Build A Patio Water Garden In A Container

If you want a water feature in your garden but don't have the time or money to install a pond or waterfall, build a containerized patio water garden.

Installing an in-ground pond or waterfall is a huge task. If you’d like to skip all that work and still bring a water feature to your farm’s landscape, build a patio water garden in a container instead.

Containerized water gardens can be as large or as small as you like. Easy to make and maintain, a patio water garden can even host a small fountain or bubbler to bring the sound of moving water to your garden. Even a small-scale container water garden creates habitat for birds, frogs and other creatures. And you can include fish in your patio water garden. As a bonus, the fish will eat mosquito larvae (more on that later).

You don’t need much time or a long list of materials to build a patio water garden. Here’s how to do it.

How To Build A Patio Water Garden

The Materials You’ll Need

A medium to large container. I prefer to use a glazed ceramic pot, but any watertight container will do. Avoid porous pots, such as those made of unglazed terra cotta, because the water will quickly seep out of them unless you apply a sealant.

  • Bricks, rocks, or blocks to prop up bubbler and plants
  • Rocks to weigh down pots, if necessary
  • 3 to 4 aquatic plants (see list below)
  • Caulking gun and silicon caulk, if the pot has a drainage hole
  • Small pond pump, if you’d like to have a bubbler
  • 12-inch length of 1/2 clear poly tubing, if you’d like to have a bubbler

There are many different aquatic plants that grow well in a containerized water garden. Select three to four plants from the following list or head to your local nursery to see what it has in stock.

  • Arrowhead
  • Dwarf cattail
  • Dwarf papyrus
  • Dwarf umbrella palm
  • Lotus
  • Water iris
  • Variegated sweetflag
  • Parrot’s feather
  • Water lettuce
  • Water hyacinth
  • Water lilies

Step 1: Situate The Container

Put the empty container in a location that receives about six hours of sun per day. Once the pot is filled with water it will be too heavy to move, so select your site carefully.

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Step 2: Plug The Drainage

patio water garden
Jessica Walliser

If your container has a drainage hole in the bottom, seal it. Use silicon caulking to fill in the hole, then allow the caulking to dry for at least 24 hours before testing it. To test the seal, fill the pot 1/4 of the way with water and let it sit for a day or two to make sure the hole is fully sealed. If it leaks, drain the pot, and add more sealant. Once you have confirmation that the hole is fully sealed, proceed to the next step.

Step 3: Set Up The Bubbler

patio water garden
Jessica Walliser

If you are not using a bubbler, you can skip this step and the next one. But, if you’d like to have a bubbler, purchase a small pond pump and a length of 1/2-inch clear poly tubing from a water gardening supply store. Slide one end of the clear poly tubing over the exit valve on the pump (making sure you have the 1/2-inch adapter in place).

Step 4: Place The Pump

patio water garden
Jessica Walliser

Stack a few bricks or blocks in the bottom of the pot, and put the pump on top of the stack; adjust the height of the bricks so the pump sits about four inches beneath what will be the water surface when the pot is filled. Cut the loose end of the poly tubing off so the top will be just beneath the surface of the water. The cord should run up over the back edge of the pot. (Depending on the size pump you have, you might have to adjust the water flow rate in a later step.)

Step 5: Arrange The Props And Plants

Place a few rocks, blocks, or bricks in the bottom of the pot and begin arranging the containerized plants on them so the rim of the containers sit one to three inches below the rim of the large pot. Position the plants so they hide the electric cord, if you’re using a bubbler.

Step 6: Add Water And Floating Plants

patio water garden
Jessica Walliser

Add water to the pot until it’s filled almost to the top. If any of the potted plants begin to float to the top of the water, weigh them down by putting a few rocks into the pot around the plant. Once the pot is full of water, add any floating plants such as water hyacinth or water lettuce.

Step 7: Activate And Adjust The Bubbler

If you used a bubbler, it’s now time to plug in the pump. If the flow rate is too heavy or too light, unplug the pump, lift it out of the water and adjust the flow rate valve until the correct flow rate is achieved. The water should just bubble up at the surface; it should not shoot up and out of the pot. Never run the pump when it’s out of the water and never adjust the pump while it’s plugged in.

Step 8: Add Fish

If you’d like to add fish to your water garden, wait three to five days before adding them.

patio water garden
Jessica Walliser

Maintaining Your Patio Water Garden

To maintain your water garden, simply top off the pot with collected rainwater or dechlorinated tap water whenever the water level gets low. There’s never a need to swap out all the water. As long as you have a bubbler to circulate the water, mosquitoes will not become problematic. But, if you aren’t using a bubbler and you don’t have fish to eat the mosquito larvae, float a round mosquito cake in the container made from the biological pesticide Bti (Bacillius thuringiensis var. israelensis), called a “mosquito dunk.” Do this once a month. It will not harm plants, fish or other aquatic life.

What To Do At The End Of The Season

At the end of the growing season, before freezing temperatures arrive, either drain the pot and overwinter the plants in a tub of water in the garage, or if you used a frost-proof container, you can keep the water garden outdoors all winter long. Just put a birdbath heater in the pot to keep the water from freezing solid. As long as you’ve chosen hardy varieties of water plants, they can be left in the pot all winter, too. But, you should turn off the bubbler and move the pump indoors until spring.

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