How to Create a Container Water Garden for Small Spaces

Updated on May 18, 2018
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David Cory is the owner and lover of a container water garden. He and his family have one set up on their front porch in rural Indiana.

Introduction to Container Water Gardens

Container water gardens are a great alternative to in-ground ponds. They can be placed on a front porch in the suburbs or on a sturdy balcony in the city. What makes these focal pieces great is the movement of the water—the swimming of the fish and the ripples of the water cascading down from a fountain. It's hard to go wrong when there are so many possible combinations of plants, fish, and decorations. And when you consider the small size of this water garden, you will understand how much easier they can be to maintain. The smaller size also greatly reduces the cost involved.

Container Water Garden Features

 
 
 
The Container
Goldfish
Aquatic Plants
Clean, Healthy Water
Gravel Substrate
Water pump with Fountain Assembly

Creating Your Own Container Water Garden

Be sure to have fun! Most projects should be able to be completed in a single day or weekend.

Note: Allow your container water garden to cycle (run the pump) for a couple weeks before adding fish. The bacteria that will help balance your water garden need time to become established.

Required Items

When starting, you will first need to procure certain supplies. Although not an exhaustive list, some needed items are:

  • Container
  • Water, gravel, and plants
  • A proper location
  • Pump and a good fountain kit

Since your container water garden is relatively small, be sure to account for that when choosing the number of fish and type of plants. Most of the time, dwarf varieties of plants will be the better choice. Also keep in mind how much sunlight the water garden will receive. Too much will aid in excessive algae growth, which is certainly not a desired result. Conversely, too little sun will make it hard to properly grow the water plants.

Examples of items you will need.  A fish net, fish food, and small brush to clean the pump are just a few.
Examples of items you will need. A fish net, fish food, and small brush to clean the pump are just a few.

Be Creative

Use a wide variety of ideas and bring them together when planning your container water garden. While lily pads are popular, for instance, not every container will be big enough. A covered porch might also create too much shade for lilies to grow properly.

What type of fountain head will you use to create the feature that you prefer? There are bubble dome attachments, traditional fountain heads, and more. Thankfully most water garden fountain kits will provide several from which you can choose your favorite.

Lights are a great feature to add as well. Floating solar lights, underwater spotlights, and others are just a few possibilities. Try and not add too many so as to not disrupt the fish in your container. It is after all a small space and fish too need sleep!

Step-By-Step: Creating Your Container Water Garden

Once you have your ideas ready it's time to put them into action. Creating your own container water garden is easier than you think. Simply follow the steps below:

1. Start by purchasing a resin half whiskey barrel or similar sized container. You could also use an actual, real half whiskey barrel. If you close the latter then you will need to line it with pond liner. This and all other supplies needed to complete this project can be found at your local home improvement store.

2. Add a 1 to 2 inch layer of pea gravel on the bottom of your container.

3. Fill with about half the needed water. This will allow you to easily add in the remaining items.

4. Place the fountain/pump in the middle of your container. Do not turn it on yet.

An example of a fountain/pump you might choose.
An example of a fountain/pump you might choose.

5. Add the plant(s) that you've chosen for your water garden. Think about how you will want them arranged and take your time. Now is the easiest time to change the placement.

6. Complete by adding finishing touches such as a floating solar light. If you do not plan to add fish then go ahead and turn on the fountain. Congratulations, you are finished with your project! If you do plan to add fish, continue to the next step.

7. Goldfish time! The fun part is picking out your fish. Get whatever colors and variations you would like. Just be certain not to add too many as overcrowding is unhealthy for the animals. Add the Goldfish to your water garden and you are now finished.


“A lake is a landscape's most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth's eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature."

— Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Sit Back and Enjoy

Building a container water garden can be a lot of fun. The best part is being able to sit down with a cold drink while listening to the sounds of water and watching the fish happily swim around.

Relax and enjoy!

Another view of a completed container water garden.
Another view of a completed container water garden.

How inspired are you to build a container water garden?

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© 2018 David Cory

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