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Building A Pond

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Section 1: Why build a pond?

If you could have a miniature paradise in your backyard, what would it look like? That may sound like a funny question, but for most pond owners, that's exactly what having a water garden is like. They've created the ideal haven they can visit anytime they want and linger as long as they desire. In addition to the beauty that comes from any well designed landscape, water adds a dynamic dimension of reflections, sparkles, color, and sounds. Flowing water attracts wildlife and lets the gardener new types of striking plants that they couldn't elsewhere. Water gardens and features manifest in such a plethora of forms that there's something to suit every situation. If your imagination can see it, it can be built.

Close your eyes and picture the perfect pond. Is it a focal point in the garden or a destination spot? Are family and friends gathered around? Do brightly colored Koi call it home or is it covered in eye catching water lotus? The natural beauty and tranquility of a water garden help you transcend the demands of a busy world and relax. When you build a pond or other water feature in your yard, you are creating a center for your daily retirement. Join the many satisfied homeowners who readily profess adding a water feature to their landscape has changed their lives for the better and was one of the best investments in their house. Make your very own paradise that entertains, soothes, and educates that will make you eager like a kid again to get home and play.

Pond, water garden, Koi pond, pond-less waterfall, which is which and which do you want?

Most often, these different terms are all used to describe any sort of living water feature that is constructed into a landscape. The important components of a beautiful water feature can vary depending on what you want to get out of your water garden. You could have a long stream, fed water from a plant-filled, constructed bog, which spills into a lily-covered, fish-populated pond with a dazzling waterfall. In the pond is a shallow ramp on one side to simulate a beach and on the other side a steep ledge to the deepest part of the pond to dangle your feet or maybe even climb into the water. You could have one or few of those features, maybe multiple of each, and that is certainly not an exhaustive list of features that you can incorporate. The combinations are endless, but you can narrow down the possibilities by imagining the important qualities you want your water feature to have.

3 Key Questions to Ponder

Whether you intend to build a water feature yourself or hire a professional, having a plan and a vision of the feature beforehand is important. What follows are some of the questions to ask yourself when considering a pond:

  1. What aspect of water gardening appeals most to you? Is it the plants, fish, running water, rocks, frogs, insects, turtles, birds, or the general presence of an aquatic ecosystem that attracts you? Whichever it is, that feature should be the focus and emphasis for your pond. With careful planning, you can design a pond that brings out those features.
  2. What kinds of places and settings do you like the most? It could be a stream in the mountains, a spring in the woods, a rock-laden waterfall, or maybe a country garden. Whatever it may be, identify the qualities of those environments that you want to capture and plan to recreate them with your pond.
  3. When you are at home, do you spend more time inside or outside? Keep this in mind when positioning the pond: If you spend time inside, plan the positioning and orientation of your water garden from inside your house, to ensure optimal viewing through windows and out your doors. If you can never get enough fresh air, plan to work the water feature into the landscape around and possibly through your favorite space outside.

Think a pond will be too much work and maintenance?

The key to pond bliss and a low maintenance system is in providing your pond a balanced natural ecosystem. You want to use Mother Nature's tools to keep natural water clear, working with her, not against her! That is why you add biological treatments to your pond water. Some treatments, such as beneficial nitrifying bacteria, you add regularly to keep the levels of biological activity up. Beneficial bacteria and enzymes consume organic matter such as tree debris or fish waste, competing with algae for nutrients, and keeping your water clear. These bacteria grow and colonize on the surface of rocks and in the biological media in the waterfall filter box. Other biological water treatments are designed specifically for sludge build-up removal or seasonal variations in water temperature. Then there are mixed chemical/biological and purely chemical treatments for algae control, water conditioning and other specific purposes. For more information regarding the use and purpose of various water treatments, browse our selection of water treatments or look at the other maintenance articles.

Biological treatments aren't the only component to a well balanced ecosystem. Mother Nature uses plants to consume nitrates, competing with algae again, inhibiting its growth. Plants will also consume phosphates and add material to balance out fish' diets. Fish are another component of a balanced ecosystem, because fish consume algae and sludge that builds up in the pond and other wastes.

Mechanical components that will help keep your pond balanced and low-maintenance include a waterfall filter box to house beneficial bacteria and clean the water as it passes through, a skimmer and pump to collect debris from the surface of the water and keep the water circulating and a waterfall to mix and oxygenate the water. Sometimes an air pump helps improve water quality by supplying oxygen that is used to break down organic matter and that the fish breathe.

