How To Set Up a Container Pond: Our Helpful Guide

Alison Page

Alison Page


Container Pond

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If you would love to have a pond, but space in your backyard is limited, why not cAlison Pageonsider setting up a container pond instead? You can even have a small pot pond on a balcony if you live in an apartment!

But does a container pond need a filter system and pump? Can you keep fish in a container pond? And what plants work best in a small container pond?

This guide gives you all the information you need to set up, stock, and maintain a small container pond.

Why Consider a Container Pond?

The container pond is the very underappreciated cousin of in-ground ponds and fish tanks.

A container pond is small enough to set up in an afternoon. The setup is much cheaper than an in-ground pond, but your choice of plants and fish is equally varied!

Pot and container ponds attract frogs, dragonflies, and other wildlife to your garden. Container water gardens can feature beautiful pond plants, including Water Lettuce, Lily blossoms, and Lotus Pods, adding to the aesthetic appeal of your garden.

How To Set Up a Container Pond

When it comes to setting up container ponds, there are barely any rules! 

You can use any size container, ranging from a plastic prefabricated tub to a simple large plant pot. There are also quite a few prefabricated water garden kits to choose from, and these are some of the quickest ways to get set up and running.

The two most important aspects of setting up a container water garden are your choice of container and the location you pick.

Location, Location, Location!

There’s more to picking the perfect spot for your container pond than just how the pond looks. 

For example, how much sun will the pond receive? If the pond is very small and gets too much direct sunshine during the daytime, the water will warm up and cool down pretty drastically throughout a 24-hour cycle, which could kill your fish. Although lots of sunshine is great news for plants, it can also cause excessive algae to grow. 

If there are deciduous trees and bushes close by, your pond could be covered with fallen leaves that you’ll need to clear out. Runoff from nearby roofs and other sources could pollute your pond with toxic chemicals and heavy metals.

Fortunately, container ponds are generally not especially difficult to relocate if necessary. However, choosing the right location for your pond from the get-go is better than moving the whole thing after the fact.

Filtration System

If you don’t have a filter system, your pond will quickly become a container full of stagnant water. So, to keep the environment healthy for your fish and maintain good water quality, you really need to install a filtration system.

The type of filter system you need for your container pond depends on the size of the pond and the quantity of livestock you intend to keep.

The most popular filter system designs use living plants to process fish waste and ammonia, and if you have a very low stock level in your pond, you can get away without a filter.

However, if you want to keep large fish such as goldfish, you will need a filter system to handle the amount of fish waste these creatures produce. Check out your local fish store, pond supplies store, or garden center for filtration solutions.

What Plants Can I Grow In a Container Pond?

Dozens of aquatic plants can be grown successfully in a container water garden. However, we’ve only included some of the species that are easy to obtain and grow to get your container pond off to a flying start!

Submerged Plants

Several species of aquatic plants grow submerged; ideal for a small container pond.

Water Lily

water lily surrounded with leaves

Water lilies are a very diverse plant group. Most dwarf water lilies produce beautifully colored flowers, making a fabulous display in your pond. The plants can survive over the winter months by storing starches in a bulb that the plant uses for nutrition until the warmer weather returns.

The plants produce floating pads that provide safe refuge for frogs and insects, and the shade beneath keeps the water from heating up too quickly and restricts algae growth.

The main drawback of growing water lilies is that the shade they create can prevent other plants from growing. 



Cabomba is a trendy aquarium plant and a pond favorite. This plant is a US native species from the Eastern states, so it can deal with that climate. Cabomba only requires intense lighting conditions.

This attractive plant usually turns reddish or purple when given good lighting and even produces tiny white flowers at the water’s surface. The plant can grow rooted or free-floating.

Cabomba is not the best plant choice if you have goldfish or other veggie fish in your pond, as the fish will gladly make a meal of the plant’s leaves.

Floating Plants

Floating plants look good in container ponds, and several attractive, easy-to-grow options exist.

Water Hyacinth

Water Hyacinth

The Water Hyacinth can make a good choice for your container pond if you live in an area with mild winters

This perennial plant can be quite invasive and grows extremely quickly, doubling in area in just two weeks! Water Hyacinths produce delicate white and purple flowers that can last throughout the summer and fall, adding gorgeous color to your pond.

As a bonus, Water Hyacinth uses fish waste and ammonia as fertilizer, helping to keep the water clean and safe for your livestock.



Hornwort is often sold in bundles to be grown rooted in the substrate. However, this plant loves light and grows better as a surface plant.

Fish love the shelter and shade the plant provides, and this North American native plant is hardy, winter-tolerant, and extremely fast-growing. So, if you want the ideal beginner plant, Hornwort is an excellent choice.

What Fish Can You Keep In a Container Pond?

Container ponds aren’t usually heated, so you must think carefully about what fish species you can keep in an outdoor container water garden.

Warm Water Container Garden Fish

If you live in a warm climate, there are quite a few colorful fish species you can consider for life in your container pond.


How to Care for Bright Colored Endlers Livebearers

Small tropical livebearers, including guppies and the like, can do very well in a container water garden.

These little fish will happily snap up insect larvae and eat algae growing in the pond. You can also supplement the fish’s diet with commercially prepared fish flakes and mini pellets.

Most livebearers can do fine down to temperatures of around 68°F. If you live in North America, swordtails, mollies, and platies are all good choices, but hardy guppies are suitable for the warmer, southern parts of the country. 

