Shade plants for ponds

Ponds in shady gardens

A pond is a great asset to any garden, making a dynamic focal point and attracting all kinds of wildlife.


It’s generally advisable to build a pond in a sunny spot. You can, however, site a pond in an area that is in shade for part of the day, or sits in dappled shade. It’s not a good idea to put a pond in a very shady area, as it will become stagnant – the plants that supply oxygen to the water will need some sunlight.

While it may restrict your planting palette – you won’t be able to plant waterlilies, as in shade they will produce foliage at the expense of flowers, shading the pond still further – there are still lots of suitable plants to choose from. In a pond that is partly shaded, algae won’t be so much of a problem.

Follow our five tips to keep shady ponds in tip-top condition.

There are some advantages to having some shade over a pond, as it restricts the growth of algae.

Reduce surrounding trees or shrubs

If you want to make a pond in a shady garden, aim to put it in a spot where the sun shines on it for at least half the day. If the site is surrounded by trees or large shrubs, open up the area on the south side to let in more light, by coppicing them or removing altogether.

A well-planted pond

Grow shade-loving plants

Aquatic plants that can cope with some shade include isolepsis, water hyacinth, water lettuce, water forget-me-not, marsh marigold and water mint. Aponogeton distachyos is a good alternative to a water lily. Good oxgenators include anacharis and curly pondweed.

Pale-blue water forget-me-not flowers

Remove fallen leaves

If trees and shrubs overshadow your pond, their fallen leaves can accumulate in the water, where they decompose and produce an excess of nutrients. This can lead to dull, cloudy water and the growth of unsightly algae, such as blanketweed. To keep the water clear, regularly scoop out any fallen leaves from your pond.

Scooping fallen leaves out of a pond with a net

Top up with rainwater

Top up your pond with rainwater from a water butt, rather than tap water, as it’s better for pond plants and pond life. Check the pH of the water each spring. It should be around neutral, but runoff from nearby concrete can make it too alkaline, while peat can make it too acidic.

Advertisement Filling a bucket with rainwater from a waterbutt

Consider a water feature

If you only have a very shady spot in which to place your pond, why not consider a small water feature instead? It won’t attract any wildlife but it will provide an attractive focal point, as well as a relaxing sound if you add a pump. Be sure to clean out and replace the water regularly.

A watergarden at the RHS Chelsea Flower Show

Plants are an essential component of any pond ecosystem, and aside from the aesthetic appeal, they offer many benefits to fish and other aquatic life. They provide a source of shelter from predators and often serve as a food source for pond inhabitants. Aquatic plants improve water quality in that they oxygenate and filter harmful nitrogen and phosphates from pond water. Plants also consume nutrients that may otherwise contribute to algal blooms.

Most aquatic plants require 4-6 hours of direct sunlight to thrive and grow, and because of this, most pond experts recommend placing your pond in a sunny location, rather than a shady one. What to do if you are limited to a shady location? Do not let the lack of light discourage you, there are plenty of shade-loving aquatic plant species that will add color, life, and texture to your water garden – you can still build the pond of your dreams in the shade! Here are some tips and recommendations to help you do so.

It’s useful to highlight the potential benefits and drawbacks of shade with respect to the health of your pond ecosystem. The pros can most certainly outweigh the cons, especially when you properly mitigate the potential problems associated with those shady environments. For example, the pond-side trees offer shady habitat but can create excess organic debris that may decompose and generates gases that are harmful to aquatic life. In this case, it’s best to use a leaf net over the pond during spring and fall months, and/or install a pond skimmer, to trap and remove the free-floating debris before it begins decomposing and impacting your pond’s water quality.

Some of the benefits of a shaded pond include cooler water temperatures, which contribute to an increase in levels of dissolved oxygen available to fish and other aquatic life in your pond. Cooler water temperatures also present an ideal breeding ground for the growth of beneficial bacteria, which assist in maintaining pond health. Decreased levels of light will also prohibit algae from photosynthesizing and proliferating in your pond.

