Water Gardens – The Ultimate Guide

Creating a water garden is a great way to bring life and beauty to your backyard, while also helping your local wildlife.

It might seem intimidating, but setting up a water garden doesn’t have to be difficult or expensive.

In this article you’ll learn everything you need to know about water gardens, including planning and creating a water garden, which plants and fish to choose, and maintenance tips for keeping your water garden looking its best.

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backyard water garden

What is a Water Garden?

Water gardening is a unique form of gardening where you grow plants that are adapted to environments like lakes, rivers, and ponds.

A water garden can be any size or depth, but they’re often small and relatively shallow, with depths of around 12 to 18 inches (30 to 45 cm).

You can use a plastic liner to line the bottom of the water garden, or use gravel for a more natural look.

Types of Water Gardens

Pond Water Gardens

Pond water gardens can be still or active.

In a still water garden, you grow plants in a calm and quiet environment, while active water gardens have a fountain or waterfall to add visual interest and oxygenate the water.

Pond water gardens can also act as fish ponds, so you can introduce colorful fish species to enhance the beauty and liveliness of your water garden.

Feeding pond fish

Container Water Gardens

If you have limited space or prefer a low-maintenance option, a container water garden might be the perfect choice for you.

You can use a large container, half wine barrel, or any other watertight container to create an above ground water garden.

Container water gardens are perfect for growing small varieties of aquatic plants and they can be easily customized and repositioned to suit your preferences or to adapt to seasonal changes.

Bog Gardens

Bog gardens are ideal for growing moisture loving plants, like taro, canna lilies and irises.

Bog gardens need consistent moisture, so they can be positioned around the perimeter of your pond or in a low lying area of the yard that accumulates water after rainfall.

This type of water garden is perfect for creating a natural and wildlife-friendly environment, with plenty of habitat for frogs, lizards, dragonflies and other aquatic creatures.

tall pond plants

Planning a Water Garden

To ensure your water garden thrives, consider these important factors:

Location Selection

Choose a spot that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day, because most aquatic plants need full sun to grow properly.

Try to avoid areas near large trees, otherwise you’ll have debris such as leaves and sticks falling into your water garden.

Also, make sure there is easy access to water and electricity, as you may need them for filtration and lighting systems.

Size and Design

When planning the size and design of your water garden, it’s important to consider the available space and your desired look.

You can design your water garden any way you’d like, from a formal pond with a geometric shape to a natural-looking stream winding through your backyard.

Start by outlining the shape of your water garden using a garden hose, rope, or spray chalk.

If you’re hoping to attract wildlife to your water garden, leave some shallow areas around the edges, to make it easier for frogs and other wildlife to access the water.

RELATED: 8 Stunning Garden Pond Shapes

frog on a lily pad

Budget Considerations

When planning your water garden, it’s crucial to prepare a budget in order to manage expenses effectively.

Some factors that may impact your budget include the size and design of your water garden, the types of plants you want to include, and the equipment needed, such as pumps, filters, and lighting systems.

You’ll also need a plastic liner for the base of the water garden and gravel or stones for the edging.

Key Components of a Water Garden

To create a thriving and visually appealing water garden, you’ll want to focus on these key components:

Water Features

Water features create visual interest and movement within your water garden.

You can choose from various elements such as fountains, waterfalls or bubblers.

These features not only enhance the beauty of your garden but also help to infuse the water with oxygen to keep the water clean and clear.

pond fountain


Plants play a crucial role in the health and beauty of your water garden and it’s essential to include a variety of floating, submerged, and marginal plants.

These plants provide valuable habitat and food for fish and other wildlife, while also helping to maintain a balanced ecosystem.

Submerged Plants

Submerged plants grow underneath the surface of the water and they’re ideal for oxygenating the water.

Some popular submerged plants include Water Celery, Water Weed, Anacharis, Hornwort and Eelgrass.

Floating Plants

Floating plants are the easiest type of aquatic plants to grow because they don’t need to be planted in soil.

Floating plants help to filter the water by absorbing excess nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus, which can cause algae blooms and other water quality issues.

They also provide shade for the water garden, which helps to regulate the water temperature and prevent excessive evaporation.

Some of the most popular floating pond plants include Water Hyacinths, Duckweed, Water Lettuce, Lotuses, and Water Lilies.

Be sure to select non-invasive plant species that are appropriate for your region.

Water lettuce

Marginal Plants

Marginal plants, also known as edge or bog plants, are planted around the edges of the water garden.

They provide a beautiful backdrop for your water garden and many varieties will bloom with attractive flowers.

Some popular marginal plants include Cattails, Iris, Pickerel Rush, Cardinal Flowers and Marsh Marigolds.

Fish and Other Wildlife

Adding fish and other aquatic creatures like snails to your water garden contributes to the overall health of the aquatic ecosystem.

They work together to keep algae and pests in check while also providing a more natural environment.

When selecting fish for your water garden, consider species such as koi or goldfish that can adapt well to various pond conditions.

Be careful not to overcrowd your pond, as this can lead to unhealthy living conditions and affect the overall balance of your water garden.

add fish to pond

Water Garden Maintenance

Regular upkeep is essential for maintaining a thriving water garden. Here are some of the common maintenance tasks.

Keeping the Water Clean

Use a long handled net or install a pond skimmer to remove leaves, grass clippings, and other debris that may fall into the water.

Algae can become a nuisance, making your water garden look unsightly and negatively affecting water quality.

To reduce algae growth it’s important to choose appropriate plants, fish, and a proper filtration system.

Adding floating plants that limit sunlight penetration or using an ultraviolet (UV) clarifying unit can also help control algae.

To maintain healthy water conditions for both plants and fish, test the water regularly using a pond test kit.

Plant Care

Regularly trim and prune plants to keep their size in check.

Floating plants like Water Hyacinths and Duckweed grow rapidly in warm weather and can easily cover the entire surface of the water if they’re not cut back regularly. [1]

If you notice any diseased or dying plants, remove them quickly to prevent the spread of disease.

RELATED: Why are my Pond Plants Dying?

shaded pond plants


If you live in a cool climate area, you also have the challenge of overwintering the aquatic plants.

You can overwinter the plants in the pond by placing the pots in the deepest part of the pond so that they don’t freeze.

You can also remove tropical plants from the pond and store them in a sheltered location like a garage or greenhouse over the winter months.

If you have fish, you’ll need to ensure that the surface of the water doesn’t completely freeze, as this can be detrimental to the health of your fish.

Use a pond heater or de-icer to keep a hole in the ice open, allowing oxygen to reach the fish over the winter months.

Deterring Pests and Predators

Cover the water garden with netting to deter unwanted visitors such as herons, cats and raccoons.

It’s also a good idea to provide hiding places for fish, such as overhanging rocks or a hollow log, so they can escape from predators.

Mosquitoes are an annoying pest that can breed in stagnant water, so make sure to regularly remove any debris and keep the water moving with a fountain or waterfall to stop mosquitoes breeding in the water.

pond waterfall

By addressing these potential challenges and applying appropriate solutions, you’ll be well on your way to maintaining a thriving and beautiful water garden.


Now that you know the basics of water gardening, it’s time to start planning your dream water garden oasis.

Do you have any questions about creating or maintaining a water garden? Let me know in the comments below.

Are you on Pinterest? I have boards dedicated to Pond Plants and Water Gardens that you may find interesting.

water gardening

Kelly Martin

Hi, I'm Kelly Martin, a landscape gardener with a special interest in ponds and water gardens. For over a decade, I've been designing and creating beautiful gardens that feature stunning water features, from small garden ponds to large water gardens. Read more