The Best Plants for Your Water Garden

woman placing rocks into water container garden
Add natural beauty to your water garden with the top-performing varieties.

Lotus

One of the most elegant bloomers in the water garden, lotus produces large, exotic peony-like flowers throughout the summer. The blooms appear in a number of colors and are a perfect accent to the gorgeous blue-green leaves.

Name: Nelumbo selections

Growing Conditions: Full sun, submerged in water

Size: To 6 feet tall, depending on type

Zones: Tropical: 10-11, Hardy: 4-9

Louisiana Iris

Louisiana irises are native to areas of North America. Many hybrids have been developed, but one of the most elegant is the native, red-flowered species I. fulva.

Name: Iris fulva

Growing Conditions: Full sun, pondside

Size: 3 feet tall

Zones: 5-9

Pitcher Plant

This underused plant is carnivorous, meaning it eats insects. Enjoy the tube-shaped leaves as well as the fascinating springtime red, purple, yellow, or green flowers.

Name: Sarracenia hybrids

Growing Conditions: Full sun, pondside

Size: To 18 inches tall

Zones: 2-11, depending on type

Canna

Cannas are favorite, old-fashioned plants that you may not have considered for the water garden. They add a refreshing, tropical feel to your landscape.

Name: Canna selections

Growing Conditions: Full sun, submerged or pondside

Size: To 6 feet tall, depending on type

Zones: 8-11

Swamp Lily

Swamp lilies are native to North America and bear lily-like pink or white blooms from spring to fall. Some types are deliciously fragrant and all are great for cutting.

Name: Crinum americanum

Growing Conditions: Full sun, pondside

Size: To 4 feet tall

Zones: 9-11

Sweet Flag

Grow these plants for their striking foliage. Variegated types offer bright cream and green stripes that stand out among other plants.

Name: Acorus calamus 'Variegata'

Growing Conditions: Full sun, pondside

Size: To 5 feet tall

Zones: 4-11

Rain Lily

Like a crocus for water gardens, rain lilies produce delicate flowers during the summer months in shades of pink, purple, yellow, and white.

Name: Zephyranthes selections

Growing Conditions: Full sun, pondside

Size: To 1 foot tall

Zones: 9-11, depending on type

Cattail

A fast spreader, cattail produces familiar spikes of fuzzy brown blooms and beautiful grassy leaves.

Name: Typha latifolia

Growing Conditions: Full sun, submerged or pondside

Size: To 6 feet tall

Zones: 2-11

Japanese Primrose

The perfect little plant for the water garden's edge, Japanese primroses are delightful perennials that thrive in acidic soils. It self-sows, resulting in a delightful colony of mixed colors in just a few seasons.

Name: Primula japonica

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade, pondside

Size: To 18 inches tall

Zones: 4-8

Perennial Hibiscus

You can't beat the big, bold flowers of hibiscus for a dramatic show. Native to wet areas across North America, this perennial is as tough and easy-to-grow as it is gorgeous.

Name: Hibiscus moscheutos

Growing Conditions: Full sun, pondside

Size: To 8 feet tall

Zones: 5-10

Cardinal Flower

Cardinal flower is an excellent late-summer-blooming perennial for the edge of the water garden. The bright red flowers may attract hummingbirds.

Name: Lobelia cardinalis

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade, pondside

Size: 3 feet tall

Zones: 3-9

Japanese Iris

Japanese iris is another favorite water-garden iris that bears large, often dinner-plate size flowers in a charming gallery of brushstroke color combinations.

Name: Iris japonica

Growing Conditions: Full sun, pondside

Size: 3 feet tall

Zones: 3-8

Taro

Create a tropical look with taro (also sometimes called elephant's ears). For extra drama, select one of the beautiful purple-leaf varieties.

Name: Colocasia selections

Growing Conditions: Part to full shade, pondside

Size: To 5 feet tall

Zones: 9-11

Papyrus

While ancient Egyptians used this plant to make paper, it's also a great water-garden plant. The tall stems create a decidedly tropical look.

Name: Cyperus papyrus

Growing Conditions: Full sun, pondside or submerged

Size: To 6 feet tall

Zones: 9-11

Water Lily

A water garden isn't complete without an array of beautiful water lilies. There are tropical and hardy types, as well as varieties that bloom during the day and at night.

Name: Nymphaea selections

Growing Conditions: Full sun, submerged in water

Size: To 6 feet wide, depending on type

Zones: Tropical: 10-11, Hardy: 4-9

Choose the best types of plants for your water garden.

Video: Types of Water Garden Plants

Watch this video to learn about the different categories of water garden plants.

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