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You are here: Home > Pond Building 101
"Welcome to Pond Building 101"

On the following pages, we'll give you a brief outline of building an in-ground pond or watergarden, from start to finish. Most ponds can be completed in a day or two, with plants and fish added later. It's not at all hard to do. The hardest part in any pond construction is the digging. You may want to consider hiring someone to do that part for you. Whether it is yourself, someone from the neighborhood or a local contractor with an excavator, it shouldn't take more than a few hours to get the basic design carved out.

There is no better place to read your favorite book or magazine, than relaxing by your pond, listening to the soothing sounds of moving water or watching the koi playfully swim in and around your plants (uprooting that prized water lily). Okay, that last part can be a bit frustrating, but with a little experience you'll soon learn ways to avoid it. You don't have to have two separate pond for aquatic plants and one pond for your koi or goldfish. They can both survive peacefully, together in the same pond.

The point is, water gardening is like no other gardening hobby. You never have to water your plants, for starters. There are very few plant pests (fish will take care of many). Most flowering aquatic plants only need 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight to bloom (a lot less, if you don't care about the flowers) and the work involved in maintaining your pond, is actually fun!

Build your pond as large as you can matter how large you build it, you will always want it larger.

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Most all fish and flowering aquatic plants need at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sun a day, so you may want to locate your pond in a fairly sunny location. Preferably, you will want to be able to enjoy the pond all year long from a patio or deck, or even your kitchen window.

Try not to locate your pond under trees or shrubs. The leaves or needles will foul the water. They can also poison your fish and clog filters and pumps.

You'll want to locate a level site, although you can use the dirt from the excavation and mound it up around the pond's perimeter to make the pond level. Don't forget to save some of the excavated dirt to build a waterfall or stream.

You will also want to locate your pond near an electrical outlet (GFCI protected) and a water source (garden hose).

Contact your municipality before you start to dig. They may ban ponds in some instances, or some locations. Ponds in some municipalities fall under the zoning laws for "swimming pools" and have to be built accordingly. Most ponds, over 18" deep, should have a fence or some other type of barrier around them to protect any unsupervised visitors from being harmed.

Keep your own kids in mind when you design and locate your pond. Also, remember the neighborhood kids that may wonder into your yard. Kids are naturally attracted to the water. They are fascinated by the sound of moving water and the fish or other wildlife you may have. Make your pond safe for everyone to enjoy.

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Here you will need to think about the size, shape and style of your pond. Include any features such as paths, paving material, coping or edging, bridges, plantings, and anything else you would want to include in the overall design.

Most "decorative" lily ponds are 18" to 24" deep. In order for koi to be happy and to give them plenty of vertical exercise, make your "koi" pond at least 36" deep.

Include in your design the types of plants you'll want to grow, including water lilies and lotus, marginal plants and floating plants. If you are thinking of a large water feature such as a fountain or waterfall, the foundation or support for these will have to be planned for before your liner is put in place.

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Pond Lining:

Your choice for liner materials will also influence the style, shape and size of your pond.

45-mil, EPDM rubber liner comes with a 20-year manufacturer's guarantee, but in general, can last double that. It is resistant to harmful UV Rays. It is very easy to work with and is fairly inexpensive. A pond can be installed (start to finish) in only one weekend.

Make sure you purchase EPDM rubber liner that is fish safe and plant friendly, from a reputable dealer. Rubber roofing material has algaecides and other chemicals in it, that are toxic to fish and aquatic plant life.

20-mil, PVC liner usually comes with a 10 to 20 year guarantee. It is lighter and easier to work with than EPDM, but can be easily torn or punctured and has less UV resistance. Also, rodents will chew it and use it for their nesting material.

Pre-formed fiberglass and polyethylene ponds limit your style and size. You are limited to only a small number of design choices (usually kidney or peanut-shaped). They normally aren't very deep (18" to 24" deep). They generally are very awkward and are hard to haul home. They do, however, make great biological filters and/or small portable or patio ponds.

Concrete ponds with large statues or fountains, and with granite or limestone coping (edging), are beautiful and are generally saved for "formal" designs. However, Poured concrete or concrete-block ponds are heavy and labor intensive, they leak and are very expensive. Generally they are not a do-it-yourself job.

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Once you've chosen your site, outline its shape with a garden hose. Use marking or spray paint or sprinkle some flour around the hose to mark its location, and then remove the hose.

Begin digging to the depth that you want and cut the sides at a slight slope to no more than 20 (any more will allow sunlight to reach the sides and cause excessive algae to grow on them). It will also be dangerously slippery, when you get in to do your pond maintenance. If you are adding a marginal shelf (it is recommended) don't forget to add it now as well. The size of your planting containers will determine the size of the shelf, but generally 12" wide x 12" deep is sufficient.

Make sure the perimeter is level all the way around by using a carpenters level or a line (or water) level. A transit would be ideal! Remove any stones, sharp rocks or tree roots that will damage or puncture the liner. Add 1" layer of damp sand on the bottom and slope it slightly toward the center (to aid in cleaning once the liner is installed). The sides and bottom should be lined with liner-underlayment, before your pond liner is installed. Don't forget to dig a shallow trench around the pond for your edging.

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Width= Overall width + twice the maximum depth + 3' to 4' for measuring errors and overlap.

Length= Overall length + twice the maximum depth + 3' to 4' for measuring errors and overlap.

Ex. A pond that is 6' wide x 10' long x 2' deep will require an EPDM liner of at least 14' x 18' long, or (6' + 4' + 4' = 14') wide x (10' + 4' + 4' = 18') long.

Lay the liner loosely over the hole and weigh it down on the edges by using bricks, stones or other heavy objects. Place a hose in the center and begin filling with water, slowly at first. The weight of the water will gradually lower the liner. Once this happens, take your shoes off or wear soft-soled sneakers. Do not wear heavy work boots, you may rip or puncture the liner. Step into the pond and begin pressing the liner into all of the corners with your hands and smooth it out to eliminate most of the creases. Work from the bottom up. As the pond fills with water it will aid in the process. You may have to fold and overlap at the corners, just be sure to do it carefully. Allow the water to settle the liner for at least a few days. Do not trim the liner yet.

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Coping or Edging:

Carefully place the first course of stone, brick or other coping or edging around the perimeter of your pond. Overlap the first course with the ends of the pond liner. Now you can trim off excess liner material. Next, lay your additional course/courses on top of this. This procedure will allow the water to hide the top edge of the liner, to make your pond look more natural. It also protects the liner from damaging ultra-violet rays, which in turn extends the life of your liner.

Top off the pond with water and you are almost done. If you used mortar for your brick or stone coping or have an excessive amount of dirt in the pond, you will want to drain the pond, clean it out and refill it. If your water is chlorinated, allow some time for the water to breath and to adjust. A minimum of 24 to 48 hours is needed for plants and 1 to 2 weeks is needed before adding your fish.

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