The Best Small Plants for Small Ponds (Easy Care Species)


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The Best Plants for Small Ponds, Patio Ponds & Water Bowls 2020

Even the smallest garden ponds will benefit from having plants, and luckily, there are many species perfect for smaller-scale.

Plants play a critical role in healthy aquatic ecosystems and can benefit your water garden in many ways, whether it’s the size of a small water bucket or an entire lake!

This article focuses on the former; that is, small ponds such as mini bowls, bucket ponds, patio ponds, and very modest water gardens which have limited space, but would still benefit from a range of easy to care for plant species. Although many pond plants tend to grow quite large, we’ve researched and chosen in this article some of the best smaller species perfect for smaller-scale planting.

As well as looking great, these plants come with a huge amount of benefits to keep your little pond and native wildlife happy, so there is little reason not to include them!

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Why Are Plants Important in Small Ponds?

Not only do plants add to the overall aesthetic, they also provide functions that would typically not be as efficient if replicated by other means. Perhaps most importantly, they oxygenate the water, which is in turn tied to many other things. Properly oxygenated water allows for the survival of fish and any other organisms that decide to visit or settle in your pond, however small it may be.

As well as the water quality benefits, plants also help attract wildlife and provide a safe haven for vulnerable species.

With the establishment of these critters, your pond can become a functioning mini ecosystem! They can help to control insect populations, feed on algae, and form mutualistic (that is, mutually beneficial) relationships with each other. For example, the relationship between fish and flowering plants – ponds that have fish tend to be surrounded by more flowering plants, and a greater diversity of them as well. This is because those fish feed on insects that would otherwise demolish the plants, thus allowing the plants to flower and other important insects, like bees and butterflies (both of which are declining rapidly worldwide), to pollinate the plants. This in turn assists in the survival of the pollinators as well as the plants!

In addition, plants will help to control algae and phytoplankton by filtering any excess nutrients and pollutants that algae would thrive on, as well as shading the water and limiting the amount of light available to these potentially harmful microorganisms (please refer to our article that covers the types of microorganisms found in ponds to review which ones are considered harmful and helpful). Resultantly, your pond’s residents and visitors, be they fish, newts, salamanders, butterflies, birds, and so on, will benefit greatly, in turn attracting other organisms and wildlife that can turn your pond or water garden into a balanced, beautiful microhabitat.


The Best Small Pond Plants For Small Ponds (Top Species)

Regardless of your pond’s size, there are plants that are well-suited to live in and around it. The four main groups of aquatic plants are bog, marginal, floating, and submersed. Here we will cover the latter three as well as their suitability for both small (less than 500 gallon) ponds as well as mini-bowl (less than 100 gallon) ponds.

Best Small Floating Pond Plants

1) Dwarf Water Lily(Nymphaea leibergii)

Dwarf water lilies do best in anywhere from 1 to 18 inches of water, and can be white, pink, purple, yellow, or some combination thereof. They look almost exactly like standard water lilies, but are obviously much smaller with leaves and blooms that are only a couple of inches across. Their rhizomes are quite delicate and fleshy, so they shouldn’t be planted in stones that could harm them. These fragile rhizomes do, however, make dwarf water lilies very easy to trim back if they start to multiply too much for your liking or take up too much space in the water. They do best in full sun to partial shade.


One of the most popular and easy to grow floating plants, water hyacinth is able to adapt to just about any size ecosystem that it’s in, able to grow to only a few inches in height and diameter or closer to a meter. They have gorgeous, eye-catching lavender colored flowers and glossy, broad leaves. The ease with which they grow and adapt is both a boon and a burden – they can grow quickly and overtake the water and other plants, but the perk of having a small pond or micro-bowl is that it’s quite simple to monitor this and keep them trimmed so that they don’t cause an issue.

An added bonus is that water hyacinth is exceptional at filtering water, outcompeting algae for nutrients, and is also one of the most adept plants at removing excess nitrogen and controlling ammonia levels! However, it’s also an invasive plant in most areas, so make certain that you do not plant it if there is potential for it to spread outside of your pond or if it’s illegal in your area to have it.