Section 2: Pond Building Steps

The water gardening movement has been going strong for nearly 10 years now, and in that time thousands of ponds and water features have been installed throughout the country and world. The process has been perfected by some and can be easily distilled into a series of steps. These steps detail the process for installing a 'complete ecosystem,' or a pond with stream/waterfall, flexible liner, biological waterfall filter, skimmer, submersible pump, rocks and fish. Find more information about other types of water features.

  1. Mark out pond area: Take a piece of rope, a spare garden hose or a can of outdoor marking paint and sketch the shape of your pond right onto your lawn. Some people like to mark it out days before the planned installation, that way they can live with the positioning of the marks and imagine the pond there to see if the configuration is optimal. Mark the extreme boundary of the pond and the stream and marking out the delineation of the first ledge in the middle of the pond is a good idea too.
  2. Place skimmer and waterfall filter box: Place the plastic molded skimmer and waterfall box on opposite ends of the sketched out water feature. Change the angle and relative positioning of these units and imagine water flowing out of the waterfall box and into the skimmer. The positioning should optimize flow across the pond for maximum circulation. The waterfall box should be angled to give the best viewing of the cascading water that exits it from the chosen frequent viewing areas.
  3. Lay out plumbing and hook to waterfall filter box: Unroll the flexible PVC piping and lay it out along the perimeter of the pond, making sure it has a wide enough arc that the ends will fit straight and easily into the fittings in the skimmer and waterfall box. Connect the plumbing to the bulkhead on the waterfall box now, because you will be burying this area in the next step.
  4. Excavate pond: This step is probably the most time and labor intensive step of the installation process. Use the lines marked out in step one as a guide. Before digging commences, figure out what overall depth the pond will be, and the depths/heights of the shelves leading down to this deep section. The shelves and base of the pond should be as level as possible, to ensure that gravel and rocks stay positioned on them. The walls of the pond and shelves should be sloping inward very slightly, again, to ensure secure placement of rocks. If there will be internal plant pockets in the pond'small depressions that, after covered with liner and underlayment, will be filled aquatic planting media so plants can live in the pond, not in pots in the pond'this is the time to position and dig them.

    If the position of the waterfall box needs to be elevated, move the box away and use the excavated material to mound up under the box's position. Once the desired elevation is achieved, use the rest of the excavated material to back-fill around the waterfall box, effectively burying it up to its upper lip.

    While the shovels are out, dig a tiny trench to bury the plumbing into. Use excavated material from the pond to help conceal the pipe more. Be sure to leave one end exposed to hook up to the skimmer.

    Once the pond hole is excavated, dig a notch at one end of the pond and sink the skimmer into place. The elevation of the skimmer is critical to setting the water level in your pond; too high and the water won't enter the skimmer, too low and the water level in your pond will be lower than desired. Be sure to firmly tamp the earth beneath the skimmer to prevent settling and that the skimmer rests level in place. Back fill the skimmer, again tamping the soil to prevent settling.
  5. Install liner and underlayment: First remove any gravel or rocks that are at the surface of the earth in the hole to prevent puncturing of the liner. Next, pull the underlayment over the newly excavated hole. Walk around on the underlayment in the hole to ensure it settles over the shelves properly. Repeat this process with the liner. Step lightly on the liner and ensure shoes are free of anything sharp. Make sure there is plenty of liner around the edges to cover the berm and excess liner to hook up to the skimmer.

