Last Updated: 4/18/12
What to Do Before Anything Else
You will notice that I do not cover too much the actual installation of a pond. This is partially because I have only installed a few of them and partially because I believe that this is one area that is thoroughly covered by most pond books and many pond-building web sites to which I refer you.
Check out my new pond installation page which is a work in progress for more on setting up ponds.
On the wildlife pond page - creating a pond for wildlife and step- by-step guide for a simple wildlife pond
On the tub pond page - setting up tub ponds and lots more
See my July 2005 newsletter for information on whether or not bricks and cement blocks and things are safe and how to render them so.
If you are considering building a new pond or doing something new with your ponds, before you do anything or buy anything, you should do the following.
1. Buy one or two good pond books. See my pond sources page for the ones that I have.
2. Visit a number of pond web sites for ideas and information. See my pond links page for a list of some of the many sites out there.
3. Order a lot of free pond catalogs. By seeing what equipment, plants, and animals are available, you will be better able to plan. Even if you do not buy anything from a particular catalog, it will inspire you. Check out my pond catalogs page for a list of some of the free catalogs available.
4. Read through the newsgroup rec.ponds for ideas and to see what is going on. Once you feel comfortable, post your own questions.
Here are some but not all of the questions you might ask yourself before building a pond whether it is your first or your tenth.
1. Do I want a liner or a pre-formed pond? (See #9 below for more information.)
2. How much money do I want to spend?
3. Do I want to get cheap liners, pumps, etc. that will last a few years or more expensive, longer- lived liners, pumps, etc. that will last much longer? (For example, OASE pumps are three times more expensive than others but cost a fraction of the cheap pumps to operate and last much longer.)
4. How big do I want the pond and how deep?
5. Where can I put the pond?
6. How much sun does the area I chose get? (See #1 below.)
7. Where are all the buried electrical, water, and cable lines on my property, do they interfere with the site I've chosen, and can they be moved if need be? (See #5 below.)
8. What kind of edging do I want: informal rocks, formal bricks or rocks, etc., can the liner be hidden from view above the water line, and how much of a drop off do I want? (See #8 and 10 below.)
9. How hard will it be to get an electrical outlet out to the pond?
10. Will I be able to enjoy my pond from indoors through a window year-round?
11. Is the pond close enough to the house that maintenance will be easy, and the pond won't be neglected?
12. Is there a water spigot near the pond?
13. Does the area receive runoff from higher ground or a down spout and can those be re- routed? (See #12 below.)
14. Do I want the pond completely in the ground, completely above the ground, or partially above and below ground?
15. Do I want bridges or walkways around the pond?
16. What do I want around the pond: mulch, rocks, grasses, etc.?
17. Do I want goldfish, koi, orfe, minnows, or some other fish?
18. Do I want frogs, snails, or turtles?
19. Do I want water lilies, lotuses, marginals, or other plants?
20. Is the pond setup appropriate for the plants and animals that I want?
21. Can I put in an overflow and/or drain to run to a lower elevation? (See #4 below.)
22. Have I checked into the legalities of the pond for my local area and made sure that I have all permits, special exceptions, etc. that I need?
23. Do I want to dig this thing, have a group of friends dig it, or hire a company to do it?
24. If I'm hiring someone, have I seen at least two of their ponds that they've built and talked to the owners as per their satisfaction?
25. Do I realize all the supplies that I'll need and am prepared to buy them when required?
26. Do I have at least two good books on ponds that I've actually read?
27. Have I looked around at the vegetation and trees near the pond site and considered their impact on the pond?
28. Can I get enough spare parts for the most important equipment?
29. What kind of filters do I want and what kind do I need: in ground, above ground, gravity fed, pump fed, box filter, skimmer, bottom drains, vortex, mechanical, UV sterilizer, other?
30. Do I want a waterfall, fountain, spray jets, etc.?
31. Have I asked someone with experience about any questions that I have?
Here are a few aspects of pond building that you should consider before beginning. These are things that I actually did right with my pond. They are in no particular order. As I think of more, I will add them. To see other people's ponds (pictures and general information), visit this site. This site may no longer work. Please let me know if you know to where it has gone.
