Choosing pond plants

Plants give visual interest to a pond, encourage wildlife and can help keep the water clear. Choosing the right plants greatly adds to your enjoyment of the pond, as well as that of visiting or resident wildlife.

Select from the wide array of beautiful plants that thrive in and around ponds
Select from the wide array of beautiful plants that thrive in and around ponds

Quick facts

  • Buy plants that grow to a size that suits your pond

  • Check their depth requirements and plant accordingly

  • Aim to cover about half of the surface area with foliage

  • Include oxygenating plants 

  • Avoid potentially invasive plants

Why add plants to a pond

Plants can not only enhance the beauty of a pond, they’re also great for wildlife, creating shelter both above and below the water, offering perching or resting sites, and helping creatures get in and out of the water. Some plants can also add oxygen to the water, while others play a vital role shading the surface.

Choose plants that give contrasts in foliage as well as variation in flowering times, to give as long a display as possible.

A huge array of pond plants are available in nurseries, garden centres and from online suppliers, so to help you decide what to buy, we look at the various considerations and suggest suitable options. 

Also see our pond guides:

Making a new pond

Making a new pond

Rain-fed wildlife-friendly pond step-by-step

Rain-fed wildlife-friendly pond step-by-step

Wildlife ponds

Wildlife ponds

Before you buy

Pond plants can often be choosy about where they grow – some like to just dip their toes in the shallows, while others thrive in the depths. Some float freely, some spread vigorously, and some are dainty and well behaved. 

So it’s important to choose plants to suit your size, depth and style of pond. Ideally you should aim to have about half of the surface area covered. 

Here are some key points to bear in mind:

  • Decide if you want your plants to be natives or exotics, or a mix of both. For native species that will attract wildlife, see the Planting up ponds leaflet from the Freshwater Habitats Trust 

  • Choose the right plants for the depth of water – some ponds are the same depth throughout, others have sloping or shelved edges that provide suitable conditions for a wider range of plants. So measure your depth(s) before you buy new plants. With waterlilies there are options for all depths, from miniature cultivars that are happy in just 10cm (4in) of water, up to those that need 1.2m (4ft) or deeper

  • Some water plants and marginals are vigorous, spreading via roots or by self-seeding. These can be useful in large ponds and lakes, but small ponds need more restrained choices, otherwise you’ll always be struggling to control them. Always check the plant’s eventual size before buying, and if you choose a potentially vigorous plant, be prepared to keep it under control

  • Beware of invasive plants – some aquatic plants are notorious spreaders and although the worst ones have been banned from sale, it’s still worth taking care. Make sure your pond plants can never escape into the wild, via a nearby stream for example

  • Quarantine new purchases for a few weeks before planting in your pond. Many potentially invasive species, such as Crassula helmsii, are accidentally introduced into ponds as contaminants on newly bought water plants

For planting tips, see our guides:

Aquatic plants: planting

Aquatic plants: planting

How to grow aquatic and bog plants

How to grow aquatic and bog plants

Planting up a wildlife pond

Planting up a wildlife pond

Submerged plants (oxygenators)

Submerged plants produce oxygen during the day and provide cover for aquatic life. Widely available choices include:

Callitriche hermaphroditica (syn. C. autumnalis) (water starwort): Also suitable for running water (may become a nuisance in small pools)
Ceratophyllum demersum, C. submersum (hornwort): Suitable for deep water, free floating
Fontinalis antipyretica (willow moss): Best planted attached to a stone, suitable for running water
Hippuris vulgaris (mare’s-tail)
Hottonia palustris (water violet): Do not move or plant in summer; lilac flowers in summer
Myriophyllum spicatum, M. verticillatum (water milfoils)
Potamogeton crispus, P. pectinatus (may become a nuisance in small pools)
Ranunculus aquatilis (water crowfoot): White flowers in May; also suitable for running water

Floating plants

Floating plants don’t need to be rooted into soil or compost. Their presence on the surface reduces the amount of sunlight penetrating the water and keeps the water cooler, discouraging algae. Aim to keep around 50 per cent of the surface clear of vegetation, if necessary by thinning occasionally during the summer.

