The truth about plants for shady ponds
Many experts tell us that you cannot grow many plants for shady ponds. That the choice is very limited and that you should not place a pond in the shade, if you wish to have a successful water garden. They seem to overlook the fact that there are shade tolerant water lilies and waterlily-like plants as well as an impressive range of plants for shady ponds.
Water lilies and most pond plants require at least 6-8 hours of direct sun to flower and flourish.
Sometimes there is no choice but to place your pond in an area of little or no sunshine. Or perhaps the pond was placed in the shade before the importance of the sun was realised. For those situations, our plant choices may appear to be limited but by carefully selecting plants for shady ponds, beautiful water gardens can still be obtained.
The Pro's and Con's of shady ponds….solutions…
Trees can provide shade for a pond, but also create problems. Leaves and twigs that fall into the pond and need to be removed. Excess leaf matter slowly decomposes underwater and creates gases that may be toxic to some aquatic life. Therefore trees can create more work.
A solution to this problem can be through the use of pond skimmers that collect the water off the pond surface, much like a swimming pool skimmer. The leaves that fall into the pond drift into the pond skimmer and are captured in the mesh filter. The water passes through and is pumped to another part of the pond. All that you really need to do is empty out the skimmer as required to collect most of the leaves.
Shady ponds are often cooler. Fish come up to the surface and tend to be more visible. Shallow ponds in full sun, tend to heat up and fish hide where it is cooler closer at the bottom, so they are harder to see.
We recommend that you reduce the number of plants for shady ponds, in order to reduce the competition for the little sunlight that there may be. Although the number of plants for shady ponds is reduced, you can increase the range of plants around the outside of your pond.
There are several varieties of shade tolerant water lilies, marginal, and floating plants that will do well in partial shade and some will tolerate as little as 3 – 4 hours of direct sun. For some water lilies, the foliage will still grow and you may have reduced flowering, but that should not stop you from enjoying an occasional flower. Some shade tolerant water lilies even have mottled foliage that will give you some variety in your floating pads.
Here's a not so small list of 50 plus plants for shady ponds.
Floating Plants (Zone 1)
Azolla caroliniana (Fairy Moss) – This is a small free floater with green and red foliage.
Lemna (Duckweed) – This floater has small round leaves and is quite hardy. Great as a food source for many fish and other aquatic life.
Pistia stratioites (Water Lettuce) – The leaves of this floater resemble lettuce leaves. It is tropical and can only be grown as an annual in VIC, SA and TAS.
Pond Edge and Shallow Water Plants (Zone 2 & 3)
Acorus calamus (Sweet Flag) – This plant has dark green iris-like foliage to 90cm
Acorus gramineus (Japanese Sweet flag) * – Similar to the larger Sweet Flag. This species has dark green small iris-like leaves to 30cm. A great pond edge water plant.
Acorus gramineus ‘Ogon’ (Golden Japanese Sweet Flag) – A golden yellow striped form. Ideal for brightening up darker areas.
Acorus gramineus ‘Variegata’ (Variegated Japanese Sweet Flag) – A creamy white striped variety.
Bacopa caroliniana (Lemon Bacopa) – A trailing herb with lemon scented-green leaves and pale blue flowers in Spring-Summer. performs best in warmer ponds.
Bacopa monniera (Water Hyssop) – A hardy trailing herb with small white flowers in late Spring to mid-Autumn. This is a hardy plant for shady ponds and will also tolerate light frost.
Berula erecta (Water Celery) – A vigorous celery-like herb.
Colocasia esculenta (Taro) * – Produces large elephant leaves on green or purple coloured stems.
Colocasia esculenta ‘Amazon Queen’ * – This taro’s foliage has shiny dark olive green leaves on dark purple stems. It thrives in shade to partial shade and can grow up to 1.8m in height.
Colocasia esculenta ‘Black Magic’ * – This taro’s foliage has velvety dark purple leaves on dark purple stems. It thrives in shade to partial shade and can grow up to 1.8m in height. It is not as cold tolerant as the previous types listed.
Cypress alternifolius (Umbrella Grass) – This popular plant grows up to 1.5m. An attractive architectural plant with dark green umbrella spoke leaves.
Houttuynia cordata variegata (Chameleon Plant) – This small plant grows to 30cm with multi-colored foliage.
Hydrocotyle bonariensis (Large Leafed Pennywort) – A perennial spreading plant for waters edge planting. Umbrella shaped or shield-like leaves grow 5-6cm wide and up to 20cm.
Hydrocotyle verticillata (Shield Pennywort) – This native spreading plant’s smaller umbrella shaped or shield-like leaves grow 4cm wide and up to 15cm high.
Iris pseudacorus (Yellow Flag Iris) – A robust water iris, producing yellow flowers in Spring.
Iris versicolor (American Blue Flag Iris) – A smaller growing (40-50cm) iris producing a variety shades of blue to purple flowers in Spring.
Iris versicolor ‘Gerald Darby’ – An attractive iris with purple-coloured new leaves changing to green in Spring. Clusters of purple flowers complement the new Spring growth.
Iris vinicolor (Louisiana Iris) – These irises are available in a range of colors from red-purples, to whites and blues. They are Spring flowering and grow to 60-90cm tall.
Juncus decipiens ‘Curly Wurly’ (Miniature corkscrew rush) – an unusual rush growing to 30cm with tightly spiraled leaves. Ideal for smaller ponds and waterbowls.
