Welcome to our gallery of the very best aquatic plants for container water gardens and small ponds. Included below are descriptions, growth habits & requirements. It is important to note exactly what level of water each plant should sit in. For example, some aquatic varieties just like to have their feet wet, as in a bog situation. Other plants need to be fully submerged like lotus and water lilies. Some aquatic plants float on the surface with their roots hanging in water. In a water-filled container, you can achieve the proper level for one or multiple plants by placing bricks, cinder blocks, etc. under the pots the plants come in. Consult your local nursery or retailer for specifics.
It would be good to have some knowledge of water plant terminology:
- Floaters. These plants float in the water without need of any soil, like water lettuce and water hyacinth. These plants are also great for indoor container water gardens.
- Oxygenating Grasses typically grow at the bottom totally submerged like fanwort. Used mostly in aquariums and indoor container water gardens.
- Marginals also known as "emergent plants", typically grow at the edge of ponds 4-12 inches below the surface.
- Bog Plants normally grow on the shore of a pond with water surface just covering the soil or slightly below the soil.
- Deep Water Plants grow at the bottom of ponds. They will need at least 10 inches of water covering the soil surface and will require a larger container except the dwarf and miniature varieties.
The gallery below has 2 sections: small and large. Some plants will be too large for most containers. They can be placed into a large whiskey barrel, a galvanized stock tank or an actual pond but if you use anything smaller, the plant will likely take over the whole container. It will be noted in the description when plants have dwarf and miniature varieties you may use instead.
The small plant section includes varieties you can use in medium sized containers with room enough for other plants (plus fish, small fountains) if you wish. Plants for indoor container water gardens will all need high light such as a window sill or close to a south-facing window.
Small Aquatic Plants
Suitable for most sized containers
Houttuynia Cordata ‘Chameleon’
Full sun will bring out brighter leaf color. This plant grows well in moist to wet soils and even slightly submerged in water in partial or full sun.
Mosaic Plant (Ludwigia Sedioides), a.k.a. Doily Lace Plant,
Variegated Sweet Flag
Variegated Sweet Flag (Acorus Calamus 'Variegatus')
Dwarf Cannas stay under 3 feet tall making them a good choice for container water gardening. Many have colorful leaves and variegation so they're nice even when not in bloom. Bulbs can be taken indoors during winter in northern climates. Flowers can be found in any color but white blue and purple, there are also bi-colors.
Miniature Iris (Iris Reticulata), there are so many varieties! One can find them online through a simple Google search.
Corkscrew Rush (Juncus Effusus 'Spiralis') has spikey evergreen leaves that grow in a spiral pattern giving this plant a different, quirky form.
Yellow Dwarf Water Lily
Yellow Pygmy Dwarf Water Lily (Nymphaea Pygmaea 'Helvola') is pictured.
Lotus (Nelumbo sp.)
The leaves and flowers of lotus plants stick up above the water's surface, unlike the floating foliage of water lilies. Be careful with larger varieties in containers because they tend to take over. When using in containers, try dwarf or miniature selections. Flower colors of lotus range from white to pink and red and from light blue to dark purple and bi-colors.
Water Lettuce (Pistia Stratiotes)
Water Lettuce floats on the surface of the water, no need for soil, their roots hang suspended in the water deriving all nutrients from the water alone (Pistia Stratiotes). Also works indoors in a sunny window.
White water snowflakes (Nymphoides indica)
Water snowflakes are part of the water lily family, having smaller leaves and flowers than lilies do. They will do well in containers as well as ponds but they don't like much water movement such as falling water or fountains.
Large Aquatic Plants
Suitable in larger containers or a container of their own
Horsetail Rush (Equisetum)
Horsetail Rush (Equisetum fluviatile). For modern landscape designers it’s the new bamboo, an outstanding architectural accent plant. Also called “Swamp Horsetail”, this plant is just as at home submerged into water gardens. For container water gardens, you will need a medium to large container unless this is the only plant you plan to place in it. Horsetail Reed has no match in terms of vertical accent plants for water garden features since most tend to be at lower heights.
Water Lilies (Nymphaea Species)
Water lily blooms come in almost any color of the rainbow. Northern gardeners can even grow the hardy varieties. They also come in dwarf varieties of many colors (see dwarf water lilies above). Southerners will have more luck with the tropical types. Tropical Nymphea have both day and night blooming varieties.
Elephant Ear, Taro (Colocasia and Alocasia species)
Stunning on the edge of a water garden or as a single specimen in a container water garden! Also known as Taro plants, they can also grow out of the water in your garden. Northern gardeners can take the bulbs inside for the winter.
Cattails (Typha Laxmannii)
Cattails are mostly used in ponds but you can also grow them in a container on a sunny patio.
Tropical Water Cannas (Canna spieces)
Cannas are available in green leaf to dark bronze color and variegated with stripes. Flowers can be found in any color but white blue and purple, there are also bi-colors.
Red Stemmed Thalia (Thalia Geniculata)
Red stemmed Thalia, a.k.a. Fire Flag and Alligator Flag
Pickerel Rush (Pontederia Cordata)
Lovely plants that not only add some vertical height but also color with their large blue blooms.
Colocasia 'Coffee Cups'
This is an upright-leaved version of the Taro plant, also commonly known as Elephant Ears. With dark leaves and nearly black stems, this vertical accent would do nicely with the shorter lime green leafed Creeping Jenny plant spilling over the edge of the container.