Container Water Gardening
A mini-aquatic garden in a tub or other container located close to the
house on a deck or patio, can provide you with a unique gardening experience.
Containers are a great way to try out the idea of water gardening without
committing to a larger, more permanent pond. A container aquatic garden
is a small commitment in terms of finances and labor. It doesn't require
special aerators or filtration if set up and properly managed.
A container with a capacity of 15-25 gallons is practical. Many
commercial containers are available or you might consider things
like small kiddie pools, horse watering troughs, lined whiskey barrels
or even old bathtubs. Remember that water weighs about 8 pounds
per gallon, so be sure the location of your container will be able
to hold the weight. Locate the garden so it receives a minimum of
six hours of sun a day. Most aquatic plants need full sun. Some
of the bog plants can survive in less. Less than six hours will
decrease the blooming potential of aquatic plants. Choose containers
with interiors that are dark in color. Dark green, charcoal or black
colors are suggested because they give the container an impression
of greater depth, discourage algae growth, and make algae less obvious
when it is present. Stones and slate can be added for interest,
but keep in mind that choosing dark colored rock will help discourage
Plants used in small aquatic gardens are grown in separate pots
and then these pots are placed into the water-filled container.
Heavy, clay garden soil is used as a potting media. After the plant
is potted, top the soil with a 1/2 to 3/4 inch layer of pea gravel
to help keep the soil in place. Don't use a commercial potting soil
mix or any type of soil mix containing fertilizer. Fill the tub
with water and set your plants in place. Some aquatics prefer to
be placed at certain depths in the water.
Adjust the depth of your plants by placing bricks under the pot
so the crown of the plant is at the preferred depth. About 50 -
60% of the water surface should be covered with plant material.
Take note of the type of water used to fill your container. City
water supplies are commonly treated with chlorine. It is a good
idea to let the tub sit for 24-48 hours before adding plants to
allow the chlorine to evaporate. Many city water supplies are now
using chloramine, a more stable form of chlorine. If this is the
case, you might want to purchase a product to remove the chlorine.
These are available from garden centers and pond supply dealers.
Don't use water from a water softener and don't add chemicals to
A tub garden is a miniature ecosystem of plants, water and fish. This
system must come into balance which means that the plant and animal life
are able to hold the algae growth in check. It will take approximately
3-4 weeks for this to occur. Two weeks after you set up the garden, the
water will turn cloudy with algae. In another week or so, the water will
clear and remain that way. The aquatic plants and animals keep the algae
under control by reducing the sunlight entering the water and competing
with the algae for nutrients in the water.
Plants for the Aquatic Garden
Aquatic gardens need a mix of plants to attain a balanced system. These
plants can be a combination of emergent, submerged and floaters.
These are also called oxygenators and help clean the water and supply
oxygen. Some to consider include:
Wild Celery (Vallisneria sp.) Ribbon-like, translucent,
pale-green leaves. Will grow in shade, part-shade and sun in water
that is 6 24 inchesdeep.
Fanwort (Cabomba canadensis) Bright green fan like
foliage. Fish tend to use them to spawn and fry will find shelter
in the leaves. Will grow in sun to shade in water that is 6
12 inches deep.
Anacharis (Egeria densa) Whorls of deep green leaves
with occasional white flowers on the surface. Most common oxygenator.
Grows in water 12 inches 10 feet deep.
These plans are potted and placed from 3 6 inches below
the surface of the water. Some to consider are:
Arrowheads (Sagittaria sp.) Attractive, green arrowhead
shaped leaves. White blooms in the summer. Grows from 12
48 inchestall. Tolerates sun to part shade.
Blue Flag Iris (Iris versicolor) Mixed blue flowers
in June with grass like foliage. Grows from 24 30 inches tall
and will tolerate full sun to part shade.
Dwarf Papyrus (Cyperus isocladus) Green grass like
foliage with "starburst like" flowerheads that turn brown
in the fall. Grows 12 18 inchestall and tolerates sun to
Water Blue Bells (Ruellia brittoniana) Green grass
like foliage growing to 24" 48" tall. Blue flowers
in summer resembling petunias. Tolerates sun to part shade.
Cork Screw Rush (Juncus effusus) Interesting twisted and
curled stems. Grows to 24" tall and tolerates full sun to part
Lotus and Water Lilies
Several of the smaller hardy and tropical water lilies do well in containers
and can add both color and fragrance. Lotus are also a dramatic addition
to water gardens. Both water lilies and lotus prefer full sun.
'Joanne Pring'- A hardy miniature pink water lily with green leaves
and deep edge
'Tetragona'- A hardy miniature white water lily with freckled leaves
'Helvola'- A hardy miniature yellow water lily with freckled leaves
'Hilary'- A tropical day blooming pink water lily with green leaves
'Red Flare'- A tropical night blooming red water lily with maroon leaves
'Momo Botan' Lotus Grows to a height of 24" and offers rose blooms
'Wan-er Hong' Lotus Grows to a height of 12" and offers white blooms
These plants add a finishing touch to the water surface. Some plants to
Giant Velvet Leaf (Salvinia longifolia) Unusual floating fern
with pale green round hairy leaves.
Water Hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes) Popular floater with long,
trailing roots, balloon like petioles and spikes of pale lavender
Water Lettuce (Pistia stratiotes) Velvet, blue green leaves forming
a rosette of foliage that looks like leaf lettuce.
Fish and Snails for Water Gardens
Pond creatures can be added to your water container for added interest
and to help in maintaining the ecosystem balance. Several small
snails are very helpful as they eat algae, fish waste, and decaying
organic matter. Fish such as mollies, guppies, platys or gambezi
are good choices. They do well in the variable water temperatures
of a small patio pond plus they eat mosquitoes. Larger containers
of 20 gallons or more can handle one to two goldfish.
Overwintering the Garden
Plants in small water gardens will need to be brought in for the
winter. Potted plants can be lifted out of the water and stored
in water filled tubs in a cool, dark basement. They will go dormant
and can be brought back to the garden in the spring after the weather
warms. Floaters may be overwintered indoors in aquariums where there
is high light. It may be best to handle these as annuals. Buying
new plants each season. Any fish will have to be brought inside
for the winter.