How To Make Your Own Outdoor Container Water Garden

With a little bit of planning, and the use of good-quality construction materials, you can build a container garden in a weekend that will last for years.

Have you ever thought about putting a pond in your back yard, but weren't sure you had the skill or time to commit to maintaining it? Do you live in an area, such as an apartment or condo complex, where building a large water garden just isn't feasible? Why not consider an outdoor container garden instead?

More and more people are discovering the joys of container gardening, which is a simple and low-maintenance way to bring a entirely new look to your landscaping. With a little bit of planning, and the use of good-quality construction materials, you can build a container garden in a weekend that will last for years.

Be sure to choose the right spot for your garden - because once you've built it, it's not going anywhere. Pick a location that gets a minimum of five hours full sun each day. Most aquatic flowering plants need at least five to six hours of sun to bloom. Mid- to late-afternoon shade is a plus. Be certain to place your garden near a water supply. Water will evaporate, and you'll need to top your container off.

You can make a container garden in any size and shape, but gardening experts recommend keeping it small and simple if you're a beginner. For water gardens, a container of about 15 - 25 gallons is large enough that you can have a variety of plants, but small enough to be practical. Red cedar is one of the most popular materials for container construction, because it's mildew-resistant and lasts a long time. You can also use bricks or glass blocks. If you don't want to tackle a huge building project, try using a galvanized tub, a large planter, or an old trough. Whatever you use, be sure it will be sturdy - water weighs about eight pounds per gallon.

Once you've built the outside of the container, you'll need a liner - after all, you don't want all your water to dribble out through the cracks. A 6-mm polyethylene liner is the perfect thickness. Choose one in a dark color, such as black or dark green. It will not only discourage algae growth but also give the visual impression of more depth to your container.

Now that you've got the liner in place, it's time for the fun part - adding the water, plants and decorations! If you're using a city water system, you'll need to fill the container and let it sit a day or two to let the chlorine and other chemicals evaporate before you put plants in it. You don't need to add any chemicals to your garden - the natural ecosystem formed by the plants will help it care for itself.

Your best bet is to start the plants in their pots, and then once they're growing, add them to the garden. Be sure to use a heavy clay gardening soil, topped off with an inch or so of pea gravel to keep the dirt from floating away. Don't use the commercially sold potting soil - it's too light, and will upset the ecosystem of your garden. For the same reason, don't use any soil with fertilizer in it. For maximum effect, use a variety of plants. Try some of the floating plants like water hyacinths, giant velvet leaf and water lilies, combined with boggy plants such as iris, water bluebells, rush and lotus.

Rocks or pieces of slate can be added to adjust the depths of your plants. You'll want to be sure that about 60% of the water's surface is covered with plant material. When it comes to basic maintenance, remember that the plants, sunlight, and water all have to work together to keep algae under control. As water evaporates, replace it with chlorinated tap water, which will help inhibit algae growth for the first two to three months. By this point, the ecosystem should have balanced itself out. If you want to add fish, consult with your local aquarium experts to see which breeds will do best in your garden. Don't be surprised if a frog or toad makes himself at home near your container. Snails are helpful, because they eat algae and help keep it under control.

The best thing about container gardens is that you can place them nearly anywhere, using a minimal amount of space - which allows for a beautiful transition from one part of the yard to the next. Some gardeners use them as borders between a patio or deck and the rest of the yard, or you can use them to lend a natural and outdoorsy look to an otherwise plain patio or porch.

If you live in an area with colder winters, you'll probably need to bring your plants inside. Place them - pots and all - in a water-filled tub in your basement, or other cool, dark area. They'll go dormant for the winter, and can be placed back outside after the last frost. Floating plants, like lily pads, can be put in an indoor aquarium if there's a high amount of light available.

Take good care of your container garden, and you'll be able to enjoy it throughout most of the year.

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