The widening popularity of home water gardens has led to an increase in the availability of many different types of aquatic plants in chain and independent garden stores. Successfully maintaining a water garden requires little effort if you select the correct plants for your specific needs. Some plants are used to cover the surface of the water to shade areas for fish, others provide colorful flowers, while some are intended to blend the edges of the water into the rest of the landscaping.
Water hyacinth (scientific name Eichornia crassipes), is a free-floating tropical plant that is commonly used as a spring and summer annual in cooler-climate ponds. It has 6-inch-long, fleshy petals to keep it floating and light purple-colored blossoms. This plant grows very fast and can easily cover a pond or water garden in a few weeks. It may be considered invasive in your area. It likes full sun to part shade and will die off after the first frost of the season. This is a good plant to provide shade for fish.
Hardy water lilies are able to stay alive year round in cooler climates; tropical water lilies cannot survive the winter, however, and need to be brought indoors when the temperature gets cold. Both tropical and hardy lilies have bright-colored flowers in purple, blue, white, yellow, red or pink tones. The leaves create green lily pads that vary in size from 1-2 inches to over 12 inches in diameter, providing cover for fish. Many different types are available, including dwarf varieties.
Lotus lilies have stunning, large flowers (5-13 inches wide). The round large, green leaves reach 6-20 inches wide and are held up off the water surface from 1-6 feet. Plant lotus tubers about 4 inches below the water level in large sturdy pots with enough gravel to hold the tubers down and keep them from floating away.
Giant papyrus (scientific name Cyperus papyrus) is a classic water plant for tropical ponds or as a summer annual in cooler climates. They are a long reed that resembles an onion with a frilly top on the stems. Plants can reach 10 to 15 feet tall with proper care, but many dwarf varieties are available that stay below 18 inches.
Papyrus grows with its roots just under the water, and the rest of the reed is above ground. They also grow in muddy banks along the shore to help blend the edges of the pond in with the garden. Grow year-round in USDA zones 9 through 10, over winter as a houseplant in cooler climates. It likes full sun to part shade.