Water Gardening in Containers

If you don’t have the time or space for an in ground garden pond, or simply want an interesting container for the patio, try a potted water garden!  Potted water gardens are a great way to add another element to your outdoor decor and to enjoy a greater variety of plants on your deck, patio or in your garden.  Here are step by step instructions for putting one together.

Selecting a container

It’s no surprise that you’ll need a pot that holds water. Many pond pots are made of ceramic, plastic, sealed cement, porcelain or metal. Be creative when selecting a pot. Even an old-fashioned clawfoot tub can be adapted for a big pond-in-a-pot.

Avoid using wood containers, such as wine and whiskey barrels, as they may contain bacteria that are harmful to plants and fish. If a wood container is just what you’ve been dreaming of, line it a plastic liner.

The size of your pond pot depends upon the size of your space and the number of plants to be inserted into the pot. Four to five plants fill a pot that is about 16 inches in diameter and about 12 inches deep. However, even one small water plant in a corresponding decorative pot can invite harmony.

If your container has a drain hole, you’ll need to fill it with silicone caulking.

Selecting Plants

Plants help keep a pond or water garden healthy and clean.  Once you’ve selected your container think about the space you have for plants, including the width of the top of the container and the depth of the water.

If there is room, consider adding at least one of each type of plant. A shallow container will limit the options of plant type.  The most visually pleasing pond pots are created by mixing both horizontal and vertical growing plants. Short and tall varieties simply make the display more interesting.

Try not to overstuff your pond-in-a-pot. A bit of empty water space keeps the arrangement from appearing over-crowded, and the simplicity of just a few plants lends itself to a peaceful pot, the idea behind water gardening.

Types of Water Plants

Floating plants such as water hyacinth and water lettuce help reduce algae in the water garden. Water hyacinths reproduce rapidly; you may need to cull some of the plants from time to time. If you live in a warm climate, don’t throw water hyacinths into open water such as canals, ponds, etc.; it’s an invasive plant.

Most oxygenating grasses grow submerged deeply in water and either sit at the bottom of the pot or float on the water’s surface. Oxygenating grasses help maintain the proper pH balance of the pond pot’s water. Examples: anacharis (Egeria densa), fanwort (Cabomba caroliniana), feather grass and blood grass.

Bog plants should be placed so that the water level just covers the soil. In nature, bog plants grow naturally in shallow water at a pond’s perimeter. In a pond pot it may be necessary to set bog plants on top of rocks, on top of small inverted pots, or hang them from the edge to create a more shallow water environment.

Marginals grow in 1 to 12 inches of water between the shore and deeper water. Marginal plants are favorites in small pond pots and usually sit at the bottom of the pot. Examples: horsetail and yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus).

Deep-water plants such as water lilies need at least one foot of water above their roots, a few square feet in which to spread their foliage. These are not suited for most container water gardens unless you have a very large container. Water lilies help cool the water and reduce algae growth.

Water Features

Small spitters and fountains add another element to your garden.  The sound of running water is relaxing and is a great way to attract more birds to your yard.  They also aid in oxygenating the pond – an essential element to pond health.

Putting it all Together

Pond pots get heavy with water, so assemble the pond pot in its permanent location.

1. Clean pond pot by rinsing it out with water.

2. Fill the container with several inches of stones on the bottom.

3. Fill the pot half full with water.

4. Begin placing the plants considering a few things: depth requirements and height.  Add submerged ones first. Add a few rocks on the top of the pot to hold them in place.  If you are adding a fountain consider where the pump is going to be placed.

5. Next, add the marginal and bog plants.  Bog plants will need to be elevated in most containers.  This can be done by hanging the pot over the side or placing it on an inverted container.  Taller plants should be placed toward the back of the container or in the center.  Then add shorter plants and don’t forget to leave space for some floating ones.

6.  Add more water to bring the water level to the top of the container.

7. Place floating plants on the surface of the water.

8.  If your pot is large enough you could add one or two small goldfish to your new oasis.