Updated/Fact-Chacked on April 11, 2023 by John
Container ponds are perfect for anyone looking to have a few aquatic plants and marginals but don’t have the space or time for small pond. Container ponds are mini ponds in a pot, positioned in a sunny location. They are often referred to as ‘patio ponds’, generally positioned close to seating areas so wildlife can be observed.
Container ponds are ideal for upcycling gardeners, as you can get really creative with what you use as the container. I opted for a whiskey barrel for more of rustic look, though I nearly went with an antique Victorian bath on feet.
What Wildlife Do Container Ponds Attract?
Once your container pond has settled down, a whole ecosystem will start to evolve. Birds will start drinking from your pond if they have a suitable perch; you might even get hedgehogs, frogs and toads (if accessible for them).
If you have flowering aquatic plants in your mini pond, these will attract bees, hoverflies, dragonflies and damselflies.
Within the water, a whole host of creatures will potentially move in: Newts, Water hog-lice , damselfly nymphs, dragonfly nymphs, water beetles, water boatmen, mayfly nymphs, caddis fly nymphs.
Note: Do not introduce any animals from another pond; there is no need, just let nature take its cause. Introducing creatures from other habitats can bring in unwanted bacteria.
Types of Containers to Use
I opted for a whisky barrel, but you can use all sorts of things like ceramic pots, old buckets, baths, old sinks.
If you are looking for something a little bigger, have a look at feeding barrels for livestock. You can buy 6ft troughs for £100. I plan on making another one by cladding a feeding trough with decking wood and painting it.
If you are going to use a ceramic plant pot, you will need to seal the drainage hole. This can be done by attaching a flat stone over the hole with a bathroom shower sealant.
Container Pond Ideas
Here are a few ideas I came across when looking for inspiration.
For more mini pond ideas have a look at this awesome Pinterest Board for Mini Ponds (link will opens in new tab).
I’ve just go back from 2 months in Thailand and have been inspired by their use of water posts. I’m planning another 5 water pots/mini ponds around my garden this summer. Here’s a Tiktok video from our Plantsman channel:
Steps to Build a Container Pond (My Whisky Barrel Example)
Here are the steps I used to create my pond in a whisky barrel; if you are using a different container, just skip the unrelated steps.
Step 1: Find a half-cut whisky barrel
You can look on Facebook marketplace for a local supplier; half-cut whisky barrels go for around £25-£30.
I couldn’t find any near me and ended up paying £45 at my local plant nursery. I’m a bit miffed now as I’ve just seen the exact same whisky barrels in B&M for £24.99!
Step 2: Plan your plants – design, heights and shelves
You want to think about the look you want to achieve, using varying textures and colours. Experiment with different colours if you want flowering aquatics and marginals; use opposite sides of the colour wheel if you want to get technical.
These are the main types of aquatic plants; if you are unsure what to buy, ask your supplier.
Emergent Vegetation Plants – (Iris, Rushes) – These will give you striking architectural qualities.
Floating aquatic plants – (Pondweed, Water lily) – These shade the water and stop it from getting to warm, this helps prevent blanket weeds and algae and provides shade for wildlife in the water. Speak to your local supplier and make sure they are not too evasive, some can take over your whole container very quickly.
Oxygenators – (Hornwort, Spiked Water-Milfoil) – These plants help keep your pond clean and algae-free. You can buy flowering oxygenators and non-flowering like the hornwort that sinks to the bottom of your container. Having ample oxygenators for your mini ponds means you don’t need a pond filter.
Marginal Plants – (Water Mint, Cuckoo Flower, Water Avens, Brooklime) – These sit on the edge of a pond and are great for newts and other wildlife to use to climb out.
Step 3: Buy some aquatic plants and pond baskets
Aquatic plants are expensive. I bought 4 plants and x5 of the cheaper oxygenators, and it came to £56 at Maidenhead Aquatics in Stockton.
Another option is to go on Facebook marketplace, I saw a few listings for aquatic plants for sale, but they were too far from me.
I was told to have 4-5 plants in my whisky barrel and x5 of the hornwort oxygenators.
Step 4: Add plants to pond basket and position on shelves
You can leave the plants in their pots and simply add them into aquatic pond basket. You then sit the basket on bricks/rocks so the plants are at their optimal submergence level, the plant labels will tell you how many inches they should sit.