1. The pond should receive at least 6 to 8 hours of full sun for most of the year if you are planning a water garden with flowering water lilies, lotus, etc. A pond with shade tolerant plants and fish will take a shadier location. In hot areas, fewer hours of full sun will keep the temperature down. The pond should be open straight above it but some shade in the summer from a tarp-like tent above it that still lets rain through is okay.
2. Avoid putting ponds near lots of trees if you can. Leaves will need to fished out (pun intended) daily during the fall but many will rot in the pond. Leaf nets need to go on ponds that will get lots of leaves into them in the fall.
3. Make the pond as large and deep as possible (space and money allowing). If any live animals are to be left in the pond over winter, the depth should be such that the pond will have at least one foot of unfrozen water under the ice even if the power goes out. Here in Maryland, that means at least 2 feet. In colder areas and especially in koi ponds, depths of 3 to 8 feet are best.
4. Install an overflow. This is a low spot around the pond so that when it rains, the water leaves there and only there. Rocks, grates, etc. should be there to prevent most plants and animals from sailing down the river. Install a small dry stream or pile of rocks at this point. In cold areas, be aware that the overflow may freeze up during winter.
5. Find out where all your buried lines are before doing any planning and certainly before digging. These include electrical lines, water pipes, well lines, gas lines, drain pipes, septic systems, and more. It is no fun to dig and hit something. Also, be aware of where your water table is (where you hit water). The water table should be well below the bottom of the pond or expect problems.
6. Think about where your filter system, electrical outlets, plumbing, etc. will go and how to hide it. When you figure out how big your pump and filter should be, buy one 50-100% bigger. Your filter cannot be too big (unless you have made a tidal wave pool like at the amusement parks). Make all pumps, tubing, and filters easy to get to and service even in winter. If your pump is under $100, buy a spare. Buy a spare de-icer if you are using one. Buy spare parts that are likely to need replacing so they will be handy later. I have used spare pumps and de-icers many times. Otherwise, I would have fretted over the pond for weeks until a new one arrived.
7. Do not rush! If it pours rain or it is so hot you are going to pass out, take a break. A few minutes saved during construction can mean hours of work in the future to fix it.
8. Find a way to hide the liner if you are using one. Nothing detracts more from a "natural" pond or water garden than exposed liner. In my pond, a ledge around the edge has rocks setting in it. These hide the liner even if the water level is 3 inches below maximum.
9. Decide whether you want a pre-fabricated pond, a liner, a cement pond, or some other type of fancy pond. Pre-fabricated ponds are good for small ponds, under a few hundred gallons. Pre- fabricated ponds are often more expensive and not deep enough for overwintering fish in cooler areas. Liner ponds are best for larger ponds unless you have lots of money. Liners are also easy to remove while pre-fabricated ponds are easier to install in general. With lots of money, a cement, fiberglass, or cement/liner combination pond can be created that will last much longer. A man wrote a contributing article about preformed ponds versus liner ponds which you can read here.
10. Decide whether you want a pond that animals can walk in and out of or a pond with a cliff. The advantages of the cliff are that raccoons, great blue herons, etc. usually do not make your pond their personal "all you can eat" restaurant. They require a ramp to walk into the water. The disadvantage is that the snakes and wasps do move in. It is also more dangerous to fall in (for adults, children, and pets) and harder to see into the water. Also, when small birds come in to drink or bathe, they often drown because they cannot get out. This is especially true for fledglings who cannot fly well. Providing an island for birds that fall in the water gives them a chance to fly away. For people in wheelchairs or for those who have trouble bending, above ground ponds work best.
11. In this same vein, it is important before anything else to determine whether you want a wildlife pond (only native species, fish may be absent), water garden (where lilies, lotus, etc. are the main attraction), koi pond (where koi are the most important), or a mixed pond like I have. Remember in wild and mixed ponds, predation, algae blooms, etc. are normal occurrences. Depending on the type of pond you want, the depth, location, filtration, etc. will vary.
