How to make a fish pond from a barrel

Updated February 21, 2017

A water garden can be a soothing and beautiful addition to your family's outdoor living space. However, creating a pond is a major project, requiring intensive labour and a substantial cash investment to purchase the materials needed to make the pond appear as natural as possible. By creating a whiskey barrel water garden, you can avoid the labour and expense associated with an in-ground pond. It can also add a water element to a small garden or patio area that might not be appropriate for a pond.

Purchase a half whiskey barrel from your local home improvement store. The barrel will need to be lined to keep it from leaking. The easiest option is to purchase a rigid plastic barrel liner. Another option is to purchase flexible PVC lining. If you use PVC lining, you will need to cut it to fit the inside of the whiskey barrel.

Find a location for your water garden that will get at least six hours of full sun and one that is easy to access with your garden hose. Remember, once the barrel is filled, it will be too heavy to relocate, so choose its location wisely. If you are placing the barrel on a concrete or wooden patio, put the barrel on a small platform of bricks or a concrete block to protect the bottom from rotting. Install the liner and then fill the barrel with water. Let the water settle for 48 to 96 hours to allow the chlorine to dissipate.

Add the water plants to the whiskey barrel after 96 hours. The oxygenating plants should be submerged near the bottom. The floating plants (such as pygmy water lilies) will float on top of the water. The edge plants should have their containers placed 5 inches or so below the surface (so their leaves rise above the water). Stack bricks on their sides to create ledges for placing potted plants at the correct levels within the barrel.

To discourage algae and to create a healthy ecosystem for your fish, populate 50 per cent to 60 per cent of the water's surface with plants. Wait two to three weeks for the ecosystem to stabilise and then add your fish.


Miniature and pygmy water plants are the best type for container water gardens; many local nurseries stock a wide variety in the early spring. In the fall, before the first frost, bring your water plants inside and store in an aquarium; otherwise they will not survive in the winter.


Container water gardens cannot support Koi fish! The whiskey barrels are too small and Koi may suffocate. Other fish will suffocate as well if you add too many to the barrel. The rule of thumb is to add one fish per every 5 gallons of water.

Things You'll Need

  • Recycled half whiskey barrel
  • Rigid plastic barrel liner (optional)
  • Flexible PVC lining (optional)
  • Water plants including at least one of each type: oxygenating, floating and edge plant
  • Bricks
  • 2-3 small goldfish or mosquito fish
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About the Author

Shauntelle Hamlett is a nine-year veteran business writer, who has written website, brochure, trade publication, and marketing collateral for industries ranging from music to neurosurgery. Hamlett also specializes in medical writing, and has developed education materials for doctors, medical staff and heir patients. Her publication credits include Unsigned Music Magazine, eHow, Answerbag, Wacom Monthly and