Container Water Garden With Koi – Is This A Good Idea?

A Condo Owner Would Like A Water Feature On Her Porch
And Asks How She Can Make One

I recevied an email from Jean asking me:

I would like to do a container garden with plants and koi on my porch. I live in a condo and I’d like to do one that is made with clear or semi-clear glass so I can enjoy both the fish and the plants when I’m on my porch.

First I would like know if this is a good idea. And next I’d like to know where can I find clear/semi clear glass contains to do this? My searches have turned up empty.

My reply:
Hi Jean:
Thank you for contacting me and I am so glad you are asking these questions NOW … rather than later. Let me tell you why. (This is a long answer, but I want you to understand all the parameters you are dealing with.)

Red flag #1: The first big issue that will most likely turn into a problem for you is the fact you’ve said you want Koi.

Please know that I have received Koi Health Advisor certification training from the AKCA (Assoc. Koi Clubs of America) and that what I will share with you right now is for YOUR best interests and also the Koi’s best interests.

Koi in a container garden are a BIG mistake! Because:

  • Koi grow rapidly – they are NOT meant for aquariums nor small containers; did you know they will grow up to 22+ inches in captivity?
  • The rule of thumb is to give each Koi at least 250 gallons of water in which to swim! This is why people have koi ponds.
  • Koi should have NO LESS than a 3 foot deep pond in which to live (5 or 6 feet is the preferable depth).
  • Koi must have excellent water quality levels – much more so than goldfish.
  • Koi cannot tolerate poor water quality as goldfish can–this means Koi are very prone to ulcers, etc. in poor water.
  • Crowded conditions (container gardens) cause Koi to get stressed–this leads to health problems.
  • They excrete at least twice as much as goldfish … meaning you MUST have a quality filtration system to immediately remove the excrement from the water.
  • The list goes on …

What I would suggest in your situation is to purchase either Wakin goldfish (hard to come by, but I will address this in a minute for you); or purchase Shubunkin goldfish, or Comet goldfish (the “common” goldfish most of us are familiar with). These types are hardier than Koi (because they are goldfish!) and they don’t grow huge like Koi will; and they will do much better in smaller surroundings.

How big of a container are you able to place on your porch? You’ve GOT to have swimming room for goldfish, too. You really ought to be thinking along the lines of a minimum of 100 gallons. (That may sound huge to you, but it isn’t.)

Other problems with small containers: the water temps get hot really fast and/or get cold really fast due to the container being small. Koi CANNOT handle rapid temperature fluctuations.

Next problem: NO … glass or clear plastic is not going to work (and probably the reason you’ve not found anything like this in your internet searches). Because ultimately algae is going to form all over the inside of your container (this is a good thing, not a “bad” thing) and so, anything clear will soon become covered with green algae and you won’t be able to view the fish through the sides. So, a clear sided outdoor container doesn’t make sense.

One of the purposes of having pond fish is that they are meant to be viewed from the top of the water’s surface. Your idea of having fish in a container is really just like if you had fish in a pond – you want a little visual “eye candy”.  😀

Suggestions for containers (I am sort of stabbing in the dark here as I have no idea of your porch, etc.):

  • 100 gallon Rubbermaid water trough that can be affordably purchased from Tractor Supply. (I will assume you have one somewhere near where you live–they’re all over the USA.) You can search their website to see where the nearest one is to you.
  • a small whiskey barrel lined with plastic – you will only be able to put in a teeny-tiny goldfish or two (maybe the $1.00 kind you can buy at Wal-Mart).
  • a preformed black plastic pond “insert” (meant to be sunk into the ground) found at Home Depot or Lowe’s – you could put this on your porch and place small containers of flowers and plants to help “pretty up” the sides.

Now, about buying Wakin or Shubunkins. If you provide ample room to swim then one or two fish will be all you need.

Do NOT go overboard with the number of fish – they grow rapidly. Less is ALWAYS better!

And your climate … does it get below freezing? If so … what will you do with the fish if your container garden will turn into a solid block of ice? Most goldfish can stay alive in winter-temperature water … but they cannot live if they turn into a solid frozen popsicle!

little Wakin  pond fishWakin – as shown in the photo – are cute and very pretty. I happen to have 7 of them. However Wakin can be much harder to locate and may be pricey.

Wakin are meant to be viewed from the top of the water – yes they are gorgeous! And as with most any type of pond fish, there are lesser quality on-up-to top quality fish (better patterns, colors and body conformation) available to buy … your budget is your limitation. I believe a top quality Wakin (if you can even find a dealer offering them in this quality range) can run around $250.00.

My Wakin are extremely friendly. They will nibble on my hand if I stick it down in the water – they are most assuredly hoping to get soemthing to eat. This is great fun to experience, especially for little children. Wakin are cuties for sure!

I would check out eBay (yes–there is a reputable dealer or two selling them–just make sure you check the customer feedback!!!) or of course Google search for aquatic dealers near you. Just Google “wakin goldfish” and you’ll find many sites. I had to have mine shipped to me. There are very few people in the USA that sell them.

As for Shubunkins … again Google the term and you’ll see there are many different patterns and colors available. Many many people turn to Shubunkins when they haven’t the proper facilities to keep Koi. Here in Tennessee there are a few pet/aquarium stores that will offer Shubunkins during Spring and Summer, so check with your local pet stores to see if they have any. Or of course, there are online sources as well.

