The sight and sound of water has always drawn the interest of people. Water adds an appealing element to a garden. Water gardens can include fountains, waterfalls, small ponds and elaborate combinations of rock work and lighting. Natural ponds or large spaces are no longer needed for a water garden. They can consist of a concrete dish, half barrel, plastic tub or anything else that can hold water.

waterplants outdoor display

Port Kells Nurseries carries all your pond requirements.

  • Water Plants
  • Pumps
  • Filters
  • Chemicals
  • Fertilizer
  • Water Features
water plant display
Water garden
Water Plants

Perhaps the most important consideration in water gardening is to choose the right spot. Most aquatic plants and fish need plenty of sun, so a site that gets 6-8 hours of direct sun is best. Choose a site away from tall shrubs and trees for best light and to prevent the accumulation of leaf debris.

When choosing aquatic plants, keep in mind that the plants should cover no more than 50 – 60 percent of the water surface. There are many types to choose from. Some are free floating while others are marginals to submerged. Selection depends on the size of the pond and the kind of look you want. Water lilies can add drama and fragrance even in small tubs. Some plants provide oxygen and help keep the pool healthy. Fish can be a beneficial addition, because they are good scavengers, cleaning up debris. They also can help control mosquito larva, and other insects.

Aquatic Plant Selection

There are many types of plants available for use in a garden pool. Considerations such as water depth, amount of sunlight and how each species relates to its surroundings need to be taken into account when choosing plant material. Both floating leafed and submerged plants are needed for a healthy pond and need to be included in your selection. Water garden plants are called aquatic because their life cycle revolves around water.

 View our list of Water Plants in our Plant Library.


 Aquatics can be divided into three major categories:
Emergent, Submerged and Floaters.

Emergent plants are also called marginals.  These plants are found along the edges of a pond where the roots are attached to the muddy bottom and portions of their stems are above the water. Common examples include cattails, iris and canna. Further from the edge, between shallow and deep water, are other emergent plants where roots are attached to the bottom, but have floating leaves above the water. Water lilies fall into this category. Bog plants are also considered to be marginals.
Though most are not grown for their flowers, some, like lotus and water lilies, are extremely dramatic when in flower. Bog plants are available for those not able to locate their water garden in sufficient sunlight to support good plant growth. Some bog plants can tolerate as little as three hours of sun and still provide interest to the water garden. Many bog plants grow in constantly moist to soggy soils, while others actually grow in standing water. There are many different species of bog plants with varying heights, textures and foliage colours that add height and drama to water gardens. Lotus, sagittarius, dwarf bamboo, iris, cattails, and sweet flags are some examples.

Lotus and Water Lilies
Several of the smaller hardy and tropical water lilies do well in containers and can add both colour and fragrance. Lotus are also a dramatic addition to water gardens. Both water lilies and lotus prefer full sun.

Submerged plants are those that, for the most part remain beneath the water surface. They are often called oxygenators. These plants help combat algae by consuming excess nutrients while at the same time providing cover for fish and producing oxygen during daylight hours. The roots of these plants are not used for nutrient or water uptake, but only for anchorage. Because of this, many oxygenators may be potted in gravel. Submerged plants stocked at the rate of about one bunch per two square feet of water surface area.

Floaters are not rooted in the soil, but are allowed to float freely above or below the water surface. Floaters enhance the display of water lilies and lotus as well as adding a finishing touch to the water garden. They are the ground covers of the pond world. They may be restricted by a framework to prevent them from moving around or allowed to float freely with the breeze. This produces an ever-changing look to the water surface. Some floaters are very prolific and may need to be kept in check by scooping out excess plants on occasion. Duckweed, water hyacinth, and water lettuce are a few examples.

Container Water Gardens

A mini-aquatic garden in a tub or other container located close to the house on a deck or patio can provide you with a unique gardening experience. Containers are a great way to try the idea of water gardening without committing to a larger, more permanent pond. A container aquatic garden is a small commitment in terms of finances and labour. It doesn’t require special aerators or filtration if set up and properly managed.

The Container
A container with a capacity for 15-25 gallons is practical. Many commercial containers are available or you might consider things like small kiddie pools, horse watering troughs, lined whiskey barrels or even old bathtubs. Remember that water weighs about 8 pounds per gallon, so be sure the location of your container will be able to hold the weight. Locate the water garden so it receives a minimum of six hours of sun a day. Most aquatic plants need full sun. Some of the bog plants can survive in less. Less than six hours will decrease the blooming potential of aquatic plants. Choose containers with interiors that are dark in colour. Dark green, charcoal or black colours are suggested because they give the container an impression of greater depth, discourage algae growth, and make algae less obvious when it is present. Stones and slate can be added for interest, but keep in mind that choosing dark coloured rock will help discourage algae.

Container Water Garden

Planting the Garden

Plants used in small aquatic gardens are grown in separate pots and then these pots are placed into the water-filled container. Heavy, clay garden soil is used as a potting medium. After the plant is potted, top the soil with a 1/2 to 3/4 inch layer of pea gravel to help keep the soil in place. Don’t use a commercial potting soil mix or any type of soil mix containing fertilizer. Fill the tub with water and set your plants in place. Some aquatics prefer to be placed at certain depths in the water.

Adjust the depth of your plants by placing bricks under the pot so the crown of the plant is at the preferred depth. About 50 – 60% of the water surface should be covered with plant material. Take note of the type of water used to fill your container. City water supplies are commonly treated with chlorine. It is a good idea to let the tub sit for 24-48 hours before adding plants to allow the chlorine to evaporate. Many city water supplies are now using chloramine, a more stable form of chlorine. If this is the case, you might want to purchase a product to remove the chlorine. Don’t use water from a water softener and don’t add chemicals to the water.

A tub garden is a miniature ecosystem of plants, water and fish. This system must come into balance which means that the plant and animal life is able to hold the algae growth in check. It will take approximately 3-4 weeks for this to occur. Two weeks after you set up the garden, the water will turn cloudy with algae. In another week or so, the water will become clear and remain that way. The aquatic plants and animals keep the algae under control by reducing the sunlight entering the water and competing with the algae for nutrients in the water.

Fish and Snails for Water Gardens

Pond creatures can be added to your water container for added interest and to help maintain the ecosystem balance. Several small snails are very helpful as they eat algae, fish waste, and decaying organic matter. Fish such as mollies, guppies, platys or gambezi are good choices. They do well in the variable water temperatures of a small patio pond plus they eat mosquitoes. Larger containers of 20 gallons or more can handle one to two goldfish.

Over wintering the Garden

Plants in small water gardens will need to be brought in for the winter. Potted plants can be lifted out of the water and stored in water filled tubs in a cool, dark basement. They will go dormant and can be brought back to the garden in the spring after the weather warms. Floaters may be over wintered indoors in aquariums where there is high light. It may be best to handle these as annuals. Buying new plants each season. Any fish will have to be brought inside for the winter.