The Ultimate Guide To DIY Outdoor/Indoor Mini Fish Ponds | STEP-BY-STEP Tutorial
What Is a Mini Fish pond?
It's simple to create a simple mini fish pond for you back patio, deck or garden. In today's guide I will walk you though an easy tutorial that will highlight all the necessary equipment and where to find everything you need online. A mini fish pond can technically be created using any vessel that will hold water and typically sits above the ground, no digging required! If you find yourself here but want to learn about creating a small in-ground pond with an insert, here is an article we made previously. Some people use large planter pots, others use pre-fabricated above ground pond kits that are available from a few retailers. Today, we will cover a simple and cheap diy pond that can be made with only a few easy to find parts and pieces. Let's begin!
How To Make A DIY Mini Fish Pond - Step By Step
STEP 1 - Find Your Pond (planter pot, feed tub or pre-fab)
First, find your pond. I like to go to Lowe's, Home Depot, Tracker Supply or a local garden shop and cruise the outdoor areas. There you can find all sorts of different containers with unique shapes, styles and sizes. The first decision to make is how large of a DIY pond do you want. If space is limited like on an apartment deck, a planter pot or smaller sized tub might be best. If space isn't a problem, you might consider a large tub (over 50 gallons) in order to really create an aquatic masterpiece.
Budget is also an important thing to consider, some of these ponds can cost under $50, while others can get close to $500 and above. The mini pond that's highlighted in today's article cost ~$85 with plants and everything! I'll be sure to show you examples of a few different price ranges, don't worry.
Planter Pot DIY Mini Ponds
One of the cheaper ways to create a mini pond, start by finding a style and size of planter pot that catches your eye. Keep water volume in mind and try not to get anything less than 8 gallons or so. Remember, the ultimate goal is to keep live fish in here and we don't want them to be stressed out and not enough room to swim. Whatever you pick, just make sure it doesn't have any holes in the bottom.
If you find something that you cant live without, and it does have holes, you can always seal them up with big globs of silicone. If you aren't interested in leaving the house for this build, don't worry! Here are two great mini fish ponds based on planter pots that I've found for you on Amazon.
Left/Above- 13.2 gallon barrel style planter pot with no drainage holes (oak) More info
Right/Above- 10.1 gallon barrel style planter pot with no drainage holes (grey) More info
Notice that each one of the recommendations is no smaller than 10 gallons, this will help ensure enough room for a few small fish even after we add plants, etc. Not to mention if your goal is to keep even small gold fish, you want to get as large of a container for your pond as possible. Towards the end of this guide Ill recommend my favorite mini pond fish based on each size of mini pond, don't worry :)
Some people opt. to create a super small fishless diy pond, I'll can it a nano pond. These nano pond are just as cool as the ponds we are making today, they just lack the additional care that's involved when keeping fish. These nano ponds can be any size, even less than a few gallons since fish are NOT involved. You can also create a stunning piece that does not require a pump, filter or any equipment at all. These ponds can even sit inside on a window sill or table near a window. Are you a fan of freshwater shrimp? These tanks or ponds or whatever you want to call them are a great home for small shrimp. Anyway, I just wanted to though that out there- If your interested in these nano ponds here is a link to a great article about them.
Feed/Planter Tub Mini Fish Ponds (my favorite)
Here we go, on to my favorite choice for small outdoor fish ponds, the feed or planter tub! Well, technically it's any kind of tub larger than the previous planter pots. Aquarium keepers often use common Rubbermaid totes to store fish temporarily, or even house aquatic plants. I've actually used kids swimming pools as a plant grow-out apparatus in the summer months. Only issue is, they don't look the best, are flimsy and aren't a nice pond shape. We want some style!
My first pick in this category is the galvanized steel planter tub. Here is a great 16 gallon tub on Amazon that we will showcase in today's example build.
This is a great option for just about everyone based on its size and price. I also tend to like the steel finish, it has a certain rustic vibe to it.
Keep in mind there are lots of different sizes available, if you want something bigger take a look around locally and see what you can find.
