea ‘Hermine’ bears large, star-shaped pure white flowers in contrast with large olive-green leaves. The flowers are good for pollinators and the leaves make a good landing pad for bees and other insects. This waterlily is ideal for medium-sized ponds, grow it in water depths of 30-75cm.
This sprawling, native marginal plant bears buttercup-like flowers from May to July, which attract bees, hoverflies and butterflies. The leaves of lesser spearwort also provide cover for wildlife in the pond. Ranunculus flammula may cause skin irritation, so be mindful when handling. Works well in a small pond or a container pond.
Fool’s watercress is a hardy British native that makes an excellent oxygenating plant. It produces foliage both above and below the water surface. In summer, the above-water stems bear small white flowers that are good for attracting bees, hoverflies and butterflies.
Brooklime is a pretty British native that bears delicate blue flowers from May to August, which attract pollinating insects. Although the leaves are evergreen, plants will look best if they’re renewed from cuttings every year (cuttings should be taken from new, leggy stems). Newts use the leaves to lay their eggs in spring. Also known as water speedwell.