Tub water gardens -- ideas, tips, hints and how-to

by tealmermaid

An easy step by step guide to building a tub water garden with suitable plants and fish.

While you might think a smaller space precludes the enjoyment of a water garden, it doesn't. You can make a water garden from a small tub or half-barrel that would be perfect for a small space such as a patio or deck.

Once your project is complete, you will be able to spend warm summer evenings watching the play of patio lights and fireflies on the moving water of your pond. It's a great way to spend an evening!

How to build a tub water garden

What size water garden to build?

If you are building a water garden for a patio, you are limited by the amount of available space. It is of course prudent to build the biggest tub water garden your space and budget allows: the smaller the pond, the more quickly the ecosystem you create can break down. A bigger tub garden is also lower maintenance as water evaporation will empty a tiny water garden faster than a larger one.

A water garden ecosystem in balance
A water garden ecosystem in balance

A peek into the water garden world

Fore-ground: dwarf papyrus, umbrella sedge, and water hyacinth.

Middle: bell fountain, barely-visible horsetail reeds, and water lily.

Back: corkscrew rushes.

Choose a water pump for your pond

You will need a pump that circulates all the water in your pond at least once per hour. It's better to buy a bigger pump than you need than a smaller one. If you don't get adequate water circulation, you will have mosquitoes breeding in your pond due to stagnant water. In addition, if you plan to add fish, they will benefit from a higher water circulation rate.

Tuff Stuff Products KMB103 Circular Tub, 25-Gallon

At 25 gallons, this particular tub is decent size for a starter tub garden. This will provide ample room for some plant variety, a pump and fountain, and even a small carp or two to add life and interest to your project.

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Patuoxun 80 GPH Submersible Pump Aquarium Fish Fountain Water Hydroponic

This particular pump has the added benefit of being submersible such that it will remain unobtrusive while you enjoy your garden.

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Adding ambience with a bell fountain
Adding ambience with a bell fountain

Choose a fountain for your water garden

While it is not strictly necessary to have a fountain at all, it does add a nice touch to any water garden. The sound of running water is very relaxing and really contributes to the atmosphere. A fountain will also increase the water circulation within the pond.

Be sure to choose a fountain type that fits with the scale of your pond. For a small tub water garden, this means a simple bell or spray rather than anything ornate. You also might choose a fountain that plays well with any lights in the area.

Before buying water plants and fish

Dechlorinate any water used to fill your pond. Chlorine isn't good for plants and will kill your fish. Use a special filter on your hose when you fill the pond. Then, check the hardness, pH, etc. of your pond with the appropriate test strips. If the readings are outside the safe levels for plants and fish, fix the problems before you buy your finny friends. Your plants will be happier, too!

Systems IV Exterior Water Filter , Treats 10000 Gallons, Great for Ponds

This filter attaches easily to your garden hose and is perfect to filter the water when topping up your pond. Your fish will thank you.

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API Pondcare 5-in-1 Pond Test Strips

Since you need to keep an eye on the water quality of your pond by checking it regularly, these are the ones I use to check for all the standard issues on a single strip.

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Choosing plants for a tub water garden

Yellow canna lily
Yellow canna lily

Brighten up your pond with glorious colours

Adding water plants to your pond will head off algae problems later on. Choose as large a variety of plants as the size of your tub water garden allows. Here are some suggestions:

  • One or two clumps of reeds. Horsetail reeds or miniature cattails are good for this size pond. You also might be able to find dwarf papyrus (a favourite of mine).
  • A floating plant such as a single water hyacinth or water lettuce. Duckweed or fairy moss (azolla) might be good choices for a slightly larger tub as they don't grow well when the water surface is disturbed.
  • Add some underwater plants such as creeping jenny or hornwort.
  • Include a miniature water lily for good surface coverage and beautiful flowers.

For most of your non-floating plants, it is best to pot them hydroponically to avoid getting dirt in your pond. This means removing any potting soil from your plants and potting them up using a small plastic mesh basket and river rocks. (Note: you can't do this with water lilies.)

How to pot water lilies

Water lilies need some sort of soil-like medium to grow. Pot them in a small bucket or planter that does not have holes in the bottom, then fill the bucket with aquarium-grade sand. Cover the top with a layer of pea gravel, then carefully sink the planter into the pond so all the sand doesn't rush out.

Choosing fish for a tub water garden

How many fish will fit?

For a small pond such as this, your best choice would be a couple of the smaller carp: shubunkins or comets. Shubunkins are calico fish (tri-colour in white, red, and black), while comets are generally considered miniature koi in colouration. They require at least 10 gallons of space per fish, so you can easily calculate the proper number for your pond.

While the fish will happily eat mosquito larvae, you should also provide them with food each day. Pellet type fish food is better than flake fish food for ponds as it makes less of a mess in the pond.

If you are including fish, you will need a filter for them. No fish should be placed into a tank or pond without a filter! Choose a filter that is appropriate to the size of your pond. I use a double filter (that is, twice what would normally be required by that size pond) on any pond that contains carp as they are "messy" and will dirty the water quickly.

Two carp in the evening pond
Two carp in the evening pond
Pondmaster PMK190 190gph Pump and Filter with Bonus Fountain Head

These Pondmaster pump and filter combo units hold up well with fish in the pond. They are easy to clean and change when fresh media is required.

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Do you have a patio size water garden?

Updated: 04/15/2017, tealmermaid
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CruiseReady on 09/13/2015

Welcome to Wizzley,tealmermaid. I would never have thought a water garden possible on a patio, but now, I may have a project for the future. Nice!

frankbeswick on 09/11/2015

Great article. I have a small pond on my allotment, but it is dug into the ground and has a tarpaulin base. It is too small for carp, but it has become a home for frogs, and water insects such as the water boatman have settled there. Sadly We have no electric power, so I cannot use a pump. But I often stir the water to oxygenate it. As we are in rainy Lancashire, the pond is replenished by rainwater most of the time.

Mira on 09/11/2015

This is great advice! I really enjoyed your article. Welcome to Wizzley!

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