July 14, 2009
Over the years of blogging about my stock-tank ponds (a 100-gallon container pond in my former garden, and this new 717-gallon one), I’ve been asked many times how I constructed them. I finished the new pond yesterday evening, so I’ll explain how I did it, from start to finish.
Setting up the stock tank
If you live in the Austin area, go to Callahan’s General Store to pick out your stock tank. If you live elsewhere, I suggest searching for farm- or ranch-supply stores on the outskirts of town or looking for a mail-order source. Stock tanks come in many sizes and can be either circular or oval. I recommend a 2-foot-deep tank if you plan to grow water lilies and keep fish.
Measure an area a few feet larger than the size of your stock tank, and dig out the grass or groundcover down about three inches. Using decomposed granite or paver base and a level (rest it on a long, straight board to check the level across a large distance), lay a flat, stable base, tamping it smooth and level, for your tank to sit on. It will be very heavy when filled with water, and you want to be sure it won’t sink on one side over time, making the water line in the pond look tilted too.
When the tank is positioned, fill it with clean water from a hose or, better, a rain barrel. If using tap water from the hose, let the water sit in the tank for three or four days before planting or adding fish so that the chlorine in the water has time to evaporate. Once you have fish or other wildlife in your pond, you’ll need to be careful about how you add water to compensate for evaporation. To top off small tanks like my old stock-tank pond, use rainwater or a bucket of tap water that has had time to de-chlorinate. Larger tanks like my new one may be topped off with water right out of the hose if it’s only an inch or two; the volume of water in a large tank nullifies the impact of the added chlorine, so long as it’s not too much.
Update 4/20/13: If you live in the City of Austin, chloramine is now added to our drinking water. (If you live elsewhere, check with your water provider to see if your water contains chloramine; many cities use it.) Unlike chlorine, chloramine does not dissipate on its own, and it is toxic to fish. You’ll need to buy a product to neutralize the chloramine in your pond water before adding fish. I bought a liquid product called Pond Prime from Hill Country Water Gardens in Cedar Park, and they told me that using it once a month would be sufficient. It only takes a few capfuls to treat my 8-ft. diameter (700 gallon) stock-tank pond.
Planting the stock tank
You’ll want to choose at least three types of plants for your new pond: oxygenators (submerged plants), marginals (water’s edge plants), and deep-water aquatics (plants that sit on the bottom and have leaves on the surface, like water lilies). Water lilies may be sexy, but the hard-working oxygenators are very important in maintaining a natural balance in the water, keeping algae at bay, and producing oxygen for fish. I like to use anacharis, pictured above. The nursery will sell it in small bundles wrapped in wet newspaper.
As soon as you get home, put the plants in a bucket of water or get them planted in the pond. You’ll need a few old plastic pots filled with clean pea gravel. It doesn’t matter whether the pots have holes in the bottom. Pick up a clump of your oxygenator plants…
…and carefully insert the bottom inch or so of the stems into the pea gravel of the pot. The stems are fragile, so I make a little hole in the gravel with my fingers, set the stems in the hole, and then bank the pea gravel around them.
Here’s a bunch all potted up. Anacharis doesn’t even have to be potted, I’ve heard, but doing so helps protect it from being devoured by the fish. The fish may eat it up over time. When that happens, just buy some more.
Place the potted oxygenator plant on the bottom of the tank, and that’s it. I bought six bundles of anacharis for my large stock-tank pond and filled three pots with them. I may need more, but I’ll wait and see if these grow fast enough to keep the tank clean.
Next you’ll need to build some platforms for your marginal plants. I use whatever is at hand: stacked bricks, overturned pots, and cement blocks.
Cement blocks with holes in the middle have the added advantage of giving fish a hiding place from predators like raccoons and herons.
I chose three marginal plants for my new pond: dwarf papyrus (brought over from my old pond)…
…’Black Marble’ taro…
…and a dark-leaved pond crinum from Hill Country Water Gardens.
Last but not least, the attention-getters for any pond: water lilies. Deep-water aquatics like these shade the water with their large, spreading leaves, helping to keep the pond cool, sheltering fish, and blocking out the sunlight that algae feed on. I brought over ‘Helvola‘, a dwarf yellow, from my old pond.