The second option in this category are the strong LDPE plastic feed tubs. Tuff Stuff is a good brand for these types of tubs, they have a few sizes available on Amazon ranging from 15 to 25 gallons. Again, larger option are available, you'll just have to pick those up locally.
Last but not least, we have to mention the all-in-one pond kits before we continue with the cheaper do-it-yourself path. If you're not into piecing together the items for a custom small pond, the Aquascapes Patio Pond kit is a great option. A few sizes are available and feature a very realistic stone like finish. Ponds such as this one by Aquascapes contains a built in filter chamber but does not include a small pump required to run your new aquatic ecosystem.
STEP 2 - Find a Pump
No matter how big you pond is, you need to circulate the water a bit. The shape of your pond and its water volume will dictate how large / strong of a pump you need. Smaller ponds can sometimes get away with no water circulation and rely solely on the plants for keeping the environment safe. That said, I always recommend adding something to keep the water flowing, even if it's only a tiny bit. Here are a few general choices that are great for mini ponds.
Utility Pond Pumps
Utility pond pumps are the most common style of pump on the market. They may be branded as a pond or aquarium pump, it doesn't really matter as long as your diy pond isn't massive (there are special pumps for that). These pumps are meant to sit on the bottom pointed upward or can be suction cupped to the side wall of the pond if your contained allows for it. If you wish to pump water up to some sort of a waterfall or filter reservoir, this can be easily achieved by picking out any type of tubing that will connect to the pump output. Below are three pumps that would be great for outdoor ponds in the range of 15-40 gallons. Keep in mind there are all sorts of different flow rates and while there isn't a hard rule for how much flow you need, I like to roughly follow these guidelines:
Pond size- 10-20 gallons = 50-100 gal/hr
Pond size- 20-50 gallons = 200-500 gal/hr
250 gallons per hour adjustable flow pump capable of pumping 3.3 ft vertically. Very robust and reliable pump that will last several years. Great for ponds in the 10 - 20 gallon range.
158 gallons per hour utility pump with threaded interchangeable input and output (great for different sized tubing). Internal filter sponge is a nice bonus. Non- adjustable flow rate, but several flow rates available. This is my favorite pick for larger mini ponds 10-20 gallons and up.
Aquarium powerheads can also make for great mini pond pumps, they feature most of the same attributes as the EcoPlus pumps above. I'm not going to bother adding to much here, just take a look at flow rates and maybe you even have one in your pile of aquarium gear that you can use. One of my favorite powerheads that would be great is the Aquatop PH-8
Solar Pumps (YIKES...)
Solar pumps may seem like an attractive option, but they have some serious downsides you need to consider before going this route. For my first deck pond at the new house, I selected the most affordable solar pump that I could find. I wanted to go the solar route to avoid running yet another extension cord across the deck. Downside number one, it was really expensive for the size and flow rate. For almost $40 I received a tiny 3.5W pump that was probably only pushing out 20 gallons per hour. Downside number two, it only runs full power when the sun is out and hitting the small solar panel that it comes with. It will continue to run at a reduced capacity into the evening but will eventually stop well before it gets dark outside.
This small solar pump worked out ok for me, since it was on my 12 gallon pond with no fish and only plants. For the sake of pond science, I have just ordered the 8W version of the pump to see if it works better and would be suitable for a true mini fish pond. There are a few other solar pumps on Amazon with much higher flow rates, but MUCH more expensive ($100+). I'll keep you posted and let you know if I decide to try them out.
What About Waterfalls?
Pumping pond water up to a waterfall or filter box usually make sense when you have a larger pond that requires heavy filtration. You can get creative and create your on make shift waterfall or filter box if you want, just keep in mind it might not be completely necessary. In the past I have created a filter box by using a railing planter that fit over the edge of my 35 gallon pond. I filled it with lava rock for filter media and drilled holes in the side for the water to return. You can get creative with these and even add aquatic plants to help them blend in. Pre-made waterfall spillways are also common place, but for small above ground ponds they can be tough to fit in place. I would opt out of this type of filtration and just rely on the water circulation and plants that we will now discuss!
STEP 3 - Get Some Pond Plants!