Betta Fish

Betta fish

If your nighttime summer temperatures stay around or above 70°F, you could keep a betta fish outside in a container pond. The natural light will bring out more bright colors in your fish, and your pet will enjoy snacking on algae, water-bound insects, and insect larvae that colonize your pond.

Bettas can survive happily in tropical regions, such as southern Florida, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii. Elsewhere, you’ll need to bring your betta inside once temperatures drop in the fall.

Coldwater Container Garden Fish

 Several species of coldwater fish can make good pets for a container pond.



Although the Koi is a very popular fish for outdoor ponds of over 300 gallons, a container setup will most likely be too small for these large, active fish. Fortunately, goldfish can live in a container of over 50 gallons, making them a suitable candidate for a container pond.

Goldfish are extremely hardy fish that come in a dazzling array of color varieties and different species. Generally, Fancy goldfish are best suited to a container pond, as slim-bodied types need more swimming space and a larger setup.

These fish thrive in water temperatures below 72°F and can happily survive in suitably deep container ponds over the winter months. However, you should note that Goldfish like to rummage around in the substrate, so your plants might get uprooted.

Weather Loach

Dojo Loach
European Weatherfish or Weather loach (Misgurnus follilis) in aquarium, on gravel

Weather loaches are also known as Dojo loaches.

This species of loach comes from East Asia and can survive in temperatures as low as 50°F, making them ideal for life in a container pond. 

The Weather loach is named for its sensitivity to barometric pressure. When the pressure is low, the loaches dart around frantically, often letting you know there’s a storm coming.

The Weather loach prefers fine substrates, such as mud or sand, in which they can bury themselves. The fish eat insect larvae, worms, and small invertebrates in the wild. However, they can usually be tempted to take prepared and frozen foods, too.

Mosquito Fish

Mosquito Fish

Mosquito fish are related to the common Guppy fish. These little livebearers are found throughout the midwestern states, so they can tolerate the winter months well enough to survive in an outdoor pond year-round.

These helpful fish eat midge and mosquito larvae, hence their common name. That keeps your pond from becoming a breeding ground for nasty, biting insects. Mosquito Fish also eat algae, helping to keep your pond looking tidy.

These critters are prolific breeders, and you’ll quickly find your pond teeming with them!

US-native Species

Several species of fish are actually native to the US, making them the perfect choice for an unheated container pond.

For example, Rainbow Shiners, American Flagfish, and Pygmy Sunfish can live outdoors year-round and can be found in many fish stores. Then there are Darters, vibrantly colored bottom dwellers, and elegant Sailfin Mollies that live in brackish estuaries from the Carolinas down to Mexico.

All these fish are small and hardy enough to live happily in a container water garden setting.

Maintaining Your Container Pond

Container Pond

Once your container pond is set up and your filter system is up and running, there’s not much maintenance work to do.

Basically, you just need to top off the pond with dechlorinated tap water every week and carry out biweekly water changes. Of course, depending on your location, you might even find that rainwater keeps the pond topped up and the water clean.

Test the water weekly to monitor nitrate levels and perform water changes if necessary.

Remember to rinse the filter media in pond water to remove any accumulations of sludge, and change the media periodically in line with the manufacturer’s guidelines.

Controlling Algae

Outdoor container ponds get lots of natural light, which is great news for your plants but also encourages algal growth.

Unfortunately, if not controlled, hair algae and green water can be a constant issue, covering your decorations and pretty much everything in your pond with a bright green slime. That means you’ll need to spend time scrubbing away the algae to keep your pond looking tidy.

UV Sterilizers

UV sterilizers can be used to kill free-floating algae that turn the pond water green. These devices are hooked up to a pump that pulls the water through a chamber where the algae are exposed to hard UV radiation.

Algae Eaters

Adding a few algae eaters to your pond is another excellent way to control algae issues. 

Unfortunately, most freshwater algae eater species can’t live outdoors during the cooler months. However, mystery snails can do well year-round, although any baby snails produced will most likely be eaten by your goldfish.

Some fish species, such as Guppies and Mosquito Fish, are also pretty efficient algae eaters.


Local predatory creatures can make a meal of your container pond residents. For example, cats, herons, and raccoons can view your pond’s shallow waters as a floating buffet!

Luckily, there are plenty of ways to keep your fish safe from predators.

Pond Netting

Although covering your pond with mesh netting is not the most attractive option, it’s definitely the most effective way to protect your livestock and plants.


Some animals and birds are fooled by plastic decoy owls, hawks, or herons that you can position around your pond to protect your fish.

However, you will need to relocate your decoy every few days so the predators don’t get wise to your scare tactics. The main downside of decoys is that they can frighten away desirable visitors, such as garden birds.

Final Thoughts

Did you enjoy our guide to setting up a container pond? If you found the article interesting and helpful, please take a moment to share it!

Container ponds are the perfect solution if you have a small garden or apartment balcony, so you can’t have a dug-in, larger pond. A container water garden provides a soothing sound of trickling water and can bring life and a pleasing aesthetic focal point to the smallest garden.

A container pond is easy, quick, and inexpensive to set up, and you can keep plenty of different plants and breeds of fish for minimal time and effort.

Did you build a container pond? What fish do you keep in it? Tell us in the comments box below!

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