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Robyn's Tub Pond Page

Last Updated: 2/21/14

50 gallon buried tub pond on 8/11/99. Contained water lettuce, parrot feather, sweetflag, and primrose creeper.

Introduction to Tub Ponds
Uses for Tub Ponds
Choices for Tub Ponds
Setting Up Tub Ponds
Caring for Tub Ponds
My Tub Ponds
Tub Pond Links and Books

Also, see my indoor pond page as some tub ponds have to come inside for winter.

Introduction to Tub Ponds

Many people are into keeping tub ponds. They are also called container ponds. Often, they are called half-barrel tub ponds or half-barrel ponds or barrel ponds. I use the term tub ponds because my tub ponds are not half-barrels. Half-barrels are also tub ponds too. A tub pond is any pond under about 50 gallons that is made of something rigid. It is usually 100% above ground but some can be buried. Technically, there are some container ponds that are not tub ponds but I go ahead and call them tub ponds too.

It seems that most people believe tub ponds should cost a few hundred dollars. While it is easy to spend that much, you can have a tub pond for under $20! See choices below.

Also, if you think tub ponds are just for those who cannot have larger ponds, then you are really wrong! I have tub ponds and larger ponds and would not give up the tub ponds. See under uses for tub ponds for why!

Uses for Tub Ponds

Here are some reasons and uses for having a tub pond.

Choices for Tub Ponds

Here are some containers that can be used to make tub ponds.

Setting Up Tub Ponds

Dirt:
The ponder needs to decide if the pond will have plants that are potted in smaller pots or that are free to move all over. I chose the latter for my ponds. Thus, I filled the pots half way with clay soil and topped with an inch of pre-rinsed pea gravel. Fill the pond slowly and using a rock to break the force of the incoming water so as not to cloud the water. Then, I plant the marginals and lilies right into the dirt anywhere in the pot. I use this option because the pots do not allow for smaller pots to go inside due to lack of room. If the tub pond is larger (like a bathtub), then smaller pots can be used inside as with ordinary ponds.

Spitters, fountains, and filters:
Most tub ponds do not need or require any electrical equipment at all. Those whose only pond is the tub pond often want a water spitter, fountain, or other water movement to give the complete pond experience. Be absolutely sure that the spitter does not spit the water right out of the tub pond. I tried using a spitter in a tub pond, and the water spit right out every time it was windy. Be sure it is secure so that if an animal knocks it, it does not spit out. Be sure to elevate any pumps off the bottom in case something goes wrong so the pond does not pump dry. Most tub ponds do not need a filter but a small sponge filter or regular small pond filter is nice for larger tub ponds, especially if they contain fish.

Fish:
If you have a larger pond, then fish really are not required for a tub pond (use mosquito dunks to control mosquitoes; see my section on mosquitoes for more information and ideas). Many people add goldfish to tub ponds. This is not a good idea long term if the tub pond is under 40 gallons or so. Not only do regular (single-finned) goldfish grow to a foot long and create too much waste for a small pond, they will be easy pickings for predators in a tub pond. It is perfectly fine to try a few baby (under a few inches) goldfish in a tub pond as long as they will have a larger home when they grow up within a year. Better species of small but hardy fish to try for tub ponds include rosy red minnows, fathead minnows, mosquito fish, and other small native fish. If the pond will freeze solid, be sure to bring in the fish during the winter or put the fish into a deeper pond. You can also try tropical fish in tub ponds. See the above section for more information on them.

Snails and Tadpoles:
Most snails kept in larger ponds will also do fine in tub ponds. Be sure to avoid large tropical snails like apple snails as they grow large, eat all the plants, and will not overwinter in temperate areas. Tadpoles can also be added. Green frogs (in the Eastern US) and small native frogs are the best bet. Bullfrogs are sold most often (probably 90% of tadpoles sold) but grow large and do eat small fish, birds, etc. as full grown adults. Both snails and tadpoles will consume excess fish food, attached algae species, and excess plant material. For lots more information on these animals, go to my snail page and frog page.

Plants:
There are hundreds of plants that can go into a tub pond. Many of the common pond plants come in miniature or dwarf varieties such as the dwarf cattail, dwarf papyrus, and miniature lilies. These are all good choices. I like to use tub ponds for individual lotuses and also for tropical marginal plants. Most of my tub ponds have duckweed which blocks light out below. This basically eliminates algae problems but may deprive the tadpoles in my ponds from enough oxygen at all times. See my pond plant page for tons of information on plants for ponds in general.

