Water Gardens and Fish Pond Care

Create a peaceful fountain, complete with fish and floating plants in a water garden

Water Gardens - Water Gardens Fish Pond

Water gardens can be a great addition to your backyard. They provide a tranquil setting, along with beautiful plants, flower and fish. 

This guide highlights the planning process for water gardens and fish ponds, along with their site selection and maintenance considerations.

Planning Your Pond

Before purchasing supplies for your pond, decide whether you want an in-ground or above ground pond.

  • In-ground ponds are relatively simple to install – dig a hole, place a liner inside, check for level and adjust, then fill the pond.
  • Above ground ponds don’t require much digging, but you’ll have to build up the sides to support the pond.
  • Above ground ponds work well in clay or compacted soil and in climates that do not freeze.
  • Larger ponds tend to be healthier and require less maintenance because they are chemically and thermally more stable.
  • Pond depths should range from 12 to 20 inches.
  • Circular ponds have better water circulation.
  • To work well during winter, ponds need to be at least 1 foot below the frost line.
  • In cold climates, provide at least 10 square feet of deep water space (2 to 3 feet deep or 1 foot below the frost line) for fish to live in during freezing temperatures.

Site Selection

Choose a location that is visible and close enough to your home so you can enjoy the view.

  • Avoid digging in areas that have buried cables and power lines.
  • If your pond will have pumps, filters and other accessories requiring power, make sure to locate the pond near an electrical outlet and keep electrical wiring in a safe, out-of-sight place.
  • Don’t locate your pond at the bottom of a slope as water runoff will wash in pesticides and chemicals, adversely affecting pond life.
  • Locate the pond near a water source for easier filing and consistent levels.
  • Ponds with live plants should receive four to six hours of full sun for best results.
  • Place ponds away from trees as falling leaves can clog pumps and filters.
  • Ponds with fish or other aquatic life should have some shade during the day.

Aquatic Life

The climate of your area will be the main factor in which plants and fish you should choose for your pond.

  • Strive for a balance of one-third open water and two-thirds plant cover to provide adequate shade for fish.
  • Do not overstock your pond. Strive to only have 2 to 3 inches of fish per square foot surface.
  • If your fish keep dying or you see them gulping for air at the surface, an aerator pump can help you determine if the pond is deprived of oxygen.
  • When ice forms on the pond during winter, keep a hole cut in the ice to allow oxygen to enter the pond for your fish.
  • Goldfish and Koi are best suited for ponds.
  • Water lilies, lotuses, irises, water hyacinth and water lettuce are plant types that thrive in ponds.
  • Regularly check water pH to monitor the toxicity level of ammonia and nitrates.

Maintenance

Routine maintenance will ensure your pond – and the fish and plants living there – stays healthy.

Keep in mind that larger ponds with more plants and fewer fish are easier to maintain. Also consider the amount of time you have to devote to maintenance and upkeep.

Pond Maintenance Schedule
Task Suggested and Timeframe

Add bacteria to pond to maintain a healthy bacterial colony, especially if your pond tends to accumulate leaves and other debris

Once per week

Clean water filters

Once per week

Drain pond water in cold climates (1/4 or 1/3 of water) at the start of winter

Once per week

Feed fish when they are most active (non-winter months only)

Once or twice a day

Fertilize aquatic plants

Once per month or as needed

Remove decaying leaves and surface debris

Once per week

Service aerator equipment

Every 3 to 5 years

Test water for excessive amounts of ammonia or nitrites

Once per week

Turn on pump and filter (at the start of the warm season when temperatures are consistently above freezing)

Once per week