And I recently bought this ‘Colorado,’ a medium-to-large coral-pink lily. When purchasing water lilies for your container pond, be sure to note their mature sizes. Small stock-tank ponds like my old one have room for only one dwarf water lily. Larger ponds may be able to support two or three larger lilies.
Water lilies should be placed on the bottom of the tank if their leaves can reach the surface. If the leaves aren’t that long, place the pot on a few bricks to lift it up. As it grows, remove the bricks to lower the pot to the bottom of the pond. Once a month during the growing season (March or April to October in Austin), press a fertilizer tablet with your finger deep into the heavy soil of the water lily’s pot. Don’t let the tablet dissolve in the water, or it will contribute to algae bloom.
In Austin’s climate, hardy water lilies (as opposed to tropical ones) can be overwintered in the bottom of a 2-foot-deep stock tank. The water lily will die back to mushy stems in the winter, which should be collected and discarded from the pond. Every year in early spring, as new growth begins, divide your water lily and replant in heavy clay soil in a pond pot with no holes in the bottom. Top-dress the pot with pea gravel to keep the soil from floating into the water.
Bird-bathing and insect-drinking platform
With their sheer sides and lack of natural shelves, stock-tank ponds have the advantage of being difficult for raccoons, dogs, and cats (and small children) to get into. But it’s good to make your pond hospitable to birds, insects, and other small creatures that might want a drink or a bathe, or that fall in and need a place to crawl out. I put a stone bathing platform on top of a cement block next to the edge of the tank. It gives birds and insects easy access to the water, and I can enjoy watching them enjoying the pond.
I will add fish — native gambusia or hardy goldfish are good choices — for color and life in the pond, and for eating mosquito larvae. In fact, I never feed my goldfish, letting them forage instead on mosquito larvae, algae, bugs, and the anacharis at the bottom of the pond. Check with your supplier to find out how many fish your size pond can support. If you don’t want fish, you’ll need to rely on mosquito dunks or bits to keep larvae from hatching in the water. Questions about the water temperature and fish are answered below.
Pumps and filters
A filtered bubbler pump can be a nice addition to your pond, especially if you desire the sound of moving water. But in my experience it isn’t necessary for clear water, mosquito control, or healthy plants. It may, however, be necessary if you keep goldfish and your pond is in full sun and the surface water heats up in the summer. Goldfish prefer cool water, and a pump will help keep the water at a constant temperature by circulating cooler water from the bottom. Gambusia (native mosquito-eating fish), while not as colorful as goldfish, are hardier and will not mind warm pond water; therefore, a pump is not a necessity for them. As far as keeping the water clean and healthy, a filtered pump is not required. What matters is having an adequate amount of underwater plants, surface-shading plants, and not overcrowding your tank with fish.
Will the metal tank cook my fish or plants in summer?
This is the most common question I’m asked about stock-tank ponds from fellow hot-climate gardeners. I’ve had a small, 4-ft-diameter pond in full sun, and a large, 8-ft-diameter pond in part shade, and at no time have I ever observed the plants to suffer in the heat. After all, they’re sitting in a nice, comfy bowl of water. They’re loving summer!
Whether the water will get too warm for fish, however, depends on a number of factors: the size of your tank, how much sun it gets, whether you put a recirculating pump in the pond, and what kind of fish you choose. Goldfish prefer relatively cool water temperatures and need more oxygen as the water temperature increases. Therefore, if you stock your pond with goldfish, consider installing a pump to circulate the water and aerate it. You might also bank soil up on one side of the tank to provide insulation — easily done if your tank is situated in a garden bed rather than free-standing in the open. Alternatively, stock your pond with gambusia, native mosquito-eating fish, as they tolerate warmer water than goldfish. You can usually find both types of fish at pet stores or pond-supply stores.
Will the galvanized coating on the tank poison my fish?
I get asked this at least two or three times a month. I can only answer from my own experience: no, I’ve never noticed any problems with goldfish or gambusia (mosquitofish) dying off when placed in a galvanized tank. And I’ve seen many tanks in various gardens over the years that contain fish, including at the Wildflower Center. My mom even had one with koi for several years, although they did eventually outgrow that small tank. My advice is to wash out your tank thoroughly before filling it with water, and once you fill it hold off on adding fish for a week or two so the chlorine can evaporate and the water temperature can stabilize.
The only maintenance is netting fallen leaves from time to time, fertilizing once a month during the growing season, mucking out the bottom once a year, and dividing plants once a year. Expect an algae bloom — the pond will turn green — soon after you plant your pond and maybe each spring as the water heats up. But by keeping the pond stocked with oxygenator plants and being patient until the water lilies leaf out to shade the water surface, you’ll find the water clears up on its own without need for any chemicals. Just as nature does it.
This is part 1 of a 3-part pond series:
Part 1 — How to make a container pond in a stock tank
Part 2 — Winterizing a stock tank pond
Part 3 — How to spring clean your stock tank container pond
Update: August 15, 2009. Here is how the pond looks after only a few weeks!
Disclaimer: This post details what has worked for me in making a stock-tank container pond in zone 8b. Gardeners in colder zones may not be able to overwinter pond plants or fish in this way.
All material © 2006-2012 by Pam Penick for Digging. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.
2nd garden--2009, Fish, How I Did It, Ponds, Stock tanks, Water gardeningSours: https://www.penick.net/digging/?p=3376
Stock tanks have been used for keeping fish for a lot of years. In the early days of the West, galvanized stock tanks were placed next to windmills and were used to provide water for cattle and horses. These stock tanks are still being used on ranches today. Some of these old stock tanks are over 50 years old and have been kicked and abused by livestock but are still holding water. The ranchers just mend them and keep using them.
I ran into a very old stock tank at a rental store a few years back. It had large dents and some holes in it. It was a 6-foot diameter galvanized stock tank and looked very old. The store offered it to me for $25, including delivery since they wanted to get rid of it. I hammered out the dents and patched it up and used it for many years as a raised pond.
My wife’s grandmother, when in her 90s, liked to talk about her dad raising goldfish in stock tanks when she was a little girl on a Kansas farm.
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Many people are unaware that stock tanks make excellent ponds for water gardening and keeping fish. This is a shame since stock tanks are an excellent alternative to plastic liners, which is what most ornamental ponds are made from today.
Galvanized Stock Tanks and Poly Stock Tanks
Stock tanks come as galvanized stock tanks and poly stock tanks. The poly stock tanks are newer and becoming widely accepted now for use by ranchers and farms. However, many farmers and ranchers still prefer metal tanks. Both should work well for ponds. I have only used galvanized stock tanks though since when I got into ponds, only that type was available. If I decide to put in another pond, I may consider buying a poly type.
Galvanized Stock Tank Prices
I checked with a local farm and ranch supply store and found out that galvanized and poly stock tanks are about the same price. A 10 ft diameter stock tank that is 2 ft deep and holds 1200 gallons sells for about $400 as of February 2012. The 8 ft diameter sells for about $350. There was also a delivery fee of $75, which is necessary for most people. The poly stocks come in either blue or gray. The galvanized tanks can be either left plain on the outside or painted. Prices will vary from state to state.
Galvanized stock tanks are made of galvanized sheet metal, which has many advantages over pond liners. It is strong, durable, and flexible enough to expand when ice covers the pond. Since the sheet metal is galvanized with zinc, it protects the metal from rusting. When new, the galvanized metal surface is a shiny silver color, which changes to dark dull color as it reacts with the chemicals in the water.
Aging Galvanized Metal Tank
Does galvanized metal hurt fish? fish seem to do better in galvanized stock tanks that have been aged for a while. One of the best methods to age the stock tank is to buy it in the fall and let it set full of water until Spring when it will be safe for fish.
Of course, it could also be purchased in the summer and used as a swimming pool for the kids until it aged sufficiently for fish. All pond tanks, regardless of how they are made, should be allowed to season at least a month before adding fish. Plants can be added immediately though and will help season the pond.
What is the best fish you can add in a stock tank?
