Pond Plants to Control Algae & Balance Your Water Garden

pond plants for your water gardenSelecting the right pond plants will help you balance your water garden and maintain a healthier pond environment with less nuisance algae.

Learn how to use aquatic plants and natural pond care techniques from water garden expert, Kelly Billing. With her knowledge and insights, you will learn how to create a balanced pond that doesn’t rely on toxic chemicals or expensive mechanical filters by using natural solutions.

In this guide, we will explain the preferred types of aquatic plants, how to use plants for oxygenation / filtration, the difference between cool / warm season plants, and when to choose floating, submerged, shallow water, and other plants for your pond that will naturally improve water quality.


Table of Contents – Pond Plants for Your Water Garden

Guide to Pond Plants that Help Control Algae

Plant Tips from A Water Gardening Pro:
From our interview with Kelly Billing, we learned these helpful tips about maintaining pond plants to keep in mind while reading this article. If you have any experiences to add, please leave them in the comments section at the end. Please read this other article to learn specific tips for Spring start-up and debris clean up in your pond.

  • Have a good mix of warm season, cool season, and perennial plants.
  • Remove any foliage that is leaning or deteriorating into pond, this is fuel for algae.
  • Keep things neat, orderly, and fresh so you can naturally maintain the pond over depending on chemicals.
  • Use a pump or filter to circulate water in your pond for oxygenation. Movement in water will enhance your plants’ natural ability to uptake nutrients and trap more sediments.
Water Plant Expert, Kelly Billings

Kelly Billing, Water Gardening Expert And Lotus Enthusiast

Kelly Billing

Career: Owner of Water Becomes A Garden

Location: Forest Hill, MD

Mantra: “I am determined to change the way water becomes a garden!”

Water Gardening Background: A longtime member of the commercial water gardening community with 30+ years in the industry. Passionately involved in educating and inspiring water gardeners everywhere. Most recently involved in making unique art from Lotus leaves.


Why Should I Add Water Plants to My Pond?

By adding pond plants you will provide competition to opportunistic algae.

There are many ways to maintain a balanced pond, but using plants is the best long term solution to combat nuisance algae and provide a healthy habitat that your fish will love!

If your pond is 100 gallons or 100,000 gallons the addition of pond plants will decrease the amount of maintenance to keep your pond water clean and is a great alternative to expensive products that kill algae by chemical or mechanical means.


How Does a Plant Filter Naturally Filter My Pond?

Pond Plants that Benefit your Water GardenPond plants filter sediments and pollution from your pond, just like trees filter carbon from the air we breathe to produce oxygen.

Water plants consume nitrates from pond water. Algae require sunlight, water and nutrients (nitrates & phosphates) to prosper. By incorporating sufficient plantings into the pond the higher order of plants will work to out compete the nuisance algae. Algae has no competition in their absence. Aquatic plants that have high nutrient uptake will be extremely helpful to clear up your pond.

Using plants in combination to maximize their respective benefits will further their ability to outcompete algae.
Floating plants provide shade and cover; limiting the sunlight. Submerged plants primarily consume their nutrients from the water column rather than from their roots, limiting the development of algae. It is important to understand that all plants have the ability to improve water quality and that each has different strengths.

How Do Aquatic Plants for Ponds Combat Algae Growth?

Plants combat algae growth by filtering out excess nitrate & phosphate nutrients, producing oxygen, and providing shade for your pond. One of the leading causes of algae growth are from waste and decaying plants. So remember to always remove decaying plant matter before it builds up!

By providing lots of shade, floating pond plants, waterlilies and creeping plants block excess sunlight limiting photosynthesis of algae in the water and keeping the water temperature cooler. (Algae love warmer temperatures which is why we see some algae blooms become toxic in the Summer.)

Although pond plants are not going to be able to help you remove all algae from your pond, a good mix of aquatic pond plants can really help prevent and control algae in your pond during peak algae season. Some algae on surfaces and in streams is normal and necessary. Limiting abundant and toxic algae is the key.

“It is best to have established water plants prior to the peak of algae seasons, early spring and late summer, so the purifying benefits can be optimized.”

– Kelly Billing

How Are Water Plants Good for Fish and Wildlife?

pond plants safe for wildlifeWater plants are extremely beneficial for fish and other wildlife because they contribute to balanced ecosystem producing more oxygen, providing the necessary habitat for all levels of life forms to thrive. They are the foundation of a naturally balanced pond.

It is important to include plants that thrive in cooler seasons, so roots are active and absorbing nutrients before warm weather arrives.

