Put a Pond on Your Porch

You donít need a vast estate or infinite acreage to plant a water garden. Start small with a container on your porch, patio, or deck. Dave Nichols at Green Thumb Nursery in Ventura shows how itís done.

By Carol Driscoll


The first step is finding a watertight container, one that will hold from 15 to 25 gallon and is at least 18 inches wide at the top and one and a half feet deep. Dark colors are recommended because they discourage algae growth and give an impression of depth. You can find a variety of suitable containers at local nurseries such as Green Thumb in Ventura. Some gardeners recycle kiddy pools, horse troughs, half barrels, big galvanized buckets, and even old bathtubs into serviceable water garden holders.


The next step is finding a sunny spot for your garden. Water gardens need four to six hours of direct sunlight a day. Flowering aquatic plants especially need lots of sun to blossom. Make sure that the surface you choose is level and can bear the weight of the water, which usually weighs in at eight to 10 pounds per gallon. If your plants are not flourishing in the first spot you choose for your garden, moving it to a sunnier spot might be the remedy. This, however, will require your emptying the water, removing the pots, and reassembling the garden in the new location. Try to keep your garden away from trees, as falling leaves and other debris could harm both plants and fish.


Fill the container with water and let it sit in the sun for 24 to 48 hours until the chlorine evaporates. After the initial filling, top the water every couple of days to replace evaporated water. No chemicals or water softeners should be added to the water. If you see algae in your water garden, remove the plants, empty the container, and refill it with fresh water.

Potting Plants

The pots for your water garden should be from 12 to 24 inches wide and 12 to 16 inches deep. Heavy clay garden soil free of chemicals and fertilizer is the best medium for aquatic plants, since commercial mixes are too lightweight for water garden plants. Pack the soil down tight. Water them and top the soil with a half to three quarters inch of pea gravel to weigh it down so it doesnít drift into the container water.

Types of Plants

For an attractive garden you should choose submerged, emergent, and floater plants with an eye toward varying leaf length, shape, and color. Also look for both blossoming and non-flowering plants. Like an artist with an empty canvas, the idea is to create a fragrant, harmonious whole from the variety of plants you have chosen.

Assembling the Garden

Place submerged plants in the water and use bricks to elevate emergent plants to the correct height and depth. Floaters should be added last so you can keep them in scale with the rest of the plants in your container. Keep rearranging the plants until you get the desired effect, but do not crowd your container with plants. Use no more than 60 percent of your water garden surface for planting. When the plants start to grow, you will need to fertilize and trim them as needed and keep the container surface free of potentially harmful debris. Water plants are known to grow fast. You can limit their growth by keeping them in smaller pots.


Wait until your plants are established (four to six weeks) before you add fish to your water garden. Guppies and minnows will survive in a small water garden, but you should have 20 gallons of water if you plan to add goldfish or Koi. Gambezi, black fish that feed on mosquito larvae and perform by flipping and jumping in the water, can thrive and even reproduce in your water garden. Get the fish accustomed to the garden by letting them drift in a water filled plastic bag on the surface for approximately 20 minutes. Fish will help to balance out the pond ecosystem because they feed on algae, insects, and their larvae and plants. It is not a good idea to feed them commercial fish food as it might decay in the water.


Your water garden plants can be grown indoors in water filled containers but they will still need lots of sun. Floating plants such as water hyacinths will need larger containers of water and will also need to be placed in a sunny spot indoors. The fish will need to be brought indoors and put in aquariums. Some gardeners, however, treat water garden plants as annuals and start over each year.

With minimal supplies and lots of creativity, you can dive right into your water garden project!


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