Enhance your landscape with the addition of a water garden.

There are many variations to consider due to increased availability of water gardening supplies and plant varieties.

Sizing and shaping your water garden has been simplified with the development of long life rubber liners.

You can dig your pond to any depth, and shape it to any form that will fit your landscape.

If digging is not possible, you can purchase a per-formed fiberglass pond that can be placed anywhere in your garden.

For balcony or deck, you can use old iron pots, fiberglass tubs, etc. Miniature plants for these smaller containers are now available.

Water lilies will bloom from early spring until frost.

There are several water lily varieties (hardy and tropical) that perform well in our area. The color selection is nearly unlimited.

Some flowers float on the water, while others stand above on tall stems. Many bloom during the day, while others bloom at night.

Grasses, reeds, and other complementary vegetation will add to your garden.

A word of caution – if you get hooked, your pond will never be large enough.

Paul Ferguson, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


A water garden creates an atmosphere of peace and tranquility with the sound of flowing water. Depending upon your plans, it can be a relatively small investment.

First, select a site far enough from trees and shrubs to avoid debris in the water. The site should be relatively level in order to avoid flooding during heavy rains. Provisions for a water supply as well as electrical needs should be taken into consideration.

Next, check the area for sharp objects and roots that could puncture the PVC (polyvinyl chloride) pool liner if a hole is dug below ground. Often a fine layer of sand is used to provide a smooth surface both inside and outside. If in a container, select a wooden tub or half-barrel, placed slightly ground level and then place a liner inside to create a water tight container.

Place pumps, waterlines, soil filled contained pots prior to filling the area or container with water. Water gardens should have at least one foot drop off. If the pool is deeper, use a brick under the container to bring it up to the correct planting level. Most water plants come with instructions.

A submersible pump gently moves the water, keeping stagnation from occurring. The pump size will depend on the volume of water and the height at which you want the water to discharge. Placing the pump a few inches from the bottom keeps the water flowing freely without sediment or debris being trapped in the pump.

For an in-pool fountain, attach any of several nozzles to the outlet available for fountain/ponds.  Many colorful goldfish, such as fantails, calicos, comets and black moors, are available. It is suggested that you have no more than one fish per two square feet of pond surface. If your pool is larger and at least three feet deep, Japanese Koi can be added as desired.

Now pull up a chair and enjoy your new water garden with the relaxing sound of flowing water, you have earned it!

Sharon Reiland, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Other than water lilies, what else is there to put in the garden pond? Here are some great additions for below and above the surface.

All ponds need oxygenating plants. They release oxygen into the water, provide shelter for spawning fish and fry, and compete with algae for nutrients. Some of the more popular oxygenating plants are Elodea (Anacharis), Cabomba, and Myriophyllum (Water Milfoil) which has delicate, feathery leaves.

Above the water
The following are “marginal” plants, which soften the line between ground and water. They are planted at depths from 0-12″ – with 0 meaning that the soil is saturated with water. Some hardy favorites are:

  • Pickerel rush: heart-shaped, deep green leaves, blue flowers in late summer; a white variety is also available. The plant makes large clumps that can be divided. Depth 0-12″, height 2 feet, full sun.
  • Sagittaria: arrow-shaped leaves and mid-summer white flowers. Recommended for larger ponds as they like to spread. Depth 0-12″, height 18″, full sun to filtered light.
  • Golden Club: leaves dark blue-green on the top and silvery underneath; they stand up in shallow water and float in deep water. Flowers are white spikes tipped with bright yellow, appearing in spring and early summer. Depth 0-6″, height 18″, prefers partial sunlight.
  • Thalia: Bold 3 to 4′ foliage; blooms in summer with purple flowers held well above leaves. Depth 0-12″, height to 6 feet, full to partial sun.
  • Parrot’s Feather: lime green foliage that trails along the top of the water; very good for spawning. Depth 4-12″, full to partial sun.
  • Yellow Snowflake: leaves look like small water lily leaves, large quantities of bright yellow flowers bloom summer to fall. Depth 4-12″, full to partial sun.