In warmer seasons, floating plants can keep the water temperature down by providing shade during the hot summer days.

Plants have added benefits for wildlife too. Bog Beans is a good shallow water plant for frogs because their buoyancy allows frogs to hang onto the plant and provides valuable protection from pond predators. Turtles love Water Poppy and Frog Bit as a food source.

Spatterdock, is a good waterlily alternative because the koi and other fish like it.

Submerged plants are vital in providing oxygen for your fish while also acting as a good place for them to hide from predators. This type of plant also acts as a critical area for fry (babies) to hide. However, when koi are present it is a good idea to create protective boundaries around them to prevent them from getting eaten.

“Consider your goals prior to selecting plants to accommodate the needs of the pond inhabitants along with algae control.”

– Kelly Billing

Types of Aquatic Plants for Your Water Garden

Click the tabs below to learn about the different varieties of plants to choose from and which to avoid. There are of course hundreds of varieties and we are focusing on why to choose each type of pond plant for your pond.

It doesn’t matter which style pond you have, adding plants will greatly help you to maintain a healthier ecosystem.

Floating pond plants add beauty and balance to your pond

Floating leaf plants, like the Water Lilies pictured here, are characterized by the bloom floating on the surface with roots anchored in soil on the bottom.

These underwater growing areas act as a hiding place for fish to raise their fry (babies).

Floating leaf plants are beautiful, the jewels of the pond and are vital in keeping a healthy water garden.





Bog plants, like the Rush shown in this photo, thrive in shallow water (5-10 in. deep) along the pond’s edge. These grow best in saturated soil on the rim of the pond.

Bog plants, also known as Shallow Water or Marginal plants, are heavy root feeders and can improve water quality primarily by absorbing excess nutrients in the pond soil.



Submerged plants oxygenate your pond from the bottom


Submerged plants, like the Eelgrass in this photo, are meant to be grown in pots placed at the bottom of the pond and completely underwater.

They are also known as oxygenating plants because they remove excess nutrients via their foliage and have a reputation for producing more oxygen than other plants.



Prohibited plants are risky because they can be invasive

Prohibited plants like water lettuce are dangerous because they can quickly take over other species after just a single piece has been introduced. Always be careful not to discard your pond plants in rivers, lakes, or streams because this can lead to aquatic nuisance species effecting the natural habitat.

Some plants are prohibited in certain areas of the country because they can quickly take over other species after getting established. Always be careful not to discard your pond plants in rivers, lakes, or streams because this can lead to aquatic nuisance species effecting the natural habitat.

In the United States, each State has different rules on which plants are prohibited. Check to browse a list of prohibited plants Browse a list of prohibited plants.


Will My Climate and Location Affect Plants?

pond plants water temperature
You will find that different plants will be more appropriate for your pond depending on what climate zone you are in and what time of year it is. It is best to plant a combination of cool and warm season plants so that you have algae control from pond plants year-round.

Plants will rapidly grow in the early spring for cool season and during summer for warm season plants. Algae blooms most often occur in early spring before the plants bloom and late summer when the plants start to rest. Effectively planning ahead to include plants during these seasonal changes will greatly increase your chances of avoiding nuisance algae.


Cool Season Water Plants

Cool season plants start growing in the winter so they can be active during early spring to combat early spring algae blooms. Some rest through the summer and fall before waking up again in the following late winter.

Warm Season Water Plants

Warm season plants start growing in the late spring so they are active through the summer to battle late summer algae blooms. They rest during cooler seasons from late fall until late spring.

You have to factor seasonal and temperature differences when building and maintaining your pond. For instance, northern areas require a pond depth of 24 to 36 inches to ensure that the pond won’t freeze solid during winter. Meanwhile in warmer and tropical areas, it is important for additional depth due to excessive warm temperatures.

For example – Giant Sensitive Plants, Mermaid Plants, and Water Wisteria will do very well in Southern tropical weather whereas Forget-Me-Nots and Water Hawthorns will do well in the north as cool season plants.


How to Add Plants to Your Water Garden

how to add plants to your pondBuild your pond with sloped sides for planting terraces or shelves, stepping down toward the pond area to allow for plant and habitat diversity for critters. Introduce your plants onto each plant shelf along the edge or into a container where necessary.

An alternative to planting directly into the pond is a vegetative filter, which is a heavily planted area adjacent to the pond that has water recirculated through it to flush nutrient laden water over the roots. It is of considerable importance to help keep Koi from ravaging the plants because they don’t have access to them.


How Many Plants Should I Add?

