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Ponds, Fountains and Aquatic Plants Buying Guide

Whether it's a small, quiet reflecting pool or an elaborate waterscape complete with a bubbling fountain, a well-designed ornamental pond provides hours of enjoyment. Use this guide to select the right components for your dream water feature.

Pond Fountains, Plants and Fish Buying Guide

Benefits of a Pond

A peaceful scenic pond with lily pads.
  • Outdoor air conditioning. When water evaporates, the process removes heat from a pond’s surroundings.
  • Sound masking. The ever-changing white noise of a flowing pond or fountain can help mask the sounds of street traffic or other noise.
  • Wildlife refuge. Ponds attract nearby wildlife, serving as a source of clean open water. Plus, you can include plantings around your pond to also provide food for wildlife.

 

Designing Your Pond

A water garden complete with frog fountain, waterfall and lush green plants.
  • The style of your pond is a matter of personal taste and should complement the style of your house, garden and other landscape features, like a deck or patio.
  • Overhanging rocks and border plantings can be used to hide pond edges above the waterline.
  • Avoid extensive shallows that fish can't swim into.
  • Keep the surface of your pond moving with proper circulation so that mosquito larvae won't survive to adulthood.
  • Locate your pond where it will get four to six hours of sunlight to avoid overheating and algae issues, and so water lilies and other ornamental plants can bloom.
  • Set your pond lower in the landscape when possible rather than at the top of a rise. Don't set the pond at the lowest spot in the yard, where runoff could wash in fertilizer or lawn chemicals, upsetting the ecosystem and killing fish.

 

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Lighting Your Pond

The end of a pond with yellow and green underwater lights.

You'll need electricity if your pond includes underwater or perimeter lighting or a pump. When in doubt, call a professional electrician to set up the system for you. Many communities require that a licensed electrician perform any electrical work involving water or outdoor wiring. Obtain advice and use equipment especially designed for garden and pool use, and always follow the manufacturer's instructions.

Choosing a Pump

To determine the size of pump you need, first calculate the volume of water in the pond. Choose a pump that can move half the total volume in one hour. For example, if your pond holds 1,000 gallons of water, buy a pump that delivers at least 500 gallons an hour. If your water feature includes a waterfall or stream, it needs a more powerful pump. When in doubt, buy a more powerful pump.

 

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Pond Capacity

A garden pond with colorful Japanese koi fish

The most successful garden ponds are 18 to 24 inches deep. This depth is considered optimum for growing water lilies, other aquatic plants and for raising most types of fish. However, provide an area at least three feet deep where Japanese koi can escape heat in the summer and frozen water in the winter.

Pond capacity is important when you size the pump and filter, and when you determine correct dosages of plant fertilizers, algaecides and other chemical treatments. The most accurate way to determine pond capacity is to attach a flow meter to the faucet or water supply line and record the number of gallons needed to fill the pond. A less accurate, but easier and less expensive method is to follow the basic formulas listed below:

  • Rectangular ponds: Length x Width x Depth x 7.5 = Gallons (Example: 10-ft x 20-ft x 1.5-ft x 7.5 = 2,250 Gallons)
  • Circular ponds: Diameter x Diameter x Depth x 5.9 = Gallons
  • Oval ponds: Depth x Width x Length x 6.7 = Gallons
  • Irregular ponds: It's difficult to calculate accurately the volume of an irregularly shaped pond. Determine the average width and length, and then use the equation for oval ponds

Pond Liners

Flexible PVC pond liners allow you to create ponds in any size or shape. They’re also relatively inexpensive and easy to install.

Flexible EPDM rubber liners are more durable than PVC because they're stretchable and more resistant to ultraviolet light. Thicker liners of any type generally last longer, too.

Preformed shells can last from five to 50 years depending on composition, thickness, quality and installation conditions. These are most commonly made of polyethylene.

