Aquatic Plants to Introduce Late in the Season

Published on June 24, 2024

Aquatic Plants, Red Endeavor Canna
Red Endeavor Canna

Nothing beats looking over a lush pond in late summer and watching the bees and butterflies flit around the last of the season’s flowers. As we sit, drinks in hand, we might let out a sigh of relief. The busy pond season, we think, is almost over. 

Well, don’t get too comfortable. Because when it comes to water gardening, late summer is one of the best times to get out there and add new plants! 

Almost any aquatic plant will do well when introduced to the pond this time of year. Tropicals will continue blooming and growing well into the fall months, while hardy plants still have plenty of time to establish strong roots before winter. Waterlilies, marginals, lotus — almost nothing is off the table. 

So, where do you start? We always tell customers to focus less on specific types of plants and more on making sure they have a variety. Not only do diverse groupings look better, but they also remove more algae-feeding nutrients from the water. Look for variety in color (e.g., white flowers and blue flowers, red leaves and green leaves), as well as size, planting depth and bloom season. Pick some plants that look great right now, and get a jump start on ones you know will bring joy to you (and the pollinators!) for seasons to come. 

Below are some of our favorite plants to add to ponds in the late summer and early fall. This calmer time of year offers a golden opportunity to beautify the water features that we have spent all season perfecting, so don’t let it go to waste! 

Planting for Now 

This is a common scene in our retail store. A customer browsing the plant tables catches a glimpse of a vibrant pink canna or 6-foot-tall taro — and it’s love at first sight! They can’t wait to take home this eye-catching beauty until they ask the inevitable question: “Will this plant survive the winter?” 

Too many pond owners have felt dissuaded from adding tropicals (annuals) to their ponds late in the season. “Why,” they think, “would I spend money on something I’ll need to throw out in a few months?” 

In reality, late fall is an excellent time to add show-stopping tropicals. Heat-loving cannas, taros, blue bells and other unique plants have now had several months of ideal growing conditions, meaning they look amazing straight out of the nursery. While a hardy plant offers the promise of flowers to come, tropicals provide instant gratification. We all need that sometimes! 

Aquatic Plants, Papyrus
Compact Papyrus

Tropicals also have a longer growing season than their hardy counterparts. Come fall, winter-hardy plants will start preparing for their winter naps by slowing growth, producing fewer flowers and ultimately going dormant. But for tropicals, the party never ends. They’ll often keep growing and blooming into late fall, when Jack Frost puts a sudden stop to their festivities. 

Speaking of growing and blooming, nothing compares to the unique size and color that tropicals bring to the pond. From the rainbow of blooms and foliage in canna flowers to the towering radiance of giant papyrus, annuals simply have traits that you won’t find in their perennial cousins. They live fast and die hard, but they make every second count. 

Favorite Late-Summer Tropicals 

Aquatic Plants, White Lava Taro
White Lava Taro

We especially love the red, orange and yellow flowers from cannas going into the fall. Look for varieties like African Sunset, Napoleon, Australia, Striped Beauty, Intrigue and Orange King Humbert. Any taro will also look amazing in the pond this time of year. If you want some darker colors for autumn, try varieties like Black Magic, Tea Cup, Violet-Stemmed or Imperial. 

Umbrella Palms (Cyperus alternifolius) are green-growing beauties that looks like they belong on the shores of a tropical lagoon and makes us feel like summer will never end. Rain Lilies (Zephyranthes candida) are one of the few pond plants with a natural fall bloom season. Their white, crocus-like flowers often emerge a few days after a rainstorm. (Rain lilies are hardy in zones 7 through 10, so they may be perennial in your area.) 

Finally, tropical waterlilies give you an opportunity to add unique flowers and foliage to the late summer pond. They come in just about every color imaginable, from hot pink to bright purple to enchanting blue. You might even want to add some night-blooming lilies like Jennifer Rebecca or Mrs. George C. Hitchcock to enjoy during those late-summer evenings. 

Planting for the Future 

Audrey Hepburn once said that to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow. Late summer is your chance to start shaping that tomorrow by thinking about next year’s perennials. 

You might not think of irises and marsh marigolds in late summer, but this time of year is actually perfect for jump-starting your spring bloomers. Cooler temperatures on the horizon mean less risk of heat stress for new plants. Still-warm water and soil temperatures mean ample opportunity to build strong roots before winter. After a few months of winter dormancy, any plants you add now will be ready to start the next season strong. 

As you plan, don’t forget to consider next year’s pollinators. Additions like cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), pickerel rush (Pontederia cordata) and lavender musk (Mimulus ringens) will have plenty of time to establish themselves before they take on the task of feeding next summer’s bees and butterflies. 

A cardinal flower’s red blooms feed bees, butterflies and hummingbirds during the hottest months of the year. For variety, you might also add blue cardinal flower (Lobelia siphilitica), dark-stemmed black truffle cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis ‘Black Truffle’) or tropical pink cardinal flower (Lobelia x speciosa ‘Pink’). 

Marsh marigolds (Caltha palustris), a cousin to the buttercup, is the first plant to bloom in our ponds every year. Plant them now to ensure plenty of flowers come spring. Pickerel rush is a favorite among bees and homeowners alike. This staple plant displays purple spikes of flowers throughout the summer. 

Lavender musk, also known as Allegheny monkey flower, is a North America native with petite purple flowers. Some people think the petals look like the face of a smiling monkey! Another option is planting hardy lotus, which have huge, round leaves and bright flowers that stand out in any pond. They also provide food and shelter for pollinators. 

When it comes to perennials, you won’t find a more colorful bunch than irises, which are named after the ancient Greek goddess of the rainbow. Choose from purple (like Black Gamecock or Jeri), yellow (Kimboshi or Wow Factor), red (Red Velvet Elvis), blue (Blue Flag) or copper (Count Pulaski). 

Planning for Winter 

The pond season will eventually end. When that time comes, you can take some simple steps to prepare your newly added plants for the cold. 

Remove any tropicals from the pond before first frost. Overwinter them indoors, or compost them and treat yourself to something new next year. Decide if you want to trim dead foliage from marginals. We prefer to keep some plants messy to provide winter interest (not to mention food and shelter for wildlife), but some homeowners prefer the look of a tidy pond. 

Make sure to leave your waterlilies where they are. Contrary to internet wisdom, you don’t need to “sink” hardy lilies over the winter. If they’re planted at an appropriate depth (with the rhizome submerged about 18 to 24 inches), you never need to move them.

Rebecca Willoughby is the owner of Splash Plants, a wholesale aquatic plant grower based in Dallastown,Pennsylvania. After nearly 30 years building and servicing ponds, Rebecca and the Splash team expanded intothe wholesale plant business with the opening of Splash Plants in2018. Learn more at splashplants.com.

Aquatic Plants, Lilies, Lotus
Rain Lily, Renegade Tropical Water Lily, Pinky Hardy Lotus
Aqua UV

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