What To Do Before Anything Else
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 the section on pond books for those that I have.
2. Visit a number of pond web sites for ideas and information. See the section on pond links for just a few of the thousands of pond web sites available.
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. See the section on pond catalogs 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 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.
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 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. Some shade in the summer from a tarp-like tent above it that still lets rain through is okay for koi ponds or ponds in very hot regions.
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. Trees can also put out roots that may distort or puncture a pond liner if the trees are too close.
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 (Zone 6/7), 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. Many a koi has been lost to flooding. Test the pond by deliberately overfilling it to see where the water goes.
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. Drainage systems can be installed in areas with high water tables.
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.
7. Buy spare supplies! 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. It also helps to have spare containers such as plastic kiddie pools and rubbermaid tubs in case the pond animals and/or plants have to be removed in a hurry. If you have city water, have plenty of spare dechlorinator on hand.
8. 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.
9. 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 three inches below maximum.
10. Decide whether you want a pre-fabricated plastic pond, a liner pond, a cement pond, a fiberglass pond, or some other type of fancy pond. Pre-fabricated ponds are good for small ponds, under a few hundred gallons. Liner ponds are best for larger ponds unless you have lots of money. Liners are also easy to remove. With lots of money, a cement, fiberglass, CIM, or cement/liner combination pond can be created that will last much longer.
11. 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.
12. 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.
13. 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, fungicides, 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!
14. Buy extra pond edging