Small container water gardens are perfect for balconies and patios. You can grow a variety of aquatic plants and enjoy the sound of a small waterfall. This shows you what you need to create your own in a barrel.
This is part of series on creating ponds. See Backyard Pond Ideas for a photo gallery and tips for all sizes and styles of fish ponds.
Make a Patio Container Water Garden
Adding a water feature is one of the best things I’ve done for my garden. It really brings a garden to life.
Patio-size water gardens and table-top fountains are simple to set up and require minimal maintenance.
Keep in mind that these smaller water gardens are not suitable for fish. Outdoor fish need lots of room to move, places to hide, and natural habitat to sustain their lives. You also need a deeper pond to keep them safe during freezing winters.
I’m showing a whiskey barrel mini pond but you can substitute any similar water-tight container.
Watch for Size
Some all-in-one kits looks pretty good until you read the dimensions.
The product description says ‘21 1/4″ x 21 1/4″ x 34″ high; each small bucket: 5 1/2″ diameter x 4″ deep; large bucket: 21 1/4 diameter x 10″ deep.’
That’s really small! Full-size whiskey barrels are typically at least 24-inches in diameter which is a good size for a small fountain. If nothing else, you need room for the water to splash down!
Here's a whiskey barrel. Again, check the size to be sure it’s not made for Barbie. I look for them at yard sales and thrift shops. You can also place wanted ads on a local buy and sell board.
You’ll also need a waterproof insert like this one to keep it watertight.
A recirculating, submersible pump helps oxygenate the water, prevents mosquitoes from laying eggs on the water, prevents algae growth, and moves the water through your fountain or waterfall.
- Whether you buy an all-in-one kit or separate pieces, be sure to get a pump. Each manufacturer makes them a little different in appearance but they all do the same thing: suck water in and push it out.
When choosing a pump, there’s a few things to consider.
- Submersible, recirculating pumps comes in various strengths, depending on how much water you need to circulate.
- You’ll need to know the water capacity of your barrel, and add consideration for how far the pump will need to lift the water to send it through the fountain.Example
A 25-gallon container without a fountain would use a 25-gallon per hour (gph) pump.
The same container with a water fall or fountain 18-inches above water level would do well with a 75-gallon per-hour pump.
- If the pump is too weak, the water doesn’t move well, and the pump is stressed.
- If the pump is too powerful, you’ll know it! It will pour down too hard and splash like crazy.
- If you’re buying all the pieces separately, get the pump first and check the diameter of the hose port. Small pumps can vary, accommodating hose diameters from 1/4-inch to 1.5-inch.
- For hose, you’ll need enough to reach from the bottom of the barrel (haha) up and through your old-fashioned metal pump.
Waterfall or Fountain
- The output hose from the pump is used to create a waterfall or fountain. The goal is to place it in such a way that the water all spills back into the barrel without splashing (water loss). You can rig something up with bricks, an old watering can, an old-fashioned water pump (like the one in the photos here), bamboo pieces, or anything else that can withstand the water.
The pump will require a legal Ground Fault Circuit Interrupter (GFCI) electrical outlet (weatherproof, outdoor).
- I also use an exterior grade electrical power bar with surge protection to make it easy to turn the pump on and off.
- There’s no need to run the pump all the time. Save energy and just run it when you are spending time outdoors.
- There are also solar-powered pumps, but I am yet to find one that works reliably. If you find one, I want to know.
Just like the rest of the garden, there are annual and perennial water plants.
- Annual water plants will live from spring to fall, dying off when the frosts set in. You would need to replace them each year.
- Perennial water plants live for several years if they are stored properly during the winter. One option is to store the barrel in a basement or garage if you can prevent the water from freezing.
- Many local garden nurseries have water plants for sale. See what they have, ask for advice, and grow what you love.
- The good news with container ponds is, you don’t have to worry about invasive plants because they can’t spread. Invasive aquatic plants in an in-ground pond can be a nightmare.
- For easy plant care, plant your aquatic plants in plastic baskets. You can weigh down the roots with small rocks or stones.
- Each plant has different planting depth requirements. I place bricks and rocks in my water gardens to create ledges at the desired heights.
- When choosing plants, find out how big they are expected to grow (in what amount of time). Allow room for growth and the water fountain.
Aquatic plants don’t need much care if any during the growing season.
- Remove any leaves or debris daily and keep the pump clean.
- The sun and wind can evaporate a fair amount of water, so check daily to see if your little pond needs topping up.
- Many pumps have synthetic sponges inside to help filter the water. Your pump will come with instructions for cleaning the sponge. Generally, there’s a removable cap and the sponge can be removed for rinsing.
- Always unplug the pump before cleaning your pond, moving plants, etc.
- Ponds and water features can be hazardous for pets and children. Don’t get one unless you are certain it is safe for everyone.
- For holidays, it’s often best to move the water feature to a shady location and keep the pump off.
And there you go!
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