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How to Create a Beautiful Pond

January 14, 2019



I love ponds. I have had a pond (or three) in my yard wherever I live for the past 30 years and I cannot imagine ever living without one. I love the look. I love the sounds and I love the way they make me feel.


Aside from adding monetary value to your home (if you ever decide to sell), a pond will add an incredible "wow" factor for you to enjoy during the time you live there. Seriously, the first word out of the mouth of anyone we take into our backyard for the first time is... "wow." They literally stop and stare with wonder.


There are also the health benefits of adding a pond to your landscape. The sounds of falling or rushing water is known to reduce stress, lower blood pressure and improve mental health.


Having a pond in your yard will also inspire you to walk away from the television, to put down your mobile devices and to actually spend more time outside in the fresh air and sunshine.


Today, I am going to teach you how to create a beautiful pond of your very own. We'll start with what I call "The Big Three."


ONE -- You will need to purchase a high-quality pond liner. Seriously, do not skimp on this. The pond liner is the foundation of everything else you will do. So, if you don't want to waste your time and money and create a massive headache for yourself... get - a - quality - pond - liner.


TWO -- You will need a biological filter. You have to understand that you aren't just creating a water feature for your backyard. You are creating an eco-system. While trying to avoid a lot of technical jargon, let's just say you will need to do some planning with the way you design your pond to avoid creating a massive algae/mosquito breeding pool. The first thing you will need to do is calculate the number of gallons your pond will have and acquire an adequate biological filter to pump it through. Our pond has approximately 3,000 gallons of water, so we have a rather large biological filter, which was easily hidden behind plants. We've had the pond for about six months now and we have never had an issue with algae. The water has remained absolutely crystal clear.


TWO AND A HALF -- Okay, there's another thing you should get. But it works in conjunction with your biological filter, so it's not really an entirely separate thing. I strongly suggest that you treat the water of your freshly filled pond with a product called "Pond Starter Bacteria." It's a combination of natural cleaners that will help provide clear, healthy water and to maintain a strong biological balance in your pond. 


THREE -- Buy a pump that will circulate the number of gallons in your pond through it every hour and don't buy wimpy hoses to transport your water from your pumps to your waterfalls. Trying to save money by purchasing an inadequate but less expensive smaller pump will -- I guarantee you -- cost you more hours of frustration in an unwinnable battle against algae than you will spend enjoying the look of a beautifully clear pond. In addition, get the heavy-duty tubing that is made for what you will be using it for. If you purchase cheap, narrow rubber hoses, I promise, you will find that the waterfall -- that was initially quite enthusiastic in slinging water like Niagara Falls -- will be reduced to a depressing trickle in a matter of months when algae clogs your hoses. Then, you're going to have to dig up the hoses and clean them, or replace them with what you should have purchased in the first place.


Eventually, you will have to run electricity out to the pond so you can power the pumps for your waterfalls. But I suggest you use an outdoor extension cord to power your pumps until you are absolutely sure where you want the waterfalls to go. Been there. Done that. Have the multiple Home Depot do-over receipts to prove it.


Now you need to decide if you want a garden pond, with lots of beautiful aquatic plants, or a koi pond, with lots of gorgeous fish. The reason you have to choose is you can't have both in the same spot. Koi eat plants. So, if you have both, you are simply buying an expensive salads for your koi. Of course, this isn't to say you can't have fish with your plants. You can have common goldfish, and even some pretty goldfish. Just... no koi.


Okay... Let's get started.


This is what the corner of our backyard looked like before we added the pond. Pretty bleak, wasn't it? That corner of the yard had such a drastic slope it was difficult to mow, let alone to find a use for. I tried creating tiers, laying some patio stones and propping a swing up there. But it just never made me smile. So, we chose to turn this useless and aesthetically unappealing area into the focal point of the entire backyard.

Placement of a pond in your yard is one of the most important things to consider. Too much shade and your aquatic plants won't grow well. Most of them require six to eight hours of sunshine. Make sure you don't put your pond too close to trees. The falling leaves in the fall will require you to spend a lot of time skimming them out of the water and the roots can wreak havok on your pond liner. It will also be necessary to put a protective liner under your pond liner. You can either purchase one or make your own. I have used old carpets and even newspaper to make a paper mache.


After you've marked off the basic design of your pond it's time to grab a shovel and start digging. An easy way to mark the shape and size of your pond will be to use your garden house to "draw" your layout on the ground. We chose a sweeping, more fluid shape.