Sherolyn Richenberger, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Bog gardening may be accomplished not only near a pond but also in something that you may already have, such as an area that is constantly wet year around. It should be an area that is depressed and that catches water or an area into which water drains. If you have clay soil, it won’t take much to establish the bog state. However, if you have a sandy soil, you will need to excavate the area a couple of feet below the surface.

After excavation, add a five-inch layer of stones and a medium of half loam and half peat moss or leaf mold. You’ll also need to provide constant moisture to the area, especially during the summer.

Whether you have clay or sand, you will want to use stepping stones or boards in the design in order to reach the plants.

You may be surprised at the number of plants that will grow in this environment. Following is a short list of plants and websites that list many more:

  • Canna (Canna)
  • Cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis)
  • Horsetail (Equisetum hyemale)
  • Iris/yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus)
  • Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris)
  • Umbrella palm (Cyperus alternifolius)

The following website from Texas Cooperative Extension has a good list of bog plants: Water Garden Plants

Linda R. Sharp, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


It is not necessary to dedicate your entire back yard in order to have a relaxing and enjoyable water feature. A water garden can be very small. One created with just a ten gallon container can make a very nice addition to your landscape.

Four easy steps are required in container water gardening: First, you have to decide on a location. The location should by sunny or in very bright light.

Second, purchase either a watertight container such as galvanized tub, large planter or something interesting like an old claw foot tub. If using a non-watertight container such as concrete, ceramic and is not glazed on the inside, look for easy-to-use liners that can be purchased at hardware stores. If using a thick plastic container, you need one large enough to just fit into a half whiskey barrel (or something similar…be creative). This helps provide insulation from extreme heat and cold. Be sure to plug any drainage holes. Set the pot in its permanent location as it will be too heavy to move once you put in rocks and water. Place small to medium rocks in the bottom. This will give stability and give potted plants a place to rest or bare rooted plants something to anchor into.

Next, select a plant or two. Vary your mature plant height and texture; a floating plant is always a welcome addition for effect. Many plants work beautifully in a small water feature. The sky’s the limit on resource books at most garden and do-it-yourself home renovation centers. They include plant lists which help you determine at what water level to place the plant (i.e. 1-2″ below surface). They also give the light (sun or shade), fertilizer, and division requirements per plant. Leave a half inch space at the top of each individual potted plant for small pebbles. This helps keep debris down and the water clear. Don’t worry if a few soil particles do escape.

Then slowly add water. Remember to top it off regularly. This may be needed once daily in the heat of summer. A small fish tank pump can be submerged for aeration, but it is not necessary. You can put in a snail to help eat the algae. You may also want to consider a Mosquito Dunk for mosquito prevention if the container is outdoors.

Fish are optional. Some garden centers offer what is commonly known as mosquito fish. These little fish look like minnows. They eat mosquito larvae and can withstand Texas’ temperature extremes. Wait two or three days before adding fish. This allows floating particles to settle and chlorine to evaporate (use rain water if possible).

Don’t be afraid to get your hands wet. Any time is a great time of year to be adding this rewarding project to your garden or patio area. There are many hours of enjoyment to be had in this pastime, whether you create a large, or small, container water garden.

Cindy Hess & George Squibb, Smith County Master Gardeners
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


You’ve made the decision to add a pool with fish to your garden. But what type of fish do you put in it?

