How to create a small garden pond in a container, pot, or tub

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A pond is a pleasant, soothing, addition to any garden, yard or patio.  They attract birds and other wildlife, and children love them, too.  No matter how small your yard or your budget, you can build a pond to fit using an old cast iron bath tub, a wine or whiskey barrel, or any other suitable container that holds at least 20 to 30 gallons of water. 

Once you’ve found or purchased your container, find a good place for your pond.  When it’s full of water, it will be very heavy, so make sure it has a good solid base under it.  Make sure the ground under it is packed and level, or set it on a patio or a bed of pavers. If you want to place it on a wooden deck or porch, make sure the structure can bear its weight.  Ponds like sun, so full sun to partial shade will make the plants happiest.  Also make sure there is good drainage around the container, since you will want to keep it full and add a little fresh water from time to time.

Plug any holes in your container, or line it with a pond liner to seal. If your pond will be in a wooden whiskey or wine barrel, be sure to line it with a pre-formed PVC plastic pond liner or a heavy rubber pond liner sheet. Barrels that have held fermentations can leach substances into your pond which can upset its ecological balance.  Spread a little sand or pea gravel about an inch deep in the bottom to protect the liner and give the fish something interesting to peck at.

Place concrete blocks, bricks or large rocks in one end of the tub to set marginal plants on, and to provide hidey-holes for the fish.  You can also set a broad shallow pot on the blocks to act as a bird bath.  A clay drip tray commonly used under clay pots works well for this.

Your pond is small, so don’t over-crowd it with plants, but do get a mix of water lilies, marginals and floating plants. For most container ponds, one or two water will be plenty, along with a couple small marginals like black flag iris, dwarf cattail, or arrow head, and one or two selected floating plants like water lettuce, water hyacinth, frog bit or fairy moss.

It’s best to use pots for the lilies and marginal plants, because their roots can be very invasive, and pots make maintaining the pond easier. Many garden supply stores carry inexpensive plastic mesh pots that are perfect for water plants. Soak unscented clay kitty litter to use as potting soil, or use sand or soil from the bottom of a local pond. Regular potting soil has too many particles that float that will make a mess. Place pots with water lilies in the bottom, and pots with marginals on the concrete blocks. The tops of the marginal pots should be level with the surface of the water.

Adding fish will help control mosquitoes and other bugs, and add charm and color to your pond. Feeder gold fish from the pet store are very inexpensive and survive very well in most areas without a lot of feeding or care.  For half-barrel size ponds, add up to 6 small fish, though the pond will probably only support about 3 as they grow.  For larger ponds, add a few more.  If your water source is chlorinated wait a few days after filling your pond before you add the fish.

You can also add a small solar or electric fountain, found at many garden supply centers, to add a pleasing burble to your garden and to help circulate the pond water.

Once you’ve assembled your pond, fill it with water, add the floating plants, set the fish free, and enjoy!

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