How to Water Garden - Choosing, Planting and Growing Water Garden Plants

If you're looking for information on how to water garden, meaning how to select and add plants to a pond for maximum aesthetic benefit, you've come to the right place! For new pond keepers, the idea of having to choose and maintain a variety of plant life can seem like a challenging task. However, most experienced water gardeners would agree that without a nice selection of plant life, a water garden is nothing more than a boring body of water! aims to bring you everything you need to know on how to water garden a pond landscape!

How to Water Garden

Apart from the obvious aesthetic benefits, growing water garden plants can have many other benefits to your pond. These benefits include improved water quality, improved water nutrient levels and increased water surface coverage providing important shade for fish. For more information on the benefits of plant life in a pond environment, please visit our page on plants for ponds.

pond design drawing

How to Water Garden - Plant Selection

As you may have already realized, there is a huge variety of water plants available. At first the large selection may seem overwhelming, but after understanding the basics, the decision-making process gets easier. Even though there are literally thousands of choices when it comes to water garden plants, they can be classified into 4 easy to understand groups. These are oxygenating plants, marginal or bog plants, floating plants and deep water plants. For a more in-depth description about each of these types including what each is used for, take a look at our page on plants for ponds, which goes into more detail on each. Already understand the differenes? Read on for further information on how to water garden a pond landscape.

sun on leaves
A Plant Receiving Direct Sunlight


The first step in deciding how to water garden your pond landscape is to clearly understand when and how the sun lights your pond. Naturally some plants like more sunlight than others, therefore some special thought is required to get the most out of the plants you choose. Over the course of a day, keep your eye out as to how much sunlight parts of your pond receive. By doing this you will find out which areas of your pond receive more light than other areas. This information can be extremely valuable when planting and growing water garden plants later. For example, certain plants like to be placed in partially shaded areas, fully shaded areas, or even fully sun lit areas. If a certain area of your pond receives direct sunlight for a good portion of the day, it might be a good idea to plant some kind of floating or deep water plant that covers the water surface providing shade to the water below. Shade helps keep the water temperature down as well as inhibits algae growth that thrives in direct sunlight.

Your Climate

Another important consideration when deciding how to water garden your particular landscape, is choosing pond plants specific to your particular climate, or hardiness zone. When you purchase a plant, make sure it is capable of growing in your area. Usually if purchasing plants from a local source, they will take care of selecting appropriate plants for you. Another thing to keep in mind is plants from other hardiness zones can be used in your pond as an annual, meaning they are only planted for a single season.

pond plant landscape

How to Water Garden - Designing your Layout

When deciding how to water garden a pond landscape, most gardeners aim to create a natural looking environment, while still providing easy viewing and access to the pond. The best way to achieve this is to plant larger shrubs in the background, and then successively smaller plants as you near the waters edge. Within the water itself, so as to not obstruct the view to the pond itself, plant smaller marginal and floating plants towards the front and edges of the pond, with larger grasses and other medium sized marginal plants towards the mid or back of the pond. To change things up a bit, some flowering deep-water plants such as water lilies can be added to provide some needed water surface coverage in a particular sunny part of the pond. Keep in mind that a healthy pond will often have more than half of its surface area shaded by water plants. In the case of a fish or Koi pond, this is even more important.

How to Water Garden - Planting

The first step to growing healthy water garden plants is to understand the differences compared to land-dwelling plants. Unlike traditional landscaping or vegetable gardening, where plants or vegetables are gown directly in soil, aquatic plants are placed right inside the pond. To keep aquatic plants in place, they and are secured by rocks, gravel and water instead of soil. Here is a breakdown on how to plant the four main categories of water plants:

Oxygenating Plants and Other Submersed Plants

Start by removing the plant from the pot and shaking off any excess growing media. Gently place the roots in the pond amongst some rocks or gravel to help secure the plant. Gently cover the roots with some aquatic planting media, gravel or rock. As a starting point, the plant should be placed in about 12 to 16 inches of water. If the plant ever grows enough to reach the surface, lower it approximately 6 inches deeper into the pond.

growing water garden plants
A Marginal Water Plant

Marginal Plants

Marginal aquatic plants are plants whose roots live under water while the rest of the plant lives above water. To properly plant a marginal plant, start by finding a spot that is the right depth, so that the water will just cover the roots of the plant. For smaller plants, the best spot is actually right on the edge of the pond between the edging rocks. Remove one of the edging rocks and tuck the plant into the water at the depth it needs. You can pack some gravel or rocks around the plant to secure it. Finish up by bringing back the edging rock you took out earlier and installing it so that the marginal plant is growing between the edging rocks in a few inches of water. For larger plants, you can tuck the roots into the gravel on a shallow shelf or in between boulders with some gravel for support. Marginal plants don’t need dirt to grow, since the water is their dirt, so be creative and use gravel to support the roots.

planting basket
A Contoured Planting Basket

Deep Water Plants

Much like marginal plants above, deep water plants are best planted in and amongst gravel and rocks in the pond to keep them secure. Before placing the plant in the pond, remove any old leaves and fleshy old looking roots, leaving only new leaves, buds and new hair like roots. Next place the roots of the plant in the gravel or rocks, being sure to place the growing tips up. Depending on the size and type of your plant, place the roots in deep enough water such that the plant will eventually grow to the surface. In the case of a water lily or something similar, this depth is usually around 12 to 18 inches deep.

Floating Plants

Floating plants can simply be unpackaged and placed on the surface of the pond. No growing media is necessary for these plants to grow since they feed directly from the water through their roots. Floating plants can grow thicker over time, so you may need to thin them out every once in a while to prevent too much of your water surface from being covered. A healthy pond will have 50 to 60% of its surface covered at any given time. To read more, please see our page on floating pond plants.

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