Water lettuce produces small leaves that develop into a swirling rosette shape (hence the name “lettuce”), and like water hyacinth will grow to suit their environment’s size. Their roots provide food and spawning areas for fish, while their thick leaves add oxygen to the water and provide a charming floating aesthetic. It also grows quickly, and some of it will need to be removed from time to time to keep it in check. Start by planting a small cutting (with a stolon attached) and either letting it sit free floating in the water or anchor the stolon in some form of substrate. You can also simply plant a seed or two in the substrate.


Best Small Marginal Pond Plants

1) Corkscrew Rush (Juncus spiralis)

As with all marginal plants, corkscrew rush can exist either in shallow water or moist soil. It’s quite a unique little plant, smaller than most other rushes and with thin, green curly spiraling stems that will add some distinctive flair to your pond. This plant was derived from the soft rush (Juncus effusus), which can also be suitable for small ponds as well as micro-bowls, but soft rush is capable of growing several feet in height and so may need to be trimmed down, whereas corkscrew rush will tend to stay shorter due to its leaves growing in a curled as opposed to straight fashion.


Sweet flag’s name was coined from the sweet, fragrant scent that it produces when bruised, cut, or otherwise damaged. With bright green and yellow grass-like leaves, this marginal plant makes a vibrant addition to any pond and can be grown in either small or large clumps, making it ideal for any pond size. However, it is important to note that some species of sweet flag are invasive to North America and Europe (only Acorus calamus and Acorus Americanus are known to be native to these continents), so be sure to choose these species over Japanese sweet flag species. There are also dwarf varieties available, which would be well suited to micro-bowls. Sweet flag can be planted in either full sun or partial shade.


It’s obvious why creeping jenny is a favorite among pond garden owners – this small marginal plant likes to grow on rocks and logs, draping over them to flow on top of the water’s edge in a splash of bright green. It’s very low maintenance and grows to only 1 to 3 inches in height, and is unlikely to extend too far beyond the edge of the pond, so it won’t overtake other plants or crowd the water. If it does happen to grow too much for your liking, it’s very easy to remove. It’s also hardy, suitable for both cool (as low as 59°F) and warm water (up to 75°F).


As its name suggests, cardinal flowers have striking, immensely vibrant scarlet flowers that will attract a large variety of pollinators and hummingbirds to your pond. Around small ponds, you can simply plant them in the damp soil right on the edge of your pond, and in the case of water gardens and micro ponds, you can place them in miniature pots an inch or two below the water’s surface. It does well in shady environments, though partial sun is fine, and will grow from 1 to 4 feet in height (so be sure to incorporate it toward the back of your water feature so that it doesn’t block your view of anything). It’s hardy, able to grow in climates as northerly as Canada and as far south as Columbia.


Best Small Submerged Pond Plants

1) Anacharis (Anacharis Canadensis)

Also known as elodea, anacharis is suitable for any pond size, large or tiny, so long as the water is at least a few inches deep. In the case of very small ponds, place them in small pots so that the plants remain small and don’t outgrow the pond. They have bright, feathery leaves that help to oxygenate the water and keep it clean, while also providing a favorite place for invertebrates and small juvenile fish, and produce tiny white flowers that float atop the water’s surface. These leaves will often extend to the water’s surface and spread out, so you’ll likely need to trim them back from time to time.


A submerged free-floating plant, hornwort doesn’t have roots and can either be allowed to float about or anchored down. In the case of very small ponds, such as bucket ponds or bowl ponds, placing them in a tiny pot at the bottom of the water may work best – this will keep them from spreading in the tiny area. Hornworts, like most submerged plants, are excellent oxygenators and purifiers. In addition, hornworts and some other bryophytes secrete substances that inhibit algal growth, thus further aiding in purifying the water.

16 thoughts on “The Best Small Plants for Small Ponds (Easy Care Species)”

  1. What pond plants are safe
    For cats? I want to build a small patio water feature that will have a waterfall like feature. Will water running over the plants damage them?

    Reply
  2. I am planning a pond in a butler sink. What would be the best plants to put into this pond and how many?
    Do I need aquatic compost and pot baskets?
    Thank you
    George

    Reply
    • Hi George,

      What a wonderful idea for a container pond! That’ll look quite nice once it’s done!

