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Plant Recommendations for Small Ponds

Now that you have your pond built and ready to go, we need to populate it with the right assortment of plants that will turn it into a vibrant nature space. But with such a vast range of possibilities and numerable factors to consider, it can be a daunting task choosing what to buy for your pond. Here you can find our recommended selection from each of the aquatic plant categories, featuring some of the best plants for your small sized pond and water tubs.

Here are some quick points just to recap:

  • We recommend having your pond in a location that can get around 6 hours of sunlight during the day. (But there are of course still options for ponds that are more shaded)
  • Make sure you get fresh water for your pond (rainwater is fine). Avoid using tap water, which contains chlorine and other chemicals that aren't great for your plants.

Nature has a way of balancing itself out in the end, but planning with some carefully selected plants can go a long way to creating the perfect pond environment. Our selections below will provide you with great choices for your small pond, and many of them are also suitable for container/water tubs if you don’t have a pond, or even a garden.

Building the perfect ecosystem

Ponds require a range of different plants and wildlife in order to be healthy and sustainable. We recommend populating your pond with a diverse selection from each of the six aquatic plant categories: water lilies, marginal, oxygenators, floating, deep water, and moisture lovers. When combined they create a thriving ecosystem, helping to support wildlife and maintaining the bio-chemical properties of the water. If one of these aspects falls out of balance, then problems such as invasive overgrowth and algae can emerge. It’s also important to check information about the plants you’re choosing, to ensure they establish well and survive in your pond.

It may be tempting to go overboard on pretty blooms, but as a general rule it’s good to favour vegetation over flowers. It’s easier to achieve continuous aesthetic interest by getting plants with attractive and varied foliage, as flowers have blooming periods and emerge at different times of the year. As mentioned before, it’s all about balance.

Below are our top plant recommendations for small ponds. Be sure to read the details on each individual plant page as there you will find useful and essential tips about maintaining them. If you have any questions please drop us a line, we’re more than happy to help you with your pond project. 

Our Recommendations for Small Ponds at Plants and Garden 

1. Water Lilies

The crowning jewel of any pond is the water lily. Elegant, colourful and diverse, there are many to choose from. Not only do they look beautiful but they attract pollinators and provide shelter for aquatic life. Many water lilies can grow prolifically so it’s best to choose dwarfer types for smaller ponds, such as the ones featured here. Some maintenance is required such as cutting back overgrowth and collecting dead leaves - if this goes unchecked your pond will suffer, with hard to manage overgrowth, weeds, and algae; so best to keep on top of it! 

We recommend 1 water lily per 2 meters square. You should be aiming for around 2/3 of the water's surface to be covered with foliage, so consider this alongside your floating and deep water plants. 

Click on the plant names below to go to their individual pages, where you can find more information on them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Nymphaea Pygmaea Rubra

This beautiful ‘Pygmaea Rubra’ produces the smallest flowers of any hardy water lily. Their subtly fragrant star-shaped blooms grow prolifically and mature into a deep red colour, with purple-spotted foliage.

Nymphaea Double White 

The smallest of white water lilies the ‘Double White’ is an ideal choice for smaller ponds and tubs, producing glossy green foliage and cup-shaped flowers.

Nymphaea Snow Princess

A great alternative to the Pygmaea Alba, the ‘Snow Princess’ is a beautiful dwarf lily that features delicate star-shaped petals.

Nymphaea Aurora

This water lily is capable of thriving in any sized pond, but its slow growth allows it to fair well in smaller sized ponds. This exceptional water lily produces changeable flowers, first opening as orange before turning a pinkish-red colour.

 

2. Marginals

Often overlooked, marginals form the foundations to an aesthetically and ecologically balanced pond, providing structure and much needed support to pond life. Marginals require shallower water and, as the name suggests, need to be placed around the edges of the water. Although they typically enjoy marshy or boggy areas, be sure to adjust the depths so that your plants don’t drown. If you don’t have shelves in your pond you can simply rest the baskets on bricks to raise them. Additionally, if you want to attract more wildlife to your pond then marginals are key in connectinging the water to dry land and providing shelter and habitat.

As a rough guide we recommend 5x 1ltr marginals per linear meter, or 7 per square meter. Marginals larger than 9cm do not require repotting so you can put them straight into your pond once they arrive.

Menyanthes trifoliata ‘Bog Bean'

An excellent marginal plant that produces white, pink-tipped flowers. The Bog Bean is highly adaptable and can still grow well in shaded areas.

Caltha palustris ‘Marsh Marigold’

Bright yellow flowers populate the spherical green foliage. These are great to usher in the new season, with flowers emerging very early in the Spring.

Caltha palustric alba white ‘Himalayan Marigold’

For something more subtle, the Himalayan Marigold is an excellent choice. They produce flowers with simple, pure-white petals and bright yellow stamens in the middle. They are less prolifically flowering than the Marsh Marigold, but once mature have the added bonus of having a second flowering later in the year.

Juncus effusus spiralis ‘Corkscrew Rush’

Erratic, wiry, but self-contained, the Corkscrew Rush is a must-have for any small pond. Providing interest in form, this evergreen marginal can really add something to the space. 

 

3. Oxygenators

Oxygenator plants are essential for any pond as they help to maintain the water, support local wildlife, and generally keep the pond healthy. If you have fish and other animals then oxygenators are an absolute must. Some oxygenators can be known to be aggressive growers, but generally due to the softer British Summers and colder Winters you don’t need to worry about potential pond pests.