As we began to dig, we used the excavated sand (we live in Florida. We don't have "soil," we have sand... lots and lots of sand) to level the ground to the left of the swing in order to create a shade garden and a walkway. We also used the excess sand to level the extreme slope of the backyard in other places to create a larger area of level ground  so we could actually have better use of the space. Don't even ask me how many thousands of cubic feet of sand I hefted out of the ground and schlepped across that backyard... But I digress.


You can also use the soil/sand you excavate to build up the area(s) where you plan on installing your waterfall(s). We have two in our pond!


Always dig deeper and wider than you think you will need to go. You will be adding things to hide the liner on the bottom and along the edges, so anything you add will shrink the area you create. The number one after-fact of installing your pond is, no matter how big you make it you will always want a bigger one. Also, don't just dig a "hole." Make sure you create shelves with different levels along the edges. You will need these different levels to place your plants at the appropriate levels and to create the"zones," which are an essential part of keeping your water clear of algae.


Once you have excavated enough earth from what you think is your perfect pond size, lay out your liner in the hole you've dug. Most likely, you will be picking up your shovel do some more digging.


You will also have to decide how you want your pond edges to "end." do you want the edges to fade from water to land (like a beach shore) or do you want a retaining wall with a drop into the water?


The reason why I am asking this is because I have created many ponds, for myself as well as for clients, and no matter what design I start with in my head or on paper, my original pond design plans are rarely what I end up with. All I can say is this. Start with an idea of what you want. Then let the pond "talk to you." It will know what it wants to look like. Just listen and (pardon the pun) "go with the flow."


Once you establish your basic pond shape and depth, you will need to start adding your water. As the pond fills, you need to pull, tug, fold and adjust your liner to have it lay as flat as possible.


The weight of the water will help press the liner in place but too much folding will create things that look like fins poking up from the bottom and those are difficult to hide.


Hiding your pond liner will now become your greatest challenge as seeing it has the power to destroy the  illusion that your pond is natural. 


You should also assemble your waterfalls and biological filter at this time. You still have a way to go and this will help keep your water from turning green while you finish creating your pond and before you introduce your plants. This is the perfect time for you to add the Pond Starter Bacteria.


As for style, my husband and I chose to have a retaining wall around most of the pond because we like the look of deeper water along the edges. It would also play better with the extreme slope of the yard by enabling us to use this slope to our advantage rather than fighting it.


We also decided to extend the bridge, rather than have the path lead you over stepping stones before you got to the bridge. We replaced the two pillars with a beautiful arbor, which adds to the Asian theme we were going for. Like I said... Your pond will tell you what it wants to look like. Just listen, do what it says, and you will be just fine.


After we built the retaining wall, we simply folded the edge of the liner over the top and used capping stones to hide the liner.


To keep the pond from looking too rigid, we decided to use plants and rocks in some areas to hide the liner. We also made some areas shallow, like a shoreline, and in other areas, we actually painted the liner with Flex-Seal and embedded sand and rocks into it so it just blends in and looks natural!


We created "pond within a pond" in the design as well, just in case we decided to invest in koi later on. This way, we can keep the koi in a separate pool where there are no plants for them to feast upon. Because one of the waterfalls empties into this pond within a pond, the water there remains oxygenated and stays completely clear.


Speaking of plants, this is also a good time to start adding them to your water garden. I strongly suggest you find an established, local aquatic gardener. Having someone who shares your passion and knows their water plants will be one of your greatest assets when you have a pond. They know what they are doing and they can teach you so much. They will know what kinds of plants you will need, how to maintain and propagate them and they will usually guarantee their products.


Okay... Remember the "zones" I mentioned? There are plants to help establish these "zones." Establishing these zones is what will create your natural eco system, which will make your pond practically maintenance free. Just think of a natural pond or lake.


There are essentially three zones: Emergent, Floating and Submergent. 


The emergent zone is where plants "emerge" from the water grow naturally. While their roots are in the soil at the bottom, their leaves and blooms find their glory in the air above. Examples of emergent plants in our pond are papyrus, canna lily and arrowhead. Emergent plants are necessary because they absorb nutrients such as phosphorus and nitrogen before algae can utilize them and "bloom."


