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Building a Small Garden Pond

A garden pond can be a wonderful addition to any landscape. The presence of water makes any area seem cooler and the sound of a fountain or waterfall is very serene. There are many decisions to make when installing a pond. Some of the decisions to be made include:

Where do you want the pond?

What size and shape should it be?

What kind of liner should you use?

What water features and accessories do you want in your pond?(Fish, plants, fountains, waterfalls, etc.)

This last question should probably be considered first. Your pond features greatly effect the size and placement of the pond. Water plants need as much sunlight as possible; Sunlight causes more algae growth in the pond; Fish require a certain depth pond in order to survive the winter; Fountains and waterfalls are adversely affected by algae growth in the pond.

A garden pond can be designed in any size and shape you desire. Either a plastic or concrete liner must be used to hold in the water. Concrete can be molded to any shape, but it may crack and leak over time. There are preformed hard plastic liners in many shapes available at most garden shops. There are also connecting pieces with waterfalls and plant shelves. For these liners, you simply excavate a hole that exactly fits the shape of the liner. To design your own pond, excavate the hole to the shape you desire and use a sheet of plastic pond liner to line the pond. This liner is available in predetermined sizes or by the foot at some garden shops. To determine what size liner you will need, you need to determine the width, length and depth of your pond. You also need to allow an extra foot or so of liner to overhang around the edges of the pond. For the installation described here I decided to use a plastic liner purchase by the foot and design the shape and size myself. There may be different steps that need to be taken for preformed hard plastic liners or concrete ponds. This pond was free-formed into a kidney bean shape approximately 4’ x 4’ x 18". A 7’ x 12’ piece of liner was used.

The bottom of the pond need not be level, but it does need to be smooth. It can have a shallow area and a deep area if you wish. You may want to make shelves for water plants which need to be at a shallow depth or have a deeper area if you plan to have large fish in your pond. For fish to live year round in Alabama, the pond needs to be at least 18" deep. After the hole has been excavated, it needs to be lined with fine sand to protect the liner from sharp rocks and roots that may puncture it. This pond is level at 18" and has been lined with 2" of playground sand.

After the hole has been prepared, the liner may be installed. The sheet of plastic liner needs to be placed in the hole so that there is plenty of excess liner all around the pond. The liner does not have to be placed to form perfectly to the hole. Start the water running into the pond and the water will pull the liner down into the pond for you and shape it. DO NOT cut or tack down the liner until after it has been filled with water. Cutting beforehand may leave you with no excess on the sides if you underestimate the depth of the pond.

After the pond has filled with water, it is safe to cut off the excess liner. The liner in this pond was cut off leaving approximately 1’ of excess. The excess was tacked down temporarily using 4" nails. A decorative border will be added later to secure and cover the plastic liner.

There are many features that can be added to a garden pond. Some of the most popular are pumps, fountains, lights, plants, and fish. This pond shows a pump with a fountain attachment. The pump that was used was a Little Giant PE-A submersible pump with a Tulip fountain attachment. This pump circulates 80 gal/hour and is mainly for small ponds. Another alternative to the fountain would be to use the pump with a piece of statuary sitting beside the pond. A piece of tubing could be run to a hole in the statuary to make a different type of water feature. The plant used in this pond is a white water lily. Plants need to be in pots of good garden soil. The pot needs to be submerged in the pond and the plant will grow to the surface. I suggest putting your potted plant in an empty 5 gallon bucket and slowly filling the bucket with water. This will allow the soil time to become waterlogged. Then you can remove the soaked plant from the bucket and place it in the pond. If the plant doesn’t become waterlogged when you put it in the pond, it will float up and tip over(take it from me!). It is a good idea to also place rocks on top of the soil in the pot for two reasons: First, the rocks will weight down the pot so that is does not tip over easily; and Second, the rocks will protect the plant from being rooted up by fish in the pond. Water plants require a good deal of sun, so keep this in mind when deciding where to place your pond. Also, if you plan to add fish, be sure to test and adjust your pond’s pH, and if you filled your pond with city water, add a dechlorinator, preferably one with a stress coat to protect the fish.

The final step with this pond was to add a decorative edging material to cover the excess plastic liner. Edging can be placed before or after your plants or other accessories. In this case, the edging was placed last because working over it would have been difficult. Two 50 lb. Bags of small river pebbles were chosen for this pond, but some other alternatives are stacked flat stone, brick, or large rocks.

With this pond installation, some problems have appeared and I would like to share those with you so that the same mistakes need not made. The first problem is with the location of the pond. It is located right next to a 5’ English rose that sheds its petals, you guessed it, right into the pond on a daily basis. Be aware of any shedding plants including trees around the area. Fall leaves can be avoided by placing a netting over the pond in the fall.

Make sure your electrical outlet is easily accessible. You will want to unplug your fountain when you are not around or when doing any maintenance in the pond. The plug for this pond is behind a ‘Rosy Glow’ Barberry which has large thorns that work every time.

Another problem is with the small rocks that were placed around the pond. Birds constantly knock the rocks into the pond when they are drinking and bathing in the pond. They also leave gifts around the pond.

Birds bring up another problem worth mentioning. Ponds will have algae growth especially if they are in the sun. There are chemicals that you can add to your pond to stop algae growth, but they may be hazardous to birds or the family pet. I purchased a chemical to get rid of the algae, and after putting the chemical in the pond, I read the bottle and it said ‘Hazardous to Humans and Wildlife’. I had to completely drain the pond and refill it because I knew the birds had been splashing around in it and I didn’t want to kill them or my dog. Placing your pond in a shady area will help some, but it will be hard to have a safe, crystal clear pond. So be prepared to accept some algae in your pond.

One final problem is mosquito larvae. It does not take long for the mosquitoes to find your pond and make themselves at home. If you have fish, this may not be a problem. But if you don’t have fish, you will probably have to add a floating mosquito disk.

There are many good sources of pond materials. Home improvement centers carry almost everything that you need to install a pond including liners, plants, pumps, fountains, statuary and chemicals. Pet Warehouse(1-800-443-1160, www.petwhse.com) is a catalog that carries all pond supplies, including pond kits that have the liner, pump and fountain. A good source for water plants is Iris City Gardens, 502 Brighton Place, Nashville, TN 37205-2556 (1-800-934-IRIS). Check out the library or book store for complete how-to books on pond installation and care.

By: Joanna McKinley


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