Are you limited by small space? Planning to move in the near future? Intrigued by water but not ready to commit to a backyard pond? Try a tub garden. Any container that can hold water can be made into a “bonsai” pond, complete with water plants, fish, or maybe a fountain. 

Even a small 6” ceramic bowl can support a few floating plants, such as Water Lettuce or Frogbit. These floaters don’t need soil. A slightly larger bowl with room to submerge a 4” pot could also include an attractive vertical accent, like a small potted Juncus or Acorus. Lush, green, Parrot’s Feather will trail gracefully over the sides of the bowl. Large ceramic urns or water jugs can be planted with dramatic Papyrus or a tall, primitive Equisetum. A half wine barrel can hold a cornucopia of plants, including miniature water lilies, aquatic irises, floating four-leaf clover, or colorful bog flowers combined with stately rushes and reeds.

There are two ways to plant your container garden. The bottom of the tub can be filled with aquatic soil, and the plants removed from their pots and planted directly in the tub. Alternatively, the plants may stay in their original nursery pots, which can be submerged in the larger container with the rims covered by an inch or two of water. There are several advantages to this second method. It helps keep the plants smaller and less invasive, it makes cleaning the water much easier, and it allows you to make seasonal changes in your pond’s landscape. For instance, when the irises have finished blooming, their pots can be removed and stored elsewhere until next spring, and replaced with a summer-blooming plant like Lobelia cardinalis or maybe a big showy Marsh Mallow. With either method, it is best to use aquatic soil that won’t float to the surface or rot in the water.

The best way to minimize algae growth in a small pond is to make sure 50% of the water’s surface is covered with plants. Some plants like Parrots Feather, are “oxygenators” that add oxygen and remove nitrogen from the water, which helps eliminate algae. If your container is small enough, changing the water is not such a big job. Adding a small submersible pump to keep the water moving can also help, and the sound is quite lovely and refreshing.

If you like, you can add a small fish or two. Call your county’s Mosquito Abatement District, and they will deliver mosquito fish, free of charge. If you live in a water district that adds chloramines to the water, you’ll have to add a product like DetoxMAX+ to neutralize the chloramines (which are not harmful to plants, only to animals with gills). You may also find that your little water garden is attracting an enjoyable variety of birds and butterflies.

If you’d like more ideas for miniature water gardens, stop by and visit the aquatic section at Berkeley Hort. We have many inspiring displays of water dishes, jars, bowls, and other containers of all shapes and sizes, filled with attractive arrangements of aquatic plants. This is a fun, easy, creative way to bring a little bit of nature onto your deck or patio this summer.