 

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Pond Liner Size

To estimate the amount of liner you need, determine the actual size of your garden pond. The liner must fit the pond and overlap the edges. Follow these easy steps:

  • Outline the shape. After clearing the site of plantings and other obstacles, outline the pond shape on the ground. For irregularly shaped ponds, use flour, paint or a garden hose to mark the perimeter.
  • Measure pond dimensions. Measure the maximum width and length of the pond; then determine the smallest rectangle that would enclose the pond area.
  • Calculate the liner. To allow for pond depth, decide on the maximum depth of the pond (usually 24 inches), double it and add this figure to the width and length of the rectangle. To provide a 12-inch overlap, add an additional 2 feet to the width and length of the liner.
  • Formula for width = Width of pool + (depth x 2) + 2 ft.
  • Formula for length = Length of pool + (depth x 2) + 2 ft.

 

Example:

  • Pond is 24-in deep and fits inside a 10-ft x 12-ft rectangle.
  • To figure the liner: 10 ft (the width) + 4 ft (the depth doubled) + 2 ft (for overlap) = 16 ft.
  • 12 ft (the length) + 4 ft (the depth doubled) + 2 ft = 18 ft.
  • So you'll need a 16-ft x 18-ft liner for a 10-ft x 12-ft pond.
  • For irregularly shaped ponds, you may need to trim excess liner material to provide an even overlap around the entire pond.

Pond Filtration

Filters help maintain a healthy, balanced pond and significantly increase water clarity. Some types of filters also remove ammonia and other toxic chemicals. If your aim is to have a small ornamental pond with a few fish and plants, slightly cloudy water from time to time may not be a problem. If you want crystal-clear water or will be raising large numbers of fish, install a filter.

There are two basic types:

  • Mechanical filters. Most small ponds use an in-pond cartridge-type filter. The effectiveness of a filter depends on its overall size and a high water flow rate. Purchase a pump that can circulate the entire volume of water through the filter once every two hours.
  • Biological filters. These filters rely on beneficial bacteria that feed on impurities in the water. As water slowly flows through the gravel in the filter, the bacteria break down fish wastes and other organic matter. Unlike mechanical filters, biological filters don't require a high flow rate to operate efficiently.

 

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Fountains

Fountains
  • Sprays (or fountain jets). Choose spray-type fountains for sheltered areas so that wind gusts don't disrupt the spray pattern or blow water outside the fountain receptacle. Fountain jets come in a variety of ornamental spray patterns.
  • Ornamental statuary. These fountains add a whimsical touch to your water feature.

 

For inspiration, see Water Feature Ideas

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Fish, Snails and Aquatic Plants

Aquatic Plants

 

Fish control mosquitoes by eating their larvae and control algae too. Popular types include goldfish (Red Comet, Calico Fantail and Shubunkin, as well as the common variety), Japanese koi, catfish and mosquito fish. Don't overfeed your fish — this is the most common mistake pondkeepers make.

Snails also make a big contribution to a pond's ecosystem by feeding on algae.

Floating plants require no soil. Small ponds usually require a 50% to 70% coverage to keep water cooler and limit algae growth. There are several common types of floating plants:

  • Hardy water lilies are frost-tolerant perennial plants.
  • Tropical lilies are frost-intolerant. To save them over the winter, move the entire plant into a greenhouse.
  • Lotus plants produce large fragrant flowers that can perfume an entire corner of the garden.

 

Submerged plants grow entirely underwater, providing food and hiding places for fish.

Good to Know

Before adding aquatic plants or animals, check with the supplier for care instructions to ensure you select the right varieties for your pond. Your water most likely contains chlorine. Allow it to dissipate by letting the water stand for several days to a week before adding plants. Then allow two to three weeks before adding fish, snails and other aquatic creatures.

Pond Safety

  • Never leave children unattended, even around shallow water. A toddler can drown in just an inch of water; there have even been cases of toddlers falling head first into 5-gallon buckets and drowning.
  • Control water depth, especially around the edges of the pond. Plan a foot-deep shelf or ledge around the edge of the pond to provide an easy exit.
  • Strategically place boulders and install fountains built for safety to prevent accidents.
  • Make sure your plans comply with local building codes. Depending on where you live, regulations may require a pond to be fenced in. There may also be rules concerning its placement and size.
Caution

Before beginning any excavation, call 811 to check for underground utilities.