Posted by: Rachel | May 6, 2012

a pond for all seasons

Most of the recent searches on this blog seem to have something to do with water plants and ponds, so I thought I’d share these thoughts. I am becoming addicted to washtubs ponds… it’s a little scary!

Washtubs have many uses. The obvious is for washing, they also make fine musical instruments, but the use they get at my place is as ponds.

A washtub pond is easy to set up, inexpensive, simple to maintain, and a pleasant addition to a landscape, patio, deck, or even apartment balcony.

I have two in my yard. One I’ve had for several years, the other I just set up using this article as an excuse: I needed photos of the prep stages, right?

The hardest part of the process is deciding on location. Your new pond will need to sit flat, and in filtered or partial shade so the fish don’t get too hot yet the plants will get some sun. And it should be in a spot where you can enjoy looking at it.

Several years ago I put my first one under a large tree. It is shaded almost all day but seems happy and the water iris bloomed this spring. The new one I put under a huge confetti lantana where it will get afternoon shade but a bit of morning sun. It is doing well so far.

Once you decide on location the steps are simple. You can use an old washtub as long as it is water-tight, or you can get a new 15-gallon galvanized tub at a box store for under $30. Scrub it out, rinse it very well then rinse it again making sure there is no soap residue, set it where you want it and step away to be sure. Once it is filled it will weigh close to 100 lbs, so again, be sure it is exactly where you want it and that it sits level before you start filling it.

showing the tub is level before filling

on the level

I fill the bottom couple of inches of mine with cleaned free broken recycled glass from the landfill. You can use clean sand, pebbles or gravel, the idea is to keep the reflective nature of the metal to a minimum and to give the pots of plants a base to nestle into. Once the tub is in position and the base material is added it is time to add some of the water. Fill the tub about half way, and add your potted plants.

The plants you add are up to you. You can often find free or very inexpensive water plants on craigslist, or you can buy a water lily or an upright plant like a water iris or umbrella plant or some other water lover at a nursery. I have friends with ponds and we mostly share back and forth. You won’t need more than a couple of plants for this small pond.

Ask the nursery or your friends how best to pot up the plants you choose. I have found, though, that using soil is not necessary. The plants seem to get enough “fertilizer” from the fish, so it is more about anchoring them. I usually just put the plant in a clean clay pot with plenty of rocks to hold it in place. That seems to do it.

water plants in pot, large rock for stability

rock on!

Submerge your pots of plants, then add a large rock to hold them in place. Be sure that the rock sits at an angle holding the pot down and extends out of the water. This accomplishes several things. The rock adds visual interest, it helps secure your pot(s) of plants, it gives the fish a place to hide, and it gives critters a safe way to drink without drowning. I see birds and squirrels drinking frequently, and so far they have all done so safely.

Once your plants are where you want them and secure, fill the tub up to within an inch or two of the rim. If the water seems cloudy give it a day, it is probably just a bit of sediment from the plants or rocks or sand.

I hear you saying yes, but this is a still pond so what about mosquitoes? No worries. Let your new pond sit for about a week before adding fish, and the fish will happily eat any mosquito larvae and algae as well. You may want to add goldfish, but the water will really be too warm for them. I recommend “mosquito fish” (Gambusia) which are actually a wild guppy. They are inexpensive and they are live bearers, so once they are established you will have an ongoing supply.

Before adding fish I recommend getting your water checked for chlorine etc. Any big pet store will do this for free as will the AquaDome or most any other fish store; just take them a small sample. The “rule” is “1 inch of fish per gallon of water”, so I recommend starting out with about a dozen fish. You may lose a few initially as the water “cycles”, but in a month or so you should be just fine. You will need to add a bit of water as yours evaporates, but adding an inch of water in a washtub is only a gallon or two a week.

Once your pond is set up (and this takes only an hour or so, really, once you have all the materials) just sit back and enjoy it! Disclaimer: I am not a member of the pond society, this is just what I have done in my own yard for my pleasure and for the critters who stop by to drink.

finished pond

finished pond


Isn’t it hard to maintain?
No, once established the fish/plant cycle pretty much takes care of itself.

I travel often. Do I need to have someone come feed the fish while I am away?
No, they will feed themselves on insect larvae and algae.

Isn’t it expensive?
No, unless it turns into an addiction involving massive water features. You can create a washtub pond for under $50.



  1. Do you plan to farm and cook the fish?

    • Now there’s a thought…. seriously, these little guys would hardly make an appetizer! They’re only about an inch long… and much too cute to eat!

  2. I adore water in the garden, this is a fantastic idea, a perfectly reasonable addiction! c

  3. Im made one as well check it out

    • Sweet. What is the container made of? Looks like maybe ceramic?

      • Yes, glazed ceramic

  4. What a lovely idea – water in the garden is such a lovely feature!

  5. […] flowering shrubs to attract even more butterflies and birds will definitely be in my future, and  Rachel’s easy guide for constructing a washtub pond has me convinced that I won’t be happy until I have one set up in my […]

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