How to Make a Mini Outdoor Pond for Aquarium Fish
Everybody is ready to take a walk outside as soon as the weather gets warmer. What better way to enjoy nature than to set up your first mini pond for breeding aquarium fish? If you live in a temperate climate that experiences distinct seasonal changes, then your mini pond fun usually lasts for 3 to 4 months in the summer (e.g., sometime between May and September in the United States). However, if you live in the subtropical zone that stays above 50degF or 10degC for most of the year (like Florida), then you can play with fish outdoors all year round.
Nature does a spectacular job of raising fish in many ways, and we can learn some valuable lessons by putting our fish outside. Fish and shrimp develop brilliant coloration when grown under sunlight and fed natural foods like green water, algae, fallen leaves, and live insects. Mini ponds not only house an abundance of fish babies and plants for you to enjoy, but they also attract all sorts of wildlife – such as bugs, frogs, birds, and even deer. In drought times, your pond can become a vital component of the local eco-system.
How Do You Make a Mini Pond?
It is one of the most straightforward parts of making your mini pond. You can start with something as ordinary as a 5-gallon bucket or purchase a giant 300-gallon plastic stock tub from a livestock feed store. You can also use old aquariums and kiddie pools. Larger containers are better for reducing temperature swings and water quality issues. Also, containers made out of metal may not be conducive for keeping shrimp and snails, since invertebrates are more sensitive to trace metals in the water.
Even large, decorative pots can become beautiful mini ponds for your backyard or apartment balcony.
The location of your container can play a significant role in temperature management. If possible, put the container in shade. As the temperature doesn’t change so much, less algae will grow. (Algae is good for your fish, but it may not be as desirable if you plan on growing plants for profit.) Shade cloths can be used to reduce the amount of sun that hits your container if there isn’t enough shade. You can also bury the container in the ground, either partially or completely. This will keep the mini pond cooler in summer and warmer in winter. You will need to put safety fences around them, just as with an inground swimming pool.
When it comes to filtration, a simple sponge filter with an air pump should suffice for a mini pond, but you can also buy a pond filter or make your own DIY bucket filter for keeping larger fish like goldfish and African cichlids. It is important to shield the electrical equipment against rain and sunlight. A garage can be used to protect the air pump and allow the mini tub to run outside. To protect extension cables and power cords, a weatherproof box can be purchased at a hardware store. Cover the air pump with a weatherproof box, or place it underneath an upside down tote to reduce UV damage.
Once the equipment is set up, fill the container and add dechlorinater to make the tap water safe for fish. Rain should help replace evaporation from the mini pond, but you may need to top it off with the hose if there happens to be in drought. In the rest of the article, we’ll talk about plants, fish, and predator deterrents to add to the mini pond.
What Are the Best Plants for a Small Pond?
Because of their many benefits, we recommend that you include aquatic plants in your pond. Plants offer shade and shelter for fish to hide from predators, as well as landing spots for insects and amphibians to take a drink. Because of its stunning purple flowers and long bushy roots, water hyacinths are a favorite pond plant. They provide excellent cover for fish. Water treatment plants often use them because of their amazing ability to draw out organic waste from the water and remove toxins.
Water hyacinth in bloom
You can also grow duckweed, lotuses and water lilies in your pond. Toss in some water sprite or other stem plant trimmings, and they will flourish and multiply under the natural sunlight. The power of plants means that there is no need to worry about fallen leaves, branches, and other decaying materials in the container. The plants purify the water, and your mini ecosystem (consisting of algae, microorganisms, and fish) helps break them down.
What Fish Can You Put in a Small Pond?
This question requires some additional research on your part in terms of how long certain fish can stay outside in your climate zone, but we’ve found great success with these hardy species, some of which can tolerate cooler temperatures:
– Variatus platies – Wild type endlers – Cherry shrimp – Ricefish – White cloud mountain minnows – Killifish – Japanese trapdoor snails – Koi and goldfish – Apistogramma dwarf cichlids – Rainbowfish
Multispecies can be combined, provided they’re peaceful and don’t eat each others. Most fish breed readily outside, so make sure to have an exit strategy in terms of where to keep all the babies. Selling the extra fish and plants to friends, fish stores, or online auctions at the end of pond season can be a nice way to recoup some of your summer tubbing costs.
Livebearers are a common fish to breed during pond season because of their healthy appetites and high birth rates.
How do you protect your Pond from Predators?
Unfortunately, by putting little fish out in nature, you’re also providing potential food for the local wildlife. Cats, raccoons, and larger birds are happy to get a free meal wherever they can. If you don’t have any bigger fish in the mini pond, dragonfly larvae can find a way to sneak in and catch some baby fish. There’s no foolproof protection, but here are some methods to try, depending on which animals you’re having trouble with.
The first line of defense is to provide plenty of hiding spots for the fish using plants, PVC pipes, plant shelves, hardscape, and other decor. Some people put “lids” on top of their tubs (e.g., metal wire racks or greenhouse siding) that still allow light to pass through while keeping predators out. Others prefer to use netting, a grid of clear fishing line, or mesh covers that can be easily removed for your enjoyment.
If you see a strange alien swimming in your pond, it might be a dragonfly larva predating on fish fry.
How do you winterize a small pond?
Most tropical fish cannot live outdoors during the winter seasons, so drain the water and bring them indoors when temperatures start dipping below 65degF or 18degC. (If you want to keep the fish out longer, consider using a heater to add an extra month of pond season in the spring and fall.) For perennial plants that will come back next year, cut back their leaves to begin their dormant period and store them in the garage or underneath the overturned pond container.
If you want to try keeping cold water fish outdoors in the winter, use a small air stone or sponge filter to keep the water somewhat aerated and allow sufficient oxygen to reach the fish. If the tub is large enough or buried inground, stratification may occur, such that the surface ices over and insulates the warmer water at the bottom where the fish are “hibernating.” Smaller containers with fish can be moved entirely into the garage to decrease the chances of freezing.
Inground-ponds keep it warmer in winter but require extra protections such as safety fences to keep small children away.
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