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How to Build a Patio Water Garden

Easy Ideas for a Water Garden

A patio water garden is a great way to add a water feature, especially if you have limited space or a limited budget. Water features have been growing in popularity, and with the growing amount of water plants available to the home gardener, it is easy to see why.


When planning your patio water garden, you must first find a container that you like. As long as the container holds water, or you are able to line it with a waterproof liner, it will work.

Many people who are looking for a water feature to have on their patio will use a whiskey barrel. They need a liner, but they give you a fairly large area to work with. Other options frequently chosen for water gardens are terra cotta pots, glazed pots, galvanized tubs or anything else you take a fancy to.

Some containers will work without liners, and sometimes you can find a watertight insert that will fit just right.

No matter what container you choose, you also need to figure out where you are going to put it. Just because your water garden will be on your patio doesn't’t mean it can do without adequate sunlight. Another consideration is how easy is it to do maintenance in that location? Will you be able to get up close and personal if you need to clean out excess algae or remove excess plants?

Water Garden Plants

Speaking of plants, there are more and more to choose from in the garden centers now that are specifically for water gardens. Umbrella plants, water lilies, water lettuce, fairy moss, duckweed, star grass… the choices are endless. When you are dealing with water plants, they can be divided into different groups: floating, submerged and marginal plants.

Floating plants float happily on the surface, moving as the current takes them. Floating plants include water lettuce, water hyacinth, water lilies, fairy moss, floating heart, bladderwort and duckweed, along with many others.

Submerged plants live entirely under water… roots, stems, leaves and all. They are known as oxygenators, since they provide oxygen to the water. They take nutrients in through their leaves from the water. Along with the floating plants, they compete for nutrients in the water so algae can’t take over.

Examples of submerged plants you may choose include anacharis, cabomba and water milfoil. You may want to pot up submerged plants… most submerged plants tend to be invasive, otherwise.

Marginals or edge plants grow with their roots submerged, but the rest of the plant rises above the water. They can make your water garden look incredible. Examples of marginals include pennywort, miniature cattail, sweet flag, corkscrew rush, creeping jenny and pickerel weed, among many others.


The secret to design is to choose the right combinations of marginals, submerged and floating plants to make a pleasing patio water garden. Marginal plants can be potted and set on a brick or other base inside your water garden to raise it to the level that will make the plant happiest. Creeping jenny and other dangling plants will hang over the edge of your container in an attractive way, softening the edge of your garden.

Submerged plants can be kept in a small pot and anchored to the bottom of your water garden. Floating plants will just float where they please… water lilies, however, must be potted and set on the bottom. Their leaves and flowers will float on the surface.

The important thing to remember is to make your garden have levels… the most pleasing water gardens have one or more tall plants, more plants that float at surface level, and if the garden is large enough, a submerged level, creating a three dimensional effect through the surface of the water.

Even if you don’t have room to really see a submerged plant, you can create a similar effect by having hanging plants like the creeping jenny mentioned above to dangle below the edge of the container.

If you are not sure what plants will look nice together in your patio water garden, don’t hesitate to ask for advice from your local nursery personnel or go online and do a little research.

The most important thing to remember though is to choose plants that you like. If you don’t enjoy the plants in your patio water garden, it doesn't’t fulfill its purpose.

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