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Water Gardens, Ponds/How to Build a Water Garden

A small backyard pond filled with plants and fish can be a great focal point and beautiful addition to your yard.

Planning and Digging

Complete kits that contains all supplies needed are available or you can build your own.
Before you start digging, find the right location.
A site with 4 to six hours of sun would be good for plants because most water plants require full sun. Find a location with no trees or less trees for lower maintenance. This will prevent leaves from falling into the pond which would mean more maintenance for you.
Building your water garden in a higher area would also be beneficial so that the ground is less soggy and will be easier to dig. Remember that there may be buried cables. Try to avoid this situation so you don't run into problems when digging.
You may also want to locate your water garden in an area that has an electrical source because you will need electric for the water garden.
You also may want to locate your water garden where it can be viewed from your favorite window. It may be wise to check the view from your favorite window before building. Decide what shape fits best for your area and your taste.
For a more formal look you might want to pick a square or rectangular shape. A round, curved or oval pond will give you a less formal look.
Create your pond with enough depth because the water may get warm in a shallow pond, which could hurt the fish. It is also important to have a deep pond if you would like to leave your fish in during the winter months.
A water garden can be built in any climate as long as you consider winter conditions. If water freezes in your zone, plant selection is limited and fish need protection.

Check your home and garden stores for these supplies which will be needed.

* Heavy duty Rubber vinyl liner (Firestone makes a great heavy duty liner with a 20 year guarantee.)
* underliner such as old carpet and razor blade knife to cut it
* biological filter
* a pump to circulate the water
* fountain supplies that attach to the pump and elevate a fountain to the water surface
* water hose
* edging stones or blocks (Check your local quarry or nursery for more tips)
* plastic crates to elevate plants can be puchased online or at most nurseries.
shovel for digging the hole
spade for digging straight sides level
* wooden stakes and a 2x4 longer than the length of the pond (for leveling)
*a tape measurer
Remove the sod and dig out the pond. To make sure that the depth of the hole is consistent from one side to the other, pound a stake on each side of the hole, set a 2x4 on the stakes, and check to be sure it's level. Then measure down from the 2x4 to the bottom of the hole in several locations. Dig out or fill back in until it's even.
Dig out a ledge around the sides deep enough for concrete blocks to be set on top of the liner, and make sure that it's level.
Selecting the Liner and Filling the Pond
A flexible liner conforms to nearly any shape and size and is also very durable. It can be purchased at garden centers and home supply stores and comes in various thicknesses, with thicker ones being more expensive.
To determine what size liner you'll need, measure the length and width of the hole. If it is an oval or odd shape, measure at its widest point. Use this formula to determine the liner size:

(depth x 2) + width + 3 feet = width
(depth x 2) + length + 3 feet = length
The depth correlates to the sides of the pond. Adding 3 feet to the width and length is for overlap. For example, a water garden 8 feet wide, 8 feet long, and 3 feet deep, so following the formula, the liner is 6 (3 x 2) plus 8 plus 3 for overlap, for a total width of 17 feet. The length is the same.

It is a good idea to add a piece of old carpet as an underliner to pad the liner and prevent it from being punctured by things like sharp stones. Trim the excess with a razor blade knife.

Unfold the liner as you put it in the hole, making sure there is plenty overlapping on both sides. Smooth out the big wrinkles, and fold the corners for a neat appearance.

To keep the water in your pond from becoming stagnant, you need a pump. To figure out the size of pump, measure how much water your pond holds. Multiply the length x depth x width x 7.5 gallons (the amount in 1 cubic foot). Choose a pump that can recirculate one-third to one-half of the pond water every hour. For a waterfall or other feature, use a bigger pump.

All pumps come with a filter, but you can add a biological filter to extend the life of your pump, keep the water cleaner and maintain the proper biological ecosystem. While filling the pond with water, place the pump, biofilter and fountain into the pond on a plastic crate, in a corner of the pond to allow room for a few plants. A water bell fountain head allows water to flow smoothly over the top, like a mushroom. It attaches to the pump, and a riser pushes the water to the top.

