The Basics of Aquatic Plants

Aquatic Plant

Aquatic plants are a very important step in achieving a truly balanced ecosystem pond. Whether it was the fish, plants, waterfalls or the peace a pond brings, adding aquatic plants to the pond is an important part of the water garden. They provide beauty and naturalization.  With a huge array of plant choices you can add many different colors and sizes.

Most importantly, they help balance the pond’s ecosystem and provide valuable biological filtration that removes nitrogen, ammonia, nitrates and other minerals from pond water. These excess nutrients are often the cause of unsightly water conditions. The end result helps to minimize pond maintenance, leaving more time to enjoy your pond. Without aquatic plants, your pond would not be able to function as a complete ecosystem.

Aquatic plants can be classified into a few main categories: water lilies, marginal plants, floaters and submerged (also known as oxygenators). Plants can also be put into two basic types known as “tropical” and “hardy.” Hardy plants will over-winter in colder climates and tropical plants are more suited to warmer climates, although tropical plants are often used as annuals in colder climate zones.

Bog Plants

Water Lilies

Water lilies are among the most popular of aquatic plants and are often the centerpiece of the water garden. These are easily one of the most popular aquatic plants and probably the one we get asked about the most. That’s why I say “a water garden never seems complete without a few beautiful water lilies”. Not only are water lilies breathtaking but they provide valuable shade, which helps to keep the pond cool while providing refuge for pond fish. Ideally, thirty to sixty percent of the water surface should be covered with aquatic plants.


The marginal plant group is the largest aquatic plant group by far, containing both hardy and tropical plants. almost of them are true perennials and come back year after year, like everybody’s favorite Daylily or Black-Eyed Susan. Marginal plants serve many functions such as adding beauty and providing valuable filtration. They are called “marginals” because they typically grow around the edges or “margins” of a pond or lake. Marginal plants thrive in wet soil or standing water that covers the crown or base of the plant by as little as two inches and up to as much as six inches. Some examples of marginals include sweet flag, marsh marigold, taro, canna, water iris and creeping Jenny. Marginals are definitely one of the best aquatic plants to add on the edges of a pond. They hide stone, break up the edges and add a soft, naturalness that will help make your pond as natural as possible.

Water Lettuce


Floating plants do just as their name indicates: they float on the water’s surface. Their roots dangle beneath the plant absorbing all their nutrients from the water. Most floating plants do a great job of filtering ponds by removing nutrients directly from the water as opposed to the soil where most other aquatic plants are situated or planted. Water lettuce is the most popular of this plant group and look great hovering in corners of the pond.


Like the name implies, this group of plants lives below the water surface. They are commonly referred to as oxygenators. Submerged aquatics do produce oxygen during most of the day. Submerged aquatic plants live entirely under water, almost. Some oxygenators bloom and the flowers often rise to the surface. They include plants such as elodea, anacharis, hornwort, foxtail, cabomba and vallisneria. For the most part, submerged plants absorb their nutrients directly from the water. This means they compete with algae for nutrients, thereby helping to balance the ecosystem.

Putting it All Together

Just like their soil counterparts, a good mix of aquatic plants lends the best visual impact for your water garden. Marginals help to blend the pond into the surrounding landscape, while water lilies provide pops of color at the water’s surface. Take some time to familiarize yourself with all the wonderful options out there and you’ll soon find what most appeals to you.