Shadier ponds do not necessarily contain fewer aquatic plants; however, the lack of light may mean you are limited to certain plant species. Some of the more popular species of pond plants are typically sun-lovers; however, there are some varieties of lilies, lotus, and other floating types that still do well in partial shade, or 3-4 hours of direct sunlight. That is, these and other varieties still thrive in the shade, in that their foliage will grow and shine brightly, but they likely will not flower as they would in the sun.

Most Popular Hardy Shade-Tolerant Water Lilies: Suggested hardy shade-tolerant water lilies include:

  • Clyde Ikins – Double Peach Hardy Lily
  • Colorado Salmon Hardy Lily
  • Comanche
  • Indiana
  • Attraction Red Hardy Lily
  • James Brydon
  • Texas Dawn
  • Virginia
  • Charlene Strawn Hardy Lily

Most Popular Tropical Shade-Tolerant Water Lilies: Suggested tropical water lily varieties include:

  • Rhonda Kay
  • Panama Pacific
  • Tina
  • Blue August Koch (Day Blooming)
  • Director Moore, and
  • Shirley Bryne

Most Popular Shade-Tolerant Taro Plants: Taro plants are quite shade-tolerant, and some suggested varieties include:

  • Blue Hawaii Taro
  • Electric Blue Gecko Taro
  • Elena Taro
  • Imperial Taro
  • Mojito Taro
  • Red Stem Taro, and
  • White Lava Taro

Most Popular Shade-Tolerant Marginal Pond Plants: Suggested popular shade-loving aquatic marginal water plants and bog plants include:

  • Water Hawthorn (good alternative to water lily)
  • Blue Aquatic Water Forget-Me-Not (flowers in shade)
  • Marsh Marigold (bright yellow flowers)
  • Salvinia
  • Parrot’s Feather
  • Pennywort
  • Water Clover
  • Cardinal Flower
  • Lizard’s Tail
  • Golden Club
  • Water Snowflake (could be used in place of a water lily; will bloom in shade)
  • Umbrella Palm
  • Water Celery
  • Brooklime
  • Bog Bean
  • Impatiens
  • Compact Papyrus
  • Ferns
  • Joseph’s Coat
  • Chinese Lizard’s Tail
  • Coleus
  • Blue Flag Iris
  • Firecracker Plant (Cuphea Ignea)

Most Popular Shade-Tolerant Floating Pond Plants: There are not too many floater water plants that will tolerate lower light conditions. However, the suggested Floating Plant varieties include:

  • Water Hyacinth (great foliage)
  • Azolla
  • Frog-Bit
  • Floating Fern
  • Water Lettuce

A Final Word on Pond Plants that do well in the Shade or Partial Shade: The plants we’ve listed above will do well in the shade, that said they may not bloom as profusely as they might with additional sunlight. These shade-loving plants will still give you a beautiful garden with some color and plenty of texture and variety to add interest to any shady area in your water garden or pond. The health benefits, and aeration benefits, of adding any pond plants to your water garden are numerous so we encourage you to “take the plunge” and enjoy!

Ask: Please comment on this post if you know of any Shade-Tolerant Pond Plants that we missed and we will be sure to research and add them.

Usually, sun and heat are more trouble in the Southwest than shade. But sometimes, you want to plant flowers or vines under a tree or have a shady spot near the house that needs plants!

Plenty of plants that tolerate low light and low water work well on covered patios, north-facing walls or under trees. Here are a few choices that grow well in the Southwest.

Columbine blooms are so delicate and interesting. It’s a favorite!

Columbine (Aquilegia) is a stunning native. The Rocky Mountain columbine is state flower or Colorado, and that’s fitting since it grows naturally in the stippled shade of trees at high altitudes (6,000 to 10,000 feet). The Rocky Mountain columbine has a two-toned flower with bluish purple outer petals and white petals in the center. Planting columbine under a tree usually works well in high deserts and intermountain areas of the West unless the soil drains poorly. The best part? It’s perennial, and should come back every year; it also will re-seed nearby. There are plenty of colors and varieties of monotone and two-toned columbine. The plant can get powdery mildew when it’s especially rainy with warm days and cool nights.