12. Consider runoff possibilities. Any drain pipes from the roof or other areas must be rerouted or piped out if they might empty into the pond. Some roof shingles emit toxins that should not end up in the pond. While some roofs may be safe, and you may actually want to collect water from there to add to the pond, you still need the option to not have the water go in there on its own (you can add a valve if you are not sure). The pond should be situated on somewhat high ground, not the low spot in the yard. This limits runoff from the grass or nearby agricultural fields which can add dirt, fertilizers, pesticides, insecticides, and/or herbicides if you or your neighbors use these. You should avoid using these and other chemicals near the pond. Dirt and fertilizer can result in algae blooms and reduced clarity while the other chemicals are simply deadly. If the pond's rim can be slightly above ground level, this will help avoid runoff going into the pond. My big pond is on high ground and a roof drain spout near it was piped out to below the pond. My 153 gallon pond has a rim above ground and a system of drainage around the edges. Remember that drainage both into the pond and out of the pond is a big deal!
13. Buy extra pond edging. For my big pond, they put in 5 tons of Pennsylvania fieldstone. After a year, the waterfall had so settled that I had to buy another ton. Since we did not have a truck, I had to pay an extra $100 to have the rock driven a whole 1.5 miles from the quarry. If I had had extra, I would have saved time and money. For my newest 153 gallon pond, I bought a few extra brick edge pieces but a few cracked, and it was back to fight the crowds at Home Depot for a few more bricks. So, get at least 10% more of whatever edging your using. Some will need replacement or shoring up later.
The stocking level of fish depends on so many things: the species, the age of the fish, the capacity of the filtration, aeration, the number of plants, the climate, and the risks you are willing to take. Hardier, young fish in a pond with a lot of filtration, aeration, and plants in a moderate climate can be stocked at the greatest density. Of course, you can always stock fewer fish but it will not stay that way for long. Goldfish, koi, orfe, mosquito fish, and rosy red minnows will all breed. The fewer fish that you have, the more fry that will survive (assuming you do not have too many dragonfly larvae and other predators). Soon, your pond will be overstocked. Either let the fish live like that, expecting losses now and again, or give some fish away. You can sell them to aquarium stores too sometimes. In natural ponds, predators like raccoons, herons, large fish, and frogs will eat many small fish, keeping their numbers in check. For goldfish, you should have at least 30-50 gallons per fish, assuming a reasonable surface area. Koi need at least 100-200 gallons per fish unless they are really big, in which case they may need a lot more. Rosy red minnows can take as little as 3 gallons a piece but boy do they breed! Visit my Fish Page for more information on pond fish.
The more plants, the better, to a point. About 1/2 to 2/3 of the surface should be covered in plants. The larger the pond, the less coverage that you need. About one bunch of submerged plants per square foot is good. As far as potted plants, whatever you can fit in there is fine. Remember that while plants balance the pond, they also take up volume in the pond and space for the fish to swim. If floating plants (like water hyacinth or duckweed) or submerged plants (like anacharis) grow too much, you will need to remove some from the pond to preserve open space. These plants also may need removing so that lilies, marginals, etc. get enough space and light. Also, during the night, plants use oxygen. If there are too many submerged plants and not enough aeration, some fish may gasp for air. During the day, plants give off more oxygen than they use which is great for the fish. Remember that photosynthesizing algas behave as plants. They are good in removing pond nutrients and providing oxygen during the day. They are bad since they may block the sun from other plants, prevent your visual enjoyment of the pond, and/or suffocate plants and fish over night. Visit my pond plant page for more information on plants and my pond algae page for more information on algae.
Some ponders have pea gravel or other rocks in the bottom of their ponds while others do not. The disadvantages and benefits of using gravel on the bottom follow. A pond can work with or without gravel but everything that works for one ponder may not work for another.
A good discussion on rocks on the bottom of a pond
There is a large list of pond links at my pond links page. There are almost too many to decide where to start; therefore, I would suggest the following two links to start. The first is the on-line pond organization, the Internet Pond Society which has pond FAQ's, contacts, links, and lots more. The site is still there but the IPS is apparently no longer functioning. Then, for a general overview of ponds, pond and fish care, and filtration using pond ecology as the guide, this series of Pond Articles cannot be beat (note that this site may no longer work; please let me know if you know to where it has gone. Why is it always the good sites that are deleted?). After checking out these two sites, then begin to visit the hundreds of other sites keeping in mind that some personal pond pages (mine not excluded) may contain subjective or sometimes false information.
These are the big first moments for a first time pond keeper in my opinion. Feel free to e-mail me with other ones I may have forgotten.
