Picture the magic of a peaceful, babbling fountain with swimming fish and lovely floating plants and flowers, all in the confines of your garden. With the purchase of a few simple products, you can create an elegant water garden right in your backyard. Water gardens can be simple with just a few water lilies and goldfish, or they can be elaborate with streams, fountains, waterfalls and even special lighting to enhance the features you choose. You are limited only by your imagination, your budget and the amount of time you want to invest in building and maintaining your garden. Before undertaking a water garden project, consider the following questions:
• Do you live in a cold climate with harsh winters?
• Do you have the expertise needed to build an above-ground pond?
• Where is the best place in your yard to install a water garden?
• Do you plan on adding water lilies or goldfish to your water garden?
• How much time do you have to devote to maintenance and care?
Planning, Site Selection, Aquatic Life and Maintenance
Choose a location for your water garden that offers the best views, while taking into account practical considerations such as the slope of your yard, access to electricity and proximity to trees. Also, do your research on aquatic life if you decide to integrate fish and plants into the same environment. Depending on the type of water garden you create, a certain amount of maintenance and care is required, so be sure to create an environment that will allow you to spend as much or as little time as you desire.
Planning the Pond: Before shopping for materials to construct your garden, consider whether you want an in-ground or an above-ground pond. In-ground ponds are relatively simple and involve digging a hole, placing a liner, leveling it and filling the pond. Above-ground ponds don't require much digging, but you will need to build up sides to support the pond. Above-ground ponds work well in clay or compacted soil and are more appropriate for climates where the water does not freeze. Also, decide on the size of your water garden. Surprisingly, larger ponds tend to be healthier and require less maintenance because they are chemically and thermally more stable. Additional planning tips include:
• Decide on pond depth -- an ideal range is from 12 to 20-feet
• Consider the shape of your pond -- circular shapes have better water circulation
• For winter operation the pond needs to be a minimum of 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 hide during freezing temperatures
Site Selection: When planning your pond, choose a location that is highly visible. Selecting a site close to your home maximizes your enjoyment by ensuring views of the garden both inside and out. After considering aesthetics, practical concerns include calling your local building inspector to see if a building permit is required and to avoid digging in areas that have buried cables or electrical lines. Also, if your pond will feature pumps, filters or 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. Take care not to locate the garden at the bottom of a slope as water runoff washes pesticides and harmful chemicals into the garden, adversely affecting pond life.
• Avoid low-lying, boggy areas that are constantly moist and hard to dig in
• Locate the pond near a water source for easier filling and consistent levels
• Ponds with live plants should receive 4-6 hours of full sun for best results
• If raising fish or other aquatic creatures, make sure some shade is available
• Place ponds away from trees as leaves can clog pumps and filters
Aquatic Life: There are many aquatic plants and fish to choose from. Do your research to find out which fish, creatures and plant life are compatible with the type of water garden you create and the climate you live in. Strive for a balance of 1/3 open water to 2/3 plant cover, so you have enough shade and shelter for fish while allowing open water for reflection. Also, do not overstock your pond. You should only have 2 to 3-inches of fish per square-foot of surface. Aerator pumps can help if you see signs of oxygen deprivation (dying fish or fish gulping for air at the surface).
• To keep fish alive in cold climates, keep a hole in the pond ice to allow oxygen to enter
• The most popular and hardy fish for water garden ponds are goldfish and koi
• Include aquatic plants, such as water lilies, lotuses, irises, water hyacinth and water lettuce
• Grow deep water and marginal aquatic plants, such as rushes and papyrus, in pots placed in the water
• Regularly check water pH to monitor the toxicity level of ammonia and nitrates
Pond Maintenance: To properly care for your pond, you'll need to practice routine maintenance to keep water clean and fresh, and fish and plants healthy. Keep in mind larger ponds with more plants and fewer fish are easier to maintain, so carefully consider the amount of time you have to devote to your water garden when making decisions about what to include. The following chart can help you keep track of pond maintenance activities.
Pond Maintenance Schedule
|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 year|
|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 - 5 years|
|Test water for excessive amounts of ammonia or nitrates||Once per week|
|Turn on pump and filter -- at the start of the warm season when temperatures are consistently above freezing||Once per year|
Liners: Liners come in a variety of shapes and sizes in flexible or rigid materials, including natural-looking clay, preformed, flexible and concrete. Choosing a liner that is best suited to your garden depends upon the type of pond you want to create.
Underlayment: The underlayment is installed beneath the flexible liner and protects it from materials that could cause punctures or cuts.
Pumps: Large ponds are fairly self-sufficient but smaller ponds with plants and fish require a pump to maintain adequate oxygen levels. Water pumps help empty the pond when needed, such as draining off a portion for the winter. Waterfalls and fountains also require pumps.
Filters: Mechanical filters strain or trap particles in the water through different materials to prevent stagnation from the natural byproducts of fish, plants and other organic materials. Biological filters contain live bacteria that break down harmful ammonia. These filters are easily disassembled for cleaning and replacing filter material.
Aerators: Aerating fountains improve water quality by creating a circulation pattern that increases oxygen for fish, helps aerobic bacteria break down nutrients and prevents sludge from settling at the bottom of the pond.