This is a fibrous begonia called a Bonfire, with more of a tubular flower. I love it in this hanging basket. Image courtesy of Tesselaar.

Begonia is an easy-care ornamental for shade. Although some varieties are perennial in areas of the Southwest nighttime temperatures stay above 32 degrees, it’s an annual in mountain regions. I used to arrange waxy begonias in a container for a shady area of my front porch. They would bloom all summer and into fall with pretty little salmon, white or pink flowers. And they need no trimming or deadheading. Begonias need a little more moisture than some annuals, and mulching around the plants (but not all the way up to a tree trunk) should help them stay moist under a canopy. They’re super easy container plants for shade with no disease or insect problems.

Ajuga, or carpet bugleweed, grows in nearly all shade on the north side of our home. It’s easy to care for!

Ajuga, also called carpet bugleweed (Ajuga reptans), is a great groundcover for shady areas. The plant has shiny bronze or rust-colored leaves, and it spreads by runners. Ajuga plants can be spaced about six or more inches apart, but they spread to eventually provide a mat of leaves. Even better, they’ll shoot up purple flower spikes in summer. Depending on the type, ajuga should be hardy in zones 3 through 9. Ours survives – and has spread – in a mostly shady area on the north side of our home in zone 6B, and with only one or two deep waterings a year. If you plant them where they’ll get water from sprinklers, they can become invasive.

Our Heuchera is just emerging from winter dormancy. The leaves already have the telltale shape and color of this shade lover.

Coral bells (Heuchera) is another shade lover with spikes that shoot up in summer with flowers, typically a pinkish red (or coral!). The leaves are a distinctive ruffled shape. Coral bells need a little more sun than some of the other plants I’ve mentioned, so they wouldn’t do as well near the base of a large tree. But place coral bells in partial shade, such as where the shadow of the house shades a bed in peak afternoon heat. They are drought tolerant and hardy down to zone 4. Huecheras are susceptible to several diseases and pests, including mold or leaf spot. All the more reason to give them a mix of shade and sun, along with air flow (in other words, plant them in front of a structure but not too closely or too crowded).

Periwinkle, or vinca, has pretty button-like flowers on glossy, slender leaves. This one is Cobra Apricot. Image courtesy of the National Garden Bureau.

Vinca comes in so many bloom colors, which makes it a great choice for a shady container or to plant beneath a tree or bush to complement flower or foliage colors. My mother used to grow lots of vinca, or periwinkle, in the South and in Arizona. Many vinca minor plants are perennial, but the hardiness varies by species. Where perennial, they make a great groundcover in shade as the plant’s trailing stems take root. In those cases, the leaves are evergreen in dark, glossy green or variegated patterns. Shearing the plants every so often stimulates new growth. I’ve grown annual varieties in containers that get part sun and part shade.

When trying a shade lover for the first time, you can always choose a container planting. It helps you get to know the sun, shade and water requirements of a plant. And when planting under trees, be especially careful not to harm the tree’s roots. Learn more about planting under trees in this great handout from the University of Minnesota Extension Service, which I learned about in a recent #plantchat on Twitter.

How to make a bog garden

10 best bog garden plants

1. Primulas

There are any number of beautiful primula species that are adapted to damp soils: of the candelabra types, Primula bulleyana has burnt orange flowers that fade to yellow as they age; Primula prolifera carries its whorls of lemon-yellow blooms on tall stems and Primula beesiana has purple-red flowers. Many other primulas like their roots in reliably moist soil: P. japonica comes in a range of colours and likes a water’s-edge spot; Primula florindae (also known as the giant cowslip) enjoys dappled shade, where its delicate, pale yellow flowers move gently in even the slightest breeze. The zingy pink of Primula pulverulenta draws the eye through the garden, while the lesser-known Primula wilsonii var. anisodora will delight with its claret-coloured drooping flowers. All are fully hardy throughout the UK. Once you start growing primulas, you’ll quickly become addicted!

