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Building the Perfect Backyard Pond

Posted on April 12 2019

Building the Perfect Backyard Pond

Building a backyard pond can be an exciting yet daunting task. Everyone loves the sound and aesthetics of a beautifully made pond, but not many people don't realize the right and wrong ways of how to build and set up a perfect water garden. If not set up correctly the first time, homeowners may be disappointed with their pond after its complete. If only they knew the right and wrong ways of building it beforehand! That's why we want to help you build your pond right the first time go round! The information which we will provide for you below comes from our own experience of designing ponds, as well as the help and education learned from the "Rise Method book, by Rick Bartel." This book is a great read, and we highly suggest purchasing it before building your pond. It is a step by step guide process that shows you the Dos and Dont's of pond building, and if followed we can guarantee you will love your pond for as long as it exists!

When you look at your water body, you want it to look as natural as possible. You don't want to see the skimmers, weirs, lights, liners, and cords showing throughout the pond as that makes it look man-made and not well thought out. Achieving truly naturalistic results is quite simple once you understand just how nature reacts to the surrounding elements. Learning how to select the best possible materials for your water feature projects and knowing exactly how and where to place those materials will allow you to accomplish anything.

But first thing first, here are some of our tips and recommendations to achieve that perfect pond! Firstly, you should be using a liner for your pond! But not just any liner, as some produce toxins that can be harmful to fish. You should be using a 45 mm firestone eppm liner. Once you have dug out your pond and have a relative idea of where your pond will be placed and how large it will be you should put the liner in your pond than have the liner spread out at least 1 foot around the edge of the entire pond.

Secondly, you should install an aeration system in the lower part of your pond. The low area in your pond where its most likely that your water may become stagnant, and this is where your fish will be kept as it will be the deepest part of your pond. Installing an aeration system will ensure your dissolved oxygen levels stay high and keep your fish healthy, but it will also assist the bacteria that is naturally found in your pond to breakdown any organics present in the water column and prevent the formation of algae and Duckweed from entering your pond. We recommend using the koi air aeration systems for backyard water gardens as they are made for smaller water features.

You should also insert a skimmer in the pond. The skimmer will help collect any leaves or other debris that may fall into your water feature. The skimmer is super easy to clean, you pick up the basket and dump out its contents, then place it back into the pond. By having a skimmer and cleaning it regularly, it will prevent the breakdown of any organics in your pond and subsequently will stop any additional nutrients from entering your pond which will help keep your pond clean and healthy all season long.

You will also want to have your water flowing from one end of the pond to the other, like a mini river system, instead of just a stagnant non-moving pond. Having the water flowing will create the beautiful sound of rushing water, will reduce the chances of algae developing and will make your pond look that much more delightful! Therefore you will want to install a weir or waterfall box, but you will want to ensure that where you place it will be hidden so that your pond can look as natural as possible. When you design your pond, you can protect these weir systems by rocks, logs or vegetation.

The main area of your pond should be approximately 2-3 feet deep. This depth will ensure there is plenty of space for your fish to move around. Having the water deeper will also help keep the water temperatures cooler and help prevent algae growth. Speaking of fish, if you want to add fish to your pond we would recommend starting with just a few fish as fish can add organics and nutrients through their waste which in turn can lead to algae growth. If you are adding koi or goldfish, also know that they can get quite large. So start with just a few, then if you decide you want later, you can add more.


You should be running your aeration all the time. It is incredibly affordable to operate and is hugely beneficial to the health of your pond. However, we recommend turning off the weir or waterfall box when you are not using it as these pumps cost more to operate and are not necessary while you are not there to enjoy it.

The last recommendation we have for you is even though you may install all the recommended equipment that we have mentioned above, algae and additional nutrients may still be present in your water body. Therefore we recommend applying bacterial treatment all season long to ensure the algae and any other issues do not get out of control. Depending on the size of your pond will determine what products you will use. However, our most popular products for small ponds are Pond Clear, Clarity Max, Biological Clarifier, Muck Away and Black Pearl. By applying one or a combination of these products weekly to your pond, will ensure your pond never gets out of control and it will look beautiful all season long. After all, its easier to treat your pond as a proactive method, compared to waiting until your pond becomes aesthetically unpleasing and then trying to treat it.

Now let's get into it the techniques for designing your pond! Before creating a pond, you need to understand the RISE Method.

R- Random, having no specific pattern.

I- Irregular, having no even occurrence.

S- Spontaneous, having no external confinement.

E- Erratic, having no fixed course.

When you are designing your pond, take the RISE method into account, nothing in nature is straightforward or has patterns and neither should your backyard pond. Forget about even, balanced, centered, straight, level, and square attributes and let the natural world dictate where your properly chosen materials need to be placed within the parameters of your designed project. All materials or elements within a given space do interact with one another. Too much of one element will overpower the others. Too little of any other element will also be a visible contributing factor to the balance of your pond, while you are attempting to achieve sensory perfection.

Random material placement is vital, you should never have a similar size rock edging the entire pond. But you should also never create a pattern with different size rocks by going small to large or vice versa. Mix up the sizes and change the order of their placements so that there are no noticeable patterns of repetition.

Items in nature are never evenly spaced. Make sure that some of your materials are entirely touching and in full contact with one another and some are close together but clearly not touching and others are further apart from each other.

All of the elements should be spontaneous but yet still flow well with the rest of the features in the pond. Let the water and shoreline mix and mingle in seemingly and almost messy co-habitation where the various materials blur this boundary. Also, do not stop at the water line. Just because you are installing a water feature does not mean you should neglect the surrounding landscape. The entire overall scene needs to be a complex blend that belongs together.