It is also a good idea to never add expensive fish to a new pond. Start out with feeder goldfish and see how they do before considering anything like expensive Koi. Just a word about Koi. They tend to grow fast and get large so they are not really ideal for smaller ponds. If your main interest is water gardening, it is best to stick with goldfish and plants, or other coldwater fish since Koi can be destructive to pond plants.
What Is the Ideal Depth for Water Lilies and Fish Pond?
Stock tanks are 2 foot deep, which is an ideal depth for water lilies and fish. A lot of pond owners on the front range of Colorado think that a depth of 3 to 4 feet is necessary to protect fish from freezing. Based on my own experience, I have rarely seen the surface freeze down more than 5 to 6 inches if the tank is buried. However, if the stock tank is used as a raised pond, it should have a stock tank heater, or it could freeze totally. If a stock tank heater can’t be used, the stock tank should be drained and left empty for the winter.
Actually it’s the carbon dioxide that builds up under the ice during extended cold spells with subzero air temperatures that kills fish, not the depth of the pond. Koi seem to be more sensitive to this problem than goldfish. When I had Koi, I always kept a stock tank heater in the pond. Since I now only have goldfish, I don’t worry about keeping an opening in the ice since goldfish are hardier than Koi.
Galvanized Stock Tank Sizes
A 6-foot diameter stock tank makes a nice home for a half a dozen middle-sized koi or goldfish since it holds about 700 gallons of water and has about 50 square feet of the surface. It is also large enough for 3 or 4 water lilies, depending on the varieties.
A 10-foot diameter stock tank holds about 1200 gallons and has about 78 square feet of surface area. These stock tanks are made either a little larger or a little smaller, so they can be shipped and stored easier. So a 10 ft diameter tank will not be exactly that size.
This size tank is large enough for 5 water lilies and about 10 small Koi or goldfish. Of course, more fish could be added, but I believe that a lighter stocking produces healthier fish. Keep in mind that Koi can get quite large so it can outgrow a pond. Goldfish do not get very large, but they tend to produce a lot of offspring so can also overrun a pond.
Stock tank prices appear at first glance to be a little higher than plastic liners. However, since other materials such as rock to line the edges of the pond are not needed, the final cost of the pond may be less than using a plastic liner. You can find stock tanks at farm and ranch supply stores. Make sure you have it delivered if it is a larger one.
Stock tanks can be used as raised pools or buried to their rim and used as regular ponds. When you first get the stock tank, set it in a level spot and fill it with water. Then carefully check for leaks which may have developed due to flexing of the metal during delivery. Mark the spots where the leaks are and open the drain on the lower side of the tank and drain out the water. Patch the leak with Silicone and allow drying the recommended time before refilling. They don’t normally start leaking again after being put into their permanent location.
Raised Ponds and In-Ground Pond
Raised ponds have a lot of advantages that are not immediately apparent. Based on my experience with above-ground stock tanks, raised ponds are much easier to take care of. It would also be better for a handicapped person or an older person since they wouldn’t have to get down on the ground.
The fish and water lilies are closer to a raised pond, so they are easier to see without having to bend over. To do maintenance or cleaning is easy since the pond is up high. Of course, the biggest advantage is that you don’t have to dig a hole for the pond. Once I put a 10-foot high windmill by my 10-foot tank, which enhanced its farm look. However, the possibilities are endless on how to decorate it.
To use a stock tank as a raised pool all that is required is to have the delivery man put the tank on the lawn where you want it. Then add a little water to see if the bottom is level. If it is not, add some bricks or lumber to raise the low spot. When it is level, fill it with water and, except for the aging process, it is ready for the fish.
Aging is not necessary for plants though and can be put in immediate. Even liners ponds should be allowed to age and stabilize before adding fish. Always start out with cheaper fish since you will lose some. Stock tanks are not real heavy since they are made of sheet metal, so one person can normally move it around when empty by lifting one side slightly and dragging it into position.
The best way to makes sure it is level is to fill it about 1/2 inch deep and raise any side that is not high enough. When the tank appears to be level, go ahead and fill it the rest of the way to the top. If it is not level when full, open the drain near the bottom to drain the water out and re-level the tank.