The most popular choices are:
Hydrocharis morsus-ranae (frogbit): Small white flowers; sinks to the bottom in winter
Stratiotes aloides (water soldier): Floats just below surface; sinks in winter (may become a nuisance in small pools)

Marginal plants

These plants provide attractive flowers and foliage, and soften the edges of a pond. They also create valuable where algae may otherwise multiply in the warm, shallow water. For small pools, plant separately in 15cm (6in) containers and re-pot when overcrowded. (Heights given indicate the length of leaves or flowers above the water surface).

1. Very shallow water (less than 5cm/2in and mud)
Acorus gramineus ‘Variegatus’:
Leaves striped pale yellow. Height 20-30cm (8in-1ft)
Caltha palustris AGM (marsh marigold): Large golden flowers in March. Height 22-30cm (9in-1ft)
Carex elata ‘Aurea’ AGM (Bowles’ golden sedge): Golden foliage. Height 45cm (1½ft)
Carex pendula: Arching stems, drooping brownish spikelets. Height 90cm-1.2m (3-4ft)
C. pseudocyperus: Bright green foliage, dark green spikelets. Height 60-90cm (2-3ft)
Cotula coronopifolia (golden buttons): Annual, sometimes perennial, seeds freely, aromatic foliage, button shaped yellow flowers. Height 15cm (6in)
Houttuynia cordata: Dark green leaves, red stems, white flowers. Height 60cm (2ft) spreads freely. ‘Chameleon’ leaves variegated red and yellow (may become too invasive for small pools)
Iris ensata AGM (Japanese water iris): Blue, red or white flowers. Height 60-90cm (2-3ft)
Iris sibirica AGM: Blue flowers. Height 45cm (1½ft)
Iris versicolor AGM: Violet-blue flowers. Height 60cm (2ft)
Mimulus cardinalis AGM: Orange-red flowers in summer. Needs winter frost protection in most regions. Height 30-45cm (1-1½ft)
M. lewisii AGM: Red or white flowers. Height 30-60cm (1-2ft)
M. luteus: Yellow flowers. Height 30-45cm (1-1½ft)
M. ringens: Violet-blue flowers. Height 45-60cm (1½-2ft)
Myosotis scorpioides (water forget-me-not): Blue flowers in May. Height 23cm (9in)
Saururus cernuus (lizard’s tail): Fragrant white flowers, dark green leaves. Height 15cm (6in)
Veronica beccabunga (brooklime): White-centred blue flowers. Height 10cm (4in)

2. Water 5–15cm (2–6in)
Acorus calamus ‘Argenteostriatus’ (sweet flag): Foliage variegated creamy-white, greenish flowers, can be invasive. Height 60cm (2ft) (may become too invasive for small pools)
Butomus umbellatus AGM (flowering rush): Pink flowers in summer, like a miniature agapanthus. Height 60-75cm (2-2½ft)
Calla palustris (bog arum): Glossy leaves, white flowers in summer, followed by spikes of red berries. Height 22cm (9in)
Glyceria maxima var. variegata: Yellow and white variegated leaves, rosy autumn leaf colour. Height 60cm (2ft) (may become too invasive for small pools)
Iris laevigata AGM: Rich blue flowers in June. Height 60-75cm (2-2½ft)
I. pseudacorus AGM (yellow flag): Yellow flowers. Height 90cm (3ft) (may become too invasive for small pools)
Juncus effusus f. spiralis (corkscrew rush): Stems twisted in a corkscrew manner. Height 45cm (1½ft)
Lobelia cardinalis AGM: Purplish foliage, scarlet flowers. Needs winter frost protection in most regions. Height 60-75cm (2-2½ft)
Lysichiton camtschatcensis AGM: white flowers. Height 30cm (1ft)
Orontium aquaticum (golden club): Shiny leaves, yellow flowers in a spike. Height 10-12cm (4-5in)
Pontederia cordata AGM (pickerel weed): Glossy leaves, blue flowers in late summer. Height 45-60cm (1½ft-2ft)
Ranunculus lingua 'Grandiflorus' (large-flowered spearwort): Reddish stems, large yellow buttercup flowers. Height 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft)
Sagittaria sagittifolia (Old World arrowhead): The double white flowered form ‘Flore Pleno’ is particularly attractive. Height 75cm (2½ft)
Schoenoplectus lacustris subsp. tabernaemontani ‘Albescens’: Stems sulphur white when young, darkening to green. Height 1.2-1.5m (4-5ft) (may become too invasive for small pools)
S. lacustris subsp. tabernaemontani ‘Zebrinus’ (zebra rush): White stems banded with green. Height 45cm-1.2m (1½-4ft)
Typha angustifolia: ‘Cat’s tails’ inflorescence. Height 1.2m (4ft) (may become too invasive for small pools)
T. laxmannii: Narrow leaves, ‘cat’s tails’ inflorescence. Height 90cm-1.2m (3-4ft)
T. minima: Brown ‘cat’s tails’ inflorescence. Height 30-45cm (1-1½ft)