The following table offers a rough guide to how many plants you should plant according to your pond’s approximate surface area. A good rule of thumb is to plant one bunch per square foot of water surface.


  2m² 4m² 6m² 8m² 10m² 12m²
Water Lilies 1 2 3 3 4 5
Marginal Plants 8 14 18 24 30 36
Oxygenating Plants (bunches) 15 30 45 60 75 90
Floating Plants 2 3 4 6 8 12

Should I Use a Container for My Pond Plants?

To begin planting, you must decide whether your pond plants will be directly planted or kept in containers. It is best to have a combination of both naturally planted and potted plants in your pond. Plants such as Lotus, Cattails and Reeds should be kept in shallow containers with no holes for easy maintenance and to set boundaries.

Marginal or shallow water plants like Hibiscus, Iris and Pickerel, are good filter plants because of their massive root systems. These plants should be kept in baskets or geo-textile bags of soil, pea gravel or calcined clay so their roots can penetrate to spread and grab nutrients from the water column. Combine tall and spreading plants in the same container to disguise the pots. .


Will a Liner Affect My Pond Plants?

Whether your pond is lines, covered with stone or gravel or naturally earth bottom will dictate what type of plants are acceptable.

Plants to Avoid:

Earth Bottom Parrot’s Feather Water Hawthorn Clover Horsetail
Rock Lined Water Willow Clover Horsetail Cat Tails

Some plants like Cattails, Reeds and Thalia have sharp growth tips that can penetrate liner even if covered in gravel or stone. They shold be confined to a container to prevent puncture and leaks.


Choosing the Right Water Plants for Your Pond

It’s time to select the perfect water plants for your pond!

While there are many options for pond plants, we’ve compiled a list of popular aquatic plants to help you establish your water garden. Based on the expertise from pond experts and pond owners, if you are new to the hobby we recommend water lilies due to their resilience to any region or season and their iconic image in backyard ponds.


Plant Name: Water Lily
Plant Type: Floating
Season: Warm
Critter-Friendly: Yes
Benefits: Water lilies are a top choice among pond owners. This popular water plant does well in any region and season.

They provide a lot of surface cover against heat during the warmer weather and shelter fish from predators.





Plant Name: Water Lotus
Plant Type: Floating
Season: Warm
Critter-Friendly: Yes
Benefits: This pond plant is one of the oldest cultivated aquatic plants out there for your water garden.

Lotuses are known for high nutrient uptake particularly stunning foliage and flowers. They have a substantial growth rate and are characterized by their upright habit as opposed to waterlilies that have floating leaves.




Plant Name: Water Hawthorn
Plant Type: Floating Leaf
Season: Cool
Critter-Friendly: Yes
Benefits: This plant has a unique characteristic of only growing and blooming when pond water is below 65 degrees in temperature.

These are a good season extender since they are active when waterlilies are not and the blooms are fragrant as well as edible.




Plant Name: Anacharis, Coontail & Vallisneria
Plant Type: Submerged
Season: Warm
Critter-Friendly: Yes
Benefits: This plant is a good filter for trapping sediments to improve water clarity. They also provide a lot of oxygen during the daylight hours and are often referred to as oxygenators.

Set groups of them near waterfalls or where water moves by for the best effect.

Remember to reinforce boundaries with this plant because the koi love to eat them.




Plant Name: Water Celery
Plant Type: Bog/Shallow Water
Season: Cool
Critter-Friendly: Yes
Benefits: This plant is ideal for ponds without rocks because they get embedded problematically.

Edible leafy parts, growth begins early when there is still ice in the pond: an excellent early season plant.







Plant Name: Iris
Plant Type: Bog/Shallow Water
Season: Warm
Critter-Friendly: Yes
Benefits: This is another popular plant among pond owners. Irises are typically planted in pots before being submerged. They thrive best in direct sunlight or partial shade.

These plants will begin growing in early Spring. Divide in fall for best bloom the following year.







Plant Name: Giant Sensitive Plant
Plant Type: Floating
Season: Warm
Critter-Friendly: Yes
Benefits: This intriguing plant folds its leaves after you touch it and appears “sensitive”. They will thrive in warmer seasons and provide good surface cover during hot summers to reduce algae while also providing shade for your pond inhabitants.




Maintaining A Natural Water Garden

why-add-water-plants-to-pondThere are a number of ways to minimize maintenance and provide a healthy and balanced pond for maximum enjoyment. I must emphasize that natural is key. Try to use the natural elements already existing in your pond to promote the ideal situation before resorting to mechanical and chemical vices.

