How to Make a Mini Outdoor Pond for Aquarium Fish
Everyone is eager to get outside when the weather is warmer and summer is here. What better way to enjoy nature than to set up your first mini pond for breeding aquarium fish? Your mini pond will usually last between May and September in a climate with distinct seasonal changes. 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 can you create a mini-pond?
This is the most difficult part of creating a mini-pond. You can use a small 5-gallon bucket to start or buy a large 300-gallon tub from a livestock feed retailer. You can also use old aquariums and kiddie pools. To reduce temperature swings and water quality problems, it is better to use larger containers. 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.
Temperature management can be affected by the location of your container. You can place your container under the shade, if possible. You will see less algae grow because the temperature won’t fluctuate as much. (Algae is good for your fish, but it may not be as desirable if you plan on growing plants for profit.) To reduce sun exposure, shade cloths are a good option if the container is not in a strong enough shadow. 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. However, they also require extra precautions like safety fences to keep out small children and pets (just as you would do for 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. One method is to shelter the air pump inside a garage and run airline tubing outside to the mini tub. To protect power cords or extension cables, you can get a weatherproof connector box at your hardware store. You’ll also need to cover the air pump itself inside a weatherproof box or underneath an upside-down tote to decrease 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 to Use in a Small Pond?
We highly recommend adding aquatic plants into your pond because of the many benefits they provide. 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. They’re commonly used by water treatment plants because of their incredible ability to pull out organic waste and toxins from the water.
Water hyacinth in bloom
You can also grow duckweed, lotuses and water lilies in your pond. Add some water sprite, or other stem plant trimmings to your pond and they will thrive and multiply in 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
You can even put multiple species together, as long as they’re all peaceful and won’t eat each other. 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. While there is no guarantee that you will be able to protect your animals from all dangers, these are some ways you can try depending on the animal problems.
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 place “lids” above their tubs (e.g. metal wire racks, greenhouse siding), which allow light to pass through and keep predators away. 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.) To ensure that perennial plants come back next year in good health, you can cut their leaves and store them in the garage.
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 are warmer in winter, but need extra safety fencing to protect pets and children.
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