Building a cheap water garden

by admin on May 9, 2008 · 4 Comments

in All Posts, Cool Stuff, Plan & Design

How can I build a water garden cheap? I’ve been asked this question on several occasions, usually when I’ve presented a price for what a customer had asked me to build. Clients are usually surprised how expensive it can be to construct a well built, long lasting water feature. Water gardens can be problematic and on a large scale I won’t cut any corners which can mean expensive. For the do-it yourselfer there are definitely some tricks to building one.  I suggest one starts with a small, inexpensive water garden to test the water (pun intended, no boos please.). It can be a fun weekend project.

For beginners, and to keep it on the less expensive side, I suggest starting a water garden in a tub or pot rather than an in-ground pond. Half wine barrels make excellent containers and you can find them online pretty inexpensively. A collection of containers always makes a nice look too. If you are set on doing an in-ground water garden then my number one rule is do not skimp on the liner. NEVER try to get by using 3 ml black plastic from the hardware store. It will not work and your pond will leak, I promise. For free form shapes use flexible pond liner material over the bedding material it comes with and take your time to install it correctly.

The same material should be used to build container water gardens and is available at Home Depot or online.

You will also need a pump to circulate the water and increase the oxygen level in the water. The pumps you find at Home Depot, little giant or equal brand, work fine. My suggestion here is to read the pump literature to determine which pump fits your needs and then purchase the next size up. You can always dampen the water flow but you can not increase it and pumps get tired over time so I suggest you begin with a little larger one than you need.

You will need to create shelves or put stones or bricks in the planter so that your plants sit at the correct height for the particular plant. Plants vary on the level of submersion they require. I suggest you consult a good water gardening book for this information but don’t guess or your plants could suffer.

As for plants, there are several ways to start out. There are several online sources with good quality plants you can purchase. Most local garden centers won’t have a great selection that’s why I say to shop online. There are some garden centers that have a knowledgeable person with a good assortment of plants but it is they are the exception. Another good source for water plants is other water gardeners. In many cases they will be happy to offer you starter plants at no charge. Water plants are continually growing and need to be divided or they will over grow the garden so people are happy to give them away, especially to beginners. Try putting an ad on craigslist in your area and I bet you will be pleasantly surprised. I hope this helps.

Have fun with your project.

Rees Cowden


Thanks for the water garden tips. These are actually very helpful for the budget gardener.

Nancy Bond

Great ideas and instructions – thanks!


Thanks for the instructions. I just wish I had read this before I spent over $100 on our water garden just to house my son’s tadpoles.


Awesome instructions, they’re very detailed! I never thought to just use a barrell or something instead of digging a hole and lining it; a small water garden would have definitely been a lot cheaper for me. Another thing to think of is solar pond pumps; they might be a little more expensive but they power themselves for free once you get them.

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