In a new pond two 9cm pots of oxygenators per square meter is recommended.

Fontinalis antipyretica ‘Willow Moss’

Growing all-year round, Willow Moss is a great oxygenator for small ponds. No problem if your pond is particularly deep either, as this plant can grow in up to 3m of water.

Myriophyllum verticillatum ‘Whorled Water Milfoil’

With slightly longer leaves that the Myriophyllum spicatum, this oxygenator is excellent for smaller ponds.

Marsilea Quadrifolia ‘Water Shamrock’

Add some variation to your pond with the Water Shamrock’s clover-shaped leaves. This adaptable plant can act both as an oxygenator as well as a marginal. In shallower water the leaves are smaller, and in full sun can turn through various shades of green to a beautiful bronze-ish colour.

Ranunculus aquatilis ‘Water Crowsfoot’

A truly excellent choice for your small pond, the ‘Water Crowsfoot’ is British native and one of the best oxygenating plants available. A fast grower and happy in both still and fast flowing water, it produces pretty white flowers and emerald-green leaves.

 

4. Floating

Floating plants sit along the surface of the water. Some of them have roots that extend to the bottom, while others are free-floating. Floating plants are a great way to provide shelter to the aquatic life below, and regulate the amount of sunlight that comes into the pond. Much like Oxygenators, some are known to be invasive but generally won’t be able to survive the British Winter, so most options are safe.

We recommend up to 2/3 of the water surface to be covered with vegetation. Excessive coverage blocks sunlight to the bottom of the pool, while not enough coverage will stimulate algae and leave aquatic life without much needed shelter, especially in the Summer months.

Statiotes aloides ‘Water Soldier’

Featuring uniquely shaped leaves that are long, narrow and serrated, the Water Soldier is UK native and can be a great addition to your small pond. During the summer they produce small white flowers, and being a Stratiotes is known to help keep pond water clear.

Phyllanthus fluitans ‘Red Root Floater’

Originating from the Amazon river basin, the rather uncommon Red Root Floater produces lovely red-tinted leaves, and when in good light and low nitrate levels produces miniature white flowers. Please note that this plant does better in still water and ample sunlight. Red Root Floaters are not hardy, so remove during the Winter and replant in April when there’s no risk of frost.

Frogbit

The UK native Frogbit produces prolific bright-green foliage and small white flowers. As an added bonus they can tolerate dense shade, which is great for people with ponds that neighbour high walls or towering trees.

Smooth Frogbit

Originating from the tropical freshwater habitats of South America, the Smooth Frogbit is an excellent choice, as their roots filter nitrates from the water and reduce the onset of algae. Spongey, buoyant foliage is accompanied by small white flowers. Be sure to remove during Winter to protect it from frost, and re-place around April time.

 

5. Deep Water

These submerged aquatic plants are more tolerant to shade and provide valuable cover for fish and other aquatic life, making them great alternatives to water lilies. Add some variety and style to your small pond with our great Deep Water recommendations below.

Aponogeton distachyos ‘Water Hawthorn’

The beautiful Water Hawthorn may well be our top Deep Water recommendation and one of our favourite pond plants. It’s a free-flowering plant that produces stunning white, vanilla-scented flowers, and if protected from frost is able to flower all through the Winter. For a short time in August the plant dies back, so don’t throw away a dormant basket thinking it’s died!

Nymphoides peltata ‘Water Fringe’

Also known as the ‘Floating Heart’, this delicate plant produces an abundance of stellate yellow flowers that rise above green, sometimes brown-specked, heart-shaped leaves.

Nymphoides thunbergiana ‘Yellow Water Snowflake’

A great accompaniment to the Water Fringe, this plant produces yellow fuzzy, star-shaped flowers and lovely green foliage. They grow relatively quickly but make sure you place them away from splashing water. Great for added texture.

 

6. Moisture Lovers

If you didn’t guess already, moisture lovers prefer damp, boggy environments, thriving in the muddy margins of ponds and streams where their roots are just above water level. They’re great choices (particularly in the UK) as they enjoy partially shaded areas with lots of moisture, and support local wildlife such as amphibians. Be sure to monitor the soil so that it doesn’t dry out; you may want to adjust the planting area with an added pond liner beneath the soil to maintain the moisture.

Camassia esculenta quamash ‘Common Camas Lily’

Eye-catching for its blue, hyacinth-like flowers, and equally pointed star-like leaves, the Common Camas lily is a great addition to small ponds.

Darmera peltata ‘Peltiphyllum Peltatum’

This plant will add some nice shape and detail to the edges of your pond. Producing white or rose coloured blooms in the Spring, their umbrella-like foliage then emerges, turning a nice crimson later in the Autumn.

Astilbe red ‘False Goats Beard’

With a backdrop of marginals and lilies, the attractive and fluffy pink flowers of the False Goats Beard will add some character to your small pond. It’s a great choice for those with ponds that have more shaded areas.

Ligulariaden desdemona ‘Golden Groundsel’

Add some more splashes of colour with the orange, daisy-shaped flowers of the Golden Groundsel. The large blooms are held above handsome green and deep red foliage.

 

We hope you find these suggestions helpful, and wish you the best in starting your small pond project! If you have any questions or need any further advice please contact us.