  • The common goldfish is familiar to everyone. It is very hardy and a good type to begin with.
  • The Comet is descended from the common goldfish. Its body is longer and the fin and tail are more elaborately developed. While typically all gold, the Comet may also have markings of white and/or black.
  • For something with a little more color try the Shubunkin. Similar in form to the Comet, blue is the base color over which patches of red, gold, black and darker blue are laid.
  • The Japanese Fantail and Calico Fantail are very hardy and elegant additions to the garden pool Their bodies are gracefully rounded longer, flowing fins and tails. They swim in a slow, graceful and stately manner.
  • The fish that looks like a Japanese Fantail with a dainty cap on its head is the Oranda. The Oranda is a more delicate fish best suited to warmer, sheltered pools.
  • The Koi is the king of the pool fish. It is large but gentle in nature, with bright colors and spectacular patterns that make them everybody’s favorite. Some may live 70 years or more.Whichever fish or combination of fish you chose, they will bring hours of movement and enjoyment to your garden pool.

Sherolyn Richenberger, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


For variety in your landscape, grow a gorgeous water lily in a stylish water container or pond. Water lilies require at least five to six hours of direct sunlight per day. They do best in pools where there is not much water movement. Plant them in squat pots that are at least 9″ in diameter. Place the pot(s) in the container or pond with at least 12″ of water above the top of the pot.

Water lilies are heavy feeders and should be planted in a mixture containing loam with 20% well rotted cow manure plus a cup of bone meal. Cover this mix with coarse sand or gravel, about an inch thick, to slow leaching of nutrients and to keep the container or pond clean.

Each year, feed the water lilies by taking a handful of bone meal, putting it in a paper bag, and burying it under the sand or gravel. The paper bag prevents the immediate dispersal of the fertilizer, then breaks down to release the nutrients.

Cynthia J. Johnson, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


Hydroculture is the growing of plants in a soiless medium. In place of soil, an expanded clay aggregate is used. The aggregate clay has been formed into small balls and heated to 1200 degrees Celsius. Heating partially seals the outer layer of the clay, allowing moisture to penetrate.
The clay material is placed in a molded one-piece container with no drainage holes. Container size may vary from small to very large. As plants grow in this soiless medium, their roots attach themselves to the clay and absorb the correct amount of moisture needed.
Fountain rocks are often added as the centerpiece of water garden containers. These are usually made of volcanic rock that has been carved to include shapes like a cascade or a Bonsai cavity. Under the rock is a small, noiseless electric motor that creates a waterfall. Plants are arranged in the clay aggregate around the rock centerpiece and in the cavities of the rock itself. Any plant you like will grow in this medium, whether from a garden or the local nursery. The resulting indoor water garden is beautiful and its cascading sound is a great addition.

Chad Rockett, former Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service


The phrase “If you build it, they will come” applies to all water features. Water gardens are very attractive to wildlife no matter the size of the bog, pond or container. You will be amazed at the dragonflies, frogs, toads, birds, and other wildlife your yard will attract by adding a water feature.

Be on the look-out for frog and toad eggs. These can be long, clear strings or small, jelly-like clouds with black specks. The entire family will enjoy watching as the “specks” slowly take shape. Children especially love marking the days on the calendar as the “specks” form a tail, legs, and arms. Then counting down the days as the tail gets shorter and shorter until a new frog or toad has arrived. If your water feature is a container water garden make certain plant stems or leaves hang over the edge on which the baby frogs/toads can escape. They sometimes sit on the edge and can make quite a splash jumping to safety if startled.

When tackling annual plant division watch for small (1-2″) alien-looking black creatures. Don’t destroy them (or run for the hills) and do put them back into your water garden. They are dragonfly larvae. When ready they climb out of the water on a plant stem to pupate into beautiful, mosquito- eating dragonflies.

Red-eared sliders (turtles) and many different shore birds will visit ponds while some types of herons will even visit backyard container water gardens (if fish are included, they will make more than one visit). At dusk watch for bats, cliff and barn swallowtails. They display such antics as sky-diving and swirling while searching the sky and skimming the water’s surface for mosquitoes. Add a purple martin apartment or gourds if there is open space near a pond. The number of mosquitoes on a purple martin family menu is staggering.

If you have not done so already, adding a water feature is one of the best ways to attract wildlife to your backyard. Enjoy.

Cindy Hess, Smith County Master Gardener
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service

Posted in Water Gardening