Building and Planting a Water Garden

Water gardens are man made landscaping features that can be found in both interior and exterior areas. Also known as aquatic gardens, these areas primary focus is normally on plants, but the design will sometimes include animals such as fish. Water gardens are often small in size, normally no larger than twenty inches deep. Water gardens tend to be kept small and shallow because many types of aquatic plants are depth sensitive and must be kept in a certain water depth to survive and thrive. The precise size of a water garden will be determined by the types of plants being included. Anyone can set up a water garden as part of their landscape. Fun elements that can be featured include waterfalls, underwater lighting, fountains, and more.

In order to have a successful water garden, it must be planned, installed, and maintained properly. Planning and installation of a water garden will ultimately depend on the type being constructed as well as the features that will be included. When it comes to planting your water garden, the key to success is balance which will lead to a thriving system. The plants that are chosen should balance your water garden ecologically by shading and oxygenating it. There are four generally types of plants that are most suited to water gardens and they include deep water plants, floating plants, marginals or bog plants, and oxygenators. When a mix of all four types of plants are included in a water garden, and it is properly maintained, it will lead to a self sustaining system that thrives.

Commonly Incorporated Water Garden Plants

Bog Plants

  • Water iris
  • Papyrus
  • Bamboo
  • Cattail
  • Japanese Iris


  • Water lily
  • Hornwort

Floating Plants

  • Water lettuce
  • Water hyacinth
  • Mosquito ferns
  • Water clover

Deep Water Plants

  • Cabomba
  • ElodeaWater Plants

To keep water plants from overcrowding your garden, and spreading out, containers can be used. Clay pots, plastic tubs, dishpans, and other such containers are good options. Containers should be filled with a heavy, damp garden soil, and should be packed tightly to keep it from floating to the surface of the water garden. The container should then be placed at the correct depth within the garden.

Plants should be introduced into your water garden during the growing season. If fish are being introduced, you should wait at least two to three weeks to put them in the system. Ideally, four or five weeks should surpass before introducing fish, to allow time for the plants that were introduced to become established.

Some plants are ecologically essential in creating a balance in your water garden, even though they do not appear above the water. These "water weeds" help to replenish the supply of oxygen in the water as well as slowing the growth of algae. In addition to providing fish with food, these plants also have the ability to absorb excess nutrients that can cloud water. If your garden is too small to include these types of plants, a small pump will work in their place.

There are many different varieties of plants available for water gardens including several varieties of beautiful flowers. It is important, when creating a water garden, to try to use non-invasive species of plants. While plants such as water hyacinth have incredibly beautiful flowers, and can also keep water clear of algae, they are also an incredibly invasive species and should be used very carefully. With the proper care, planning, and maintenance of your water garden, it will thrive, and act as a focal point of your landscape design.

Water Garden Websites:

Written By: Lynn Taylor

Building a Water Garden