Magazine article Sunset

Build a Garden Pond

Magazine article Sunset

Build a Garden Pond

Article excerpt

New liners let you create your own aquatic world in a few days

BUILDING A GARDEN POND IS like creating a self-contained world, brimming with life and movement, vivid color, soothing sounds, sweet fragrances, and the sculptural forms of exotic plants. Ponds can be scaled to almost any space--from intimate courtyards to the most generous garden. They can take the shape of formal ovals or squares or more natural forms. Although nature's ponds usually take many years to evolve, you can build one in just a few days, thanks to the flexible liners that are now available.

Ponds range in complexity from shallow reflecting ponds to deep koi ponds with sophisticated pumps and filters. The most satisfying choice for a beginner is an ornamental pond designed for water plants and a few goldfish. We built the 16-foot-long ornamental pond shown here in Sunset's test garden, under the guidance of John Weatherbe of Cascade Aquatic Supply in Fresno, California, using a liner made of a synthetic rubber called EPDM. The pond incorporates a small bog, a shallow shelf for potted edging plants, and a deeper well for a good-size water lily. A low waterfall recirculates water drawn through a prefilter at the opposite end.


To dig a pond you'll need a pick, a flat-bladed shovel, a wheelbarrow, a 4-foot-long masonry level or string and a line level, a broom, and pruning shears.

Picking a spot. Site your pond in a well-drained location that's clear of overhanging trees or shrubs and can be easily viewed. Direct sunlight is essential for water lilies and other plants, but it also promotes algae growth. To counter algae growth, add floating plants that will shade the water and compete with the algae for nourishment. You can also add a biological filter.

Safety is another concern in pond placement. Because children find ponds irresistible, the best locations are in fenced backyards. Check with your local building department about requirements for fencing with self-latching gates, as well as setback from property lines, electrical circuits for pumps and lights, and pond depth. (Generally, if a pond is less than 24 inches deep, you will not need a building permit.)

Measuring and buying the liner. Outline the desired shape of the pond with a garden hose or line of flour. To order a properly sized liner for your pond, draw an imaginary rectangle around it and measure maximum length and width. To each of these numbers, add twice the pond's maximum depth plus 2 feet (you need a surplus of material to extend beyond the excavated area to create a shelf for edging rocks).

Flexible liners can be made from polyolifin, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or synthetic rubber (EPDM). Depending on the type, expect to pay from 80 cents to $1.60 per square foot of material. Choose PVC or EPDM that is at least 30 mils thick; you'll be walking around inside the pond as you build it and during subsequent maintenance, so the thicker the better. Be sure that the liner you select is certified as a nontoxic material that will not harm plants or fish, and that it is UV stabilized. You can buy a precut rectangle or custom-order a liner sized to your pond. Look for liners at garden and home centers, or look in the yellow pages under Fish Ponds or Water Gardens.

Digging and leveling. After selecting a level site and outlining the pond's shape, mark the location of perimeter shelves for a bog or edging plants. (Ours were 12 inches wide and 8 inches below the projected water level.) Use the shovel to dig out the shelves, then excavate the center area to the main depth. For an ornamental pond, the depth doesn't have to be more than 24 inches; if raccoons are a problem, the pond should have straight sides. Gently slope the pond's floor to a central low point where you can put a submersible pump when you have to drain the pond for cleaning.

Take time in making the pond's rim level. An uneven rim will rise above the waterline and detract from the natural appearance, and also expose the liner to degradation from direct sun. …

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