The first thing to consider when building a pond is to decide what type of pond you want to build.
Are you going to build a koi pond or a water garden with or without some goldfish, if so you need to consider the type of aquatic life you want in the pond. Maybe a pondless fall for the sound of a waterfall but not the maintenance of fish and plants. Each type of pond will need to be planned for its specific features. Keep in mind that the most common mistake water gardeners say they made when building their first pond was making it too small. A small pond limits the number of fish and plants you can add.
Koi ponds are different from a water garden because koi will limit the amount of plant life available to be grown, as they will eat some plants. A koi pond should also be larger because koi can get quite large, so it is recommended that a koi pond be no less than 1000 gallons in volume. In reality when it comes to a koi pond, the bigger the better. It should also have an area of the pond at least 3’ feet deep or more, maybe 4’ – 5’ as deeper is better when it comes to koi.
A water garden typically contains both a variety of aquatic plants and goldfish if desired. Water gardens in moderate climates usually need to have an area of the pond to be at least 2’ deep. Colder climates require the depth to provide at least 12″ to 16″ of water below the freeze zone for instance in Colorado, the pond should be 3’ deep to prevent it from freezing solid.
Pondless falls are a re-circulating waterfall and/or stream without a pond. You can enjoy the sight and sound of running water without the maintenance of a pond. The waterfall is one of the most beautiful and favored features in a water garden.
It’s now time to make some other considerations about the pond.
To help with this I’m going to walk you through the construction of the first freeform (not a preformed insert) pond I ever installed.
- Location – Chose a place on the property with a good mixture of sun and shade, also chose to build the pond on a natural hill so you can put in a waterfall using existing terrain. You can use the dirt excavated from the pond site to make the hill for flat areas.
- Style/Size – On this pond, I wanted to incorporate a very natural feel. The pond will be fully rocked and hold 3,000 gallons.
- Maintenance Commitment – Low to moderate maintenance
- Whether you want fish – Yes, I chose to have fish since it was the perfect way to bring life into our pond and our outdoor living space. Fish also eat mosquitoes, eat algae and help fertilize plants.
- Whether you want plants – Yes, we wanted hardy plants that would survive our cold winters and provide natural filtration and protection for the koi.
- Do you want a waterfall or not – Yes, a waterfall would be worth the extra work because we wanted its soothing effects.
With some initial decisions made, I needed to consider:
What depth would be needed for the fish? In Colorado, we need at least a 36″ depth.
How many levels will be needed for plants? We chose 3 levels since we wanted a variety of plants. Shallow water bog, Floating, and Submerged plants.
What would be the most comfortable way we could enjoy the pond and feed the fish?
Having already calculated the pond and liner size I started digging out the pond and in this photo I’m working on installing the skimmer and water supply line so I can figure out how everything is going to fit together.
In this view you can see the homemade filter (two 17 gal drums to make an up-flow filter) I’ve installed and the start of the waterfall form, that is being supported by some cinderblocks and will be backfilled with dirt as I excavate more from the pond.
Once the pond has been excavated and the skimmer & filter has been placed It’s time to inspect the ground for sharp roots and sticks. If every thing looks clean then install the ground cloth, making sure to cover every were the pond liner will go to offer the best protection and prevent punctures. As you can see this is hard work so take a break now and then but try not to get photographed laying down on the job.
With the liner placed, it’s time to start rocking the pond. This is like a jigsaw puzzle, in that you want to try and make sure that the rocks will not shift over time and will stay locked together. You can also see in this shot that I’ve used a long board to make sure the water line and shelves are staying level. This is very important; you know that the top edge of your pond is level to figure out were the skimmer needs to be positioned. Also to figure out were the overflow on the pond is going to be should you have a lot of rain, the water needs to go somewhere.
When you have a large hole in the ground it’s hard to envision what the ponds going to look like, but as the rockwork progresses the pond will start to take shape. Again in this photo you will notice that I’m making sure to check the top edge of the rock so I know my water level isn’t changing.
With a larger pond and the plan of having koi, the pond would need a bottom drain. This was the first free form pond I had done and forgot this important part. The bottom would typically be trenched out under the liner and a bulkhead fitting would be placed in the liner so that you wouldn’t see the pipe. Not wanting to remove all the rock, I found another way to make it work. I decided to run a bulkhead fitting in the side of the pond liner next to the skimmer. The pipe comes out of the skimmer through the side of the pond liner and down to the center of the pond at the lowest point and then later, rocks will cover it.
Depending on how dirty the rock is that you have installed it may be a good idea to wash it off and pump out the water before filling the pond.
The waterfall is always a fun project. You may find that it takes some playing with the rocks and some pond foam to get it just the way you want the water to run down. Once you find that right rock that gives you the water effect you are looking for it’s all worth it.
It’s a great feeling when it’s up and running, to know that you accomplished it all on your own. Now it’s just time to figure out were the patio is going to go so you can sit back with a cold drink and relax.
This picture you will see the original watergarden shown in the previous photo, with a new addition of a bridge and a larger Koi pond installed.