Please visit our Sponsors

Related FAQs: Plants and Planting for Ponds,

Related Articles: Waterlilies, Surrounding Landscape, Plant Care, Oxygenating Grasses: MyriophyllumElodea/Anacharis, Vallisnerias Emergent Plants: Sagittarias/Arrowheads, Pond Livestocking,

/Aquatic Gardens, Design, Construction & Maintenance

Pond Plants and Planting


By Bob Fenner


Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon 

by Robert (Bob) Fenner

All biological ponds can benefit from having at least some live plants in and around them. In this and the next four Sections we will cover the basics of plant stock selection, potting and placement for water lilies, other aquatic plants and the surrounding landscape.

Benefits of Live Plants:

In a word live plants in an aquatic garden make it more homeostatic, that is, self-regulating, able to mediate environmental changes.

Functionally, plants use up a lot of the wastes of your livestock and uneaten foods. This, along with reducing the amount of available light keeps algal growth in check. They play other roles in nutrient cycling including absorption of carbon dioxide, producing oxygen during the daylight hours.

Plants provide food material directly and indirectly by furnishing habitat for micro-organisms. For fishes and other livestock they also serve to break up the physical environment, as spawning media and a psychological security blanket to hide from the sun, predators and you.

Living greenery may also serve as your best "bio-indicator", expressing changes in water chemistry, temperature or other changes.

Besides all this, they have high decorative value. They're gorgeous and "complete" a water feature as only living things can. One of the joys of being a commercial designer and installer of aquatic gardens is re-visiting them some time after their construction when the life and landscape has been added.

Even just "some" live plant material use will go a huge way to helping you keep your system optimized and stable. Simple "oxygenating grasses" grow in many types of settings (check on your water chemistry, types of livestock, thermal range annually in making your choices), and do most all that having live plants do. Here are a few of my favorites An above and a below water Sagittaria and Cabomba (for calm, softer water only) below and Water Milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum) emersed and submersed  and a type of "Anacharis" (Elodea densa) below it. Please see the above WWM pieces cited on the header above for more. There are many other choices. 


Some people claim to lack a green/wet-thumb. I refuse to accept this; difficulties in growing aquatic plants are generally due to a lack of understanding on the keeper's part as to basic living requirements. Here are some fundamental hints:

Timing, Fertilization:

Aquatic plants have the same sorts of nutrient requirements as their terrestrial counterparts, even the floating, non-rooted varieties. Where does their food come from? In an established, balanced system some/much can come from wastes that are cycled from other livestock feeding, otherwise it must be provided intentionally by you.

Let me interpret the above paragraph's underlined terms to make some salient points. By establishing an aquatic system I mean the permanent settling-in of beneficial bacteria that are necessary in converting wastes to usable plant nutrients. Ah-ha, that's right, before these microbes are present in sufficient numbers there's no food for your plants. A few weeks to months must pass unless you purposely add these friendly micro-organisms.

Balancing an aquatic garden is a Catch-22 situation. On the one hand you need live plants to have a "balanced" arrangement, but on the other it's necessary to wait on the above-mentioned establishment of nutrient cycling before adding much in the way of live plants. Of note along the same lines, if you're experiencing an outright algal bloom, your "vascular" plants (the one's you want to grow) may not be able to compete with algae (Control is discussed in a later offering) in utilizing light and nutrients. The value of keeping the system stable and balanced is obvious.

Chemical & Physical Conditions:

Besides the aforementioned nutrients from cycling and provided fertilizer, include such matters as pH and the lack of salts and other "treatment remedies". We will cover what little is essential in the way of chemistry for water gardens in a following article. For here just be aware that adding more "stuff" to your water is possibly detrimental to your plants. An established properly balanced system that is correctly maintained will stabilize it's own chemistry well enough that you won't have to add anything to it.

The Right Type of Plants/Placement:

Lighting and depth are key elements to successful aquatic plant care. Know what your specimens requirements are and meet them. Happily, the species used in water gardens are far from touchy in the way of placement, and will adapt to a wide range of light intensity and duration.

Similarly depth is rarely a critical issue. I would like to encourage you to plant your oxygenating grasses and "corral" your floating surface plants for ease in controlling their spread. More about this below and two Sections hence.

Lessons to be learned... hopefully not a/the hard way. Keep these and other fast spreading, floating species confined. Duckweed, Water Hyacinths (with sufficient nutrient, crowding, growing very vertically), 

Planting: Contained Areas:

I can't encourage you enough to consider either separately "blind" potting your plants or providing them with areas within your basin/s apart from your other livestock. A bog area or walled-off section just slightly below water level will allow you to manipulate the planted area by dropping the pond's depth a few inches, without having to risk life and limb walking on the slick bottom.

The flexibility of separate hole-less pots, tubs, trays, et al. is well worth the trouble and expense of individual planting. Without them, maintenance of the pond is virtually impossible. In and out of water plants like Water Irises make ideal bog plants. Shown are a variegated cultivar and a more stock green one. Also shown as a good example, Equisetum, Horsetail... can become invasive if not physically constrained.

Species Incompatibility:

The swamp thing that ate Jersey? No, mainly I'm referring to animal-plant interactions. You know, fish, ducks, snails... eating your plants.

Putting plants where these "munchers can't get to them is the best way of avoiding loss (re-read above), with utilizing plastic screening a close second.

There are people who won't believe me but sometimes you can train "incorrigible" plant eaters to leave your living greenery alone. My favorite way of doing this is to utilize hornwort, sometimes called "coontail", Ceratophyllum demersum. This oxygenating grass is so unpalatable that by "offering" it as a first plant, and/or placing it in the same containers, fish will leave your other desired plants be.

I've got proof; take a look at the above/accompanying photograph. Yes the plants are for real, and no, they're not plastic. Those koi are living with those live plants, not upon them.


Get and use living aquatic plants to your advantage, even if they have to be remoted to their own basin or segregated planting area. Nothing compares to all they can do automatically. Plants modify the system's water by removing unwanted chemicals and adding desired molecules, all the meanwhile depriving algae of food. If you're going to keep other non-plant life in the system the greenery will keep them safe and entertained.

Don't miss out on the aquatic side of horticulture; in my opinion it is more fascinating and fast-paced than terrestrial by far.

Bibliography/Further Reading:

Gosling, Robert & Elizabeth. 1984. Water plants; beautiful and helpful. Koi USA 11,12/84.

Gosling, Robert M. 1986. Water plants and ponds. Koi USA 12/86.

Kumagaya, Takayoshi. 1985. Koi and aquatic plants. Rinko 8/85.

Strange, Arthur. 1980. Garden pools, part two: plants and planting. Freshwater and Marine Aquarium 5/80.

Stroup, Denyelle Dove. 1988. Planting the garden pond; a beautiful pond is the result of choosing the right plants and keeping them healthy. Aquarium Fish Magazine 12/88.

Thomas, Charles B. 1987. Stocking guide for garden ponds; stocking the garden pond requires a variety of plants and fish to create a beautiful, and biologically balanced addition to any yard. Pets Supplies Marketing 3/87.

Aquatic Gardens

Ponds, Streams, Waterfalls & Fountains:
Volume 1. Design & Construction
Volume 2. Maintenance, Stocking, Examples

V. 1 Print and eBook on Amazon
V. 2 Print and eBook on Amazon 

by Robert (Bob) Fenner
Become a Sponsor Features:
Daily FAQs FW Daily FAQs SW Pix of the Day FW Pix of the Day New On WWM
Helpful Links Hobbyist Forum Calendars Admin Index Cover Images
Featured Sponsors: