Water plants are widely considered the best way to enhance water features. Sometimes called aquatic plants, there is a water plant for virtually every type of water feature, from the smallest tabletop fountains to multi-level streams and expansive ponds. The type of water plant that will best suit your landscape is largely determined by your requirements, as well as the growing characteristics of each plant. Consider the USDA Hardiness Zone, growth habit and mature size, sun or shade requirements, and ideal planting conditions. To help you sort through the options, the Better Homes and Gardens Plant Encyclopedia includes a sortable list of aquatic plants, which you can refine further by characteristic and use. The section also includes practical design ideas and tips to help your water plants flourish in your landscape. View a list of water plants by common name or scientific name.
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garden plans for water plants
Truly a plant to wow your friends and neighbors, Amazon lily is nothing short of magnificent. In a large pond, this plant's leaves can reach 6 feet across and are covered in spiny prickles. The flowers, which appear in summer, start as thorn-covered green buds that open to large white masterpieces that fade pink. The blooms have the fragrance of ripe pineapple.
Arrowhead is an easy-care water plant perfect for adding a tropical feel to water gardens. This tough perennial bears attractive, arrow-shaped foliage and clusters of three-petaled white flowers. The leaves grow longer and more tapered in deeper water. Arrowhead can be an aggressive spreader. To control growth, confine this plant to containers when placed in a pond.
This broad-leafed water plant thrives at the edges of a pond, and produces an abundance of lavender-blue flower spikes through the summer. Blue pickerel is a vigorous grower that sends its glossy leaves as much as 3 feet above the waterline.
Cattails provide a tall, textured background along the margins of a water garden and also serve as perches for small birds and dragonflies. The fuzzy heads are actually seed capsules that form after the greenish flowers fade. Cattails have been proven to filter out harmful toxins from water. Their thick foliage is a haven for wildlife. One note: cattails can be aggressive spreaders in the garden.
Duckweed forms a fast-growing cover over pond and other water garden surfaces. Its free-floating network of disc-shape leaves spreads in a textured mat that looks like thyme foliage. The leaves, actually fronds, send out new foliage from their margins. Duckweed is a fast grower and will require thinning frequently. It is a source of nutrition for many forms of wildlife.
Koi love to nibble on the soft, fuzzy foliage of fairy moss. It floats freely on the surface, shading the water as it spreads to help cut down on algae growth. Its colorful fall leaf display is a great bonus; the foliage darkens to purple-red at season's end. Bring some clumps indoors to overwinter fairy moss in an aquarium or pan of water to replenish the pond supply in the next season. Otherwise, they will freeze and then thaw in the spring.
The sacred flower of Asian countries launches huge plate-sized leaves from underwater stems and then unfurls spectacular, multipetaled flowers. As the blooms open, they reveal a crown of golden stamens that gradually gives way to a large ornamental seedhead. Lotus plants are quite hardy and can safely spend the winter dormant in a pond. As the weather warms in late spring, the plants will resprout and spin out new foliage. Plant lotus in pots and sink them to a depth of 2 to 6 inches below the water surface for the best display.
This flower likes wet conditions so much that it's often recommended for bog and water gardens where it lights things up with bright yellow flowers. A native of wetlands, marsh marigold forms foot-tall mounds of foliage topped with 1- to 2-inch-wide yellow blooms (a white form is also available) in early spring. It's also a good selection for chronically soggy or poorly drained sites. It often goes dormant after it blooms.
Papyrus sends out sprays of leaves that jut out from the stems like a fireworks display. The leafy clusters may form plantlets that you can separate and grown individually. Grow papyrus in a weighted pot so that the stems rise above the water surface in a pond, or grow it in moist soil at water's edge.
Parrot's feather is a versatile plant that you can grow underwater (to add oxygen, give fish a place to hide, and cut down on algae in ponds), floating above the water, or in wet soil at water's edge. It earned its moniker from its dense plumes of fine-texture foliage. The feathery branches grow at the tops of long, floating stems.
Parrot's feather is considered an invasive plant in the waterways of temperate states, where its growth can quickly become out of control.
Pitcher plants are one of those cool carnivorous plants; they can devour insects. But don't let this amazing fact overshadow their inherent beauty. They produce fascinating pendant chartreuse or purple flowers in spring. Pitcher plants are fascinating to grow, and adapt well to containers where the plants can be observed up close. In mild regions, they can also be grown in acid bog gardens. They do not need a diet of insects -- the insects are attracted by nectar at the base of the pitchers and slide down and drown in collected liquid at the base. The tall pitchers of some species are cut and dried for indoor arrangements, but only remove a few to retain the vitality of the plants.
The leaves look like chives and if you walk by a planting of this South African native bulb and brush the foliage, you'll catch a whiff of garlic. The beautiful clusters of lavender-pink flowers have a sweet fragrance, similar to hyacinth perfume. They open up on tall stems from early summer until late fall. Noted for its drought tolerance, society garlic has become a staple in southern California landscapes.
Sorrel begins growth in early spring, providing salad greens when few other edibles are available. The plant thrives in full sun or partial shade, and it prefers moist soil. Some types can be grown in shallow water. Sorrel develops a mound of foliage that grows 12-18 inches tall, and it sends up a flower stalk with green flowers that mature to reddish-brown seeds. Remove seed stalks to prevent the plant from self-sowing.
Although sweet flag looks like a grass, it is in a family by itself. Like grasses, though, sweet flags are grown for their textural foliage, especially the boldly variegated types. The plants grow best in moist soil and may even grow in several inches of standing water, making striking upright accents in water gardens or moist borders.
Colorful and tall, this cousin of the canna develops huge leaves that turn gold in the fall. Its flowers are perched in bunches atop tall stems and add wonderful texture to water gardens. The plant dominates the pond with its far-reaching foliage, so is best limited to one per small pond. Plant this tall aquatic in a large pot to stabilize and protect it from the wind.
Water clover looks lucky and lives up to its name because of its floating leaves. This versatile plant thrives in just about any water garden, even in shade, making it a great choice for beginning water gardeners.
A jewel in the water garden but invasive in waterways, water hyacinth is a pond fish's best friend, providing shelter and feeding area. Rosettes of glossy green leaves float leisurely across a pond, gradually covering the surface and sending down thick roots that shelter fish. In warm weather, the plants send up lavender bloom spikes that last about a day. It should be planted early in the season so its spread outpaces algae, and thin out old plants every year to reinvigorate growth. Because it's a tender plant, it requires overwintering indoors in an aquarium to survive from year to year.
Note: This plant can be invasive in warm-weather areas. Check local restrictions before planting it.
This water plant is grown for its beautiful, velvety foliage that really does resemble a dense carpet of lettuce heads flowering on the water. It can be an important plant for ponds as it shades the water and gives small fish a place to hide. In cold climates, treat this tender floating plant as an annual and replace every year.
Note: In warm-winter climates, water lettuce can be invasive. Check to see if the plant is banned in your area before planting it.
Water lilies offer a floating mat of foliage crowned with resplendent blooms that open every morning, then close for the afternoon (though night-blooming water lilies open at night and close every morning). Each bloom generally lasts 3-4 days, and then is quickly replaced. In addition to the luminous color choices, water lilies are often fragrant. Some dwarf varieties are available for container water gardeners. To keep lilies vigorous, divide them every 1-4 years.
Nympohides is a charming plant to float in the water garden, both for its fringed, snowflake-like flowers and bunches of glossy, heart-shape leaves. The white form is tender, but in cold climates, you can overwinter it by bringing pots indoors or by submerging them in a container of water in a cool place.