8 Best Fish for Garden Ponds? (Beginner Fish Guide)

  • Written By: Rachel
  • Time to read: 4 min.

Every time I turn around, people are telling me that koi fish is the best fish to add to your garden pond. They’ve been used in man-made ponds for thousands of years. So, it begged the question – which really is the best fish for a garden pond? And are there fish that you should avoid when trying to stock your small garden pond?

The best fish for a small garden pond in your back yard are likely plecos and loaches for your clean-up crew and goldfish of specific types that can be your decorative swimmers. Koi come in a close second but depend on your plants. And they are followed by various hearty minnow species. 

I want to go further into explaining the advantages and disadvantages of these fish when it comes to using them in your garden pond. So, keep reading to get those details.  

Are Koi the Best Fish for Small Garden Ponds? 

They are the most popular fish for garden ponds. There are physical differences in these carp and goldfish, mainly in that they get larger and they have the barbel on their lips. 

If you want to keep a lot of water plants in your pond, you may want to forego your plans for a population of koi. They love to root around in the dirt and will damage your plants. These fish are very destructive. They love to move things around and they get pretty large, so they can move large things. 

People love koi carp because they are hardy and easily survive winter in near-freezing water. They are also very colorful and being from the carp family, they are very personable once they recognize that their food comes from humans. They will also “play” with humans they seem to recognize.  

Are Sticklebacks Good for Garden Ponds?

Sticklebacks are acceptable for small ponds, but they definitely will affect both the insect population and the abundance of your amphibians (frogs and newts). They get up to 8 inches (20 cm) and are sought out because of their hearty nature. They adapt very well to all kinds of issues in ponds, so yes they can be a very good choice for your garden pond. 

Are Goldfish Actually Good for Garden Ponds?

Goldfish are less likely to root up your plants. They will dig and root, but they are not as destructive as koi. These fish come in a wide variety of colors and styles and are beautiful. Not only are they beautiful, but if they associate humans with food, they will come close and be friendly to humans. 

My suggestion would be varieties such as Canary, Shubunkin, or Sarasa because they don’t get very large and if you get a variety, you’ll have a colorful pond and since the fish aren’t overly destructive, your plants should be safe. 

Should I Add Catfish to My Garden Pond?

Catfish are heralded as your pond cleaning agency. However, a lot of cold-water catfish can grow to huge sizes. You need to be aware of what size any fish is capable of becoming before you add it to your pond.  

For smaller ponds, Plecos (Plecostomus) are suggested. They just need some crevices to hide in during the day, because they are nocturnal. They are lovely by design and don’t get as large as other catfish while performing the same duty within the pond – cleaning any algae. 

Another bottom dweller and algae feeder is a loach. They are elongated fish that loves to swim around the bottom of the pond and parcel through the scraps. They are one of the most popular “cleaning” species of pond fish in the world. 

Which Other Fish Is the Best Fish for Garden Ponds? 

Red Shiners and Fathead Minnows are great when kept in groups. Just remember that they only get up to 3 inches (9-10 cm) and therefore can become food for other, larger, predatory fish. Golden Rudd are sturdy fish that can last in harsh weather year-round and rarely get ill. They get anywhere from 8 – 14 inches ( 20 – 35 cm) long. 

We have a species we call Bream (brim) but that has a lot of different colloquial names – redear, sunfish, chinquapin, cherry gill, etc… This species of fish is not only a natural local fish but can be a good species for larger ponds.   

Keep in Mind

When you introduce fish to any pond, you’re going to keep other native species out of that pond. Newts, for example, will avoid a pond if there are fish in it. These are their natural predators, after all. Some frogs will avoid it as well. 

This is why legislation has been introduced in a lot of counties to limit the breeds allowed in ponds. Now, this kind of law and regulation may not have anything to do with your small garden pond, but you may want to check to be sure. 

You also do not want to introduce wild-caught fish to your garden pond without first treating them for parasites that might harm your protected ecosystem. So when you go on a fishing trip and you’re tempted to toss those spare minnows into your pond, treat them first!  

Keeping a pond that has fish in it is an expensive hobby. Most people don’t realize the maintenance and work involved in just the choice of stocking their pond. I hope by reading this article you have learned to not be too presumptuous when it comes to putting fish into your garden pond. Choose wisely.