For the avid gardener with space or time limitations, containers have always been the answer. With ingenuity and a little work, the home gardener can create a container water garden as lovely as any terrestrial garden. Large ceramic crocks, old wash pots, or horse troughs, and even old bathtubs (with a little camouflage) have been used in good results.
The most economical and easily available large container is a half whiskey barrel. We’ll focus on this type of container in this guide, but please call or come in and ask us any questions about different containers you may want to use.
Whiskey barrels must be line to prevent the leaching of alcohol into the water and to keep the barrel watertight. PVC liners are available in a five-foot size, large enough for any barrel. The liner is fitted loosely into the barrel and filled with water. When the barrel is fill, excess liner can be trimmed off and the liner secured to the rum with wood staples. Be sure to choose the location of your barrel before you fill it with water.
The best site for your barrel is where it will receive half a day of sun with afternoon shade. Too much sun will heat the water and kill fish and plants. Avoid placing under trees which would drop debris into the water. It should be where you can see and enjoy it: on your patio, in a courtyard, or under your kitchen window. A single barrel can contain a potted water lily, a pan of submerged grasses, such as Anacharis or Cabomba, and a potted bog plant. There are several hardy lilies which stay small and do well in tubs: Hermine, Helvola, Chromatella, Graziela, or Froebeli. Tropical lilies such as Dauben, Colorata, or Marian Strawn also stay small enough to grow well in a container. Bog plants that are small in scale and delicate in leaf such as Dwarf Bamboo, Chinese Water Chestnut, or Dwarf Papyrus add a tall accent to the container. Submerged plants keep the water clearer by competing with algae and offer fish oxygen and cover.
A large container such as a barrel will accommodate a single lotus plant. Plant the lotus tuber directly into the lined barrel, half filled with good rich topsoil. It needs to be planted with the growing top above the soil, then watered is added up to the top of the barrel. Finish the planting with a light layer of gravel over the soil.
After planting, the container can be stocked with a pair of small goldfish (fantails are excellent) and a pair of snails. The goldfish eat mosquito larvae and insects and the snails graze on the algae along the side of the container.
If using a porous container for your water garden, such as terra cotta pots or concrete tubs, care must be taken to seal the material. Drylok Masonry Waterproofer or similar sealer can be painted on and its dark color make the container look deeper and more natural.
Winter care for these small gardens requires some small tasks. Before a hard frost, remove all tropical plant material. Most tropical water plants are treated as annuals and are discarded. If you wish to carry them over the winter, plants like cypress, callas, and cannas tend to do best inside a sunny window but plants like hardy lilies are better stored in a cool, dark area. Place fish into an aquarium for the winter.