Japanese water gardens, choosing your plants

Having carefully planned and constructed your Japanese water garden, it’s time to bring it to life with plants.


A Japanese water gardener’s goal is to echo nature with rocks, water, and plants. Landscaping may include carefully planted lilies with softly waving grasses and bamboos.
The arrangement of flowers and shrubs are more dynamic than in other pond design styles, while still creating a relaxed and peaceful feeling.

The plants must be chosen wisely to create the effect you are seeking, as well as to help to mature and balance your Japanese garden. In choosing plants for your Japanese water garden, foliage and form are as important as bloom color.

Many plants native to Japan, including ferns and dogwoods, have close relatives in North America and Europe, and are easily adaptable to these growing conditions. Foliage plants play an important role in a Japanese garden style more than flowers do. Evergreens are essential and generally make up a majority of the plants used. Part of the appeal of a Japanese landscape is its simplicity. It has few elements to detract one’s attention from the garden. And this understatement is on purpose. The following list identifies some of the traditional elements that contribute to the overall appearance of your Japanese water garden.

The negative spaces are as important as the plantings.

Asymmetrically placed plants, paths, and sculptures give a feeling of motion within the contained space.

Monochromatic designs of dark green foliage, dark stones and white gravel and sand invite contemplation.

Color is only a temporary accent via blossoms or grasses that change color with the seasons.

Plant shapes are enhanced and controlled by pruning with close attention to diagonal, horizontal, and vertical directions.

Simplicity, balance, and calm are the hallmarks of a Japanese garden design. Japanese maples are one of the most popular plant choices for the Japanese water gardens. Japanese maples have red or variegated leaves and most have brilliant fall colors. Shapes and sizes range from ground huggers to those that will grow 30 feet high and wide.

A weeping cherry is another eye-catching plant that is readily used. Even when they are not in bloom they are still visually appealing.

The Taro or Elephant ear is a popular plant for the Japanese Garden. They have bold leaves that add dramatic texture and color to the water garden and it has several stunning varieties. Most varieties grow quickly and put on an awesome display. The Black Taro (Black Magic) is likely the most popular taro due to its moderate stature and unique color. It has dusty black leaves that sit on dark purple-black stems. The Imperial taro has green leaves that vary in degrees of dark purple patterned between the green leaf veins. This compact grower generates numerous young plants on runners and will quickly fill out a container. Another popular taro is the Violet stem taro. Black stems hold the large shiny green leaves well above the water. The silky texture of the leaf surface magnifies the gentle ripples.

Tropical water lilies with their large leaves and colorful flowers add dazzle to your pond. The leaves of the tropical water lily are often serrated around the edges, with bold markings. They hold their flowers well above the water’s surface. Tropical lilies can be wintered indoors, or the tubers can be collected after frost and stored in damp sand at 45 to 50 degrees F.

One plant that shouldn’t be missed when planting your Japanese water garden is Bamboo. Bamboo has 1,500 varieties to choose from, and their mature size can be as short as 4 inches. It can be included as living clumps and in architectural elements such as fences and fountains. If you grow Bamboo you will want to restrain them. Planting in a 2 to 3 foot length of culvert pipe sunk vertically in the ground would be a good idea.

Remember, when planting your Japanese water gardening plants you will not want to plant them in rows or en masse, instead tucked singly and discretely at the foot of a stone or the bend of a path to add visual excitement. Tall grasses such as the Japanese Silver Grass (Miscanthus Sirensis) provide vertical interest and rustle in the wind.

For your Japanese water garden to look its best and work in optimal condition you will need to implement care and maintenance of your plants. Once established, aquatic plants grow rapidly and will require dividing and cutting back.

The sound of trickling water and the flash of color provided by bright, healthy plants is the aim of most Japanese gardeners. A healthy pond with clean water and lush plant growth will brighten any Japanese garden, large or small, and bring hours of pleasure and relaxation. It is not difficult to achieve such a pond, given the correct information, some planning and a little work.

8 Comments
  1. Reply
    Paul Masterson 8th August 2009 at 12:18 am

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  2. Reply
    Paul Masterson 8th August 2009 at 1:18 am

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    bonsai ireland 30th April 2010 at 6:07 pm

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    Japanese Gardens | Garden Web Tips 20th September 2011 at 9:22 pm

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