Guide to Pond Plants
Pond plants serve several purposes, including beautifying your yard, helping keep your pond healthy, and providing shelter for turtles, frogs, fish, and other aquatic life. However, some of the most popular pond plants for Southern California are invasive species that should be avoided by responsible pond owners who want to do their part to protect local flora and fauna.
Non-native water plants use more water than natives and can be transported by birds and other wildlife from your pond to nearby waterways. Once introduced to the wild, invasive plants can cause all sorts of problems, including crowding out native plants, reducing oxygen levels in water, and reducing access to water for migratory water birds. Some, such as giant reed (Arundo donax), can even create fire and flood hazards. So, before you purchase plants for your pond, read this guide to native pond plants. If you are considering options that are not on this list, be sure to research them before adding them to your pond.
Benefits of Pond Plants
1. Plants keep your water cleaner.
Adding the right, properly planted plants to your pond can make it easier to maintain and keep it looking clean. This is because water plants limit algae growth and filter the water to improve water quality.
2. Plants help your pond support life.
Pond plants provide much-needed shelter for turtles, fish, and frogs. They also oxygenate the water and, in some cases, provide a food source for aquatic animals.
3. Plants improve the overall look of your pond.
Plants are a great way to hide pond equipment while also beautifying the space and making your pond look more natural.
4. Plants attract wildlife to your yard.
Just like planting a butterfly garden or choosing plants that attract pollinators when designing your landscaping, water plants attract wildlife to your yard.
Tips for Responsible Water Gardening
The University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources offers tips for responsible pond management through the University of California Cooperative Extension Master Gardener Program.
These tips include:
- Growing your pond plants in containers to minimize spread
- Composting unwanted plants or sealing them in plastic bags before throwing them away
- Choosing native plants whenever possible
- Avoiding pond installation near natural waterways
- Contacting your local Master Gardener program for tips on which plants are best for your pond.
Proper pond maintenance is a must. It is easiest to hire a company that specializes in this service who can regularly maintain the health and cleanliness of your pond. This will help you avoid your pond becoming murky, dead plant matter building up and harming aquatic animals, and plants becoming overcrowded and harming the ecosystem of your pond. Pond maintenance service providers can also recommend the type and number of plants that work best for your situation.
Water Plants for Southern California Ponds
You are probably expecting to see water hyacinth on this list, since it is consistently among the most popular and sought-after pond plants in California. It is widely available, grows incredibly fast, and has attractive, purple flowers that stand out among the green foliage. While you may be tempted to add this easy-grower to your pond, consider some of the following alternatives instead. Water hyacinth seeds can live up to 20 years and it can be transported from your pond to nearby waterways where it is harmful to local plants and wildlife and can impede water flow.
Yellow Pond-Lily (Nuphar polysepalum, Nuphar lutea)
Yellow pond-lily offers showy leaves and attractive, yellow flowers that bloom between March and October with most blooms between June and September. It is perennial and is rhizomatic, so expect it to spread through rhizomes if you do not plant it in a container to control spread. This water plant grows best in up to three feet of water but can be grown in much deeper ponds as well. It prefers full sun, part sun, or part shade, so be sure to plant it in an area that receives at least some sunlight every day.
Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
Hornwort, also called coontail, is a fast-growing, aquatic plant that can be planted in the ground or in containers or allowed to float freely. This plant is particularly good at inhibiting algae growth, helping to keep pond water clear, and improving the health of your pond. If you have fish, it is a good choice for providing shelter, oxygenating the water, and removing nitrogenous waste that is toxic to fish.
Pacific Fairy Fern (Azolla filiculoides)
Pacific fairy fern is an evergreen, aquatic plant that is fast growing and free floating. This one can easily cover the surface of your pond within months of introduction, so you will need to take that into consideration and be prepared to maintain it accordingly. These pond plants provide ample shelter for fish, frogs, and turtles, and provide visual interest throughout the year. In areas that freeze, expect it to die back in winter and return when the weather warms up in spring.
Cape Pondweed (Aponogeton distachyon)
Cape pondweed is a perennial, flowering water plant that does best in full sun, part sun, or part shade and should be planted in water about 18 inches deep. Blossoms can be expected off an on throughout the year in temperate climates. It provides shelter for fish and may attract wild waterfowl to your yard, since they like to dine on some varieties.
Arrowheads (Sagittaria latifolia)
Arrowheads, which are also known as duck-potatoes or Indian potatoes, are perennial plants that grow in water and muddy soil. The leaves are shaped like arrowheads, and mid- to late-summer blossoms are delicate and white. If you are looking for pond plants that can beautify your yard and be part of your vegetable garden, arrowheads might be a good choice for you, since the starchy tubers they produce have long been a food source and can be easily harvested to enjoy raw or cooked.
Pickerelweed (Pontederia cordata)
Pickerelweed most often grows in shallow water with much of its three-foot stature above the waterline. If you have sages, salvias, or lavender incorporated into other areas of your landscaping, pickerelweed will fit right in with its spikes of blue-purple flowers and heart-shaped leaves. This is an attractive plant that does not look like a typical water plant, so if you are looking for significant visual interest and something that will add height to your water garden, this is a good choice.
Laevigata Iris (Iris laevigata)
Laevigata iris, also known as water iris, is another tall, attractive plant that beings color and texture to your water garden and will perfectly complement irises or similar plants in other areas of your garden. Water irises require little maintenance, are easy to grow, and prefer full sun, part sun, or part shade. For the most blossoms, look for a spot with full sun. Their striped, blade-shaped leaves point towards showy, blue-purple flowers that attract hummingbirds to your yard.
To learn more about native pond plants and why you should avoid invasive, non-native species, check out these two resources:
- Don’t Plant a Pest! (California Invasive Plant Council)
- Aquatic Gardens, Not Aquatic Pests: How to Practice Responsible Water Gardening (University of California Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources)