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Watery World Made Simple

A stock tank pond is easy to create and adds excitement to a home garden

A neon red dragonfly flitted over the knee-high pond and alighted atop a tall, leggy horsetail rush. Another darted over a limestone rock, magically suspended along the pond’s curved rim. Beneath the lily pads, silvery mosquitofish, also called gambusia, wiggled through the water.

“Oh, I want one of these!” I exclaimed, mesmerized by the idyllic scene. My husband nodded. No need for a fortuneteller. We would have our own stock tank pond, similar to the one we’d admired at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center in Austin.

“The stock tank ponds are among my favorite features in our native gardens,” says Julie Marcus, senior horticulturalist at the research and education center. “They add such a nice touch. You don’t have to bend over to see in the water so they’re wheelchair accessible and perfect for older people.”

Andrea DeLong-Amaya, director of horticulture, designed the Texas-style, above-ground water features in both the display gardens and naturalistic homeowner-inspiration garden at the Wildflower Center. One galvanized round metal trough measures 8 feet across; the other is 4 feet. Both stand 2 feet tall.

“Stock tank ponds are so easy to put together because they don’t require a lot of hardscape building, like an in-ground pond,” DeLong-Amaya says. “They’re low maintenance, too. You can start with a small tank and try it out to see if you like it.”

That’s what Pam Penick, an Austin garden blogger, did. “Eleven years ago, I copied the small tank I saw at the Wildflower Center and put in a 3-foot trough,” says Penick, who wrote “Lawn Gone! Low-Maintenance, Sustainable, Attractive Alternatives for Your Yard” (Ten Speed Press, 2013).

“Readers loved my pond, and I got a lot of questions about how I constructed it. So I posted step-by-step directions on my blog in 2009 when I made my 8-foot tank for our new yard.”

Count us among Penick’s inspired readers. Guided by her detailed instructions, my husband, James, and I started our pond project in May 2012. First, we bought a 3-by-2-foot round tank from a local farm supply company. Next came the fun part—shopping for aquatic plants. For most of a morning, we browsed Hill Country Water Gardens and Nursery in Cedar Park and conferred with a helpful saleswoman. After much deliberation, we chose a dwarf water lily, hornwort grass, horsetail rush and lemon bacopa.

Sharp-eyed green herons patrol our neighborhood, so no goldfish, please. Instead, the sales rep bagged up a dozen small mosquitofish, a hardy species that devours mosquito larvae.

Back home, James prepared the backyard pond site and filled the trough with water. Four days later, we arranged our plants, added a rock ledge and gently poured in the mosquitofish. Presto—our own stock tank pond! Bonus: The entire project cost less than $300.

For the first few weeks, I snuck outside several times a day and hung out by our pond. There’s just something about a watery world that’s calming and relaxing—not to mention fascinating. Bent over the side, I’d peer into the water, ogling the mosquitofish and pink water lily blooms. “James!” I hollered one evening, beside myself with excitement. “A baby fish! Oh, there’s another one, too! Come see!”

Ever the patient man, my husband stopped his work moving rocks in our garden and joined me. But not for long. “That’s nice, Sheryl,” he commented before returning to his project.

All summer and into fall, the water lily sent up miniature green pads and yellow-centered blooms. Bees pilfered nectar from the blue bacopa flowers, and wasps sipped water from the galvanized rim. Northern cardinals and white-winged doves flew in for drinks, too.

As needed, I dipped out fallen oak leaves, pinched off dead lily pad stems and added water from our garden hose. Though not necessary, I sprinkled just a tad of goldfish flakes atop the water.

Soon my mosquitofish—like trained puppies expecting a snack—rushed to see me whenever I showed up. “They love me,” I gushed to James, who just rolled his eyes.

Like Penick, I posted how-to instructions on my blog. Later, I learned that photos of our finished project inspired reader Martha Deeringer of McGregor. “I’d never heard of a stock tank pond,” she says.

By summer’s end, Deeringer had constructed not just one but three stock tank ponds. “My daughter, Lindsay Turner, and I made one for her yard,” she says. “Then I made one for the bird blind at the Mother Neff State Park, where I’m a member of the friends group. It’s such an easy way to have a water feature with plants, even in a drought. Water gardens are always green and always blooming, except during the coldest part of winter.”

I couldn’t agree more. And I can’t help but wonder, whom will we inspire next?

Sheryl Smith-Rodgers is a frequent contributor. Read her blog at