2. Ornamental rhubarb (Rheum palmatum)

Towering flower spikes, foamy panicles of creamy white or pink flowers, large and lush dark red leaves that turn dark green as they mature: what’s not to like about ornamental rhubarb? A statement plant requiring a fair bit of space, this seemingly tropical plant is extremely hardy, tolerating temperatures as low as -20C! It doesn’t like to dry out, so plant it at the edge of a pond or stream. Notable cultivars include ‘Atrosanguineum’ and ‘Hadspen Crimson’. H2-3m; S1.5-2m.

3. Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)

Marsh marigold or kingcup is a bog garden favourite for its bright yellow flowers, which start blooming in early spring and sometimes go on well into winter. It’s reliable, self-seeds (though not invasively) and brings a welcome pop of colour when the rest of the bog garden is still dormant. A bonus is that it’s a UK native (it even gets mentioned in Shakespeare!), beloved of bees and other beneficial insects. Here at Eden we have a double form, ‘Plena’, and a white-flowered cultivar, ‘Alba’. H40cm; S30cm.

4. Darmera peltata

Everything about this plant is weird, from its tall flower stems that come up long before the plate-sized leaves, to its fleshy, creeping rhizomes that sit on the soil surface, bearing a close resemblance to alligator skin. It’s in the Saxifrage family, which will come as a surprise to anyone familiar with its usually diminutive alpine relatives, as Darmera peltata can reach 1.5m in height. It does gradually spread, but is easily kept in check by chopping the rhizome off with a sharp spade. Take care weeding underneath it after the rain – the large leaves have a dip that holds quite a bit of water – as you’ll find out when they tip it all over you!

5. Snake’s head fritillary (Fritillaria meleagris)

Named for the shape of its flowers just before they open in March and April, this beautiful and unmistakable spring favourite is one of only a few bulbs to really enjoy damp conditions. The blue-grey foliage emerges before the flower heads, which start off slumped on the ground before rising a foot or more above the soil. Most of the flowers are purple and mauve, with a distinctive chequerboard pattern, but occasional snow-white flowers pop up to contrast with the purple. Admire them with the sun behind them to fully appreciate their lovely markings. When happy, they self-seed freely; the bulbs also bulk up into large clumps over several years.

6. Moisture-loving iris

If you’d like some iris for your bog garden (and who wouldn’t??), be aware that there are three types of moisture-loving iris:

  • those that like reliably moist but not waterlogged soil (such as Iris ensata or I. sibirica)
  • those that like the shallow water at the edge of a pond or stream (such as I. x robusta or I. fulva)
  • and those that like to have waterlogged roots either at the edge or in the middle of a pond or stream (such as I. laevigata, I. pseudacorus or I. versicolor).

Each species has many beautiful cultivars available, so your biggest difficulty will be which ones to choose! Favourites for the bog garden at Eden include I. ensata ‘Rose Queen’ and I. sibirica ‘Tropic Night’.

7. Astilbes

Plumes, spires, sprays – however you describe the flower heads of these stunning bog garden perennials, they are a must-have. Colours run from deep claret reds through breathy pinks and mauves to sparkling whites. Some are tall, others dwarf, while the fern-like foliage ranges from fresh green to burnished bronze. They keep themselves to themselves, slowly forming clumps that are easily divided. Their only requirement is a sunny spot in moisture-retentive soil, for which they will reward you with extensive flowering during the summer and persistent seedheads for autumn and winter interest. For a taller display, choose ‘Red Sentinel’, whose dark red plumes can reach 1m. ‘Bronce Elegans’ is a smaller (to 30cm), white-flowered cultivar whose leaves are bronze when they first emerge.