If you have single marginal plants in pots, just place them directly on your bricks in their pot.
Step 5: Fill your container with water
Fill the container to a couple of inches from the top. Ideally, you would use rainwater from a water butt, but normal tap water will be fine to start with. Once plants are added, it will take a few days to settle down and become attractive to wildlife.
Top up the levels if you have hot days and experience evaporation. If you use an oak barrel, you might experience some leakage until the wood fully expands.
Step 6: Add a stick to the container for wildlife
Add a decent size stick to the container ponds to allow animals to get in and out of the water, it also acts as a perch for birds. You could also build a stone pile in the container to allow any creatures to climb out.
My Completed Whisky Barrel Pond Project
Plants added to my mini pond: Water lily, Slender club rush (Scirpus Cernuus), Variegated sweet scented rush (Acorus Calamus Variegatus), Water Hibiscus
Total cost: £101 (£45 for the barrel and £56 for the plants, though I could have got the barrel for £24.99). You could probably do this for under £50 if you looked hard for local plant sellers.
This has only just been created in August, it would have been better in spring. I’m going to need a really good end to August (sun-wise) for my water lily to bloom.
I will keep this post updated to show how my mini-ecosystem in a bucket develops over the coming months.
Barrel Pond update 2023
My barrel pond will be two years old this summer, and it’s still going strong. I did change out some of the plants last summer as a couple died; the Anacharis Narrow Leaf (Egeria najas) seemed to be totally eaten as there was non-left.
I plan another trip to Maidenhead Aquatics in the next couple of weeks to get some more plants. I’m looking for a long-flowering water lily; the one I started with died that winter.
One problem I have encountered over the last year is pond snails. When I first noticed them, I got excited that wildlife had evolved in my barrel, but this is not true. I think the plants I bought had snail eggs on them or possibly transferred by birds feeding from the barrel.
After researching their pros and cons, I did decide to remove them. Though they can eat the algae and control it, my algae just got worse.
I have just picked out over 30 snails of varying sizes and identified them as Great Pond Snail (Lymnaea stagnalis) – using Google Lens.
Last summer, I also added a goldfish and he/she has been going strong all year and survived the winter under a frozen surface.
Container Pond FAQs
Do you need a water pump or filter for a small container pond?
No, your oxygenating plants will do all the work for you
Can you add fish to a container pond?
Yes, you can add fish to a container pond once the water is established with optimal oxygen and PH levels. Saying that, I think its best to leave this to nature and see what your pond attracts.
When is the best time to start a patio pond project?
The best time would be early spring so you can enjoy your mini pond over the summer months.
Where do you buy pond plants?
You cannot buy aquatic pond plants in normal garden centres or indoor aquariums shops. You need to find a dedicated pond shop like Maidenhead aquatics who have branches inside some garden centres.
Do my aquatic plants need anything else?
Most aquatic plants should be fine, but you could give them some aquatic plant feed for a boost. You can buy aquatic feed balls that are full of nutrients and created to reduce algae. If you are going to use them for water lilies, ensure they are fully covered with aquatic soil in the lily pot; fertilizers can dissolve into the water alone and encourage algae growth.
How deep should a container pond be?
You can use a plain washing up bowl to get started, these are 6″ deep. This will limit you to the plants you can have though, more depth gives you more plant options.
Can I use a plastic tub as a pond?
Yes, try using a washing up bowl as a small test.
Can I use tap water in a wildlife pond?
Yes, but rainwater is preferable.
Should I put gravel in my wildlife pond?
You can get away with not using pond gravel at the bottom of a container pond. Your potted aquatic plants should come with gravel on top to keep the soil and roots in place.
How deep should the first shelf be in a pond?
This will depend on the plant, marginals sit just underneath the water. My marginal basket sits on x2 house bricks in my whisky barrel.
Can goldfish survive in a pond without a pump?
Yes, if you have oxygenating plants and good conditions.
Is rainwater good for ponds?
Yes rainwater is perfect as if has the ideal PH for aquatic plant life.
Gareth is the owner of Plantsman Media. Gareth lives in the North East of England and is obsessed with flowers. He has just started RHS level 2 certification.