A Guide to Building A Simple Decorative Pond
One of the
best additions to a home garden or landscape is the element of water. Fish, plants and water are all of the makings of a small
ecological unit that attracts a lot of life to the garden as well as beauty.
Many choose to have a pond that
is equipped with pumps, lights, fountains, fancy Koi fish and all of the bells and whistles that are provided by landscapers
with the know-how and heavy construction equipment.
What some may not realize, is that a pond is an eco system in and
of itself that does not need all of the mentioned luxuries to be stable and full of life. Once built, as long as oxygen, life
elements, and protection from run-off of herbicides and pesticides are provided, the pond will sustain itself for long periods
of time without any invasive maintenance.
In this article, I will show you how to build a pond on a very modest budget
and a lot of hard work. With careful planning, anyone can build a pond if they are truly interested in having one in their
landscape. Huge budgets can be avoided by creating a pond with a good plan and a strong back.
Step 1: Finding The Right Location For the Pond
The area should
be at a high point in the yard to prevent runoff from rain. This can cause many fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides to
wash into the pond. Treatments in the lawn or the garden can cause an unbalance and possibly death of plants and aquatic life
in the pond. A mostly sunny location is good, away from trees that will cause debris to fall into the pond however; a partially
shaded location will work.
If there is any question of a lower lying area, while digging, raise the sides up with the soil that
is being removed from the pond area. Plant tall grasses about 2 feet from the edge of the lower area of the pond where runoff
may occur that will help keep contaminants out of the water and create a natural buffer zone.
Fo my project, the pond is
close to the house so it can be seen every time someone walks outside into the garden. The gutter spout will make itself useful
and empty into the pond, refreshing the water with each rainstorm. In the event of drought or very little rain, an addition
of water from a hose may be needed in case the water level drops more than six inches. The gutter spout
is also incorporated into the design so its hidden and becomes a part of the pond by covering it with marble or river stones
that will filter out any debris that may wash down from the spout. These are only a few examples of what can be created.
Step 2: The Hard
Start by using
a garden hose or rope to make the shape of the pond you are creating. A kidney shape, a heart, oval, a square, let the land
tell you what will work well the area or just use creativity. Now, start digging…and digging until you have at least
a two-foot depth (prevents freezing fish in the winter) all around the bottom to the top edge of the pond. Be sure to
remove any stones or roots that may protrude from the hole and cause any future damage to the liner.
While digging out the pond,
use the soil to help make the pond even deeper by mounding the side up and using a level with a 2” x 4” board
to make sure the sides are all even by placing the board across from side to side and using the level on top of it. A decorative
pond should be at least two feet deep to keep the water from freezing solid and the fish alive through the winter season here
Caution: If you have small children, careful attention must be paid to the
access of the pond as little ones may accidentally fall in.
3: Shelving the Edge and Prepare For Liner.
Along the upper edge of the inside pond area, create a 12-15 inche
wide shelf with a garden trowel that is even all around and about 12 inches deep. This will help with access to the pond as
well as provide a shelf to place plants in shallow water such Cardinal Flowers, Cannas and Corkscrew Rush plants.
Do a double
check to make sure there are no sharp stones, sticks or roots jutting out of the sides or bottom of the pond. Find some old
blankets, a sleeping bag (remove zipper) or an old pool liner if you know someone who is replacing theirs to spread out on
the bottom of the pond for extra protection under the liner from sharp stones that may work its way up to the surface after
several winters or roots that may re-appear with time.
A liner for the pond will probably be your biggest investment. A heavy liner is important because
our winters are very tough and a good liner will keep for a long time. Very nice flexible liners can be found on the Internet
auction sites or from reputable dealers in many sizes for a very reasonable price. Hard shaped liners can also be used but
these types of liners will dictate the size and shape you are creating. Don’t skimp on the purchase of the liner, because
all of your hard work will be for nothing if the liner gives out in one year.
Adding the Liner and Water
Start by spreading out the liner outside of the pond area to check how it will best fit over the
area. There should be at least 6” of extra liner over the edge. With most of the liners being cut in a rectangle or
square, it may just hit the edge in places. In some cases, the liner will overlap the edge by a lot.
Step inside of the pond without
shoes (to protect the liner) and try to work the liner in with your feet at the bottom and then into the shelf that was created
to try to get the best fit before adding water. Step out and begin filling your new pond.
Monitor the bottom
as it fills for any wrinkles forming and take them out while the pond fills by pulling on the liner from the outside edge
to close the wrinkle as much as possible. This should be done meticulously as the water fills the pond to keep the liner as
wrinkle free as possible. Once the pond is half filled, STOP, check each side for even edges and level water. If everything
is looking fine, finish filling. If not, fix any problems before proceeding.