8. Plantain lily, (Hosta sp.)

Many people are wary of hostas because of their reputation as slug food, but their lush foliage adds such wonderful colour and texture to the bog garden that it’s worth the odd sacrifice. Some cultivars are more resistant to slug attack, such as the dark, glossy-leaved Hosta ‘Devon Green’ (which also lends a tropical look), H. sieboldii ‘Elegans’, with corrugated, grey-blue leaves, and the cream-edged H. ‘Sleeping Beauty’, which is one of the few variegated hostas less palatable to slugs. All of these prefer damp soil in partial or full shade.

9. Ligularia przewalskii

Dramatic yellow flower spikes, deeply toothed dark green leaves and an Award of Garden Merit to boot: Ligularia przewalskii is a prime choice for brightening a shady area at the back of your bog garden. It will also grow in partial shade as long as it never dries out. Originally from northern China, it likes plenty of organic matter so give it a good mulch over the winter and it will reward you with a firecracker display from mid to late summer.

10. Globeflower, (Trollius sp)

Its lovely bowl-shaped flowers in shades of yellow and orange may look delicate, but in reality the globeflower is a sturdy plant for dependably damp soil. Some 30 species grow around the world, but those most commonly grown in gardens are cultivars of Trollius europaeus, Trollius x cultorum and Trollius pumilus. Best in sun or partial shade, they gradually seed themselves around when happy. Orange-flowered Trollius ‘Dancing Flame’ has long sepals that point straight up like flames, hence its name. ‘Golden Queen’ is similar but more yellow in colour. Trollius pumilus has flat yellow flowers, while Trollius x cultorum ‘Alabaster’ has beautiful pale yellow blooms.

‘How to make a bog garden’ written by Emma Pearce, Horticultural Scientist (Conservation) at the Eden Project

by Kelly Billing, Maryland Aquatic Nurseries & Zac DeGarmeaux, Pond Megastore

Water gardening is an infectious hobby, and though most ponds are located in the full sun, the absence of a blank canvas should not be a deterrent for the shady gardener. Water at any light level adds interest, sound and movement — and can even attract wildlife. Not to mention the beauty of reflection, which is welcome in all circumstances.

Of the first perennial plants to emerge in the spring, a number of them are shade-loving or shade-tolerant plants, which begin blooming not long after the snow melts. Many sun-loving plants will grow in the shade quite happily but might have a reduction in the number of blooms they produce. Others will have abundant foliage in the shade but won’t have the necessary sunlight to flower at all. That shouldn’t discourage their use, since massing plants for foliage shape and texture doesn’t lose effectiveness in the shade. Large plant groupings that concentrate on bold foliage or masses of flower color become even more important in the shade, so they stand out in lower light levels. Extremely dense shade may not be suitable for all the plants listed, but this is a great list to begin trial and error.

Shallow Water Plants

Marsh Marigolds can provide a few weeks of sunny, yellow flowers certain to brighten up any corner and let you know that spring has arrived. These plants are extremely cold-hardy in North America and love clay soil or marshy conditions near the surface of the water. They are ideally suited to spring-fed areas where cold incoming water year-round deters summer dormancy. In warm parts of the country and in areas with hot seasonal temperatures, moving water is necessary to keep them alive even if they sleep during the summer months.

There are a number of varieties, but Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold) and Caltha polypetala (Giant Marsh Marigold) are the most common. The Giant Marsh Marigold is more heat tolerant, and foliage persists longer into the summer in warmer climates where Caltha palustris retreats more quickly. Both are best suited to the northern garden. (12 inches tall, Zone 3.)

Bog Bean, or Menyanthes trifoliate, is an early bloomer as well, starting during or just following the Marsh Marigolds. Both of these plants begin flowering before the foliage emerges; however, it isn’t far behind. Bog Bean stems root in the soil near the water’s edge, reaching out many feet across the top of the water. Rooting easily without soil, stems can simply be threaded between rocks that are low enough in the water so that they won’t dry out if the level drops. Slow growing compared to most other surface growers, they are tolerant of severe pruning when needed. Left to spread out, they are buoyant enough to support a frog’s weight and become a favorite place for them to take up residency. (6 to 8 inches tall and spreading, Zone 3.)

