How to Start a Water Garden

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Our free guide will help you understand the steps you have to take and how to obtain the benefits you are looking for.

How to Start a Water Garden

Water gardens can elevate any landscape, turning it into an aquatic oasis that provides a soothing escape from everyday life. Water gardens can be as elaborate as digging a pond or as simple as adding a few potted fountains to your green space or patio. A good water garden adds color, movement and gentle sound to its surroundings, making it a relaxing and enjoyable retreat. 

Building a water garden can seem like an intimidating project. However, with a bit of know-how and research, you can easily construct a flowing feature in your own space. The sections below go over everything you need to know about starting and maintaining a water garden. This includes where to put your water gardens, how to maintain one and the pros and cons of having the feature on your property.

Information You Can Find in Our Guide:

Our free guide will help you understand the steps you have to take and how to obtain the benefits you are looking for.

What is a water garden?

A water garden, also known as an aquatic garden, is a defined segment of your outdoor space that showcases a pond, waterfall, potted fountain or other water feature. A good garden will incorporate water-friendly plants and decorations. These architectural elements can be natural or manmade and are often the focal points of water gardens. Ponds may be lined with decorative rocks and house different types of colorful fish. You can find water gardens at your local public garden or park as well as in the yards of private homes.

The earliest water plants date back more than 125 million years, and the first planned water gardens were catalogued in Egyptian hieroglyphics dating back to roughly 2800 BC. These gardens have been utilized throughout many cultures and civilizations over the nearly 5,000 years since. Water gardens played a significant role in Chinese, Greek, Roman, Japanese, English, German and French history. While the lotus was among the earliest plants to be utilized in these aquatic gardens, modern water gardens typically include waterlilies, water lettuce, blue iris, taro, pickerelweed and creeping Jenny, among others.

Environment Needed for a Water Garden

Water gardens can be installed in virtually any climate. However, extra steps may need to be taken to maintain these features in cooler areas. These may include deeper ponds and water heating elements. 

Additionally, there are many different types of water gardens that you might pursue. The space and other physical attributes required for your specific approach should be considered when planning your aquatic elements.

For example, a koi pond requires a minimum of 1,000 gallons of water and should be at least four or five feet deep, when possible. Any water garden that houses fish should be deep enough to give the fish space to swim around. A more plant-heavy water garden might only need to be 18 inches to two feet deep, requiring far less space than a garden housing fish. 

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In the case of a pond, you also need to consider whether rain runoff will find its way into the water. Runoff may contain chemicals, fertilizer or other particles that can impact your garden’s environment. You also don’t want to have your water garden positioned too close to trees, as leaves and branches will can fall into the pond and blog filters. Debris should be cleared from the area regularly in order to facilitate growth and keep the garden looking nice. In the presence of water lilies and other plants, direct sunlight may also be required. Each of these variables depends on the exact installation you’re implementing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, you may enjoy container-based water gardens, which often require little more than soil, water and a pot. Container gardens do not require as much space as pond gardens, and can be maintained on a patio or apartment balcony. You can even repurpose household containers for your garden. However, if you live in a cold climate, these apartment-friendly gardens may prove difficult to develop during the winter months. If it gets cold enough, your container garden can freeze solid. Some plants may even require overwintering in cool areas. Cold-tolerant plants may simply need to be pruned once frost has hit, whereas others may need to be stored in a greenhouse or brought indoors. You may need to replace particular plants annually. 

Pros and Cons of Starting a Water Garden

There’s no doubt that water gardens can offer an escape from everyday life, and that’s not the only benefit to these gorgeous installations. However, starting a water garden comes with its share of challenges as well. This list of pros and cons should help you make the best decision for your space.


  • Water elements add depth and intrigue to gardens.
  • Front yard water elements add curb appeal to your home.
  • Water gardens encourage native wildlife like frogs.
  • Water gardens encourage outdoor activity.
  • No area is too big or too small for a water garden.
  • You can use a variety of plants in your water garden.
  • Water features provide soothing background noise. 


  • Water gardens require significant upkeep.
  • Water gardens can attract pests. 
  • Large gardens can be expensive and require permits.
  • Neighbors may consider native wildlife to be pests. 

How to Start and Maintain Your Water Garden 

Water gardens are visually appealing. A successful garden requires attention to detail and a significant time investment, and is an easy way to personalize your home. To start your water garden, you should first decide on what type of water feature you want to install. Consider the size of your space. Do you have a yard to accommodate a small pond? You may be able to build a larger water feature. Are you working with a smaller area? If so, a tabletop fountain or a container-based garden may be the way to go. 

Whether you are placing your plants in a pond or a pot, you will need to add a base to hold them in place. Dense clay soil or gravel are both ideal options for the bottom of your manmade pond or planter. Line the bottom with soil or gravel and place a plastic tarp or liner on top of the base before adding water. This will help keep the base in one place instead of creating mud or disrupting the rocks. It also prevents water from draining into the ground or through any holes in your containers. Most experts recommend using gravel rocks over clay soil to hold the roots of the plants in place, but either will suffice. 

If you are installing water features like a fountain, you must install a pump and a filter. You must also figure out how to supply the pump with water. This may require you to move your pond around to a location where you can access a water line. You must pick a spot that is both close to a water source and away from any nearby trees. Additionally, you should call 8-1-1 before doing any digging to verify that the location of your pond won’t impact any underground utilities. 

Once you have selected a suitable and safe location, you must dig your hole to the appropriate depth. This varies depending on climate and the type of plants or fish you intend to include. Next, you must clear any roots or jagged rocks, install your base liner (these come in flexible or solid varieties) and get to planting. Fill your garden with water and install any water features you have selected.  

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