Caring for Tub Ponds

Water:
Top off the ponds daily. Tub ponds go down fast. Mine go down because of evaporation; being drunk by cats, deer, raccoons, birds, and other animals; being splashed out by hopping frogs and bathing songbirds; being wicked out by terrestrial plants that make contact with the water; and when it rains hard (rain actually bounces water out of the ponds!). Change some water every few weeks. Topping off does not equal a water change unless that water was drunk by an animal or otherwise splashed out. If the water turns green, see my pond algae page for some ideas. Since tub ponds are small, the addition of barley straw extract or pellets instead of bales makes sense to save room for those who want to try barley.

Cleaning:
If the tub pond has no plants, potted plants, or just floating plants, then it is easy to clean. Once a year is usually good enough, perhaps in the spring before new plants and animals are added for the year. Remove the plants. Bail the water down. If there are animals including insect larvae present that need to be saved, the bailed water will have to sifted. I run my tub pond water through a net to catch tadpoles, snails, and insect larvae. If there is a lot of debris, then it is easier to pour the water in a bucket and then pour a little at a time onto a sifter, net, or something on the ground. If opaque, look for movement when poured out to find animals. This will not work for snails as they usually do not move. Be sure to have some clean tub water in which to hold the animals while cleaning. Once the tub is bailed, if it is small, just pick it up and dump it and squirt it out. Do not scrub it hard as that would remove good bacteria. Refill with water. Add dechlorinator if you have city water. Optional additives include good bacteria preparations and pond salt. If you have animals, aerate the tub pond water heavily with an air stone (they sell air pumps that run on batteries which I use) for a few hours before returning the animals. Then, you are ready to put everything back.

If your tub pond is half dirt like most of mine, then it is much harder to really clean it. This is what I do. In the fall, I bail the tub pond down to the top of the pea gravel, sifting for animals and plants. I remove large debris like leaves and put animals in my two larger ponds for winter. I refill the pond and put everything else back. I repeat this in the spring. About once every two to three years, I have to redo the soil and gravel as over time the soil will become depleted and stinky. It is too hard for me to collect all the gravel back out so I usually buy an extra bag to prepare. Then, after bailing the pond down, I hand remove what gravel I can save. That is rinsed and put aside for later. I pull out the plants and save those I want and divide others. I shovel out the soil/muck into a wheel barrow and dump it in the weeds. Then, I rinse the pot out and put in fresh clay soil. I put in some plant fertilizer tablets depending on what I am planting. I top the soil with rinsed pea gravel. I gently refill the pond with water so as not to stir up the dirt under the gravel. I re-plant the pot and put everything back. It looks really good for a while before the dirt inevitably makes it way above the rocks in certain spots (because I pour water from a bucket into the pond in the same place daily), and algae grows until the plants are re-established.

My Tub Ponds

I currently have five tub ponds and another I use in winter. I also used to have a 50 gallon buried Rubbermaid tub pond. Here are the links to the information on each of these ponds.

12 gallon lotus tub pond
20 gallon tub pond
20 gallon inside tub pond (winter only)
2 gallon pot pond
50 gallon lotus tub pond
20 gallon mosaic pond

Photos of my tub ponds (these are older photos; refer to the links above for more photos):

Mosaic pond on 9/21/02. There is water in it but the fountain is off.
Basement pond on 10/14/01. The 20 gallon tub pond contains tropical water hibiscus, dwarf papyrus, canna, and some floating plants. A taro plant is in a two gallon pot topped with water on the left.
Bunch of ponds on 7/4/01 facing northwest. On the right is the 153 gallon pond (not a tub pond). The 50 gallon lotus tub pond is on the far left, and the 20 gallon tropical tub pond is in the middle. The first two are below ground but the 20 gallon tub is above ground.

Primrose creeper flowering and hanging out of the 50 gallon lotus tub which did not have any lotuses yet, 8/21/99.
50 gallon Lotus tub, no lotuses yet, water lettuce, parrot feather, and primrose creeper, 8/11/99.
20 gallon lily tub shows extra lilies and water celery, 8/11/99.
Tropical tub pond, 9/25/98.

For tons of pond photos, go to my pond pictures page.

Tub Pond Links and Books

Links:

Half-Barrel Pond Page
Barrel Pond Page
Raising Livebearers in Tub Ponds

Valerie sent this photo of her little pond on 7/3/06. It is discussed here on my forum.

The list of tub ponds on Pond Showcase can be found here.

Books:

This is just the one book I have. There are many others you can find sold at book stores, especially the major on-line retailers.

Container Water Gardens by Philip Swindells, Barron's, 2001. This book has many beautiful photos and tells you how to build various tub pond designs but does not contain much information on maintenance, etc. (which is what my web sites are for, I guess!).


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