Building a super-simple water garden

A water garden can quite literally invigorate your yard. Follow these simple tips for your very own.

Building a super-simple water garden

Water gardens for starters

  • If you want an instant water garden, simply slip a plastic barrel liner into a decorative wooden barrel, set some pavers of various heights in place to act as pedestals, and then perch a few potted aquatic plants on top.
  • Just make sure to position the plants at the depth indicated on the plant tag or information sheet. The only drawback to this approach is that the container won't look as natural close up — you'll be able to see the plastic pots below the surface.
  • You can even add a spouter to the barrel; the pump can simply sit on a pedestal without a cup.
  • If you can't find a plastic barrel liner, you can make a watertight terracotta container by plugging the drain hole with plumber's epoxy and applying two coats of polyurethane.

Care and maintenance

Taking care of water gardens is a breeze.

  • Top them off as water evaporates and scoop off the occasional dead leaf or bit of algae.
  • Plants maintain water clarity by absorbing decaying matter through their roots as food. But if the water starts looking gunky, remove the plants, rinse the container and refill.
  • For any plants needing a boost, press a fertilizer pellet into the potting soil.
  • You can overwinter hardy water lilies by wrapping them in a damp towel and storing them in a cool basement or garage corner.
  • Other plants are relatively inexpensive and grow rapidly, so in cold climates, buy them anew each year and treat as annuals.
  • For a small container, plant a dwarf lily so the pads don't completely cover the surface of the water as they grow.
  • For larger water gardens, you can add a floating plant like water hyacinth, duckweed or water lettuce.
  • A dish-style garden is too small for koi or goldfish, but larger containers, like whiskey barrels or larger terracotta pots, are ideal. (Note: Water in metal containers usually gets too warm for fish.)
  • Fish help keep the garden clean by eating algae, decaying plant material and mosquito larvae.
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