The size of the pond you pick will of course dictate how many and what type of plants make the most sense. For this step, you'll have to visit a local garden center that has an aquatic plant or pond section. It can be tough but not impossible to find quality pond plants online. Most of the plants online are smaller than what you might want to start with. However, here are a few online options via Amazon and Ebay. They come in a decent size and just remember, plants will grow bigger!
Anacharis and Hornwort
Two great stem plants that grow fast and are perfect for a small Pond or aquarium.
Great medium to large sized floating plant that will actively detoxify and clean your pond water.
There are so many different pond plants it's impossible to name even just my select favorites. You could create a very nice looking mini pond with just the 3 plants above. You have all three bases covered, submerged plants like the Anacharis and Hornwort, floating plants with the Water Lettuce, and emergent plants with the Water Celery.
Now that we have covered pretty much everything you need to start your new mini pond, lets walk though my most recent creation! Using the 16 gallon galvanized steel planter tub I showed above, I created a new beautiful diy pond for my deck. After a quick rinse, I picked the perfect location for it. Even completely filled with water, this pond like many of the planter pot options, will be easy to move if you change your mind. I suggest finding a spot near an outdoor electrical outlet to reduce the need for ugly extension cords. If you opt. to use a solar pump, just make sure your pond will get a decent amount of light. Regarding light, not all mini ponds need full sun for the entirety of the day. Smaller shallow ponds (<20 gallons) that receive too much sun can heat up and possibly cause problems for fish. Picking a spot that gets 3-5 hours of direct sunlight might just be perfect. Grab yourself a cheap digital thermometer to measure the temperature swings thought the day once you set it up- Before you add fish.
For this particular pond setup, I will be using a sand substrate. This is an optional step that i'll be doing because I want to add a few plants to the bottom. You can use gravel or even active aquarium substrate if you so desire. I have some Monterey Beach sand from a previous aquarium setup that I'll be using today, it has a light color that will reflect light and show up really nice when viewing from above.
Next, I like to grab a few bricks or pavers for my plant pots to sit on. For this shallow pond, it only takes one brick to raise the plant pots up to about the top of where the water level will eventually be. You can re-pot your plants into mesh plant pots if you have the room for it, but an alternative is to simply stab a few slits in the pots you have.
Once you have most of your plants in place, now you can begin to fill up your pond. It really helps to have a hose near by, but smaller deck ponds may be filled in any way that's easiest for you. Make sure you have some dechlorinator near by to neutralize harmful chlorine. I also like to add in some Fritz TurboStart to get the beneficial bacteria cycle going as fast as possible, just follow your normal new aquarium ritual here.
Now we add in our pump. For this simple backyard pond setup we are choosing to use the 8W solar pump that I mentioned earlier. All we need to do is have some decent water circulation and this thing actually works well.
If you are planing on having few plants and lots of fish, you may want to consider some traditional filtration. As long as you have easy access to a power outlet, you can use a lot of different aquarium style filters such as this Aquaclear HOB. Most mini ponds will be shaped in a way to allow them to sit flush. Here is an example:
The goal for this small DIY pond is to have the filtration be 100% natural. By circulating the water efficiently, the high plant based bio load should take care of most if not all of the potentially dangerous nitrogen compounds (NH3, NO2-, NO3-) that would otherwise build up over time. More plants, less fish and the result should be a safe environment that will require very few water changes and not much overall maintenance.
Let's wrap this pond tutorial up with a few good examples of aquarium fish that double as great mini pond fish.
White Cloud Minnows
The fish highlighted here are great pond fish due to their ability to withstand a wide range of temperatures. For the most part these are all cold-tolerant fish that can survive a mild Winter. Unless you live in Florida, Hawaii or some where with a similar climate, you will really want to consider removing you fish in the Winter months or supplement with a submersible heater when the time comes. Just keep that in mind.
If you have any questions or feedback please leave a comment below and I'll do my best to get back to you! Thanks for taking the time to read this guide :)
Fish Tank Mike
Check out my YouTube Channel AQUAPROS for more Aquarium and Pond related videos!