Landscaping Around Your Pond
by Robert Fenner
Reprinted with permission, from Bob's website in San Diego: www.wetwebmedia.com
Many of the same considerations given to plant selection and placement for around spas
and pools apply to the landscape surrounding water features. You want plantings that
accent and blend with the pond, fall, fountain, without adding leaf litter, or disrupting
the water effects structure. Additionally, if you have livestock in your system, you need
to be aware of the changes that the plants' droppings will bring to the water.
Plants to Use Near Aquatic Gardens:
The above concerns are real; selected plants must be complementary to the setting, not
break the basins with their growth, nor add toxins to the systems water.
How much will "over-spray" and splash contribute to the humidity and soil
wetness around or downstream from the feature? Bear in mind that some plants tolerate,
even appreciate being watered continuously, others do not. Better money cannot be spent
than purchasing a Sunset (tm) reference "book", and surveying the sections
listed for (Problem Situations:) Plants that grow in wet soil, and Plants to use near
swimming pools. These are grouped by plant type (shrub, trees, etc.) and climatic zone.
Further alphabetical listings provide information on culture, size, pests, etc.
Due to the breadth of what's known, you are encouraged to avail yourself of as many
other source materials as is necessary. We can only cover some basic varieties and
Sources of Plant Materials:
As much as practical you are encouraged to deal with local nurseries, garden centers and
aquatic suppliers in your area. Their plants will be pre-adapted to local conditions and
the staff will be best to assist you.
Do yourself and your landscape the justice of making a sketch of the space, drainage,
walls, et al. to share with your fellow conspirators. Make sure and mention the intended
placement of the plants around the water.
Here they are again! Please do consider utilizing some of these in and immediately outside
the basins. Many/most bog plants can be maintained in overly moist soil/mud outside the
main basin(s) or at greatest advantage in a contiguous arrangement where some of the
system's water can slowly percolate over and through their area.
Camellias (especially C. japonica), Japanese aralia (Fatsia japonica),
azaleas (particularly Karume hybrids), juniperus of all sorts, the omnipresent Raphiolepis,
Nandina and Viburnum are my best choices for medium size shrubs.
Depending on your climate, soil type and aesthetic tendencies there is an assortment for
you to choose from for every setting. Some of my preferences are:
- The Cordylines (especially C. australis), and the true dracaenas they resemble,
are palm-like evergreen; they are woody plants with sharp, sword-like plants like yuccas.
- Carrotwoods (Cupaniopsis) are favored evergreens. For more tropical looks the
genus Strelitzia, the bird of paradise are not to be missed as both shrubs and
- If you're partial to fig trees, make sure and stick with some "controllable"
varieties, like Ficus lyrata, F. benjamina and F. auriculata or the
"rubber plant", F. elastica.
- Scheffleras are somewhere between shrub and small tree size. These are hardy
evergreens that may be grown indoor or out. Scheffleras have bright green leaflets that
spread out like the fingers of a hand.
- Some pines were "made" to be placed in the presence of water effects. My very
favorite is the Japanese black pine (pictured); these and other species can be trained and
"bonsai-ed" to amazing extents.
A lot of hardwoods (due to toxic leaf-effects), and large palms (due to invasive roots)
should be placed well away from the feature. Ditto for large surface rooted plants like
coral trees and some of the big figs; they will actually uproot the basins, and maybe your
I prefer agapanthus, clivia, hemerocallis and some of the horizontal varieties of junipers
for right next to the water. Other writers opt for succulents, yuccas, and other more
Grasses, sedges and rushes should definitely be included in your aqua-landscape; there are
many hardy and beautiful varieties that fare superbly at the water's edge. what can match
the whispering sounds of bamboo and Miscanthus in a rustling, gently swaying breeze for
soothing? We have already mentioned the sedges called cattails and tules and the umbrella
plants (Cyperus) as bog plants. Give them a look.
I must mention ferns, as they are perennial favorites. I'm especially fond of shield (Dryopteris
marginalis) and maiden hair (Adiantum pedatum). I wouldn't have a pond
without some staghorn ferns (Platycerium) growing nearby. Of course the ferns
that are so large as to counted "trees" are great where weather allows.
Yet another of my "pet" groups of plants are the ancient cycads. Every one
can afford the most common of these palm-like plants, the sago "palm", Cycas
revoluta. These plants and their brethren make great center piece or high profile
plants. They are extremely hardy and long-living.