When designing a naturalistic watercourse, you do not want the feature to flow straight down a slope in a straight path and create a rigid man-made appearance. Water naturally reacts to every change in the surrounding topography, adjusting itself to every rise and fall while changing course around immovable objects. Following erratic characteristics, you should allow your watercourse to get narrower and wider, deeper and shallower, turning left and right, continually changing and shifting in a never-ending and unpredictable manner.

Having elevation throughout the water feature is a good thing. However, it is not necessary to design massive amounts of elevational change into a water feature site to produce sufficient slope for waterfalls or for creating high rates of flow and white water hydraulics. Impressive hydraulics can be achieved with relatively slight but effective elevational changes in the surrounding grade.

It is also essential to adjust the elevation below water level as well, adding a dimension that can genuinely affect the visual balance in a final project. A deep water canyon, in an otherwise shallow stream or pond, can be very appealing to both human viewers and aquatic life forms, providing a haven to protect and house your pond inhabitants.

Variable widths in any watercourse are essential to achieving naturalistic results and effects. Forcing large amounts of water through relatively narrow spaces between boulders and other solid objects can create significant amounts of whitewater with impressive hydraulic turbulence. This turbulent action can dramatically affect the sights and sounds of your designed system by creating additional visual and audible appeal. Then by allowing the water to spread out over a very wide area can create calming effects of soothing, rippling shallows. Use caution with this technique, as shallow slow-moving water tends to warm quickly and these conditions in conjunction with other elements can assist in the increase of unwanted algae production.

When creating twists and turns in your water feature its better to create extremely exaggerated turns, as this will force the water to change directions since it can no longer physically move in a straight line.

Islands are another great feature to add to your water body. A single rock of most any size is a perfectly acceptable technique when placed strategically in a watercourse. This use of rock can assist in altering the actual speed and direction of the water passing through any area. However, it must be pointed out here, that a single rock is not an island and should not be referred to as one. Therefore a well-developed concept of an actual island structure should consist of three to five elements all combined to form the island. Several rocks of various sizes, a planting bed with a variety of plant material all topped off with pockets of mulch and gravel and mossy log or driftwood branch could undoubtedly be called an island structure.

When building your pond, you will want an area to have high water flow which creates that beautiful rushing sound of water that everyone loves to hear. A watercourse can show a significant change in the level of water velocity because the current water ratio is typically increased dramatically. These areas of extreme turbulence can be very noticeable as the water is forced through narrower passages while maintaining the same water volume and being less noticeable as it passes through wider areas. Ground slope or grade will control not only water velocity but also water depth. The level of friction applied to the surface of the water is more significant on a slight downhill slope than that of a steep incline. Because of this change in friction and gravitational pull, the water will move either faster or slower and thereby change the depth of water building up behind various objects.

Now to create that beautiful sound of water rushing can also be controlled by designing the surface of which the waterfalls on. Changing the sound emitted by the movement of the water in any water feature application is as easy as changing the objects being struck by the water. High range tones can be controlled or adjusted by varying the amount of water that falls onto a solid object such as a rock. High range tones are known for drowning out unwanted noises such as nearby passing traffic.

Controlling splash at the end of a waterfall feature will be responsible for the amount of water loss in the water feature. Controlling splash can be easy if you allow a minimum of three to four feet of distance for every foot of elevational drop in water falling onto a solid surface. You can also design the pool at the bottom of the waterfall feature to create the tones you want. By having the pool shallow, it will create mid-range tones, which are known for being some of the most pleasant sounds produced by water. Or you can create a low range of tones by allowing the water to fall into deeper pools of water. You can also adjust the volume of the sound from the water falling by using an echo-chamber. These echo-chambers are nothing more than a constructed amphitheater located directly behind the waterfall.

Now when you are thinking about what materials to use, consider texture, color, character-lines, moss, and lichen. Choose rocks that have naturally appearing, old, worn and weathered surfaces and edges. Old worn out rocks will make a huge difference compared to using freshly broken and sharp-edged rocks, which will be damaging to pond liners.

When choosing the color of your rocks, ensure they are consistent with one another. You don't want to have all dark rocks and then a big white rock out in the center. Same with choosing the smaller rocks that will be throughout the water feature. They should generally be about the same color as the larger rocks, as in nature the smaller rocks are generally just broken down pieces of the larger rocks, but have eventually changed shades due to weathering. Also, ensure that the rocks you choose have lots of character-lines. These will add a lot more detail and character to your pond instead of using smooth and perfectly round rocks.

Mosses and lichens are another great addition to add to your water feature, if you can find rocks with lichen and moss already present on them, it will add that much more dimension to your water feature. There are ways to create your own mold and moss, but this no way guarantees the long term existence of these plants. Also by using rocks with the moss and lichen, it aids in creating your pond to look old and natural, instead of brand new and man-made.

Now once you have designed the majority of your pond, its now time to install the edging details. You can use whatever you want as long as it looks natural, and camouflages the edges of a water feature. Some ideas can be coping shelves, mossy logs, and driftwood, planting beds or pockets, bog areas, grassy slopes, planted beaches, gravel bars, or sandy beaches. Use a combination of these and ensure you don't plant the vegetation in patterns or repetition. Still, use the RISE method when placing plants. Also try to use a variety of vegetation whether its grass, tall shrubs, low shrubs, flowers or just a ground covering plant.

And there you have it! A simple break down of some of the Dos and Dont's of building your first backyard water garden! We hope this blog has been helpful and you can start to build your pond with confidence by following the RISE method.

 

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