Floating plants, like Water Hyacinths and Water Lettuce, have roots that hang suspended below the water surface. The roots look somewhat like a mop and they act as filters that sweep bits of things from the water as they drift along in the wind. They are easy to care for, provide plenty of shade for aquatic life, and reduce algae growth by absorbing nutrients, blocking light, and cooling the water temperature, all of which prevent algae formation. They also remove a lot of the existing nitrogen and phosphates in the water and thus act as an excellent form of filtration. Many floating plants also produce beautiful flowers that create an aesthetic appeal while also cleverly disguising filtration systems or other elements.


Unfortunately, because Florida doesn't have what others call "winter," which helps control invasive water plants like Water Hyacinths and Water Lettuce, it's illegal to have them in your ponds here. So, we use alternative plants, like water lilies, lotus and this glorious floating-leaved wonder called a "mosaic plant." The tiny, diamond-shaped leaves on this floating-leaved plant actually assemble themselves into a mosaic as they grow!


While water lilies and lotus are technically "emergent" plants (because they grow on the bottom and emerge from the surface) they have leaves that float on the surface. So some aquatic gardeners (like me) give these plants their own category of "floating-leaved zone.



The submergent zone will have plants that remain -- roots and foliage -- below the surface. They are commonly referred to as "oxygenating plants," because they do a good job of removing excess nutrients from the water such as nitrites and carbon dioxide as well as adding oxygen to the water after photosynthesis.


These plants are used in most fresh-water aquariums to help control algae. These aquatic plants do not require fertilizing as they use the excess nutrients already present in your pond water. They also provide great places for your fish to hide from predators.


There is another thing you should understand about a pond... Just as it is with a garden you plant in soil, you are never "finished" with an aquatic garden. Like a regular garden, a pond has growing plants that will need to be tended to so it -- like any regular garden -- will never be completely maintenance-free.


As leaves and flowers die on your aquatic plants, you will need to remove them. The decaying plant matter supplies food for algae. You should also invest in a pool strainer to skim any leaves that fall into your pond from nearby trees. As plants grow in your pond, you will need to fertilize them and transplant them into bigger containers. Don't be surprised if you find yourself rearranging them like furniture in your house!


After the pond was established we created a multi-tiered area of steps, gardens, walkways and seating areas. Then we expanded the existing patio to go flush against the new retaining wall. Friends who come to visit have a hard time deciding just where to sit because they want to see everything at the same time.

While there is some maintenance involved, I actually enjoy working in my pond. Stress and worry may follow me there, but they never stay. Even time seems to slip away from my mind when I'm wading through the water and playing with my plants.


By the way. My husband designed and built that bridge, and those steps, from scratch. We looked at some pre-fab kits on-line but none had the look we were searching for. They weren't as wide as we wanted and they didn't look very sturdy. In addition, the bridge is 12-feet long. That's a pretty good distance when your standing on one side, looking across all that water you'd have to pass over in order to get to the other side. We didn't want anyone, specifically kids and older guests, to feel uncomfortable while crossing the bridge. These are things you need to consider as well.


The master bedroom of our Florida home has a double sliding glass door that opens completely to a screened in porch. Here in Florida, we call it a "lani." It just sounds better. Kinda like how we call a cockroach a "palmetto bug." It just sounds better.


We have another set of those doors in our living room. When they are open, it makes the space look like it's part of the garden.



On nights where it isn't too hot, we keep the sliding doors in our bedroom open so we can listen to the sound of the waterfalls and the frogs. The sleep it brings is so deep and peaceful.


You will also be surprised to discover just how quickly nature will embrace your pond. Frogs have made it home. We have all sorts of dragonflies, and birds have the happiest times bathing in the waterfalls. Over time, you'll start recognizing specific birds. You'll notice that they visit at certain times of the day to drink and to bathe... and in the spring, you will see them bring their babies, as if to say... "and this is where we get our water."








Where the backyard was once just another place where grass and plants grew, it is now an integral part of our living space. On weekends, unless it's raining, we spend most of our free-time sitting somewhere near the pond.


We've added a lot of solar powered lighting: spotlights, walkway lights and we even placed some lights underneath the water.


Of course, with the larger patio area and the cool nights we have here in what people in other states call "winter," we added a rather large fire pit.


The view of the pond  from the patio is wonderful. It even looks beautiful at night, when the solar lights are on and we have a fire going.

I hope you found this information about creating a pond to be helpful, or even inspirational. Please share your thoughts in the comments section.


If you have any questions, feel free to ask.


Because I will be living at the B&B as of the 17th of January, I plan on installing a pond behind the pool house in the spring.


It's going to be magnificent. I imagine that many photos will be taken there. I hope so. I love helping others create memories.



















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