I hope this preliminary information is of help to you. Please don’t even think of getting Koi. You will only be asking for trouble. (Meaning dead Koi.) Trust me … my 1,100 gallon pond was finally too small for my growing Koi and I gave them to a friend of mine who has a 5,500 gallon pond (yes, I am jealous of her pond) because it wasn’t fair to the Koi to keep them in the 1100 gallons anymore … they were now way too big for 1100 gallons!

I also had a $1500.00 filtration system (honest–$1500.00) which kept the water in pristine condition … another reason I never ever had sick Koi. Healthy Water = Heathy Pond Fish 😉

The money spent was well worth the low amount of maintenance I had to do, including time spent cleaning out the filter and doing my weekly water change-outs. Not being a slave to constantly cleaning filters and such does make the whole “ponding experience” enjoyable and not a chore. But I digress here … you want to know about container water gardens!

I hope you understand the information I’ve provided and please do not hesitate to contact me if you have more questions.


Jean wrote back and said:

Thank you, thank you so so much for taking the time and very much thought on my project. I live in Virginia Beach, Virginia. Most of the time our winters are mild. However we do get a few freezes. The summer time temps can get into the mid to upper 95’s accompanied by terrible humidity. I live on the second story of my condo so weight and size is an obvious concern. Maybe I should think on a smaller scale. Something I won’t get tagged by my condo association for. 🙂  If you have any suggestions I would certainly welcome them.

My reply:
Hi again Jean:
About suggestions for a smaller scale water garden, as I previously told you, you could use a:

  • 75-100 gallon Rubbermaid water trough that can be affordably purchased from Tractor Supply (**additional info–there are smaller sizes available that you could use, too);
  • small whiskey barrel lined with plastic–you will only be able to put in a teeny-tiny goldfish or two (maybe the $1.00 kind you can buy at Wal-Mart); or
  • preformed black plastic pond “insert” (meant to be sunk into the ground) found at Home Depot or Lowe’s — you could put this on your porch and place small containers of flowers and plants to help “pretty up” the sides

Anything that will hold water will be fine if you just want plants, but as I told you before, fish add another element of concern you need to think about.

If you need some visual ideas to help your creative juices get flowing, I Googled “container water gardens” in the Image search function and there are lots and lots of photos.

Look through the photos and you should get a lot of inspiration.

I hope this helps some. Don’t hesitate to contact me again if you have anymore questions.


  1. I made a container water garden on my patio. It’s about 18 inches square flower pot without a drain hole. I put a brick to sit an umbrella plant and added a floating hyacinth plant that mutiplied into 7 plants. I put in 10 gold comet fish but at night some wildlife kept fishing them out for a meal. So I now have a frog that made himself at home. He been living there for a week now. It’s very easy to take care of. I just add water to it with the garden hose to refill the water that evaporated.
    I put some polished river rocks at the bottom and looks pretty. I had a hyacinth flower a few days ago. It only lasted a day. It looks like I’ll be getting more flowers. I’m now looking forward to make another next summer.


  2. Hi Lucille:
    Thanks for sharing with us about your container water garden.

    **There is one thing I want to bring to your attention, and anyone else who will be wanting to include little fishies … when refilling the container from the garden hose, be aware there is chlorine in the water, which in large amounts can be deadly to fish.

    When in doubt, add some dechlorinator (it is an affordable liquid – you’ll be able to find it where aquarium fish are sold) following the instructions on the bottle.

    It will not harm your plants, and as a matter of fact by removing the chlorine, your plants will be a bit happier too.

  3. Terrific post but I was wanting to know if you could write a litte more on this topic? I’d be very thankful if you could elaborate a little bit more. Bless you!

  4. Hi Joy:
    I’ve got some more pages on proper water quality tecnhiques and a little bit more on koi keeping on my main website: – Garden Pond Introduction.

    You’ll find links to all the other articles I wrote at the bottom of the introduction page.

    If you’re thinking of keeping koi … they MUST have more than ample room to swim and excellent water quality. They are NOT like goldfish – meaning koi aren’t able to take as much stress and poor water quality and crowding like most goldfish can tolerate for a while. If you want koi … study, study and then study up some more, especially on pond filtration and then you’ll be ready to buy your first few koi. I’m really serious about this. You’ll save yourself grief and wasted $$ and you wn’t have poor dead koi to bury under your rose bushes.

    Good luck!

  5. Thank you! I was all set to buy some Koi and then decided to do a little research first. I came across your blog and great information. It looks like I may be purchasing a type of gold fish instead of Koi. I would hate to have any fish suffer because I didn’t do my homework, thanks again! 🙂

  6. Sandra:
    Thanks for taking the time to leave this wonderful comment. It’s situations like this that makes it all worthwhile for me to write the articles that I do. If I can help steer people in the right direction (and in this case, save some Kois lives too! 🙂 ) then I am greatly pleased. Good luck with your pond, your fishies, and your gardening endeavors.

  7. Glad I kept you from having to go through a potential disaster Sandra. Nothing worse than finding your brand new fish floating dead in your pond – not fun!

  8. Dean Barker says:

    This is a great post. I love sites like this – you share information on a “real person” level. Definitely sharing this with my friends.

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