If the stock tank is to be used as a regular pond, place the stock tank on the lawn where you want the pond. Cut a circle in the lawn at least 4 foot wider than the tank, which will give you two-foot on each side in case you need to get down in the hole to move it around. Move the tank out of the way and start digging the hole. Make the hole only deep enough to cover the tank up to 2 to 4 inches of the top of the stock tank so that the rim of the tank will be above the level ground when in place. That will prevent rain water from washing dirt into the pond.
Use a level and make sure the bottom of the hole is level. If the soil is sandy, you can also fill the hole about an inch with water and dig the shallow areas deeper until the water is an inch deep all over the bottom of the hole, which is the way I do it. Next, slide the tank into the hole and refill with water. Check again to see if the water is approximately level all the way around. If not, pump the water out and insert dirt under the low areas. It is best to have two or three people to help you get the tank in the hole.
Now fill in the hole around the sides of the tank. Raise the dirt level almost up to the top rim then take some of the grass that was removed when the hole was dug and place all around the rim. Grass growing right up to the rim looks really nice and is soft to kneel on to watch the fish or to do pond maintenance. Of course, you could also use flat rocks around the rim in lieu of the grass, which is an interesting effect.
One of the best features of the stock tank is now realized. Since the tank has a rigid rim, people can stand right on the edge of the pond without falling in or the sides of the pond caving in. Since the rim is slightly raised, it’s easy to get close to view the fish and the water lilies. My grandchildren like to lie down on the grass and hang over the side and watch the fish and feed them food from their fingers.
If you want to make the owner of a liner pond nervous, step on one of the rocks on the side of the pond. The sides are not strong or rigid like a stock tank so could cave it. I remember going to a pond tour one time and the pond owner was constantly telling people not to get too close to the pond since it might cave it. When I was on the pond tour, I never worried about people getting too close to the edge of the ponds though.
I leave water in the ponds all year and the water lilies and the plants survive the winter well.
How to Grow Water Lilies in a Container?
Water lilies can be grown in a container on the bottom of the stock tank. Fill the container full of garden soil and top off with gravel after planting the water lily. If shallow water plants are grown, use small inexpensive outdoor plastic tables to set the container on. Fill the container with dirt and top off with gravel to prevent fish from digging in them. If the tables aren’t tall enough, raise the container with bricks. Koi like to hide directly under the tables with only their noses exposed. These inexpensive tables can be bought from Wal-Mart and other similar stores.
painting galvanized stock tank
Galvanized stock tanks, used as raised ponds, are not very attractive so something should be done to improve their appearance. The easiest thing is just to paint them with metallic paint. I used a spray can accomplish it and usually, it doesn’t take too many cans. Only paint the outside of the tank. The color can be your preference, but I like blue or brown.
One of my galvanized stock tanks, which has been painted with blue metallic paint is being shown on this book cover. I also have used wood slates on the outside of the stock tank, and it looked very sophisticated. What I did was buy 6-inch cedar boards and cut them to 24 inches long. Then I rented a metal strapping tool and put a couple of metal bands on the outside of the tank to hold the boards in place. It came out looking very good and the boards never did fall off.
How Long Should Stock Tanks Last?
I have some that I have had over 25 years. I have patched them though when I got small leaks. Swamp cooler tar works very well to fix stock tank leaks. However, the tank needs to be drained, dry, and clean. Just apply the tar with a brush. It dries in a couple of hours and can be refilled after a few hours. Follow the instructions on the can about swamp coolers.
I have had a lot of stock tanks over the 30 years of owning ponds. Occasionally I have thought about trying a liner pond, but after talking to ponders in my pond club, I decided against it since I just didn’t have as many problems as they did. Disease has never been a real problem like it was with many of their ponds.
I was talking to a Professor at Colorado State University. He was presenting a class for Master Gardeners, which I was attending. After the class, I mentioned to him about not having many problems with diseases in my stock tank ponds. He was their expert on plant diseases and said that the zinc probably protected the fish. He said zinc was used to prevent diseases on plants in the early days.
String Algae in Pond
Another problem that I haven’t had is a lot of trouble with string algae, which plagues most ponds. I wonder if the algae don’t like the zinc. However, I haven’t noticed a lot of difference with green water caused by algae. It just takes a while to balance out. Of course, a good biofilter can reduce this time significantly.