I recommend natural products like barley, beneficial bacteria, and Nualgi Ponds which promotes diatom growth to absorb excess nutrients, similarly to plants, and starve off algae.

Products like Algaecides, UV Clarifiers and Ion Generators, although effective can mask the problem of excess nutrients rather than solve it. If there is algae in your pond, this may be indicative of an existing natural imbalance. Natural products should be considered a good practice to implement as opposed to trying to take corrective action after imbalances have noticeable consequences.

Remember – be patient when starting your water garden, for nature will always set a pace for the best outcome.


Balance Your Pond with A Natural SolutionPromotes fish health and controls nuisance algae

Safe for Fish, Plants, Amphibians, Birds & Pets!

Nualgi Ponds significantly improves water quality as well as the health of fish and plants. For many eutrophic ponds, results may be visible by afternoon.

By restoring missing nutrients this brings balance to the natural marine food chain from the bottom up, by promoting the growth of diatoms and zooplankton.

Try Nualgi in Your Pond!



“Natural products should be considered a good practice to implement as opposed to trying to take corrective action after imbalances have noticeable consequences.” – Kelly Billing


  1. We bought a house with a 1/2 acre pond with bass and other fish and turtles in it. We are working to get the thick green algae off by raking and copper sulfate, only doing bits at a time. The pond is 14 ft deep. Right now the water looks black, we do have an aerator running in it also. How do we keep it maintained after getting the algae off. We are new to being pond owners. Thanks for any info

    • please email anil@nualgiponds.com a picture of your pond and a picture of the water in a clear glass jar with a paper towel below and behind the jar. We will provide you potential large pond solutions via email.

  2. I LOVE the fact that you include information about prohibited, invasive species. Thank you so much for educating your readers about invasive plants!!! Every year we find water hyacinth in a local lake even though it is prohibited in Wisconsin. A group of volunteers and staff from a local nonprofit spends an entire day each year searching for the plant and removing any that we find. It’s a beautiful plant, but can cause great damage to our natural resources. Hopefully, through education, we can avoid introductions of other invasive species. Thanks again!

  3. What kind of soil do you plant crops in for water pond

  4. I want to know does floating algae help the lotus plant to grow because In my small lotus pot there is algae. My lotus plant is not blooming flowers. I live in india.your answer may help me to take care of my lotus plant.if you any method by which lotus blooms please share with me it will be very helpful.

    • Algae does not help lotus grow or bloom. Algae is also a plant so both plants are competing for the same nutrients. You can remove the algae by hand as needed. Blooming depends on available nutrients, hours of sunlight (min 6 hours preferred), as well as the container size. The larger the container the better overall plant health. Lotus like to have room to roam so an undersized container will limit nutrients and growth. I add a drop of Nualgi to each of my lotus pots weekly for better plant growth.

  5. What plants do you recommend for a turtle pond?

    • This answer is two-fold. I like to supply plants as a natural food source in addition to some that offer shade, cover and nutrient uptake.
      Food plants;
      Hydrocleys nymphoides, Water Poppy
      Eichhornia crassipes, Water Hyacinths
      Limnobium spongia, Frogs Bit
      To name a few. If you get enough established waterlilies they can hold their own up against herbivorous turtles.

      As for plants they don’t care for:
      Menyanthes trifoliata, Bog Bean
      Nuphar luteum, Spatterdock
      Myosotis scirpioides, Water Forget-Me-Not

      Kelly Billing – Water Becomes a Garden

  6. I have water lettuce in my pond. The roots float, and have begun to collect algae. Do I remove them at this point? Dose with a little Higher Nualgi? currently dosing weekly at 1.5 ml
    Have a waterfall, and a fountain sprayer going. Also have an “air stick” blowing bubbles from the bottom of the pond.

    • Water Lettuce roots should be hanging beneath the plants rather than floating. I suspect that with all the circulation tiny air bubbles are caught in the roots and encouraging them to come to the surface. You can trim the roots or thin the plants by removing some of them. Another trick is to use a piece of black tubing with a straight connector to form a circle. Place the plants in the center so they can’t float off. With a piece of fishing line or light nylon cord you can attach it to the side in an area where circulation is lowest to deter the air bubbles from forming around the roots.

  7. Just converted an old tree planter into a small 35 gallon pond in Southern California. Base is cemented and covered in pond armor. Added a waterfall feature to the pump/filter. Some mosquito fish and a couple goldfish are doing well. Ready to add a floating water plant. Thinking of going with water lettuce, but am afraid it will multiply so fast that we will have to consistently throw some away. Is the the right floating plant to go with? Any other suggestions?

