Lotus plant and Cattails
Aquatic Plants in Ponds

Many different aquatic plants from algae, which drifts suspended in the water, to plants floating on the water surface or rooted in the pond bottom can grow in ponds. Rooted plants grow either entirely under the water, have floating leaves, or grow with stems above the water surface. Some have both underwater and floating leaves. Both algae and rooted plants will grow in all ponds. Keeping a balance is sometimes difficult. Any plant can become a nuisance with the right conditions.

Single-celled algae, usually not visible, form the base of the food chain and make much of the oxygen needed for other life in the pond. Filamentous algae, sometimes called moss or grass, is more visible and most easily becomes a nuisance. Sudden growth of either type of algae is called a “bloom”.

Rooted aquatic plants are important to the overall health of ponds and lakes. They stabilize the shoreline and pond bottom, tie up plant nutrients thus reducing algae blooms, help the water to clear faster after a rain, produce oxygen and provide food and habitat for the many forms of life that live in and around a pond. Plants also provide nursery habitat for many fish and moderate levels are important for good growth, condition, and abundance of sport fish. Research shows that lakes without rooted plants may not have balanced, desirable fish populations.

Pond Plant Identification Guide

+ Plant Control
+ Plant Control | Preventative
+ Plant Control | Mechanical
+ Plant Control | Biological (grass carp)
+ Plant Control | Chemical

Aquatic Plant Types

Diagram showing emergent plants, floating plants and submerged plants

Many types of plants grow in a pond.

Rooted plants that stick above the water's surface (emergent), like cattails, are the easiest to see. There are also rooted plants that are completely under the water (submergent), as well as free-floating plants like duckweed.

Algae are the smallest, these can be in cottony filaments that float freely or attach to the bottom as well as single-celled algae that make the water look green and cannot be seen with the naked eye.

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Aquatic Plants Diagram

Plant Introduction

Aquatic plants usually become established in a pond without special effort, but some plants are less likely to become a nuisance for anglers or other pond uses. Introducing a variety of these plants can help you meet your pond management goals more quickly. A new pond is like a newly tilled field or garden, something will grow there with nutrients, light and seed. Shoreline species that grow above the water surface suggested for ponds include: arrowhead, pickerel weed, spike rush, sweet flag and water iris. Floating-leaved lilies can be a nice addition to ponds without extensive shallow areas. (Don’t confuse the preferred lily with lotus, which spreads aggressively and would not be a good choice for a pond.) Wild celery and water stargrass can add to the diversity of plants that grow completely under the water. Largeleaf and longleaf pondweed have both underwater and floating leaves. Avoid introducing milfoil (could be the invasive Eurasian milfoil), naiad (invasive brittle naiad), curly-leaf pondweed (invasive), cabomba (invasive submersed plant common in water gardens) and coontail (will colonize on its own).

Recommended Not Recommended
Arrowhead (E) *Phragmites(E)
Pickerelweed (E) Cattails (E)
Spike Rush (E) Lotus (E+F)
Sweet Flag (E) *Naiad (S)
Waterlily (F) *Milfoil (S)
Longleaf Pondweed (F+S) *Curlyleaf Pondweed (S)
Largeleaf Pondweed (F+S) *Cabomba (S)
Wild Celery (S) Coontail (S)
Water Stargrass (S) Elodea (S)

Growth form: Emergent (E), floating-leaved (F), submersed (S)
* Is itself an invasive species or closely related

Purchase aquatic plants from a local nursery or one in a climate zone similar to your pond’s location. A pond plant identification guide can help you identify the plants growing in your pond so you can properly manage them.

Introducing plants in new ponds is a little easier than in existing ponds that already have established plants. Remove the aquatic plants from an existing pond that are growing in the area where you will introduce new plants (see mechanical or chemical removal below). Protect your plantings behind a small, protective fence/cage until they become established to prevent them from being eaten by grass carp or common carp, muskrats, turtles, waterfowl or deer.

Plant 5-20 plants per area to increase plant establishment success . Shoreline plants do best when planted at the water’s edge or in very shallow water. These can be moved using small plugs from patches found growing within the pond. Floating-leaved and underwater species can be planted in water from 6 inches to 2-3 feet deep. There is no need to plant deeper than you can easily reach.