      Whether or not you’ll need plant baskets depends on the plant – for dwarf water lily, for example, you will not need one, but for aquatic mint you would. Both of these make excellent plants for small container ponds, as well! Creeping jenny is quite a nice one as well, and also has vibrant yellow flowers. Both aquatic mint and creeping jenny can be trained to trail over the edge of the sink, for added aesthetic while not taking up too much space in the water itself.

      If you’d like some more tips regarding container ponds and how to plant in them, feel free to check out our article on the topic here: https://pondinformer.com/best-container-pond-plants/

      Reply
  3. I put a bought potted water lily into my pond which has 6 goldfish in it. The water has gone muddy, so that was disappointing. More importantly will the goldfish be ok? Thanks

    Reply
  4. Comment/question. I have a small garden pond and due to the hot weather there is a lot of algae which is unsightly. I don’t want to use chemicals but have heard that there are pond plants that can solve this problem. Your expert advice with this problem would be most welcome. Thank you. R. Miles.

    Reply
    • Hi R. Miles,

      A combination of floating and submerged plants would likely work best. The floating plants will help to shade out some of the algae, while the submerged plants will aid in filtering the water and re-oxygenating it. I’m not sure where you’re located, so certainly do some research on what species are native to your area, but water lettuce (this one in particular is known to inhibit the growth of algae), water lotus, and water lilies all work well to help provide some shade and outcompete algae.

      Hornwort, fanwort, eelgrass (vallisneria), marsh mermaid weed, and water wisteria are all submerged plants that are excellent at generating dissolved oxygen, which is essential when dealing with algae as they tend to use up a great deal of the water’s oxygen supply as they grow and spread. Hornwort in particular is allelopathic, releasing a very particular combination of bio-chemicals that studies have found target different types of algae.

      For added measure, you could also incorporate some emergent plants along your pond’s edge to further filter the water (and these will also be able to better filter out pollutants and fertilizers that would otherwise runoff into your pond). Again, the plants that you should use depends on your location, but watercress, cattails (most definitely check on which species are native in your area – any invasive varieties will quickly take over), scouring rush (equisetum species), American water plantain, bog bean, purple lobelia (this one has the added bonus of being quite beautiful), cardinal flower (also very beautiful), and lemon bacopa. Lemon bacopa and watercress are both *very* good at filtering out excess phosphorous and nitrogen, both things that algae feed on, and they smell and look quite nice, as well.

      I’ve included a few of our plant profile articles, as well, if you’d like more info on some of the species that I mentioned:
      https://pondinformer.com/water-lettuce-pistia-stratiotes/
      https://pondinformer.com/hornwort-ceratophyllum-demersum/
      https://pondinformer.com/american-water-plantain-alisma-subcordatum/
      https://pondinformer.com/lemon-bacopa-bacopa-caroliniana/
      https://pondinformer.com/watercress-nasturtium-officinale/
      https://pondinformer.com/cardinal-flower-lobelia-cardinalis/
      https://pondinformer.com/bog-bean-menyanthes-trifoliata/

      Reply
  5. Hi I’ve just recently put a small wildlife pond in our garden it’s 1.4m long and 800cm wife with a deepest point of 40cm I was looking for advice on best plants to keep it oxygenated? The pond has no pump/filter and will never have one.

    Recently bought to large plants on wood from pets at home as everywhere else was closed and advised they would be suitable for a pond but they seem to be dying!!

    Any help much appreciated

    Reply
    • I have Waterweed, Hornwort, duckweed, arrowheads and Hyacinths. The Waterweed grows like crazy even through the winter, same with the Hornwort. I being the Arrowheads inside when the weather gets cool and put them out in the spring. They are great oxygenators and the fish love them. If you are putting fish in your pond, I strongly suggest an aerator at least. Obviously a pump and filter would be best.

      Reply
    • Hi Chris,

      We echo what Alaina said – all of the plants she mentioned work great for oxygenating the water, and pump/filter combo would of course help greatly as well. Some other great oxygenators include water wisteria, eelgrass, water lettuce, and marsh mermaid weed. Some of these (hornwort and waterweed, as mentioned, but also waster wisteria) can grow quite quickly, so it may actually be beneficial to add some goldfish if you don’t already have them. Not always, but oftentimes they enjoy munching on these plants and help keep them from spreading so quickly. Manually trimming them a couple of times per year works just fine, too!