On the left is Colocasia antiquorum, Imperial Taro and the right is Amaranthus tricolor, Joseph’s Coat

Blue Flag Iris, or Iris versicolor, will bloom well in moderate shade, but it may not produce flowers in dense shade. However, it will still form beautiful, dense masses of foliage. It is an excellent plant for nutrient uptake because of the generous root system it produces. Those roots are also an excellent harboring place for fish fry, dragonfly larvae, water boatmen and many other aquatic insects that benefit from the ecological balance in the water garden. In the sunshine, you can rest assured there will be an abundance of violet flowers. (2 to 3 feet tall, Zone 4.)
Cardinal Flower, part of the Lobelia family, is an excellent way to add color to an area out of the direct, hot sun. These deer-resistant plants have a fan following from hummingbirds and butterflies and can be planted in and out of the water. Lobelia speciosa is native to North America, and its intense red color is breathtaking. Not all varieties like the water as much as others. There are some highly improved varieties from the species including, but not limited to, Red Vulcan, Starship Scarlett and Fried Green Tomatoes. They tolerate more water and have been consistently more robust than most of the others we have tried. (2 to 3 feet tall, Zone 4.)

Golden Club (Orontium aquaticum) leaves repel water like the lotus and are sometimes referred to as Never Wet. The waxy, deep-green foliage looks just like velvet. It’s a personal favorite because it’s so slow-growing and never makes a nuisance of itself. On the flip side, that means it takes a couple of years to look good — and several years to look great. However long it takes, with all certainty, it’s worth the wait! The slow-growing and clump-habited growth requires very little care in order to prosper. White spikes topped with yellow, club-like flowers stand well above the foliage for a striking combination. Once established, the candelabra effect is undeniable. It is resistant to pests and disease and loves moving water, growing in as deep as 12 inches at maturity. (Zone 6.)

Saururus cernuus (Lizard’s Tail) and Saururus chinensis (Chinese Lizard’s Tail) are both low-maintenance species that can add some late summer color to a shaded garden. The Chinese Lizard’s Tail flushes a set of leaves with large white patches just below the flowers for some added interest and extra brightness to a dull corner. When space allows, Lizard’s Tail is excellent for planting on the banks and shoreline of earth-bottom ponds where it will grow up and out of the water. It’s also suited for shallow water, where its tenacious root system will stabilize the soil and limit erosion. In a lined pond it should be contained in a sturdy, but large pot. (2 to 3 feet tall, Zone 4.)

More Annuals: Cuphea ignea, Firecracker Plant

Carex riparia (Variegata), or Variegated Sedge, has interesting black and yellow flowers in the early spring, rising just above the slender, ivory leaves. In full sunlight, this beautiful delicate grass turns completely green. If it is kept in part shade, the ivory color blends slightly with the green for a striking highlight to an otherwise dim area of the pond. 18 to 24 inches tall. Zone 4.

The Water Forget-Me-Not (Myosotis scorpioides) has dainty, heavenly blue flowers beginning in early spring and persists into the fall when planted in cool, shady areas of a bog or stream. It grows in sun or shade and in moist soil or water up to 1 foot deep. It performs best in moving water. The fine roots are excellent at trapping sediment without dislodging stone work. They are intolerant of warm, standing water and may be prohibited in some northern states. The spreading groundcover grows 6 to 8 inches tall. (Zone 3.)


Taro (Colocasia) are especially tolerant of low light conditions, and due to their extreme foliage colors, they are well-suited to offering a bold statement in the shady garden pond. Intense yellow, vibrant green and black are some of the captivating options available. Some have shiny leaves, while others appear dusty and have ruffles, stripes or speckles. Others have contrasting stems with similar traits. The height range depends on the cultivar range, from 18 inches to 8 feet tall. (Zone 8.)

