Sunday, November 2, 2014

How to make a small indoor pond on a budget

One of my old planted aquariums from 2006

Although I've been an aquarist for many years now, I have to admit to wanting a pond right from the beginning, back when I was still learning all about different fish and plant species, lights and filters, fertilizers and chemicals. Alas, many factors prevented me from achieving this little pond dream, from weather conditions to finding a good spot around the family house. Time passes and I currently live in some two-bedroom apartment, with a tiny porch, which renders it impossible to have an actual outdoor pond the way I desire.
If you were anything like me, you will surely look for other ways to achieve your goal, or at least build a mini version of it to keep you somehow connected to the real thing. "the smell by itself is better than nothing" as the saying goes. That being said, I went to the drawing board to design the mini version of my dream.

disclaimer: Some may find this concept debatable due to the fact that fish need more space to swim in. I agree with that, as an aquarist for many years now, but the rule of thumb here is to add small sized fish and in small quantities, juvenile Goldfish can work as long as you just keep a few and you can move them to a larger pond or tank once they grow bigger. Any small fish can work here actually, but keep in mind that some species can jump out of the water, and all tropical fish need heated water (24-27 degrees C) to survive.  

- Concept

 The idea was simple, and certainly nothing new: convert a large plant pot into a pond. Sounds simple, but can it work? yes it can, though we must consider some factors:

   a) Volume: the bigger the pot the better, especially if you are keeping fish in the pond; We don't want to stress the fish by overcrowding them in a small confinement.

   b) Filtration: I decided to install a waterfall filter. This adds an extra benefit: aeration. The falling water will add more O2 to the pond water so the fish won't suffocate. Not to mention the cool effect it adds to a silent pond.

   c) Lighting: Ponds, in most cases, don't need artificial light because the sun does the job for us, but since this pond was intended to be indoors, having some artificial light was necessary especially for the plants. I didn't want anything strong like fluorescents, this isn't a planted "nature aquarium", but some light to complement the sun light coming in from the window was my goal. I found a nice LED lamp that has a small base which is attachable to walls with screws. Running a little over $30, the lamp was probably the single most expensive item I payed for in this project.

One thing I also wanted with this design was lots of plants, more specifically a natural-looking shelf with small planted pots on it. I was super lucky to have found a small, tough piece of plastic which was intended to be used in an actual outdoor pond. I found it in the garden section at Low's. It was perfect because it was designed to look like a rocky surface.

- Material

I chose simple material to keep the project within my budget (around $100), so I got a bag of aquarium gravel (plain color, please don't ever buy that ugly colored gravel), a few rocks from a stream near my residence, a piece of drift wood and some dead branches from a nearby forest. The setup is very simple, and the reason I added a piece of driftwood was to break the waterfall strength from the filter. After a while your ears grow tired of that splashing sound, so the wood reduced it to a gentle trickle which was much soothing.

- Putting everything together

Here's how I built the setup in three simple steps:

1) Attached the plant shelf: the best way, I found, to attach the shelf was to simply drill a couple of holes into the plastic pot (the pond) and attach the shelf using plastic zip tie straps.

-2) Prepared the pot to accommodate the filter: I had to cut the pond edge so that I could fit the filter as seen in the following picture.

-3) Setup the lights: the lamp was attached to the wall behind the pond with screws.
I also installed the pond itself on top of a small end table. This way it looked nicer and closer to the eyes, plus I was able hide the electrical outlets and cables under it.

Once everything was in place, I went ahead and filled up the pot with filtered water, transforming it into an ecosystem of its own!

Rule) always use filtered water (RO water) for your pond! do I really have to state how harmful tap water can be to your fish?

- Flora and Fauna 

To me, a pond without fish is lifeless. And ponds or aquariums without plants are dull. So naturally, I had to add a few goldfish (juveniles) to the pond.
Plants however had a different story, I've attempted to add as many plants as possible. I got me a few small potted plants and fitted them on the shelf. They were indoor plants so no worries of them getting fussy. The LED lamp helped a lot, to my surprise. As for underwater plants, my options were limited to using only hardy, shade-loving species. The best option ever for this situation is Anubias Nana; it looks good because of its wide leaves, and it is very hardy.
Adding Anubias really helped the water to remain crystal-clear, and providing extra Oxygen for the fish is never a bad thing as well.

- Maintaining the pond and fish

I waited a week or so for the pond to cycle before adding any fish, I would have waited longer if the pond was larger, but for this size it was ok.
Maintenance of this pond is very simple and awesome:
1) cleaning the filter (biweekly, or when needed)
2) water changing %20 of the pond water, using filtered water of course
3) feeding the fish daily

No plant trimming is needed, except rarely, since plant growth is slow in these conditions.

- Enjoying the pond

I must say, it's so nice to hear that little trickle of water after a long day of work! the hard work payed off in the end, and it still is, for the pond has been running like a charm for nearly a year and a half now.
Please enjoy this little video I made a few months after starting the pond:

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to share them with me in the comment section below. My goal is to spread the knowledge, and when multiple minds join forces the outcome is more whole.



  1. Perfect setup - thank you so much for posting this.

  2. Perfect setup - thank you so much for posting this.

  3. It’s very easy to build a pond and keep it maintain
    Repair Pond by Pondpro2000 has made it easiest .You must try. It is cost effective and suits the budget.