7 Aquatic Plants for Small Ponds

7 aquatic plants for small ponds available at the best nursery near me.

Written by David S.

Small ponds or barrel ponds are lovely additions to an outdoor space. They attract a fantastic variety of wildlife who come to drink from them. Those critters include birds, bees, and butterflies. Setting up a barrel pond or small plastic pond is not difficult, especially since we carry an array of small pond kits that contain everything you need to create an outdoor water feature. All you have to do is add plants. In this article, we go over a few plants that are ideal for small ponds. 

Emergent Plants 

These are plants that live in or out of water. They generally live near water and spend part of their days or weeks submerged or on dry land. They include:

1. Iris — true aquatic iris include red flag iris, yellow flag iris, rabbit ear iris, and blue flag iris. Iris are beautiful early bloomers that add color to ponds. They attract bees and butterflies, and other pollinators. 

2. Rushes — Butomus umbellatus (1-5 feet) or Zebra rush “Scirpus zebrinus” (4-6 feet) Rushes make lovely centerpieces to water gardens. Though they are tall, they will fit into a small pond or barrel pond. These taller plants play an essential role in attracting dragonflies to your pond. The naiads use these emergent rushes to climb from the water to pupate and emerge as adults. 

Floating Leaf Plants 

3. Floating leaf plants include lilies, such as the fringed water lily. These can spread to three feet in width, so don’t be afraid to prune them back. Many pollinators will use the leaves as a landing pad to drink water from the pond. Frogs will use the leaves both as a place for shade and as a roosting place while hunting. 

There are a wide array of lilies for small ponds. Those include lotus as well. Some lily and lotus become massive, so be sure to read the label when you shop for floating leaf plants. 


 Oxygenators are plants that put oxygen into the water. They are a must for any pond regardless of its size. These plants keep the water healthy, and they keep it from stagnating. When you use oxygenators in your small pond, you don’t need a pump or a filter because these plants help to add oxygen and remove harmful chemicals. They include:

4. Hornwort — These submerged plants are feathery, and their stalks are soft and flexible. They spread like crazy, so you will have to keep them in check by cutting them back. 

5. Spiked water-milfoil is branched and similar in look to hornwort. Both can be invasive and not available, but they give you an excellent place to start though, and you can check with our plant experts about oxygenators for your pond. 

Marginal Plants 

These are plants that are used to getting wet. In nature, you’d find these plants along the edge of streams, lakes, and ponds. They include 

6. Pickerel rush — 24-30″ tall — Plant just above the surface or fully submerge them. You can divide them if the clumps become too large. 

7. Water hyacinths — they do well in shallow ponds or deeper water and offer lovely blooms and not a lot of fuss. 

 Planting Water Plants in your Pond or Barrel Pond

Each plant you place in your small pond should be in a small pot. 4-inch pots for plants that stay small and 6-8 inch pots for plants that develop more extensive root systems. When the plant becomes too large for the pot, divide the root mass. Either discard or repot the divided root system. NOTE: some of these plants are invasive, and you want to dispose of them properly. Check with your local waste company about how to dispose of invasive plants. 

Adjust the height of the pot based on the depth of the pond. Many of the ponds that I have designed or installed had varying depths. The center of the pond was deeper than the water along the margin. In a barrel pond or small garden pond, you may have only one level. To overcome that, use small bricks to elevate the pot to the correct water depth. A cinder block also works to create a broader shelf for several pots. 

SOIL for Ponds

Bagged soil is available. The best soil to add to pond pots is heavy clay soil or heavy loams. The soil must stay in the pot so that the water remains clean. Clay soils do a fantastic job of that. You can also add heavy loam to the pots and then cover it with a thick layer of pea-gravel. 

Discouraging Invasive Pond Weeds 

Pond weeds need light, just like regular plants. Allow your floating plants to cover up to 70 percent of the water surface. They will shade out most aquatic weeds. 

Adding Fish to Your Pond 

Small ponds need only a few fish. Mosquito fish are an excellent choice. These are small guppies that thrive in ponds. I do not recommend adding goldfish to small ponds. Goldfish, while beautiful, do not stop growing and will outgrow your pond fairly quickly. Larger fish also attract predators such as heron and raccoons. It is heartbreaking to wake up and discover something significant has waffled through your pond looking for fish and uprooted or broken your pond plants. You can obtain mosquito fish through your county mosquito abatement program (usually.) You do not need a filter for mosquitofish. 

Pond Placement

Ponds will thrive in afternoon shade. Too much light means algae blooms, and that can kill off your plants and certainly any fish in your pond. 

The ingredients for a thriving pond are clean water, healthy plants, and just the right amount of sunlight. Choose plants that fit together both in terms of height and growing conditions. Be sure to start small. By that, we mean not to overplant the pond. Allow the plants that you choose to mature and expand. Many aquatic plants will spread. If you plant too many plants at once, they will overcrowd each other, and some may die. 

We offer pond kits, barrel ponds, and liners, along with an assortment of aquatic plants. Small ponds are an excellent addition to porches, patios, and outdoor living spaces. You can add a pump and lights or keep it natural. If a small pond or barrel pond is on your “bucket” list, stop by and browse our selection and take advantage of our plant experts. 

Do you like what you see? Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get content like this every week!