    If you have a short stream or waterfall, make sure you position the liner so that you have enough to cover the stream area and still attach to the waterfall box. If you have a long stream that requires a separate piece of liner, make sure the pond liner is attached firmly with metal stakes or by burying underneath the stream outlet, to prevent settling of the liner. The liner must be attached well above the water level here and, if stakes or lawn staples are used, ensure that the liner doesn't get punctured below the water level. Then drape the stream liner over this area so that the end of the liner drops into the pond beneath the water level.
  6. Hook up skimmer and attach liner: Attach the main plumbing to the back of the skimmer. Assemble the pump and check valve assembly and place into skimmer, hooking them up to the other end of the bulkhead that the main plumbing was attached to. This is also the time to install extra plumbing to the overflow in the skimmer, to route overflow water away from the pond, and to install an automatic water fill valve, if desired.
  7. Rock-in pond: Bring in your gavel and larger rocks. There should be a little more than an inch or so of gravel coating the horizontal surfaces of the pond. On the near-vertical ledges, stack the larger rocks. Remember to build-in little nooks and crannies for you fish to hide and think about where the lights will be hidden in the next step. Fill the plant-pockets with aquatic planting media and have a little pile of gravel ready to cover the plant-pockets once you put plants in. If the plants can support themselves, i.e. not submerged or floating plants but plants with stalks, they can be planted in this step.
  8. Position underwater lights: While rocking-in the pond, a good idea is to position the underwater lights and their power supply cords so that they can be hidden by rocks and gravel. Position the lights so that they cast out into the pond or up the waterfall. Avoid having any lights point directly at the main viewing area to avoid a potential blinding glare. The best places to put lights is in between the larger rocks that are stacked on the near-vertical portions of the pond.
  9. Rinse stones: Fresh stones usually are covered in dirt and dust. By rinsing the rocks in the pond before filling it, all of the dust and dirt washes to the bottom of the pond and settles. This helps the cloudy water that certainly will result from filling the pond settle and clear much quicker.
  10. Fill pond - break time! Put a garden hose in your pond and let it fill. This usually takes a considerable amount of time, so it is a good time to take a break, get some lunch and consider the next steps of the installation. Fill your pond all the way up to the overflow in your skimmer (which should set the level of the pond). This is also a good time to determine the volume of your pond. Either hook a water meter to your water line or use one of these methods to estimate pond volume.
  11. Bring in top soil and bury waterfall filter box: If the excavated material from the pond wasn't sufficient to bury the waterfall box and build up the mound around it (unless natural terrain was available to utilize for the waterfall or stream), extra top soil might need to be brought in to supplement. This is a good point to finalize the burial of the waterfall box and berming of the stream or waterfall course.
  12. Build retaining wall (if needed): If there's no natural terrain to utilize to elevate the stream or waterfall, and the look of an unnatural mound around the waterfall is not desired, then install a retaining wall around the waterfall box to blend it in with the rest of the surrounding hardscape and to decrease the footprint of the waterfall mound.
  13. Attach liner to waterfall filter box: The end of the liner that goes up the waterfall or stream needs to be attached to the front of the waterfall box. Make sure there is slack in the liner at the waterfall box so that when rocks are placed on and around it, the liner is not being pulled or stretched. If you have a separate piece of stream liner, make sure it overlaps into the pond enough that water won't leak out underneath it.
  14. Build and tweak waterfall or stream: For most pond builders and hobbyists, this step is where building a water feature becomes creating a piece of art. Position the rocks and gravel into the stream or waterfall to create an interesting and dynamic watercourse, with drops, little pools or bends. Make sure the edge of the waterfall has enough of a berm that water won't flow over and out of the stream. Place any desired underwater lights in the stream or waterfall at this point. Use the black waterfall foam to anchor and seal rocks into place and to redirect water over instead of flowing under rocks.
  15. Trim liner and berm edges: Trim the excess liner that is draping out the edges of your pond. Build small berms around the edge of the pond. You can also bury the edge of the liner outside of the berm to help prevent the liner settling and sagging beneath the water level of the pond.
  16. Hide berms with gravel or mulch: Blend the edges of the pond in with the surrounding landscape by covering the berm with mulch or gravel. Place large rocks outside of the pond on the edge to help visually work it into the landscape. There are almost unlimited ways to edge the pond and make it fit with the rest of the landscape, so be creative!
  17. Plug in pump, tweak waterfall some more: When you first plug the pump in, the water level in the pond will drop before the water circulates back into the pond to refill it. Watch the level of the water in the pond to make sure it doesn't drop below the skimmer opening while the waterfall or stream is filling. If the water level drops in this process significantly, have the hose ready to fill it to the proper level. Watch how the water runs over the constructed water course. Repositioning of rocks and adding foam can change the character of the water course.
  18. Condition water and add initial doses of beneficial bacteria: If municipal water supplies were used to fill the pond, it will most likely need to be dechlorinated before the addition of fish or plants. This can be done chemically, or by letting the pond run for a couple days before adding fish'the chlorine will evaporate from the water over time. This is also a good time to add the initial dose of beneficial bacteriabeneficial bacteria and other water treatments that will be used in the pond. Pond salt is also a good thing to add before the addition of fish, to help ease the shock they experience in the transfer.
  19. Add fish and plants: Most fish come purchased in a bag filled with water. Let this bag float in your pond for 10 minutes or so to acclimate the fish to the temperature of your water and then release them from the bag. Place any potted water plants into the pond or stream, and plant aquatic greenery directly into plant-pockets, if not done already.
  20. Clean up and ENJOY! Clean up is pretty self-explanatory. After that, it's time to enjoy the fruits of your labor, invite your friends and family over and show it off, or go make a pot of tea, grab some fish food, and enjoy the peace and tranquility that running water can bring.

Check out our line of Complete Pond Kits for some of the most common sizes of landscape ponds. These kits contain everything you need to build your very own backyard paradise but the pieces that mother nature provides: rocks, water, plants, fish and earth. If you want to build a custom work of art for your yard and do not think the standard sized kits will suit you, call or email us and we will help you put together a custom kit with everything you need."

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