DIY: Indoor Water Garden

April 6, 2015
 A few weeks ago, the kids started asking if they could keep some fish.
I hadn’t had fish in years, but I knew how to do it. For years, growing up, I had such fond memories of my Dad teaching me to raise tropical fish. Some weekends, just the two of us, would sneak away and drive 40 minutes to the best fish store around. There my eyes would gaze upon guppies, tetras, algae eaters and angel fish. On the way home, my lap would overflow with a few plastic bags filled with fish, air, and twisted tightly with rubber bands. And so it went for years.
In college my roommates and I had goldfish. In my twenties, I took up the hobby of keeping a salt water reef aquarium when I lived in Southern California.  Forget about the television, those days were ones where I would come home from work and enjoy seeing the invertebrates swaying in the currents and Nemo and his friends exploring their world.  After so many wonderful memories, how could I say no to the kids?
So off to the store we went, we picked up a couple of betta fish and some aquatic plants.

Gather the Indoor Water Garden Supplies

  • glass jar- check out Home Goods for great ones like theses!
  • small aquarium stones
  • live plants
  • fresh water conditioner for aquariums
  • betta fish
  • water
  • net
  • colander
  • accessories

If you are looking for plants like the ones I used try:

Cryptocoryne wendtii
Anubias barteri
Sanderiana variegated (Dracaena Sanderiana)
Marimo Moss Balls
Red Luwigia

Add the Base Layer

Begin byinse out the glass jar with distilled vinegar, followed by a rinse with fresh water.  Then rinse the gravel as well.

 Add the Stones

Layer in a few inches of stones to the bottom of the glass jar.

Fill with Plants and Accessories

Next, settle in the plantings and accessories.

indoor water garden
Tuck the plant roots into the aquarium gravel.


indoor water garden
An overhead view

Add Water and Let it Sit

Add water to the garden and the water conditioner at this time and let it sit for a bit. The water will be cloudy at first. The sediment needs to settle.


Acclimate Your Fish

Next, in a small container with the water from the store, float your fish in the glass jar in order to acclimate the temperatures. The water temperatures need to be the same prior to adding your fish. If not, you could cause shock and kill your new friend.


After a couple of hours, set your little betta free!

Within a couple of hours, we had assembled some pretty amazing betta habitats.

Indoor Water Garden Care

The aquarium stones create a filtration and waste management bed. Allowing the live plants take up the fish’s waste as nutrients and help to keep the water clean. All of this helps to keep the upkeep way down. I change out the water approximately once per month. The garden should receive bright indirect sunlight.
So, without further ado, I introduce to you, Silas and Fishy!



UPDATE: March 19, 2018

I have received many messages and email that this post is no longer on HGTV’s website. Since I have been informed that it will no longer be on their website, I have decided to share the instructions on this post so that you can create a lovely indoor water garden of your own like these two!


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14 thoughts on “DIY: Indoor Water Garden”

  1. Gorgeous fish! The blue one especially is a real stunner!

    Did you know there's actually an international organization — the IBC ( — for breeding/showing betta fish? Kind of like the AKC is for dogs, the IBC has certain standards, etc. How do I know this? I'm a super-dork and was a member when I was in college. Ha ha. I had a collection of about a dozen fish that were my "breeding stock" and then the babies … had a whole rack system set up in my room for breeding and growing them out. It was an awesome experience! (But also super dorky and not something I shared with too many people, lol.)

    One thing I wanted to mention — and I hope I don't offend, I truly mean it to be helpful and not in a trolling sort of way — you may want to reconsider the tall, skinny container with the floating plant. Bettas are labyrinth fish which means they primarily take in oxygen from the surface of the water. You really want a relatively shallow bowl or tank for them, with as much open surface area as possible. I can't tell how tall it is, but if it is deeper than about 12" max, I would go shallower and definitely wider or at least remove the floating plant. (They do like floating plants to build their bubble nests in, but if it's blocking too much of the surface area, I'd remove it.)

    Hope you enjoy your fish! Bettas are so much fun. 🙂

    • Thank you for sharing your story and insight. I appreciate it. Bubble nests!? That is what he made in the floating plants. My kids are going to be thrilled!

  2. What a fantastic idea for a betta bow! There are lots of plants that would do great grown in this way- and as they grow they create an environment ideal for a betta by cleaning the water and offering places for the betta to hide and rest. They also oxygenate the water. Bettas will take gulps of air, especially in a bowl without real plants in it, because the oxygen content in the water is too low to sustain them. But with a plant photosynthesizing as they do and releasing oxygen that dissolves in the water, a betta may find breathing in the water as they would normally to be easier. It's an adaptation from their wild ancestry- where they live out their lives in shallow oxygen starved pools and ponds.

    I love the marimo ball! I have one that lives in a window sill, and on really bright and sunny days it forms balls of oxygen all over it's surface that stick to it, and it looks like pearls. It's so pretty.

    Wonderful post, thank you!

  3. You wrote this text two years ago. I hope your fish have another home today.
    These vases are way too small! they are round. fishes are not able to orient themselves in round vessels. there are hardly any places to hide. And they are kept in isolation.
    Please give future fishes a better home.
    or just put these pretty vases down without animals. the plants look really great by themselfes.

    • Thank you for sharing your thoughts. These fish lived long lives and seemed to do quite well. One lived to 2 years and the other to 3 years of age. This tutorial was originally featured on HGTV years ago but the HGTV Gardens website is no longer in existence.

  4. Please don’t do this to fish. As a biologist I can tell you that this is way too small for a fish even a beta. You really need to have at least a 2-3 gallon container if you are going to do this. Despite the common myth beta’s like small tanks they really don’t and the lack of water can easily make them sick, not active at all and shortens their life span.

    • It’s an ongoing debate. I know. I get lots of messages. Theses containers hold 2 gallons of water and are quite large. THe water is changed out on a weekly basis and the Bettas seems to thrive making bubble nests and enjoying their plant filled homes. These bettas lived 3 and 4 years and to this day, we still have these tanks in use.


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Sharing an inspired life from the New England seaside. Chickens, Bees, Gardens, Art and Yummy Goodness.