Documents: Special Interest: Water Gardening:

Pond In A Pot - A Really Easy Water Garden
by Yvonne Cunnington
by Yvonne Cunnington

I am a garden writer and photographer living near Hamilton, Ont. My articles have appeared in Chatelaine, Canadian Living, Canadian Gardening and Gardening Life magazines. My book for beginner gardeners, Clueless in the Garden: A Guide for the Horticulturally Helpless (Key Porter Books) was published in 2003.

My husband and I tend a large country garden, which has been featured on TV’s Gardeners Journal and in Gardening Life magazine. We have had numerous bus tours visit our garden.

Visit her website at

July 28, 2002

ycNorthOvalpondinpot.jpg (43440 bytes)You want a water garden, but excavating a hole in the yard and wrestling with pond liners isn't your idea of a fun weekend. So here's a neat idea that's versatile, requires little maintenance and doesn't take up much space. I've had a potted water garden for years and it just takes 20 minutes to set up near the patio at the beginning of the season.

Essentially a pond in a pot is a large watertight pot with submerged or floating water plants arranged to create a pleasing composition. It's best to start out with a pot intended for water gardening; for example, I chose a glazed oriental pot. However, any large watertight container at least 18 inches (45 cm) high with a diameter of at least 24 inches (60 cm) should be big enough.

Half barrels are a good size, and many garden centres now sell them with plastic liners as water garden kits. (Before you begin, remember that a container water garden is heavy, so check that your deck, balcony or rooftop is strong enough to support its weight.)

To make a shelf to support potted water plants, I used an upside-down plastic nursery container weighed down with bricks. Another method is to stack bricks up from the bottom of the container. Then all you do is fill the container with water and arrange a collection of submerged potted plants into a pleasing composition.

The sound of water

A fountain or pump isn't absolutely necessary, and if you're growing water lilies, splashing water can even be problematic - lilies don't appreciate having their leaves constantly splashed.

But if you crave the sound of water, you can install a small re-circulating pump at the bottom of the container with a short length of hose attached to act as a small fountain. For advice on pump size and installation, visit a water garden supplier. With this style of water garden, the pump's electrical cord will be visible at the back of the container, but you camouflage it with cleverly placed plants and foliage.

The plants

When it comes to plant selection, there's a lot of choice. Most water plants are readily available at well-stocked garden centres. They're easy to grow and need little maintenance, aside from occasional grooming away of yellowing foliage or spent flowers.

Water plants can be floaters, such as water hyacinth, water lettuce or duckweed, or they can be true aquatics-water lilies, for example. The third option is marginals, so called because they grow in the very wet soil at the waterside or margin of the garden; water iris, taro, water canna and calla lilies are good examples.

Try to have interesting foliage contrasts. For instance, you could set an upright-growing spiky-leafed plant, such as water iris, beside the bold foliage of a red-leafed taro plant or spotted-leafed calla lily. To grow a water lily, place your water garden container where it gets at least six hours of full sun. Be sure to select a dwarf variety; larger ones can cover the entire surface area. Even dwarf varieties take up a good deal of space and you'll only be able to accommodate a single one in your pot.

To fill out the planting, add compatible floaters such as water hyacinth or water lettuce. Filling your container with plants so that 75 to 80 percent of the water surface is covered also keeps algae growth down. And adding one or two underwater oxygenating plants such as Canadian pondweed helps maintain the water's clarity.

Many full-service garden stores have water garden section, and the staff can advise you on plants that will work best for your situation.


Transplant water plants from their plastic nursery pots into open, plastic mesh baskets, available in various sizes at water garden suppliers.

To prevent loose soil from clouding up the water, line mesh pots with porous landscape fabric cut to size. Use clay pond soil (available from water garden suppliers) and top the soil with a two-centimetre layer of pea gravel. Plant so the crown-where the leaves emerge from the roots-is just above the soil surface. At planting time, add a long-lasting fertilizer tab to each pot; use only fertilizer intended for water gardening. Set the container so that its top is even with the water level.

Over-wintering plants

You can either treat the plants as annuals or store them for reuse next year. To keep plants, cut back foliage and, leaving them in their mesh baskets, place them in a plastic pail with a little water, cover the whole thing into a plastic garbage bag and store in a cool, frost-free place. Drain the water container and scrub it clean. You can keep it in a shed or garage, but if the container is particularly costly or frost-sensitive, keep it inside.

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