What is a Water Garden and How to Build One

Water garden

The lulling sounds of streams and the beautiful aesthetics of water aren’t solely reserved for a day on the lake. Building a water garden in your backyard is not only possible but relatively simple at that. We’ll show you what is a water garden and how to make one to cultivate your perfect outdoor oasis. 

What is a water garden? 

This unique water gardening feature is also known as an aquatic garden. Its primary function is a suitable habitat for various aquatic plants, but your water garden also hosts a variety of living organisms and design elements. Water garden options range from a large, professionally dug, and filtered pond to a small container with a couple of your favorite floating plants. 

Some water gardens are also made for inside living spaces. In general, aquatic gardens are typically shallow bodies of water, but the depth of the water is mainly dependent on the needs of what you decide to plant in your water garden. 

Building a water garden 

water garden
Nowis | Wikimedia Commons | CC BY-SA 3.0

Building a water garden is a worthwhile task for the most ambitious of DIY-ers. While you can always hire professional help, these are some essential tips to get you started planning out the perfect garden. 

When designing your water garden, you’ll need to consider some basic elements that significantly impact the sleekness and function of your garden. Here are some components of design to look out for when installing a water garden. 


Think about the way lighting reflects off of the water. Playing around with different light elements, whether natural or artificial, is good to consider when designing your water garden. This ranges from anything like the position of the garden in relation to the sun or hanging string lights around the water to illuminate the space at night. 

Water Source

Your water garden could be as small as some aquatic plants and ornaments in an aquatic planter, or you could even hire a team to dig an artificial pond in your yard. Think about the space you have to work with and your budget to get the most out of your garden choices. 


Get the most from your peaceful water garden with the right seating choices. It will depend on how big your water garden is, but putting out comfortable seating, be it lawn chairs or built-ins are a great way to make your water garden a living space too. Seating is also something you should consider if you or your loved ones could benefit from accessible landscaping elements around your water garden. 


The depth of your water garden will likely determine the types of plants you can grow. Keep in mind that you can alter the levels your water plants grow at within your garden using stackable crates. That way, you’ll have more options which we’ll dive into a bit more below. 


The location of the water garden is essential. If your garden is in an area with a lot of traffic, be it vehicular or foot, it might be a nuisance or just generally unenjoyable to unwind. Choosing a location that adds value to your way of living and home is crucial.  

Water features 

Consider adding a water feature depending on how much space you have in your water garden. Water features can be anything from small fountains to splashing waterfalls. Bubblers are also good options for some movement in the water and are a great natural soundscaping element too. 

A water feature often means the water will be moving. Stagnant water is a breeding ground for pesky mosquitoes. Water features help to reduce mosquito nesting while also supporting aeration and oxygen formation. Both are great for plant life too. 

Water containers  

The container is simply where you contain your water garden. Water gardens don’t have to be grand and expensive. Merely buying a small container and growing a few beautiful aquatic plants works just as well. 

Aquatic life 

Adding aquatic life brings vitality to your water garden. Fish are the most common to add to the environment. Some pond fish that do well in small water gardens are: 

  • Goldfish
  • Koi fish
  • Fathead minnows and guppies

You can also add tadpoles, dragonflies, and turtles. Keep in mind that if you add aquatic life, your water garden will have a higher level of maintenance. Fish and other living creatures require clean habits and filtration systems


A pump is different from a filtration system. The pump is mainly to keep the water quality good enough to keep your water plants alive. Water garden pumps increase oxygen and disperse nutrients around the water garden evenly. Pumps in water gardens are also helpful to keep the water from being stagnant, which attracts algae and mosquitoes. 

Caring for your water garden 

Chitrapa | Wikimedia Commons | Public Domain

Any living thing needs careful attention, but with the element of water, all that you might remember from the traditional garden gets a little more complex. Routinely caring for your water garden ensures longevity and cleanliness. 

The maintenance steps vary depending on how large and deep your water garden is. The larger it is, the more involved you’ll need to be. Below are some general guidelines for maintaining a water garden. If your garden has more living things in it than plants, like fish or turtles, the care steps would be more involved, like this care guide to koi ponds, for example. 

Keep it clean 

Investing in a skimmer net is a good call when keeping your water garden clean. Not only will there be guck from the water garden ecosystem, but debris around your yard like leaves and grass clippings. 

You’ll also want to take out any dead water garden plants as they affect other plants around them and sometimes even kill or injure other plants from their toxins. Pumps and filters are also important in cleaning the water with little intervention from you besides set up.

Care for your plants

General plant care is necessary for maintaining your water garden’s health. This means trimming, clipping, and adding water if the garden gets too low. You’ll also want to keep a good balance of plants as they all help to keep each other alive. If one or two plants die and you remove them, make sure to add new plants back in to take their place. 

The healthy growth of plants is crucial for creating a natural filtration system that keeps the garden clean and functioning.  

Fertilize the garden

Like other gardens or the yard, your water garden needs proper fertilization to keep it healthy. You should only use fertilizers made for aquatic plants, as standard fertilizers for soil harm water gardens. 

Note: You only need to fertilize a water garden if the water quality is bad. Performing a water test is a good idea to determine what your garden needs.