Problematical Plants For Fish:
This list is quite long, but necessary to emphasize to the reader that there are very many
and diverse plant stocks that are toxic to those ponds containing fish-life. Following are
the names and parts of the more available types to be avoided or placed away from water:
Aconite (monkshood), roots flowers and leaves.
Amaryllis (A. belladonna), bulbs contain toxic alkaloids.
Angel Trumpet Tree (Datura arborea), flowers and leaves.
Atropa Belladonna, all parts, especially their black berries.
Autumn Crocus, bulbs.
Azaleas, Rhododendrons, all parts are toxic.
Baneberry (Doll's Eyes), red or white berries, roots and foliage.
Beach Pea (Lathrus maritimus), all parts.
Betel Nut Palm, all parts.
Bird of Paradise, seeds.
Bittersweet (Solanaceae), berries.
Black Locust, bark, sprouts and foliage are poisonous.
Bleeding Heart (Dutchman's Breeches), foliage and roots.
Bluebonnets (Lupinus), all parts.
Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens), all parts.
Buckeye Horsechestnut, sprouts and nuts.
Buttercup, all parts.
Caladium, all parts.
Calla Lily, leaves.
Carolina Jessamine, flowers leaves and sap.
Casava (Euphorbiaceae), roots.
Castor Bean (Rincinus communis), seeds are toxic.
Cherries, (wild and cultivated), twigs and foliage are toxic.
Cherry Laurel (including apple, peach, pear and apricot seeds,
Prunus varieties), all parts dangerous; hydrocyanic acid.
China Berry Tree, berries are poisonous.
Columbine (Aquilegia), all parts.
Common Privet, blue or black wax-coated berries and leaves.
Crocus, all bulbs.
Croton (Euphorbiaceae), outdoor grown plants are toxic.
Daphne, berries are toxic.
Death-Camas (Sygadenus venous), all parts toxic, root is deadly.
Deadly Nightshade (Solanum nigrum), all parts.
Delphinium, all parts.
Destroying Angel (Amanita phalloides, Death Cup), all parts.
Dieffenbachia (Dumb Cane), all parts.
Elderberry, leaves, shoots and bark.
Elephant Ears (Colocasia), entire plant and fruit.
English Ivy, (Hedera), berries.
Foxglove, whole plant.
Gelsemium, (Croolina jessamine), whole plant.
Gold Chain, seeds and pods.
Heliobore (Ranunculaceae), all parts.
Hemlock Roots (Conium, Cicuta, Tsuga), all parts.
Henbane, all parts.
Holly (Ilex aquifolium, opaca, vomitoria), leaves and berries.
Hydrangea, whole plant.
Impatiens (Balsam, Touch-Me-Not, Snapweed), whole plant.
Mallows, members of the family Malvaceae, are bad news around ponds, children, chewing
Jack-In-The-Pulpit (Arisaema triphylla), roots.
Jasmine, Yellow, all parts.
Jerusalem Cherry (Solanum pseudocapsicum), fruit and leaves.
Jessamine (Gelsemium sempervirens), all parts.
Jimson Weed (Datura strmomium), Thorn Apple), all parts.
Lambkill (Kalmia angustifolia, Sheep Laurel), leaves.
Lantana Camara (Red Sage), green berries are toxic.
Larkspur (Delphinium), foliage, roots and seeds toxic.
Laurels (Primus varieties), all parts.
Lily-Of-The-Valley (convallaria majalis), all parts.
Lobelia (Cardinal Flower), all parts.
Locoweed, all parts.
Lupine (Lupinus), seeds.
May Apple (Podophyllum), all parts.
Milkweed (Asciepias), all parts.
Mock Orange (Primus caroliniana), all parts.
Morning Glories (Ipomea), all parts.
Mountain Laurel (Kalmia latifolia) young leaves and shoots.
Mushrooms and Toadstools, wild mushrooms.
Natal Cherry (Solanum), berries.
Nicotiana, wild and cultivated and leaf "products".
Nightshades, all parts, especially berries.
Oaks, foliage and acorns.
Oleander (Nerium oleander), foliage.
Peony (Paeonia), all parts.
Periwinkle, whole plant.
Philodendron, leaves and sap.
Poinsettia (Euphorbia pulcherrima), leaves and flowers.
Poison Ivy, Oak and Sumac, all parts.