Once the pond
is full, the body of water should be left for at least 24 hours to make sure there are no leaks or breaks in the liner before
proceeding. After the 24 hours has passed with no problems, cut the edges of the liner to adjust it with
the shape and size so there is enough of extra overlapping the edge of the pond to work with (a box cutter works well).
5: Finishing the Pond Construction
This is the part where lots of imagination can be used. If there is an abundance of stones (old stone
walls) in the area, or in my case I had disassembled a patio and had a lot of brick patio pavers that were handy (and free)
to use and was also given 12 bags of marble chips that had holes in them. Don’t be too proud to ask about these things
if you are on a tight budget. Use your imagination and creativity; just be careful not to use anything that may be toxic to
Start by placing
the first row of stones at the edge of the pond as this will help to hide the liner. The next row should come back a little
further to begin covering the outside of the pond and make it beautiful. A strong edge should be used to keep the stones or
pavers in place over time with winter and frost heaves without using concrete. This is done in case the liner needs
to be replaced and the stones or bricks can be moved. Landscape edging that is hidden by mulch or crushed stones
works well. This way there will not have to be any major demolition if there is a future problem with a hole in the liner
(some settling will occur over time).
Let the pond stand for at least 1 week before adding anything to make sure the water has had a chance
to rid itself of chlorine that your water may have in it.
Step 6: Adding Plants and Life
To The New Pond
This is the fun part. Adding plants to the pond will not only bring life, but also soften the harsh
look of the finished stonework or any mistakes one may want to cover such as the downspout. It is amazing how adding plants
will change the allover appearance of the decorative pond.
Oxygen is needed in the water to
sustain life in the pond. Add plants that live at the bottom such as the Lotus (Water Lily) right into the water, plants that
float on the surface and plants that live in the shallow shelf area. All of these plants will help to oxygenate the water
and ready it for new life in the pond.
Try to purchase plants that are hardy to our climate so they will survive our cold winters here in
the Northeast. They can be planted in plastic pots or fabric. I choose to weigh the plant down with a stone so it can spread
out on it’s own with no restrictions. If the plant overgrows the pond in time, just divide and share it with friends.
One Lotus plant should be fine for a small pond. “Barbara Dobbins” is a white variety that will do well in partially
shaded ponds and is hardy. “Attraction” is a pink variety that will thrive here in Connecticut.
Water Lettuce or Pistia stratiotes
is a floating pond plant that looks beautiful but is not hardy through our winter. It can be brought indoors and wintered
over in an aquarium. Water Lettuce will spread quickly so it may be a good thing that it is not hardy to our area. Fish like
to chew on the roots of these plants.
One of my favorite shallow water plants is Corkscrew Rush or Juncus effusus spiralis. This plant should be in at least six inches of water
and will add some great interest to the pond. The spiraling Rush will grow 10- 18 inches tall on the shelf area of the pond.
Ornamental Cattails can also be added to the shelf as well as Iris Louisiana plants adding a nice blue color to the shelf
The first living
creatures that I bring into the pond are tadpoles or as I remember them being called, Pollywogs. If it is too late in the
year to add these little critters, not to worry, frog will find your new pond. After a couple of days, travel to the local
pets store and ask for at least a dozen feeder goldfish which cost no more than few cents each and add these fish to your
some of the goldfish will die very quickly because they are not used to the condition of the water. The survivors will live
and grow to be beautiful specimens. Several goldfish purchased at the pet store have lived for 4 years
in my pond through some of the toughest and coldest winters. Mosquitoes are rarely a problem because the fish and the frogs
are well fed by them. I Do not feed the fish in my pond.
After a period of adjustment by all of the additions to your new
pond, a small eco system has been created and will be self-sufficient. The only maintenance I provide is in the fall and early
spring to remove leaves and falling debris from the water. Keep a net handy to help remove this debris. Very soon other forms
of life will magically appear such as dragonflies and birds stopping by for a cool drink.
A Delicate Balancing Act
Try to remember the balance
to this tiny eco-system is very delicate. While mowing the grass, be sure not to let the grass blow into the pond and to keep
any pesticide, fertilizer or insecticide away from the water. Careful attention must be paid on a windy days when fertilizers
and sprays are applied. Grass clippings, especially ones that have been treated with fertilizers and herbicides can be a danger
to the balance of a pond. Also, tossing coins into the water is a sure danger to the fish and wildlife in the pond
and one must be careful to tell any visitors not to make any wishes with coins. I place a few glass stones in a bowl to visiting
kids for this purpose in which no harm is done.
Once you have worked so hard on building this beautiful pond, set up a chair, sit back, relax and
enjoy what you and nature have created. Well done!