You don’t need a large pond to create a unique and attractive ecosystem with plants. Even if your pond is less than 50 gallons, such as a container or tub, there are an array of plants well-suited to small spaces that will still do a wonderful job of filtering and aerating the water. As an added bonus, these plants will also attract wildlife such as butterflies, bees, dragonflies, and even birds, newts, salamanders and the like that would otherwise struggle to find water and other resources in urban areas where container ponds are most common.
1) Dwarf Water Lily (Nymphaea leibergii)
Dwarf water lilies have the advantage of being just as striking as their full-sized counterparts, but have leaves and flowers that only span an inch or two in size. These lightly scented plants do have rhizomes, but they’re quite delicate and very easy to trim back if needed. They’re also easily damaged, so should be planted in either aquatic soil or light substrate. Anywhere from an inch to 18 inches of water depth works well for them, and their roots will grow accordingly.
If you have seeds or juvenile liebergii, plant them in shallow water. The 18 inch water depth is suitable more so for adult leibergii with established root systems that are already the appropriate length. You can place young plants on shelves, rocks, or planting pots until they’re mature enough to go in deeper water, if desired. These plants are quite hardy, able to withstand temperature shifts so long as they don’t occur too quickly and doing best in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 11.
2) Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)
Water hyacinths are wonderful water oxygenators and purifiers, with research showcasing their value in wastewater treatment. It does grow quickly, but adapts depending on space, making it ideal for container ponds. You can trim it back as needed, or simply plant it in a pot in a shallow area of the container pond to prevent it from spreading more that you’d like it to.
With small, glossy green leaves, beautiful purple-white blooms, and the ability to thrive in hardiness zones 8 through 11 (making it moderately tolerant of temperature fluctuations), water hyacinth is an excellent choice for small container ponds. However, it’s native to South America – if you live elsewhere, this plant may be considered an invasive species or noxious weed. In the U.S., it’s illegal to own any water hyacinth in Louisiana, South Carolina, and Texas. Be sure to do your research before purchasing this plant in your area!
3) Ruffled Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)
Ruffled (or curly-leaf) water lettuce is smaller than standard water lettuce, with green-blue leaf rosettes that only grow to a few inches in diameter and two to six inches in height. As a floating plant, it can grow in as little as an inch of water, or in depths of about a foot for adult plants with established roots and stems. To help control growth, you can plant in a pot or aquatic basket. As with most plants in this article, you’ll need to occasionally trim back the leaves and stems to control growth.
It’s hardy in zones 8 through 11, but it’s recommended that water temperatures be kept at or above 65° F (18° C) to prevent leaf rot. Pistia stratiotes is considered invasive in some areas, so as always be sure to do your research before propagating this plant, and do not let it escape your container pond! When disposing of cuttings, do so in either garbage bags or secure containers where seeds cannot escape.
4) Water Mint (Mentha aquatica)
Water mint, also known as aquatic mint, makes a wonderful addition to any container pond. With fragrant leaves and flowers that are edible and hardy to zones 3 through 10, water mint is an easy plant to take care of so long as it’s kept in either damp soil or directly in water. It can grow anywhere from one to three feet tall, so trimming may be necessary.
However, you can “train” the plant to cascade beautifully over the side of the container if you wish, or some will simply do this on their own as they grow and become top-heavy. Trimming water mint is an easy task, and the clippings can be used in food and drinks if you wish! As an added bonus, water mint is considered naturalized throughout much of the world, so there’s little worry of it being invasive in your area (though, of course conduct a bit of research first to make sure).
5) Corkscrew Rush (Juncus spiralis)
Unlike soft rush that can grow several feet tall, corkscrew rush typically only grows up to a foot tall due to thin, curly, “corkscrew” shaped leaves. These unique leaves will add an interesting look to your container pond, and are quite easy to take care of. Place it in a particularly shallow area of your container pond, or simply in saturated soil or substrate. Growing well in hardiness zones 5 through 11, and tolerant of drought as well as flooding/oversaturation, corkscrew rush does well just about anywhere.
6) Creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
Creeping jenny is a charming little plant that grows to only one to three inches in height, and as its name implies prefers to spread laterally until it can hang over the edges of walls, containers, logs, rocks, or whatever else it grows on. Because of this, it won’t overcrowd other plants as it doesn’t take up much water space, and is easy to trim back if desired.