Juncus effusus spiralis (Corkscrew Rush) – This striking plant has coiled foliage that grows to 50cm.
Ludwigia pallustris (Swamp Ludwigia) – A trailing plant with bronze foliage.
Lysimachia nummularia (Creeping Jenny) – A trailing plant producing round leaves on chain-like stems and small bright yellow flowers in Spring.
Mentha aquatica (Water Mint) – This herb grows up to 30cm and produces aromatic foliage.
Myriophyllum species (Water Milfoils) – These plants trail over the water surface with lovely plumes of feather-like foliage.
Oenanthe javanica ‘Pink Flamingo’ (Rainbow Parsley) – A vigorous trailing herb that produces lovely variegated foliage with pink on the leaf tips.
Ranunculus inundatus (River Buttercup) – A native low growing herb, with finely divided leaves and small yellow flowers in Spring.
Ranunculus lingua (Spearwort) – A running herb with low rounded leaves in Winter and upright spear-shaped leaves in Spring-Summer. Yellow buttercup flowers are borne on the upright Spring growth.
Saururus cernuus (Lizard’s Tail) * – This plant grows to 90cm tall. It produces clusters of tiny white flowers that look like tails, in Spring & last through Summer.
Zantedeschia aethiopica (Arum lily) * – lush green foliage and white flowers in late Winter- early Spring.
Zantdeschia childsiana (Dwarf Arum Lily) * – A dwarf form of the Arum lily, growing to 40cm.
Zantedeschia ‘Green Goddess’ (Green Goddess) * – A large Arum with cream and green flowers in Winter-Spring.
(* Denotes plants that are good performers in filtered or fewer than 3 hours of direct sun a day.)
Pond Plants (Zone 4)
Orontium aquaticum (Golden Club) – This plant grows up to 30cm and has velvety foliage. Yellow flower spikes appear in spring.
Pontederia cordata * (Pickerel Rush) – This plant has heart shaped foliage. Its spikes of blue or white flowers appear in summer.
Cycnogeton procerum (syn. Triglochin) (Water ribbons) – An attractive native to Southern Australia, producing long strap-like leaves that trail along the water surface. Some varieties produce leaves that emerge from the water. Flower spikes with clusters of tiny white flowers are produced in Spring – Summer.
Dwarf Water Lily and Lily-Like Aquatics (Zone 4)
Aponogeton distachyos (Water Hawthorn) – This lily-like plant has elliptical leaves and white flowers. It flowers in Winter -Spring and fall and goes dormant in the summer. In shady ponds where the water remains cooler it may continue flowering throughout the year.
Nymphaea Helvola (Dwarf Yellow Water lily) – The flowers of this small water lily are a pale lemon colour and are amongst some of the smallest water lily flowers, at only 5cm across. These shade tolerant water lilies have attractive mottled leaves and are excellent for smaller ponds and waterbowls.
Nymphaea Indiana (Dwarf Apricot Water lily) – These water lilies are also referred to as changeables. The tea cup sized flowers of these shade tolerant water lilies open an apricot colour and then change to an orange-red as the flowers age.
Marsilea drummondii (Common Nardoo) – This running water fern has 4-leaf clover-like leaves, with a fine hairs on the leaves. Ideal for pond edges (Zone 2 ) where the leaves stand 10-20cm high, or in shallow waters where the leave float on the water surface.
Marsilea mutica (Rainbow Nardoo) – This running water fern has 4-leaf clover-like leaves, with a lovely rainbow pattern, that float on the water surface.
Nymphoides spinulosperma (Showy Marshwort) – One of the larger flowering varieties of nymphoides, produces bright yellow flowers in Spring-Summer. The waterlily-like leaves also have an attractive marbled pattern on them.
Submerged Aquatics (Zone 4 & 5)
Egeria densa (Leafy Elodea) – a trailing submerged oxygenating plant, producing long stems with rosettes of 20-30cm leaves.
Vallisneria americana (Ribbon grass / Eel grass) – a submerged grass-like oxygenating plant with leaves 5-15mm wide. Prefers deeper waters where the elongated leaves can grow into underwater lawns.
Shade Tolerant Water Lilies (Zone 5)
(Nymphaea X hybrids)
Hardy Water Lilies
N. X ‘Chromatella’ – One of the more robust long blooming varieties, producing pale yellow flowers that are complemented by green leaves sometimes mottled with purple flecks (more obvious on new growth).
N. X ‘Attraction’ – This red lily is a very good bloomer. It is one of the larger hardy red water lilies.
N. X ‘James Brydon – The flowers of this medium sized lily are a deep pink-red and its leaves are bronze-like in color.
N. X ‘Sioux’ -This free flowering lily has a long blooming season, its flowers open yellow and change to a coppery bronze as the flowers age.
Tropical Water Lilies
N. X ‘Dauben’ – A small pastel blue tropical water lily that is ideal for smaller ponds, tubs and water bowls. This is also a cold tolerant variety that grows well in Southern Australia.
N. X ‘Tina’ – The deep purple flowers of this tropical water lily have a sweet fragrance. It is a very free bloomer and will still flower in light shade. Makes a delightful annual water lily in Southern Australia, where the show of flowers will not disappoint.
1. For information on the plant care and maintenance of water plants, go to our Tips & Hints page.