    • Water Lettuce does multiply rapidly, however that does mean they are continually consuming nutrients. A good thing for keeping algae at bay along with Nualgi. The more plants you throw away the more nutrients go with them. Please also see the response to Lorraine in this thread. 🙂

  8. I have a 1500 gallon pond cement that is shallow (about 2 feet deep) with half of the water in the waterfall and live in Southern California. Would like to add plants to the waterfall but not sure which plants would be appropriate and “easiest” to maintain.
    Currently, I have water lettuce in the waterfall but must continuously remove it because of its growth rate.

    • Water Lettuce does multiply rapidly, however that does mean they are continually consuming nutrients. A good thing for keeping algae at bay along with Nualgi. The more plants you throw away the more nutrients go with them.

      Other plants that are more suitable for streams and small containers –
      Zephyranthes candida, Rain Lily
      Lobelia cardinalis, Cardinal Flower (stream)
      Myosotis scirpioides, Water Forget-Me-Nots (stream)
      Rotala indica, Red Rotala
      Lysimachia nummularia, Creeping Jenny (also Golden Creeping Jenny) (stream)
      Bacopa monnieri, Moneywort Bacopa
      Acorus gramineus ‘Oborozuki’, Dwarf Golden Sweetflag’ (‘Variegatus’ is green and white)
      Tulbaghia violaecea ‘Varietgata’, Variegated Garlic

  9. 1) I just submerged water lotus in a small pool in shady area. It it ok?
    2) Just use 1 tablet fertilizer for my water lilies. The next few day few of my fish died. Is that because of the fertilizer?

    • 1. Lotus require a minimum of 4 hours of midday sun when the sun is strongest. E.g. 10am – 2pm. If the light is morning or afternoon, 6 hours is the minimum. More in either instance is always better, up to a full day of sunshine!
      2. One fertilizer tablet is highly unlikely to be the cause of a fish kill. Many factors can be contributing to fish kill and without a thorough inquiry it would be hard to pinpoint possible causes. Fertilizer is designed not to be a threat to the ecosystem. Just as a side note – when inserting fertilizer it is recommended to push the soil back over the hole the fertilizer was put in to. This prevents the release of nutrients into the pond water which can contribute to algae growth.

  10. Hi there,

    When trying to convert an old 30,000 litre pool into an eco-friendly pond with fish how much of the Nualgi is required at start up? The pool is just starting to go greenish. And how often would I be required to use Nualgi to keep my pool crystal clear with fish in it?

    rgds loulou

    • Hello LouLou
      Swimming pools converted to ponds are difficult ponds because the cracks in the cement leach chemicals and nutrients for a long time. We recommend consulting a pond expert in your area for advice based on your conditions. You would dose 8 ml of Nualgi each week along with beneficial bacteria. Once the pond has cycled, it will be ready to accept fish.

  11. What r the best non evasive waterplants for a dirtbottom pond 18 ft being the deepest at one end to keep turtles happy and content I live in lower mi near Flint,just had it treated to kill bad alge and had a aerator installed have cattails growing along edge of pond

    • The best non-invasive plants for such a cold climate with turtles:
      – Acorus americanus, Sweet Flag
      – Caltha palustris, Marsh Marigold is ideal for the shallow edges however I’m not sure of its palatability to turtles .
      – Decodan verticillatus, Swamp Loosestrife
      – Eriophirum angustifolium, Cotton Grass
      – Hibiscus moschuetos, Swamp Hibiscus
      – Iris versicolor, Blue Flag Iris
      – Sagittaria latifolia, Arrowhead
      – Saururus cernuus, Lizard Tail
      There are also many hardy waterlilies that do not reproduce from seed and are clump habited. Depending on the size and type of turtles they may be able to be established. Offering shade and cover to reduce algae. – Kelly Billing

  12. I do not have string algae but my water is still green, will your product work for me? I am on the second dosage and have not seen any improvement yet.

    • Stay patient Elaine. Nualgi is a process and sometimes takes a few more doses to work. Please note, Nualgi isn’t effective while using UV. We are here if you need us 🙂

  13. Do plants consumed dissolve oxygen during night time?

    • Thanks for the question GoibelKoiCenter. When light isn’t present, the plants, fish and other organisms can continue consuming oxygen and producing carbon dioxide, however no oxygen is produced.
      Another important note is that oxygen levels are at their lowest in the early morning just before dawn.

    • Plants do consume oxygen at night but you don’t have to worry about oxygen taken out of the water since most these plant’s leaves are out of the water. I have aquatic submerged plants and see no problems.


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