1. Buying the liner or preformed pond.
2. Breaking ground.
3. Filling the pond full of water for the first time.
4. Releasing the first fish in the pond and watching him/her dart around.
5. Seeing the first wild frog, toad, snake, etc. that shows up at the pond.
6. Finding the first mass of toad, frog, snail, and finally fish eggs (usually in that order).
7. Discovering the first baby fish.
8. Losing the first fish to illness, predation, or other catastrophe.
9. Seeing the first great blue heron at the pond (may occur right before Number 8).
10. The first leak or hole in the pond.
11. Seeing the first snake in the pond.
12. Building another pond because you do not have the heart to get rid of the thousands of baby fish and dozens of excess plants created during repotting.
13. Another ponder volunteered this moment: When you get your first lily bloom on that cheap lily that everyone said would not bloom since your pond only gets a few hours of sun while all the expensive lilies did not bloom.
Of these, I would say that Number 7 was the biggest moment for me.
The subject of pumps and filters is so vast that I know not where to begin! There are hundreds of choices for pumps and filters for ponds. See here for information on the three types of filtration.
Submerged pumps are placed in the water and pump into the filter and/or output (fountain, waterfall, or jet). In-line pumps cannot become wet on the outside and are placed outside the pond. Water must flow out of the pond, into the pump, and then through the filter and/or output. All pond pumps should be made so that oil leaks are not likely to occur. OASE and a few other companies make pumps that initially cost more money but that cost much less in electricity to run and have longer warranties (typically 3 years instead of 1).
Determining the Size Pump Needed (gph, head, friction):
There is a whole science to calculating how many gph (gallons per hour) or gpm (gallons per minute) that your pump needs to be to fulfill its duty. In most ponds, it is best to turn over the water at least once per hour but doing it every 20 minutes to 3 hours are the general ranges used. Smaller ponds usually have a higher turn over rate as do ponds with lots of fish mass like koi ponds. So, for my 1800 gallon pond, my pump is 2600 gph. But wait! My pump is not doing 2600 gph. Why is this? Well, the pump would only produce 2600 gph if I let it squirt right out of itself and fall back down. Once I add two things called friction and head, I really only get maybe 1800 gph or so which is fine for my pond. The head is created by having to pump against gravity, in other words vertically. My water level sits about 4 feet below where the water comes back out of the filter so I have about 4 feet of vertical head. Then, there is friction. Friction is the water rubbing against anything. That means that any tubing, filter material (back pressure or force against the flow), or anything the water touches causes the pump to use up some of its power fighting against friction. The more filter material that is in the way of the water, the slower the water will come out. The more turns in the plumbing, the slower the water will come out. Initially, we tried a 1800 gallon pump but it could not push the water out of the filter. It could only keep water in the filter with all its might. Most ponders say that you can never have too big a pump. A pump's output can always be separated into multiple outputs (say a fountain and a waterfall) but you cannot make a pump stronger.
There are many types of filters but most are boxes of some sort in or out of the water. There are now also bubble bead filters and sand filters which look similar to hot water heaters in shape and hold small beads or sand respectively in suspension to create mechanical and biological filtration.
Top-of-the-line koi setups are more expensive and fancy and would typically be composed of a system such as this:
Bottom drain and skimmer joint plummed to in-line, out-of-pond, high-horse-power pump; into vortex chamber (swirls out large mechanical debris); then into mechanical filtration chambers of brushes or floss or sprinflo (long strips of plastic) type materials; then into biological filtration chambers of more brushes, bioballs, sand or bead filters, etc.; then into UV sterilizer (to kill algae and other small life); sometimes into a heater; and finally returned to the pond via waterfalls, fountains, and/or jets around the sides.
Pond filters do no good if they are not cleaned at regular intervals. The time between cleanings depends on the pond temperature, leaf litter, feeding regime, fish mass, pond volume, filter size and efficiency, and many other factors. Generally, filters should be checked weekly and cleaned if they appear dirty and/or clogged. If you have well water, it is fine to hose the filter materials down. If you have city water, the chlorine will kill the bacteria so you have to settle for rinsing and rubbing the materials in some of the pond water removed to another container. This gives you a chance to add back some more water (with dechlorinator of course) thereby doing a small water change. During the summer, my pond floss is cleaned weekly but during the winter, I go without any cleaning for a few months (I leave my filter going but it is hard to get in when the pond is frozen! And yes, my floss is IN the pond, courtesy of the imbeciles who made my pond wrong).