      We’ve actually got an article on some great water oxygenating species, which can be found here if you’re interested: https://pondinformer.com/best-oxygenating-pond-plants/

      Reply
  6. I love your site! I’m planning to fill and plant an old white butler’s sink as a small container pond in the garden and you have answered all my questions about plants. A friend has also promised me a cut down old zinc water cistern so that will give me further scope.
    When filling the container with water for the first time is it alright to use tap water or is rainwater really best?
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Hi Sarah,

      We’re so glad that you’re enjoying the site! Thank you for the kind words 🙂 A small butler’s sink will look great as a container pond!

      In terms of using rainwater or tap water, that’s largely a matter of personal preference! Neither is really any better or worse than the other, overall. Rainwater is, of course, free and readily available, and often viewed as more “natural.” However, by nature of the water cycle and human activities, rainwater can contain pollutants, acids, and other potentially harmful substances. It also tends to be soft, which is often good for ponds but if it’s too soft you’ll need to bump up the KH (though this can be said for tap water, as well). Tap water is a more easily controlled choice – just make sure to add dechlorinator first and test the water quality before and after adding it. Regardless of which you use, it’s a good idea to add some beneficial bacteria to the pond to help it balance out with the new water and take care of any newly introduced compounds or organisms.

      Reply
  7. We’re just developing a rockery area in our garden and embedding 3 tiny ‘ponds’ into it: 2 halves of an old fire pit (bowl and lid) and an old paella dish.
    They’re very shallow, 3 – 10cm deep, max, and only 30 – 50cm across.
    What plants, if any, can we include? (Not planning on putting any fish in!)

    Thanks!

    Reply
  8. Hi Beckie

    Great information on this site 🙂 Ive recently bought a 50 gallon raised pond and I’m hoping to make it a nice little home for a few goldfish. Which plants would you recommend? Any other tips would be appreciated.

    Thanks
    Julie

    Reply
  9. Hello Beckie,

    I am updating my pond and would like to add plants to it. I had some cattails but they are very aggressive and and take much space on my small pond. I did like they came back every year. I live in north Texas and we have hard summers and winters in the 40/50s. I will add about 2 fish when I am done with the renovation. I will make a ledge on my rectangular pond for the plants. I would like the plants to hide the wall behind them. I am not sure how deep to make the ledge or the plants to add to it. I was thinking of 1 1/2 feet deep but can change it depending on your advice. I would appreciate your help since I have no idea which plants will be ideal for full sun, kind of small pod 6ftx3ft and low maintenance that will come back every summer and maybe even live through winter. Thanks in advanced for your advice.

    Reply
    • Hi Daisily,

      Thanks for reading and commenting! I’m afraid that my response will be a bit lengthy, as I want to cover as much as I can here to hopefully help you out.

      I understand your struggle with cattails! Even the native varieties can spread quite quickly and be hard to control. I spent a while researching marginal plants that are native to your area and that should return year after year, while also surviving the mild winters. They should each also do just fine in full sun. I’m going to list each plant that I think may be a good fit, and include a bit of further info next to each so that you can make an informed decision. For some of these plants, we have actually written in-depth articles on them; I’ll include the links for more info if you’d like to check them out 🙂

      Halberdleaf hibiscus/rosemallow (hibiscus laevis)
      -Can grow in a couple of inches of water
      -Perennial
      -Height ranges from 2 to 6 feet, plant 2-3 feet apart to allow leaves to fully spread
      -Beautiful, large white/red/pink flowers
      -USDA zones 4-9
      -Easy to dig up/control

      Stream loosestrife/low loosestrife (Lythrum ovalifolium)
      -Can grow in a couple inches of water
      -Perennial
      -Height up to 1 foot
      -Small purple flowers
      -USDA zones 4-10
      -Easy to dig up/control

      Creeping water primrose (Ludwigia peploides)
      -Creeping plant, can be trained to climb the wall and will grow in several feet of water (stems extend above the water to creep/climb)
      -Perennial
      -Stem length up to 8 feet
      -Medium, bright yellow flowers
      -USDA zones 5-10
      -Can spread quickly, but easy to trim back and roots are not overly tough