Privet (Ligustrum), leaves and fruits.
Ranunculus, all parts.
Redwood, chips are toxic to fishes, turtles and more.
Rhododendron, all parts.
Rhubarb (Rhenum rhaponticum) leaves and blades.
Skunk Cabbage (Lysichitum), roots.
Snap Dragon (Antirrhinum), all parts.
Squirrel Corn (Dicentra candensis), all parts.
Star-Of-Bethlehem (Cornithogalum), all parts.
Tansy (Tanacetum), all parts.
Taro (Calcasia), stem and leaves.
Tiger Lily (Lilium tigrinum), all parts.
Tomato, foliage and vines.
Yew (American, English, Japanese), needles, seeds.
Plantings At The Water's Edge
Consider where the plants you are placing will make the best impression. For koi ponds try
to minimize sun and wind exposure to resist thermal flux, algae profusion and the
"bleaching effect" that sunlight has on carp color. Most purposeful aquatic
gardens strive for the opposite; maximizing sunlight exposure to enhance plant growth. For
these ponds, the placement of large vertical elements (i.e. trees) should be northward of
From what perspective will the water be viewed? Sitting, standing, inside to outside
the home? Will this preclude the use of any foreground plantings? Or maybe some
low-growing perennials can still be inserted to advantage. Are there mechanical components
or even walls and buildings that can/should be disguised/diffused with plantscapes? Having
the plant height, texture and color contoured around the effect can do much to add drama
and visual excitement.
Are there hillocks or large rocks in the landscape? When planting trees near big, tall
natural structures, they should in front on the windswept side, as they occur in nature.
Take a lesson from nature; trees are found in this condition because seeds normally
germinate on warm, sunny sides, rather than the shady areas where molds and insects make
it hard for seedlings to survive.
In planning, my general course of action is to discuss the larger key elements such as
hills, rock(s), a large tree or other dominant accent plants, and build the shrubs and
perennials around these. Other writers advocate starting your design with the low-lying
damp garden plants.
Try to keep in mind that bunching individual kinds of plants is far more effective than
placing just one of everything; and make provision for their ultimate size. I've found the
best way to do this is to make "cut-outs" for each plant and overlay them on my
quadrille paper lay-out of the entire garden.
Don't be discouraged that you're not a garden "expert". Enlist others'
opinions from the landscape hobby and industry groups, visit example water/landscapes, and
read all the books you can get your hands on. Lastly, remember though there is some
general consensus that basic elements not clash or "fight with each other", it
is your garden, and "whatever you like" is best.
Care of Surrounding Plantscapes:
Obviously conscientious trimming to keep unwanted adventitious plants, limbs and leaves
out is a weekly to monthly task. The odd root or branch can greatly increase water loss
and algal growth; keep them out of the pond.
Less well elucidated is the need to expediently remove leaf litter and branches. If
left to accumulate some are outright toxic, others ultimately do no good for water
quality. I have witnessed and removed huge masses of pitchy conifer needles, tannin,
flavin staining leaves from systems where all macro- life has been wiped out. Keep these
materials netted out on a regular basis, especially before they're trapped below ice.
Aerobic decomposition of such organic material may utilize all the available oxygen in the
A beautifully constructed water feature without equal consideration and care given to
outside landscape and blending in turn with it's surroundings is a partially completed
picture. To assure the totality in sounds and visions requires only a bit of careful
planning. Don't cheat yourself on the complete picture of having a confluent setting for
your pond, waterfall and/or fountain; consider what the surrounding landscape will be in
the planning process for all. No pond is complete without landscaping.
With the use of moisture loving perennials and hardy ornamental grasses, your water
effect will become the focus of the garden throughout the year.
Anon. 1992. Some of the worst plants to have around koi. Koi USA 11-12/92.
Cuny, Jayne Lee. Potentially problem plants. AKCA v. 2.
Editors of Sunset Books and Sunset Magazine. 1979. Sunset New Western Garden Book. Lane
Publishing Co., Menlo Park, CA.
Inouye, Jimmy. Pond landscaping. Intl. Koi and Watergardens 10-11/84.
Swindells, Philip. 1988. Grasses, sedges and rushes for the waterside. Water Garden
White-Taylor, Barbara. 1988. Pets and poisonous plants. The Pet Dealer 12/88.
Williamson, John. 1986. Reflected Eden: gardening at the water's edge. Horticulture