3. Water 15–30cm (6in–1ft) deep
Menyanthes trifoliata (bog bean): Olive-green trefoil leaves, pinkish white flowers in spring. Height 15cm (6in)
Ranunculus flammula (lesser spearwort): Bright yellow flowers. Height 70cm (2ft 4in)
Thalia dealbata: Bold blue-green leaves. Height 1.5m (5ft)
Zantedeschia aethiopica (arum lily) AGM: White spathe, golden spadix, fragrant. ‘Crowborough’ is the hardiest form. Height 45cm (1½ft)

4. Water 30cm (1ft) or more
Alisma plantago-aquatica (great water plantain): White flowers. Remove dead flowers to prevent seeding. Height 60-90cm (2-3ft) (may become too invasive for small pools)
Aponogeton distachyos (water hawthorn): Tuberous. Fragrant white flowers. Water snails will feed on this plant and kill it. Height 5cm (2in)


These are among the most popular of all pond plants, but it’s important to choose suitable cultivars for your size and depth of pond, as many are vigorous and can easily outgrow a small pond. Also see our guide to growing waterlilies for planting tips.

1. Water 10–30cm (4in–1ft) deep
Nymphaea odorata var minor: Fragrant, pink
N. tetragona: White
N. ‘Pygmaea Helvola’ AGM: Yellow flowers, marbled leaves
N. ‘Pygmaea Rubra’: Free-flowering, red

2. Water 30–45cm (1–1½ft) deep
Nymphaea ‘Aurora’: Cream opening yellow to orange
N. ‘Caroliniana Nivea’: Fragrant, white
N. ‘Charlene Strawn’: Lemon yellow
N. ‘Ellisiana’: Red
N. ‘Fire Crest’: Deep pink
N. ‘Froebelii’: Dark red
N. ‘Indiana’: Apricot-orange
N. ‘Laydekeri Fulgens’: Early free-flowering, red
N. ‘Laydekeri Lilacea’: Fragrant, rosy-lilac
N. ‘Lucidia’: Free-flowering, pink
N. ‘Mme Wilfon Gonnère’: Double pink
N. ‘Pink Sensation’: Pink

3. Water 45–75cm (1½–2½ft) deep
Nymphaea ‘Gonnere’ AGM:
Fragrant, white
N. ‘James Brydon’ AGM: Free flowering, red
N. ‘Marliacea Carnea’: White flushed pink
N. ‘Marliacea Chromatella’ AGM: Yellow flowers
N. ‘Masaniello’: Fragrant, pink
N. ‘Rose Arey’: Pink, star-shaped, fragrant flowers
N. ‘William Falconer’: Cherry red

4. Water 75cm–1.2m (2½–4ft) deep
Nymphaea alba: Prolific white flowers
N. ‘Amabilis’: Tulip-shaped flowers, salmon pink
N. ‘Attraction’: Red flowers darkening with age
N. ‘Escarboucle’ AGM: Free flowering, red
N. ‘Gladstoneana’ AGM: Free flowering, white

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