Water gardening has become very popular in the last 20 years. Many homeowners have installed small ponds or water features to grow a wide variety of plants and to enjoy the ambiance that water provides.

But you don’t need a large yard or tons of time and energy to build a water garden. If you don’t have the time, money or ambition to create a large water feature, you can build a water garden in a tub.

Choosing a Container

Any watertight container will do, but a large container will give you more options and require less maintenance. One of the best tubs to use is a half whiskey barrel, lined with plastic. Set a 5-foot-square liner into the tub, pleating it where necessary. Staple it into place around the top, and trim off the excess.

Preparing the Tub

For best plant growth, select a site where the container will receive at least 6 hours of full sun a day. Fill it with tap water, and let it sit for a day or two to dissipate the chlorine and allow the water temperature to moderate before introducing plants.

Adding Plants

You can grow a wide variety of water plants in your tub. Use a selection of floaters, bog plants and submerged plants, as well as some showy ones. You can even throw in a fish or two for fun.

Water lily

Water lily.
Photo courtesy of the
National Gardening Association.

For a half whiskey barrel, plant one water lily in a pot that’s 6 inches in diameter and 6 inches deep. A black nursery pot is ideal. Line the bottom of the pot with a few layers of newspaper to prevent the soil from washing out. Fill the container with topsoil mixed with compost. Don’t use potting soil because water plants like a heavy soil mix. If you’re raising fish, as well, cover the top of the soil with a half-inch layer of gravel to prevent the fish from digging in the soil.

Algae blooms are often a concern in a water garden. The solution is growing the right water plants. Plant a floating plant, such as water lettuce, to move freely across the water surface and provide algae-suppressing shade. Potted submerged plants, such as anacharis and eelgrass, placed at the bottom of the barrel, will compete with the algae for nutrients.

You can grow bog plants, such as cattails and marsh marigolds, by placing their pots on top of inverted flowerpots so the water level in the barrel comes to just above the soil line. If you’re adding a few goldfish, wait a few weeks for the plants to get settled before dropping them in. Come fall, remove the fish and place them in an indoor aquarium. Move the potted water plants to a cool, dark basement.

By mixing and matching various aquatic plants, you can create an attractive water feature on your deck or patio.

Charlie Nardozzi, a nationally recognized garden writer, book author, speaker, and radio and television personality, has appeared on HGTV, PBS and Discovery Channel television networks. He is the senior horticulturist and spokesperson for the National Gardening Association and chief gardening officer for the Hilton Garden Inn.