It can be placed in saturated soil, aquatic pots, or on a small log or rock in your pond where its trailing, vivid green leaves can graze the water before flowing over the nearest edge. It grows well in zones 3 through 9, making it hardy in both cool and warm conditions.
7) Pitcher Plants (Sarracenia spp.)
An unconventional choice, pitcher plants can be placed on shallow shelves of saturated soil or soil-filled pots on the edge of your container pond. They’ll add a truly distinctive, almost otherworldly feel, and are relatively easy to grow so long as their roots are kept wet and they have enough food. Speaking of which, Sarracenias may be of particular interest to you if you live in a buggy area, as they’ll readily consume flies, mosquitos, gnats, and any other insects that happy to fall into their trumpet-shaped, lidded carnivorous leaves.
Most pitcher plants are tolerant to hardiness zones 6 and above. However, the purple pitcher plant (Sarracenia purpurea) is not only hardy all the way to zone 3, but is smaller than other species, typically growing between 6 to 12 inches in height, including the flower that sits atop a tall, thin stem. The bulk of the plant, not including this solitary thin stem (also known as a scrape) is typically 6 or less inches in height.
8) Anacharis (Anacharis Canadensis)
Anacharis, or elodea, is a favorite among ponders due to its soft, bright leaves and excellent oxygenation and purification abilities. It can grow in only a few inches of water (three or more is best), but should be placed in small pots or aquatic baskets to prevent overgrowth in such a small area as a container pond.
Leaves and tiny white flowers will float atop the water once anacharis reaches maturity, and these leaves will need to be trimmed to just below the water’s surface to deter them from spreading across the top of the entire container. Hardiness zones 6 through 10 are most favorable to elodea.
9) Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
Completely lacking roots, hornwort prefers to simply float about and do its own thing. To deter this and control growth, anchor hornworts in small pots. Its feathery leaves make hornwort wonderful at cleaning and oxygenating the water, and even secret compounds as well as compete for nutrients, both of which lessen or even eliminate cyanobacterial (blue-green algae) growth. It’s quite tolerant of both cold and hot conditions, doing well in hardiness zones 3 through 11 (though it favors 5 and above).
10) Lemon Bacopa (Bacopa caroliniana)
Lemon bacopa can be grown either completely submerged, or emergent in shallow water. Underwater, it’s a fine oxygenator, able to grow six inches tall or more, and can be easily trimmed if needed. If grown as an emergent plant, it’ll typically only grow two to four inches tall before it falls and trails over edges, similar to creeping jenny, and may spread over a foot. It has small, vibrant five-petaled flowers, and leaves that smell wonderfully of lemons.
Hardy to zones 6 through 11 (though 9 to 11 seems to be preferred), lemon bacopa isn’t quite as tolerant of temperature shifts as some of the other plants on this list. Bacopa caroliniana is native throughout much of the U.S. and Europe, but some lookalike varieties of bacopa are quite invasive, so be very careful when purchasing this plant! Make absolutely certain that what you’re getting is Bacopa carolinia and not a different species within the Bacopa genus.
Things to Remember about Container Ponds
With container ponds, you’ll have to pay exception attention to the needs of those plants and your water quality parameters, as things can go awry quickly in such a small environment. For example, container ponds can heat up and cool down very quickly, so you’ll need to choose plants that are relatively hardy if temperature shifts do occur, and you’ll also need to be mindful of where you place your pond.
Try to place it in an area that gets morning light, which is cooler than afternoon light, to reduce the risk of overheating your pond and damaging plants. Some plants may be able to grow just fine in a gravel substrate, while others may require more nutrients and therefore should be planted in aquatic soil.
If the plant spreads via underground rhizomes, it won’t be suitable for a container pond as it will choke out other plants quickly in such a confined space and will need to be completely dug up periodically to cut back the rhizomes. If you choose to have an aerator in your container pond (which usually isn’t necessary for such a small space), plants with sensitive foliage should not be used as they can become easily stressed and damaged by water movement. These are just a few of the things that you’ll need to keep in mind as you decide which plants you’d like to have in your miniature pond. Below, we’ll explore a variety of plants to aid you in your research and decision.