A splash of creativity: Making a water garden out of a planter pot is easier than you think

Creating a small container water garden can provide us with a sense of well-being while also providing a source of water for some city critters.

Water container gardens are perfect for any space, even a small apartment balcony

A water garden inside a planter pot is ideal for small spaces and can bring much-needed water to wildlife in big cities. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

This summer, CBC Edmonton's Tanara McLean is doing a special column focusing on gardening in our Zone 3 climate. Everything from knowing your planting zone, to ditching the lawn for a water-wise garden, she'll explain why certain garden practices help you get the best out of your Zone 3 garden.

Imagine sitting next to a lovely pond, watching birds, squirrels, butterflies and bees visiting to take a cool drink on a summer's day.

Aside from the emotional and mental well-being it brings us, water is a scarce resource for many species of wildlife in a city setting.

Making a small container water garden is quite simple — and doesn't cost a lot.

Here's a guide to help you create your own water container garden, even if all you have is a tiny apartment balcony.

1. Pick a watertight container that's an appropriate size for your space

You can be as wacky and creative with your container as you wish: old galvanized wash tubs, tin buckets, even a modified sink could work.

An easy option is a planter pot without a drainage hole.

For size, pick something that will fit comfortably within your space. A good option is a planter pot that's 30 centimetres in diameter and 30 centimetres deep.

Imagination is the only limit to picking a container. The only requirements are that it needs to be relatively clean and watertight. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

2. Prepare the pot for water

Be sure to wash your container out to get rid of harmful chemicals or soil.

You can put a thin layer of gravel or small stones at the bottom — but that's an esthetic choice, not a requirement.

To make sure insects or animals can get out of the pot safely, stack bricks or rocks to create tiers inside the bowl. Having a rock breaching the surface of the water by a few centimetres has a lovely natural feel. It also provides a place for birds to perch or insects to crawl onto when they want to get out.

Creating tiers in the pot with rocks and bricks will ensure wildlife can safely get out of the container. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

3. Fill the container with water

Fill your container using a garden hose or rainwater. Do not add chlorine or any other chemical to the water. Start with filling it halfway to make arranging plants easier, then finish filling while leaving an inch of space at the top.

For a dramatic mirror effect, consider using a biodegradable, animal-safe dye to turn the water a stunning shade of inky-black. Doing this will allow your pond to reflect the sky and the greenery around it.

Start by filling the pot halfway, which allows you to arrange the plants without overflowing. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

3. Add plants!

The plants in a water garden will literally bring your pond to life by attracting more wildlife.

Try planting in layers to fill space both on and above the surface of the water.

A lovely plant standing above the surface of the water has an effect that's both dramatic and serene. Consider using plants like the coal miner variety of Colocasia esculenta, the butter-yellow flowers of marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), or broadleaf arrowhead (sagittaria latifolia).

Garden centres offer a variety of tall, graceful grasses for ponds.

You don't need a huge garden to have a wildlife pond. Our summer gardening columnist is here to explain how you can get that tranquil water sound on a small budget, and in a small space. 6:40

Draw inspiration from the water lilies paintings by Claude Monet and use floating plants to cover the surface of the water. Good options include water hyacinths (Pontederia crassipes), the Salvinia natans floating fern, which look like fuzzy green braids of hair, or delicate red-stemmed parrot's feather (Myriophyllum brasiliensis). 

Healthy water has plenty of oxygen, so include a common oxygenator plant, such as mare's tail (hippuris vulgaris.) This plant can be invasive if it gets into natural waterways, and it's up to each gardener to dispose of it responsibly.

Many of these plants will cost between $10 or $20 at garden centres. You can treat them as annuals that you purchase each year, or make an effort to overwinter them indoors.

A graceful broadleaf arrowhead (Sagittaria latifolia) stands serenely above the water surface, while a water hyacinth (Pontederia crassipes) floats gently on the surface. (Tanara McLean/CBC)

4. Deter mosquitoes

Mosquito larvae thrive in stagnant water that is quite shallow. They have breathing tubes like a snorkel that allow them to hang upside down while still being able to breathe at the surface.

But it's near impossible for mosquito larvae to breathe if the water is disturbed, so make sure your pond water is moving.

Small, solar-powered fountains that float in water are available for about $20. A traditional solar-powered pump will cost about the same.

Adding fish to your ponds isn't recommended, but once your pond is finished you'll feel joy and a sense of calm from watching other living creatures appreciate what you have created.

A floating solar-powered fountain works well to deter mosquito larvae from the container pond. (Tanara McLean/CBC)


Tanara McLean is an award-winning producer and journalist based at CBC Edmonton. She grew up in Red Deer and has spent her entire career in Alberta, working in print, radio and television.