Colocasia ‘Mojito,’ Taro

Firecracker Plant (Cuphea ignea) is an incredibly versatile plant. Establish it outside the pond in the garden, where moist, boggy soil exists or in up to an inch of shallow water. In sunshine or all shade, this annual will be covered in orange-red flowers. It flowers continually from early summer until frost. These plants are most prolific in wide streams or in baskets in areas of moving water. With no serious insect or pest problems, it is a favorite to add summer color to the shady pond. (18 to 24 inches tall, Zone 8.)

A couple of traditional annuals that love streams and moving water in the shade are Impatiens and Coleus. Both will thrive in the water as long as they are not sunken too deep. They should be planted at or above water level with saturated soil in moving water to provide a well-oxygenated environment to the roots. They are certain to add color and lighten things up.

Other varieties include:

  • Blue Hawaii (green, heart-shaped leaves; purple-red veining)
  • Electric Blue Gecko (glossy, nearly
    coal-black leaves)
  • Elena (chartreuse leaves)
  • Elepaio (green-splashed with white)
  • Imperial (green with purple blotches)
  • Mojito (green speckled with burgundy)
  • Red Stem (cranberry stems, lime-green leaves)
  • Tea Cup (burgundy stems with upright, veined leaves that let the light through)


Many plants that ordinarily won’t grow in the water will adapt easily if the water is moving. Experiment with plants like Asclepias, Hosta and Ligularia, and moisture-loving ferns like Osmundo (Royal Fern), Dryopteris (Autumn Fern) and Thelypteris (Marsh Fern).

Lily-like Aquatics

Nuphar advena (Spatterdock) leaves are similar to a waterlily, except they stand up rather than lay flat on the water’s surface. The bold, yellow flowers are 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter, appearing in the spring. Although Spatterdock may not be quite as appealing as a water lily, it does provide an unusual texture in deep-water areas of a pond. It is an excellent choice for the koi keeper who has plant- eating fish. It tolerates sun or shade, and koi dislike it. (Zone 3.)

Aponogeton distachyos, Water Hawthorne

Water Hawthorne (Aponogeton distachyos) is a stunning, mid-depth to deep-water plant that emerges in cool conditions and can bloom all winter long if the water doesn’t freeze. Active growth occurs when water temperatures are between 35 and 65 F. It has been known to bloom from Maryland to Ohio on a few Christmas days. Growth and flowering will cease when the water is frozen but will pick right back up as soon as the water thaws, blooming into late May when the hardy waterlilies have heavy growth. The strap-like leaves are a nice compliment to the lilies. Because waterlilies and Water Hawthorne have alternate growing seasons, we recommend planting them in the same container. Three to five plants per large waterlily container is ideal; one plant sleeps while the other is awake. Water Hawthorne is a true bulb and goes completely dormant when water temperatures are very warm. Light shade helps extend the season, because the water stays cooler. It will simply go dormant during the summer in the South, so take caution not to throw it away. In addition to offering flowers and foliage during the offseason, Water Hawthorne makes a great cut flower, lasting up to two weeks in a vase. The strong, sweet fragrance fills the house when they are brought into the warm indoors. The flowers are edible and have a flavor similar to red leaf lettuce. They can be added to salads or used to decorate a fruit tray or even a cake! (12 to 24 inches, Zones 4-7.)

Waterlilies and Lotuses

There are a few waterlilies that have shown to be extremely tolerant of low light levels, and they not only thrive but also flower quite well. These sun-loving plants have a few in their family that have proven to be impressive in a lot of shade.

Nymphaea ‘Colorado.’