Do I really need a filter?
This is not a simple question with a simple answer. It depends on what type of pond you want, how many plants and animals you want, how large it is, and how dirty you are willing for it to get. What the filter does is allows you to keep more fish and cleaner water. If you want just a few fish and do not mind dirty water, you do not have to have a filter. Plants are a sort of filter in themselves so a well planted pond is actually receiving some filtration (but not water movement).
De-icers and Heaters:
See my pond winterizing page.
Aside from the liner, pump, filter, and de-icers, here are some other supplies that a pond keeper should have on hand.
Here are some more pond tips for pond keepers from beginner to advanced that do not seem to fit into any other category:
1. Pond filters, aeration devices such as fountains and waterfalls, de-icers, and most other
equipment should be left running all the time, 24 hours a day. Biological filters must be kept wet
and be provided with food (dirty pond water with fish waste) at all times or the bacteria begin to
die. Also, at night, plants actually use oxygen just like the fish. So, at night, the oxygen levels
can plummet. Water aeration from waterfalls, fountains, air stones, venturis, etc. are most
important over night, on the warmest nights.
2. It is important to have spare parts. This is mentioned above but it is very important.
3. Water lily leaves do not want to be constantly splashed with water. They should not be placed near waterfalls and fountains. During long rainy spells or if exposed to splashy water, water lily leaves will rot. For another reason, avoid getting the pads wet with a hose or sprinkler when it is very hot out as this can burn the leaves. If they must get wet, it is better to completely dunk them (to remove aphids for example). Excess water should run off.
4. Goldfish and koi love to eat water hyacinth roots. If water hyacinths are doing poorly, they may need to be out of reach of hungry mouths. Also, water hyacinths are more apt to bloom if constrained to a fixed area. I have an old piece of hose that is formed into a circle about 2 feet in diameter and the ends are glued. Then, it floats. It is anchored to the shore with the hyacinth floating inside. As they fill it out, I move some to the main pond. Only those in the hoop ever flower.
Feel free to send me more tips for this page or my newsletter!
I have never done this but here are some of the things to keep in mind when converting a pool to a pond. We have a 3 foot deep, 10,000 gallon pool that is rarely used. I have dreamed of converting it to a pond for koi and turtles. It would cost a lot of money for the filter system but very little digging (that is the main reason converting a pool to a pond is so fun!).
1. The pool will have residual chlorine in it for quite a long time. This can be dealt with in three ways. One is to fill the pond with clean water and let it sit (perhaps with some aeration) for quite a while (weeks, maybe months). Another way is to cover over the pool liner or cement with a new pond-safe liner. If neither of these is feasible, then the addition of fresh water with a lot of dechlorinator solution (something like Stress-Coat by Aquarium Pharmaceuticals) may work. Always test a pool converted to a pond with inexpensive fish because some may die at first.
2. The pool filter is totally inappropriate to filter a pond. It will simply clog daily. The skimmer, bottom drains if present, and piping can be incorporated into the pond. New returns will be needed on some ponds as the return on most pools is too forceful and can kill fish. Some larger pools have calmer returns that can be used. A new filter system will have to be bought and will constitute the bulk of the cost to convert pool to pond.
3. Most pools have no shallow areas for aquatic plants. If the pond is to have marginals, then shelves must be built. Bricks or a permanent structure can be built to provide an area only a foot deep or so for pots. If the pond is only going to contain koi, a plant shelf may not be needed. In fact, the deep water and vertical sides prevents raccoons and herons from easily catching koi.
4. Most pools lack a waterfall or other parts that will create the aeration that a pond needs. A waterfall or fountain may need to be built.
Here is one web site about converting a pool to a koi pond - www.kilk.com/pond.
Here is a web site about natural swimming pools (part pond, part pool): Natural Swimming Pools
This company makes natural swimming pools with plant filters. They also sell a very useful
e-book on how to make a natural pool.
Here is a site for someone who converted their pool to a pond:
Pool to Pond
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