How to Guide

Garden Pond Design 101

Garden pond design is the thing that makes or breaks the total project. It is entirely one thing to have a well-constructed hole in the ground but unless you plant around it properly, well… you have a great hole in the ground. 🙂 Sometimes you even have a leaking hole in the ground. 🙁

Backyard ponds come with a full range of delightful moments and these rarely need discussing on the Internet.

However what we do find is that when pond gardeners have a small problem, the first place they now charge off to is the Internet. This page is a reference page for solving problems, giving you honest information without trying to sell you anything (other than one of my ebooks or my free gardening newsletter of course) (insert grin here) and answering your pond gardening questions.

One time you wouldn’t want a hole in the ground is if you were designing above ground ponds. Here are a few thoughts on designing for them.

The only other time you wouldn’t want to have a hole in the ground is if you were installing an indoor pond or indoor water garden Here are a few things to consider.

And if you want to avoid holes in the ground with your pond side plants, here are a few suggestions for container gardening with pond plants.

On a similar vein, here’s my thoughts on patio ponds and the things you can do with them.

This and the following pages in this section are intended to introduce you to some of the basic design or landscaping principles around making that water feature look like a feature rather than a dud. These garden pond design thoughts and suggestions do not take away from regular landscaping design principles but should be considered as suggestions regarding pond landscaping itself.

Need some good water garden construction pictures?

The First Rule

is that there are no rules. There are however “suggestions” that you might consider sticking to. These will keep you out of trouble and if you’ve never done any landscaping at all, they will act as rules. But, if you really want to break them, well then go ahead and have a good time doing so.

The most important thing to understand in any landscaping project is that it has to please you. If you are happy with your garden then no garden designer or garden snob has the right to tell you otherwise. They have the right to disagree with you and not like what you’ve done but they don’t have to live with your garden. Please yourself. (but here’s a few thoughts anyway)

The second suggestion is not to try to save on the number of plants you install. I know it is tempting to try to save money at this point in the construction process but ensuring there are enough major plants in the design to soften the edges and make it look natural will make or break your project.

Turtle Ponds are a great way to design a backyard pond for amusement as well as helping give wildlife a home. Here’s the simplest of water garden design tips.

Aquascape Designs are the largest pond manufacturer and pond system in today’s market. Here’s my quick take on this company.

Underwater pond lighting is imporant for pond enjoyment and here are three considerations and light placements for you to consider.

As regular readers know, I have a soft spot in my gardening world for garden ponds and last week, I spent a day taking a contractors course in constructing modern water gardens. What I learned can be summed up in a simple philosophy and a very few words.

Copy Mother Nature

I think the consumer-oriented book from this company is the best beginner book for constructing garden ponds.

I don’t know how many times I’ve said “copy Mother Nature” (or something similar) in my own soil-based gardening world so when the course instructors said that, I confess I was hooked. Copy old Mom and everything will turn out well. As it turns out, when you examine what nature is doing in her garden ponds, we can duplicate those things with very little effort. And, as I drooled over the slides of wonderful ponds, I confess I’m prepared to start spending the effort to work with nature on my garden ponds and designs.

Think Modern Systems

The first thing you have to do is shuck off some of the older notions of building garden ponds or pondless waterfalls. Like many things in this gardening world of ours, we’ve learned some things about garden ponds in the past few years that are not yet described well in our gardening books and magazines.

Look at what is happening in nature and then copy that.

An Old Myth Exposed

For example, books always say that covering up the pond liner is a no-no. For sure, we want to protect the exposed edges from sunlight so it doesn’t degrade but the old advice was that the liner inside the pond should be bare.

Now, the word is to lay rocks and small pea gravel onto this liner to protect it and provide a home for beneficial bacteria to work to help keep our water clear.

Makes sense to me, have you ever seen a pond or creek in the wild without rocks or sand or some substrate to protect working bacteria? Me neither. There is of course a way to lay these rocks and gravel down so as not to damage the liner but once they are laid down, the pond becomes one step closer to being a full bio-filter.

Water Management

Because that’s the next step in water management. If you have fish and wildlife in your garden ponds, then you are going to have to install a two step filtration system. Most of my existing garden ponds were designed for plants; I don’t have large fish in them but as soon as you put fish into a pond, and you really want to do this for sure, then you have to go to filtration.

Garden Hoses

You first order of business is to find the best garden hose that you can get your hands on. This can be easy if you live in a city with good suppliers but becomes much more difficult if you live far out in the wilderness and don’t have access to such stores.

One of my top recommendations would be to start out with an expandable hose as opposed to a traditional rubber garden hose. This is because the expandable hose seems to withstand the elements a bit more than the rubber, which can crack easily in colder weather.

Mother Nature Filters Her Water

I can hear you saying, “Mother Nature doesn’t filter her water.” Well, check out all the swamps, bogs and wetlands around us; those are nature’s filter systems and they keep our water clean and pure. When you remove wetlands and bogs, you’re removing nature’s filters.

If you don’t have filtration when you have running water, the pumps very quickly clog up and cleaning out those tiny screens is a royal pain in the anatomy. So, what I learned was that a two step filtration system works best.

First Filter

The first step is a large particle filter or pond skimmers. This is like a furnace screen that removes all the floating junk in the pond. All the leaves, bits of grass and stuff that is attracted to a pond like iron filings are attracted to a magnet can be removed by a large-particle filter.

Clean this box out once a week (or more when leaves are falling or you’ve pointed the lawn mower discharge into the pond by accident) and much of the problem disappears.

Second Filter

A second filter, called a biological filter, acts to balance the water chemistry. Things like nitrates are absorbed and used by bacterial cultures inside this filter.

While the construction of such a filter is pretty simple and its operation is equally easy, it turns out that this is one of those things that bogs and swamps also do for our natural streams.

Copying nature, we build or purchase a large enough biological filter to handle the size of our garden ponds and then we can have lots of fish. I confess I have this picture of trout in my backyard pond; throw in a line and out comes dinner.

Water Pump

To make this entire system work, we use a pump installed in the skimmer filter to pump the water through hoses to the other end of the pond and through the biological filter.

From this biological filter, the water runs into the pond to start the process over again. The algae and bacteria on the rocks in the pond help to filter the water and keep it crystal clear.

What is interesting is that when this system is all set up properly, it works like a charm and provide a wonderful pond setting. The key is to size all the component pond pump parts properly.

Pump Rating

The pump should be capable of moving all the water in the pond every two hours or less. If you have a 4000 gallon pond, then the smallest pump you can use is one rated for moving 2000 gallons of water per hour.

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