A wildlife pond is a tiny but complete ecosystem. The water provides a valuable place to drink for a whole range of animal species, while the plants provide the much-needed oxygen into the water and even serve as shelter or breeding grounds.
While wild plants will naturally grow wherever there is water and sun, you can select plants for water ponds to make them more beautiful and create the perfect habitats for their residents. Here are the best plants for a small wildlife pond.
Plants for Oxygenation
Oxygenating plants play an important role in maintaining a pond’s natural equilibrium. These underwater plants take in nutrients from the water and convert C02 into oxygen. This helps support any fish that live in the pond and prevents scum and algae from forming.
Since not all plants produce oxygen throughout the year, it is best to have several varieties of oxygenating plants.
- Water crowfoot or water buttercup produces oxygen in spring and winter. The feathery fronds aerate the water. From April to June, it also grows delicate white flowers.
- Hornwort produces oxygen in summer and autumn. Aside from producing oxygen, it releases chemicals that kill algae. The hardy plant can also survive in both full shade and full sun.
- Mare’s-tail grows in shallow water, with only part of its stems submerged. Aside from producing oxygen, it is also used by small fish for cover.
- Water violet is a type of water primrose. The flowers are usually white or pale pink with a yellow heart, and bloom from May to June. This fast-growing plant thrives with minimal care and helps provide cover for fish or frog eggs.
- Fanwort has wide, leafy structures that are excellent hiding places for fish. However, it grows very quickly and is best for larger wildlife ponds, or it will block out the growth of other plants.
These plants grow in shallow waters, with their long stems or leaves peeking out of the surface. Here, insect larvae can climb up to take on their new flying form—and conversely, spiders can build their webs, and help control the insect population from overeating the plants. It is the balance of nature at work!
- Water lilies are prized for their beauty and provide many benefits to wildlife. The large leaves create enough shade to lower the water temperature in hot summer months, and they help fish hide from birds and other predators.
- Pickerelweed has violet-blue flowers, whose sweet nectar helps attract bees and butterflies to pollinate the other flowers in your garden. Its dense roots can also hold sediment on unstable shorelines.
- Arrowheads help filter the water since it uses both potash and phosphorus. The leaves are a good food source for birds and deer, which may have helped it earn its other name, “duck potato.”
- Small Sweet Grass, Maidencane and other prolific grasses can help prevent erosion and provide shelter and food. However, these need to be regularly trimmed so they do not overtake the entire pond!
- Lemongrass typically grows in damp soil and will grow along shallow pond waters. They also help drive away mosquitos and can be harvested to be used in many Asian dishes.
These plants thrive in shallow water and can provide a natural boundary between the pond and the surrounding soil.
- Flag Iris. These beautiful flowers—which come in either a blue-violet or bright yellow—are one of the most popular ornamental pond plants. Plant them about 18 to 24 inches apart, in an area that gets a good amount of sunlight.
- Creeping Jenny. Its long, draping stems and bright yellow flowers make it a beautiful accent plant for boulders around the edge of the pond.
- Lady’s Smock (also called cuckoo flower) has beautiful white or violet flowers. They are also a good food source for caterpillars, and useful for building your garden’s butterfly population.
- Marsh Marigolds can grow prolifically at the edges of the pond, providing pollen and shelter to insects. They have some medicinal value, but the leaves can be irritating to the skin and should be handled with care.
- Brooklime may not be as attractive as other flowering marginal plants, but its leaves have many medicinal purposes. Aside from providing shelter to insects and soaking up some of the water’s nutrients to prevent algae, you can harvest it to make herbal remedies for constipation, bleeding gums, and respiratory diseases.
Flower, Herb, and Tree Borders
Experts say that the plants you place in surrounding areas can make a big difference in the success of your wildlife pond.
Flower Beds can help provide shelter and shade for invertebrates and small mammals and may even produce berries that they can eat. You can try daylilies, columbines, blanketflowers, windflowers, and verbenas.
Coleus, sedum, and creeping phlox can also help cover sparse spots or be cultivated around stone paths or boulders for a more picturesque walkway to the wildlife pond. You can also add some dense shrubs, which can help add visual interest and provide cover for small animals.
Herbs can release a strong scent that attracts insects and can be harvested for your own salads and dishes.
Trees can prevent soil erosion and help build your wildlife pond’s ecosystem. Birds, squirrels, and other animals are also most likely to go to wildlife ponds where there are several nearby trees. You can try red maples, weeping willow, live oak, bald cypress, and catalpa. These varieties thrive near water and require barely any maintenance.
Do not plant them too near the pond edges, because the branches may block sunlight that the water plants need to grow.
Wildlife ponds require very little maintenance since mother Nature already provides enough sun and water for them to grow. However, you will need to select the right plants and occasionally prune or weed out overgrowths. With this very minimum care, you not only enjoy a “living pond” but help protect the ecosystem in your neighbourhood.
Garden Doctor Tips
“Consider the water. How deep is your pond? Does it have still or running water?”
“Consider the natural species. As much as possible, you want to introduce plants that are the natural food source of any local fish, birds, or other wildlife!”
“Consider the seasons. Include enough variety of plants so that your wildlife pond will have enough oxygen and foliage at different times of the year!”
“Consider the size of your pond. Some plants grow very quickly and can overtake the rest of the plant population. So, aside from selecting the number of plants, consider the growth rate and how easy it will be to control any overgrowth!”
Frequently Asked Questions
Can you have too much oxygen in your pond?
In exceptional circumstances, something called supersaturation can occur whereby there is too much oxygen in a pond which can be dangerous to fish. This supersaturation will not occur in a wildlife pond so having too much oxygen is not something that you will have to worry about.
What can I put in the bottom of my wildlife pond?
Washed gravel makes for a great pond substrate. It makes an excellent material for planting and weighing down roots and also makes an ideal place for your wildlife to burrow into and lay their eggs.
How deep should a small wildlife pond be?
A Wildlife pond will want to have a depth of at least 60cm. A depth of at least 60cm will allow somewhere for wildlife such as frogs to hide over winter.
Hi, I’m Trev and I’ve been growing things since I can remember. When I was younger, I grew up on a farm, so I have always been around plants and animals. After studying horticulture at university, I decided to start my own nursery which I have run now for 25 years. In my spare time, I run this website – which is a resource for people who want to learn more about their gardens.