Winterize the water garden

If you live in an area with a particularly long or harsh winter, prepare the garden for the cold season. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) guide to plant hardiness zones will help you determine the most appropriate way to winterize by species. 

If a plant can’t withstand freezing temperatures, you might need to remove it and store it in a climate-controlled area. Pumps or tubes part of filtration systems are important to remove before freezes. You don’t want them to get stuck or damaged from the cold. 

If you’re dealing with a large pond rather than a small container, investing in a pond de-icer is a good way to keep your aquatic garden alive throughout the winter months. A pond de-icer is a machine that helps release harmful gasses that get trapped under the ice. 

There are also other options like pond heaters, and of course, if your water garden is in a small container, you could always move it indoors to a warmer spot with full sun.

What should you plant in your water garden? 

Petrova Jones | Canva Pro | License

There are many different types of aquatic plants. It all depends on the space you have and the depth of your water. We’ll dive into some basic aquatic plants below for you to consider for your water garden.  

Shelf plants

Shelf plants are also called marginal plants. These plants do not grow well in deep water. They do well near the edge of the water garden or at the margin, hence marginal plants. 

It’s ideal for the water to be six inches above the plant’s crown, and they generally prefer their roots fully submerged in water. The water depth varies on the type of shelf plant you have. Shelf plants benefit your water garden’s filtration process, prevent algae growth, and attract critters to its environment. 

Some common shelf plants include: 

  • Cattails 
  • Bluebells
  • Arrowheads
  • Pickerelweed 
  • Swamp hibiscus 
  • Water plantain 
  • Sweet flag

Oxygenating plants

Similar to how they sound, these plants promote oxygen throughout the water garden. They grow at the bottom of the water and like to be completely submerged. They’re known to filter the water and also offer small shelters to aquatic life such as insects and fish. 

Some common oxygenating plants include: 

  • Cabomba
  • Hornwort
  • Water sprite
  • Eelgrass
  • Anacharis

Floating plants 

pink water lilies on water

Floating plants enjoy being the center of attention. They float entirely on top of the water while their roots establish themselves beneath the surface. Even though the roots are submerged in water, some species of floating plants also move freely on the water’s surface. 

This type of aquatic plant prefers a lot of sunlight, which also helps it perform photosynthesis. Floating plants lower the temperature of the water by blocking out the sun, in turn controlling algae blooms that thrive in higher temperatures. 

Some common floating plants include: 

  • Water lettuce
  • Water lilies 
  • Lotuses 
  • Water hyacinth 
  • Duckweed

Bog plants 

Bog plants prefer growing in soft and wet soil but not a pool of water. Bog plants are found in wetlands that are a mixture of soil and shallow depths of water. It’s best to place bog plants at the edge of the water garden where the soil is still wet, but the plant won’t be submerged in water. Bog plants are great for ponds and other water gardens with varying depths that open to the ground. 

Here are some popular bog plants to grow in your water garden: 

  • Rose pogonia
  • Water iris 
  • Ladies tresses
  • Pitcher plants 
  • Bog rosemary

Fun fact: The carnivorous venus fly trap is considered a bog plant and will eat pesky insects that lurk in your water garden!

FAQ about water gardens

What critters will a water garden attract? 

Water gardens make excellent habitats for all kinds of wildlife. Some common critters you might see sneak into your water garden over time include: 

● Frogs
● Turtles 
● Insects like dragonflies 
● Snails 
● Ducks 

How do I keep mosquitos away from a water garden? 

Keeping mosquitoes away from your water garden is done in a few different steps. Overall, they come together to be the first line of defense against these biting pests. 

Always keep the water moving: including a pump that moves water around or features like fountains and falls prevents the water from stagnating, an attractive trait to mosquitoes. 
Control the growth of algae: mosquito larvae eat algae, so keeping it from overtaking your water garden is crucial in preventing a pest problem. 
Incorporate fish: fish love to munch on mosquitoes. Building a water garden with fish is a great idea if you’re worried about getting swarmed. 

How do I prevent algae from blooming in my water garden? 

It all depends on how bad the issue is. If algae has completely overtaken your water garden, your best bet might be to preserve the plants and drain out all the water to replace it with fresh water. If your algae problem is not that bad yet, here are some practical solutions to prevent algae buildup: 

● Use a skimmer to remove algae from your water garden. 
● Place bundles of barley straw in your water garden. Over time, it releases hydrogen peroxide, which kills algae naturally without harming other plants or aquatic life. 
● If you have fish in your water garden, do not overfeed them. Excess food rots and becomes a driving force for algae blooms. 
● Keep your pumps and filtration systems clean. Try cleaning your filters once a month. 
● Algaecides are only to be used as a last resort. If you use them, ensure the chemicals are safe for your water garden and adhere to your local regulations on pesticide use in water. 

Hire some help

If you were thinking of more than a small container of some aquatic plants, consider hiring some professional help for larger projects. Connect with professional landscapers and gardeners who will let you sit back and enjoy a peaceful outdoor space while they prepare your backyard garden. 

Main Image Credit: ineb1599 | Canva Pro | License

Sandy Choephel

Sandy has been a freelance writer for several years and has expertise in content creation, social media, and ghostwriting. On top of being a professional writer, she is a full-time musician and multi-instrumentalist.