      Water/whorled pennywort (Hydrocotyle verticillata)
      -Can grow in up to 6 inches of water (so long as leaves are not submersed)
      -Perennial
      -Bushy, creeping – each stem is usually 10 inches long or less
      -Tiny white flowers
      -USDA zones 5-11
      -Can be aggressive; requires regular trimming to prevent spread

      Obedient plant (Physostegia virginiana) https://pondinformer.com/obedient-plant-physostegia-virginiana/
      -Prefers damp soil, not standing water
      -Perennial
      -Height up to 4 feet
      -Beautiful snapdragon-like flowers; purple, pink or white
      -USDA zones 3-10
      -Can spread but doesn’t generally overtake. Plant in pots of soil (these could then be placed on the water shelf to help keep the soil saturated) to prevent stolon spread

      Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis) https://pondinformer.com/cardinal-flower-lobelia-cardinalis/
      -Can grow in up to 2 inches of water, or moist soil
      -Perennial
      -Usually 2 to 4 feet tall
      -Gorgeous bright red flowers
      -USDA zones 2-9
      -Very easy to control; does not overtake areas

      Broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia)
      -Can grow in up to a foot of water or damp soil
      -Perennial
      -1 to 3 feet tall
      -Attractive medium/large white flowers
      -USDA zones 6-9
      -Can overtake other plants; can dig up roots & tubers, but best planted in a basket/pot to control spread

      Delta arrowhead (Sagittaria platyphylla)
      -Can grow in damp soil or less than 3 feet of water
      -Perennial
      -1 to 3 feet tall
      -Small/medium white flowers
      -USDA zones 5-9
      -Can overtake via rhizomes and tubers; best planted in aquatic basket or pot to control spread

      Soft/common rush (Juncus effusis)
      -Grows well in up to 4 inches of water
      -Perennial
      -2 to 4 feet tall, grows in clumps
      -No flowers
      -USDA zones 2-9
      -Can overtake via rhizome spread; best planted in aquatic baskets or pots to control spread

      Texas rush (Juncus texanus)
      -Same as soft/common rush above

      Canna lily (Canna flaccida) https://pondinformer.com/canna-lily-canna-cleopatra/ (Canna flaccida is a subspecies of Canna cleopatra, so the information still applies)
      -Can grow in several inches of water or moist soil
      -Perennial
      -3 feet tall on average
      -Large flowers in a nearly endless variety of colors (yellow is most common)
      -USDA zones 3-11
      -Spreads via rhizomes, but not aggressively; easy to dig up roots & bulbs if needed

      Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata) https://pondinformer.com/pickerelweed-pontederia-cordata/
      -Grows well in 5 inches of less of water
      -Perennial
      -Up to 4 feet tall
      -Very attractive tall spikes of purple/blue flowers
      -USDA zones 3-10
      -Can spread somewhat quickly; each plant can spread up to 2 feet; plant in aquatic baskets or pots

      Texas spider lily (Hymenocallis liriosme) https://pondinformer.com/texas-spider-lily-hymenocallis-liriosme/
      -Can grow in up to 2 inches of water, or damp soil
      -Perennial
      -Up to 4 feet in height
      -Very unique-looking white flowers
      -USDA zones 8-10
      -Does not spread out of control; easygoing growers

      Alright, I’m sure that was a lot of information, but I hope that it helps! With that being said, I would place the ledge between 4 inches and 1 foot deep (I know that’s a big variation, but truly the depth depends on what types of plants you would like, either from the above list or otherwise). This will allow you to have a variety of plants that like somewhat deeper water (such as native arrowheads), but for the plants that enjoy shallow water (such as cardinal flower and rosemallow), you can place those in pots of soil (topped by substrate to hold the soil in place) or aquatic baskets at differing heights, so that they are still only in their preferred maximum of 2 to 3 inches of water.

      If you’d like some more resources on native aquatic plants in Texas beyond the list that I gave above, here are a few links: http://www.austintexas.gov/watershed_protection/publications/document.cfm?id=203088
      https://npsot.org/wp/story/2015/7249/
      https://www.wildflower.org/collections/collection.php?collection=centex_pond

      Reply

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