Nymphaea ‘Rhonda Kay’ is beautiful alone, but plant a few in the same pot, and you can have two or three flowers open per day on each plant with good fertilizer and as little as two hours of direct sunlight. Note this is a larger lily that likes to spread the pads at least 3 feet in each direction. A 16-inch-wide container is ideal for a single plant, a pair of plants or up to three plants to increase the volume of flowering. Zone 8.
Nymphaea ‘Clyde Ikins’ is a peachy-yellow perennial lily that does not play by the rules and will often bloom well in the shade. It is a beautiful lily with heavy flowering potential and deserves a good-sized container (14 inches wide or better). Add monthly fertilizer with humates or micronutrients. Zone 3.

Nymphaea ‘Colorado’ is a salmon-peach perennial lily that is an all-around favorite of waterlily growers. Colorado is usually considered one of the heaviest flowering perennial lilies in the sun. Extremely tolerant of low light, it has bloomed consistently in as little as two hours of direct sunlight. Plant in a wide container (14 inches wide) with the same care of fertilization. (Zone 3.)

Nelumbo lotuses will thrive in as little as four to five hours of sun. Not as many flowers will be produced in part shade compared to what you might see in full sun, but nothing can replace the awe-inspiring foliage it produces in the water garden. (Zone 3.)

In addition to the varieties listed, many other plants offer impressive foliage color and texture to water gardens in part shade. Additional plants to consider for the shade garden are Horsetail (Equisetum), Umbrella Palms (Cyperus alternifolius), Compact Payprus (Cyperus percamentus), assorted Swords (Echinodorous) and Arrow Arum (Peltandra) for diversity and complementary interest to the water garden.

The list of options for the shady garden pond isn’t long, but the characters are distinctly different and very capable of putting together a worthy display. Care should be taken to select three to five varieties and plant substantial masses of each to empower them in the reduced light. Sweeps of texture and color will play off each other to create a setting that becomes a destination!

Small plants for small ponds

Variegated Sweet Flag

Also known as golden Japanese sweet flag, the beautiful foliage is light green and highlighted with bright yellow stripes, remaining beautiful all season. Since it tolerates some shade, you can use Dwarf Variegated Sweetflag to brighten shady areas of your water garden, while adding texture and colour to the borders and edges of your pond. Does well in sunny areas, tolerates some shade, and grows 8 to 12 inches tall. An all-around great plant that adds a bright, cheerful spot to any water feature!

Water Lettuce

Along with other floating plants, water lettuce is an easy care aquatic plant that doesn’t need potting or really much attention at all. It just floats along in your pond, quietly soaking up nutrients helping to prevent the excessive growth of algae. It also shades the water, helping keep it cool while providing a cozy hiding place for the fish that live in the pond. It does best in some shade.

Helvola Waterlily

A tiny yellow waterlily with flowers 2-3″ in diameter, the Helvola waterlily is perfect for smaller ponds. It blooms from spring until winter, loves full sun, and is very hardy.

Creeping Jenny

Rounded, light green leaves form a mat along the edge of the pond in shallow water and beautifully drape over rocks in a stream. Creeping Jenny grows about 2.5 to 7.5cm in height and is a favourite among water gardeners for its low-maintenance characteristic. You’ll love its bright colour against the cool waters of the pond.


The most popular of the submerged plants, the anacharis grows rooted in the pond substrate or potted in sand. It has tiny white flowers that develop on the surface of the water in the summer. Each stem has short, thin leaves whorled around it, like a bottle brush.

Yellow Water Snowflake

Yellow Water Snowflake has very frilly, star-shaped yellow flowers and green leaves. This free flowering plant has a fast-growing, running spreading habit so you may need to trim it back from time to time. Ideally it grows in 10 to 60cm of water.

Aquatic Forget Me Not

Pretty blue flowers about 60mm in diameter sit atop velvety leaves and thrive in full to part sun. Plant these charmers near the edge of the pond and they’ll bloom all summer.


You may think of impatiens as a terrestrial plant, but these dainty flowers do quite well planted as an aquatic marginal. These cheery shade lovers can be planted in between rocks or at the edges of a stream. They’ll mound as they grow and create a striking focal point in any pond.

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