Just because you have a backyard the size of a hankie doesn't mean that you have to pass up the chance to enjoy the beauty and sound of water. You may not be able to install a pond, water garden, and waterfall combo in your backyard, but you can still have water plants and even a little splashing for good measure with a container water garden. Instead a whole pond, you can use containers to grow plants like water lilies and hyacinths, and floating water ferns. You can even add fish! Water plants add a whole new dimension to your yard or garden, and they're not hard to create or care for.
If you have been thinking about adding a water feature, but don't have the time or inclination to dig a big hole in the ground or spend a pile of money, a container could give you an affordable compromise without forcing a large financial commitment, especially if you aren't completely decided on what type of feature you want.
There are several different choices for containers to use for your water garden. A container that can hold around at least 4 gallons is ideal, but not absolutely necessary. Here are a few ideas:
In a nutshell, any container holds a decent amount of water can be used to create a water garden. Be creative!
Pick a nice spot that's close to your house to arrange your container(s). It's nice if it's visible from your window or porch so you can enjoy it. Make sure that it's not in complete shade, because many water plants like to have at least five hours of full sunlight per day. The minimum sunlight a water plant requires is three hours a day, so you should put the containers in a reasonably sunny location.
Place a small layer of heavy clay garden soil on the bottom of the container, followed by about a half inch of pea gravel or sand to hold the soil in place. Don't use regular potting soil mix or any soil that contains fertilizer. Some aquatic plants need a platform to sit on.
Choose your plants. This entails a trip to the nursery to select the different types and varieties of water plants. Ask for assistance if you don't really know what you want. Different types of aquatic plants require different depths of water, so make sure you pay attention to those details.
If you're working with a large container, such as a kiddie pool or an old claw-foot bathtub, place bricks under the pots to achieve the desired planting depth for the different kinds of species.
If you're using something like a barrel or a large pot, build a shelf from an upside-down nursery containers or bricks. After setting up the shelf or pots, fill the container with water. If you're using tap water, let the water sit in the container for one to two days before adding plants to let the chlorine in the water evaporate.
Like a larger pond or water garden, the water in your container water garden should be 50%-60% covered in plant life. Don't worry if after about two weeks the water gets kind of cloudy looking, it's just algae, and it'll clear up after another week.
Here is a short list of aquatic plants that do well in smaller water garden situations:
The types of fish that will do well are:
All except for the snails eat mosquitoes, which is great if your area tends to attract mosquitoes, and don't want to use a dunk or install a fountain. You can easily add a small solar-powered fountain for a little splashing noise as well as water movement which controls water quality issues as well as algae.
One word of caution: If you decide to quit dealing with your container garden, never dispose of animals or plants by throwing them into the local waterways.
Container Gardens: Fresh Ideas for Creating Beautiful Potted Gardens by Better Homes and Gardens.