Fill the pond about two-thirds full and adjust the folds and creases in the liner as the pond fills. Let the water sit for a few days so that any chlorine in the water dissipates. If you are anxious to introduce fish and plants right away, add a de-chlorinator to the water.

Selecting Plants and Fish

There are many unusual and enjoyable plants you can grow in a water garden. One of the more popular is the water lily, which comes in hundreds of varieties. Lilies need to be submerged about 6 to 12 inches below the water surface. Submersible plants are natural oxygenators, giving off oxygen during the day and using oxygen at night. They are also a natural biofilter. There are two types of water lilies: hardy (to Zones 3 or 4) and tropical.

Marginal plants also like to be in the water, but only their pot and 1 to 2 inches of their crowns are submerged. Marginal plants are good choices for the edge of a pond. There are also plants that simply float on top of the water and are easy to place and maintain. These plants should be fertilized from time to time.

Some good plant choices for a water garden include:

water lily, which can last for years and blooms from spring through mid fall
water lettuce, or shellflower, which has deeply creased lime-green leaves that resemble heads of lettuce (hardy only in Zones 9 and 10) cypress or umbrella plant, a vertical, marginal plant that does best in water that is only 4 inches deep (hardy in cold climates)

Koi and Goldfish are popular and easy to care for. They can grow to a pretty large size and are quite hardy. To keep fish alive through the winter in climates where water freezes, keep a hole in the ice to allow oxygen to enter the water. It is also a good idea to purchase a pond heater which will keep a hole in the ice to temperatures well below zero if you are in a cold climate.

Once you've selected water plants and fish, they need to be transported home safely. First, keep them out of sunlight, which can heat them to high temperatures. Keep plant leaves wet and fish completely submerged. For long trips, open the bag to allow fresh oxygen in every couple of hours.

Add some finishing touches to your water garden

With the pond about three-fourths full, place blocks on top of the liner around the edges or ledge. The liner goes behind the blocks and folds back over the top. Next, place the railroad ties or more rocks on top of the ledge.

Place pots of submerged plants on plastic crates to elevate them so that the surface of the soil is about a foot below the water. Fish will be able to swim between the holes in the crate.

While filling your pond, you need to acclimate the fish to their new environment. Do this by adding a little pond water to the bag that the fish come in--about 10 percent more than what's already in the bag, four times, waiting about 15 minutes between each time. Once the fish have had at least an hour to acclimate, set them loose in their new home. Don't feed them for the first few days so they get used to finding food on their own. After that you can supplement by adding food every couple of days or so.

Don't overload your pond with plants and fish. Water plants grow quickly and spread out, and fish will soon reproduce.

Another finishing touch you can add is a floating glass ball. These very popular garden ornaments reflect light as they float peacefully on the water. They also make solar floating globes which will add a touch of light at night with no electric necessary, just the suns daytime energy. Various other solar items are now available also.

For the finale, put in your pump and see how it works.

Please keep in mind that there are various ways to build a pond. For a more natural look it would be a good idea to use various size gravel for the bottom of the pond and various size large rocks for the edging. Use rock only big enough to be carried in order to save yourself a lot of work. Varying size rocks and gravel will give your pond a more natural look. A trip to the local quarry will give you many ideas. Try to stick with rock without sharp edges so that you prevent holes in the liner. Remember a good filtration system is important as well as a good selection of plants. Floating and submerged plants will help to provide shade and prevent algae in your pond. A good rule of thumb is to cover one-half to two-thirds of your pond with plants. Aquatic plants are a major part of your ecosystem. Look at them as a biological filter. Plants use nutrients from your water and keep it clean. Without them your pond would not be as clear.

This should be a fun weekend project, with good planning, a little sweat and a bit of weekend labor it will be worth the effort. You will enjoy your new water garden for years to come.

Building a Water Garden
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