Water is one of the most attractive features a backyard can have. Water-fountains, bird baths, ponds, and water gardens can all turn an ordinary yard into an oasis of serenity — which is probably why water is such a popular addition in the first place. Ponds are great because they always have something going on in the way of insects, fish, and other outdoor critters, but the problem is that not everyone has a big enough backyard to support one. Luckily, you can still get the feeling of a pond with a water garden, which can be as big or small as you need it to be. Here's what you'll need to set yours up:

Water Gardens and Aquaponics

koi pond

A water garden gives you a chance to grow plants that you’ve probably never grown before. It also allows you to dedicate a little slice of your yard to the local wildlife (you’ll be surprised to see who visits your water garden after you’ve gotten it up and running). As if all that wasn't enough, starting a water garden even gives you a chance to try out aquaponics. An aquaponic set-up, which accommodates both aquatic plant and animal life, is great for gardeners. The fish enjoy nibbling on the plants and food you provide for them, and in return, they put nutrients back into the water for the plants to use and thrive off. The plants also provide shade and help keep algae at bay. All in all, it’s a wonderful cycle of life.

Check Your Local Ordinances

If you’re able to do other types of gardening in your locale, you'll probably be okay to build a water garden. Of course, it’s always best to check. Areas with homeowners associations can be especially tricky to water garden in. HOAs are known for restricting residents from keeping certain things in their yards, so checking first is the best way to keep yourself out of trouble. If you find out it’s not allowed, you can always work with the board on finding some middle ground that satisfies the both of you.

Water Garden Size and Site

The first things you'll need to determine when putting in a water garden are the size you want it to be and where it's going to be located in your yard.

Water gardens can be created pretty easily inside containers, so use that as a starting place, and explore your other options from there. For instance, you might cut a wine barrel in half and use it to create two small water gardens. Alternatively, you could invest in a pond container, which is made specifically to be used as a pond.

Finally, you can choose to dig out your own water garden, using tarps and other materials to keep water in and soil out. The fun part about this option is that the sky’s the limit when it comes to shape and size. When it comes to location, try to avoid putting it around trees. Between all the falling leaves and the dense root systems, you’ll save yourself a lot of trouble by keeping your water garden as far away from trees as possible.

What to Add

lotus flower

You have a lot of options when it comes to adding plants and animals to your water garden. Depending on the size of your water garden, you may even be able to house a number of different fish and plant species in it at the same time.

Water lilies are an excellent variety to start with, as they look quite beautiful gliding across the surface of the water. Lotus plants, water poppy, water hyacinth, fairy moss, and water lettuce are some other floating plants to consider. It's also important to cultivate a few plants that live underneath the surface of the water, as they add oxygen to it and can make for excellent cover — both to the benefit of any fish you might be keeping in your water garden. Vallisneria, Sagittaria, and water milfoil are all good choices here.

Koi is probably the most popular fish for home water gardening, but there are also other species to choose from. Goldfish, mosquito fish, golden orfes, and plecostomus all deserve consideration. Just be sure to calculate the amount of fish that can safely be housed in your water garden based on their average adult size and the size of the garden itself. You’ll also want to think of a way to winter your fish ahead of time.

A Word of Warning

Keep in mind that some states have bans in place against certain water plants because they don't want them spreading into and contaminating the local waterways. It’s always good to find out exactly which varieties are prohibited by contacting your state’s Natural Resources Agency.

Now that you have the insights you need to successfully build and grow your own water garden, it’s time to get started. Whether you opt for a small wine barrel garden or a larger aquaponic system, you’ll have a lot of fun with the results. You’ll love having this water feature in your own yard, where you'll be able to enjoy it as much as you want. It’ll be the perfect place to sit back and relax after a long day at work.