These are the stock tank ponds that I have had. I had one raised pond and four buried stock tanks when I lived in Colorado Springs. These tanks were 8 to 10 ft in diameter. I also ran a small business selling water lilies and pond plants, using these stock tank ponds.
When my wife and I moved to Pueblo, Co, I put in three buried stocks tanks to be used for ponds. The raised pond from our former residence was moved to our new house.
I don’t use rock by any of my buried ponds, but grow lawn right up to the rim of the stock tank. It is easy to mow the grass next to the pond. A person can also sit right next to the pond and let the fish eat from your fingers. Adults and kids really enjoy this experience.
It is not unusual for people to use stock tanks for ponds and many people that have them love them. They are also not concerned about their dogs getting in the water and tearing a hole in the liner.
Should I Put Gravel in the Bottom of My Pond?
People wonder if gravel should be added to the bottom of the stock tank to make it look more natural. I don’t recommend it since it tends to accumulate debris and is difficult to keep clean, so it is best to just leave it out. The bottom will soon get covered in algae so it will lose its bare look.
What if you lose interest in having a pond or may no longer be in good enough physical condition to take care of it. With a buried stock tank, it is very easy since all you have to do is poke some holes in the bottom and fill it with dirt. There aren’t tons of rocks to have to haul away.
I converted one of my older stock tanks last spring into a rose garden since I can’t take care of three anymore. I had it filled with dirt and then planted it with roses, which were really beautiful and bloomed well. A raised pond could be used for a small vegetable garden or flower garden. I have a couple of older small stock tanks that I use for that purpose.
If the stock tank has been used as a raised pond, it is very simple to get rid of it. Just advertise it in a local newspaper and sell it. If you are renting you could use a small stock tank as a pond, and then when you move, drain it and move it to your new house or apartment. So if you are considering putting in a pond, think about using a stock tank instead of a liner. It is a viable alternative, which works very well and has many advantages over liners.
Hi, my name is Sean, and I’m the primary writer on the site. I’m blogging mostly about freshwater and saltwater aquariums, fish, invertebrates, and plants. I’m experienced in the fishkeeping hobby for many years. Over the years I have kept many tanks, and have recently begun getting more serious in wanting to become a professional aquarist. All my knowledge comes from experience and reading forums and a lot of informative sites. In pursuit of becoming a professional, I also want to inspire as many people as I can to pick up this hobby and keep the public interest growing.
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I purchased a 150-gallon galvanized stock tank this spring to act as a combination watering source and above-ground pond next to my vegetable garden. I put a thin layer of pebble on the bottom, added some cinder blocks, placed potted cattails and parrotfeather on these, and filled it up. I then introduced duckweed, water hyacinth, water lettuce, snails, tadpoles, wild-caught stickleback and shiner minnows and a dozen small goldfish (the cheap ones you buy for 20 cents each at Petsmart). I would remove approximately 50-75 gallons a week for watering of my vegetables and refill with a hose, and at first everything seemed fine. However, nothing other than the cattails and parrotfeather thrived. The water hyacinths and lettuce struggled, and all the animals added died out over the course of a month, even the snails! I tried restocking the tank with snails and goldfish later in the summer, but had the same issue. By August, I had a VERY healthy tank of parrotfeather, but nothing else.
Paradoxically, on the other side of my yard I sunk a cheap 50-gal. pond liner from Menards, added potted cattails, goldfish, snails and minnows, and they thrived.
So, I'm concerned that either the galvanized tank just got too warm and oxygen levels dropped, or there is something going on with either the galvanized metal or the parrotfeather that poisoned the fauna. Neither the tank nor the in-ground pond have water pumps to aerate (200 ft from the house for either one), but I thought that 150 gallons would be enough to support a few dozen small to very small fish, right? Heck, even the snails died, and I caught those in a field culvert pipe! As a kid I used to add pond animals to the galvanized cattle tanks on our farm all the time and they did fine, so I'm confused why I, a grown man, can't replicate something I did as a 10-yr old boy.
I'm going to try again next spring, but wanted to see if anyone else has dealt with a similar situation before. Thanks!
Tank pond stock
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