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Water Gardening - Planning & Building

Where to Begin
  • Begin with learning as much as you possibly can. Become a "know-it-all" even before you start.  Read books and catalogs, check prices, call water garden suppliers and ask questions about their products and if possible, visit some local water gardens in your area.

Location, Location, Location

  • Pick the right location and you will have thriving, healthy fish and plants, pick the wrong spot and you may risk diseases of fish and plants along with some maintenance problems. That is why picking the right location is so important.
  • Most water plants prefer a sunny location. So if you desire plants, choose a site receiving at least 4-6 hours of sun per day. Though, try to avoid sun-baked spots, they quickly heat the water which causes evaporation and algae.
  • Also, you should locate your water pond away from any tall plants and trees that may cast shade upon your garden. Plus, their leaves and berries fall into the water to create problems for your fish and filters.
  • Additionally, site your water garden several feet away from landscape features like fences and buildings. This way you will have ample room to maintain your pond from all sides.
  • Position your water garden so it is sheltered from the wind.  Wind distorts the pattern of a fountain, damages the stems of a succulent plant and speeds up the evaporation of water.
  • The last key point is to decide on a location with utility access.  Place your water garden near a readily available water source and an existing outlet.  An electrical outlet near your pool is necessary to supply power to your pumps.

Size & Shape, Depth and Type of Pond

Size & Shape

  • The bigger you build your pond the better, keeping in mind that larger ponds are often easier to maintain for reasons such as temperature fluctuation, chemical levels and fish and plant stocking.
  • Use a hose or rope to simulate your pond's size and shape.  Experiment with the outline by moving the rope around and viewing the design from all angles until the desired shape, size and site are attained.   Then, by looking at the outline from different angles, you can adjust the size and shape accordingly.


  • A depth of 3' is often recommended to keep plants and fish over winter. Varying depths is also important to provide different levels for your fish to swim and your plants to grow.

    Type of Pond

  • There are different types of ponds available: Liner, preformed plastic or fiberglass, and container gardens.
  • Liners allow the pond builder the most flexibility for size, shape and depth. Since liner is flexible material, it will conform to most pond shapes. It will also expand and contract due to changes in temperature or pressure. Ponds liner sheets are made of very thick plastic that fits like a glove into the excavated pond site. They are easy to handle, durable and can be shaped into any size or form.
  • Preformed ponds are more resistant to puncture than liners, but are not as flexible to different shapes. They’re easy to install, and the least subject to damage. Most ponds are less than 2' deep which may cause problems in our area where freezing temperatures occur. They become particularly useful when a smaller pool is desired.
  • Container gardens are the perfect solution for water gardeners with space limitations. Any type of container will work, as long as it is water tight and stable.


Installing a Preformed Pond

  • Move the pool around the desired site until the optimal position is attained.
  • Lay preformed pond upside down and outline shape using a hose or rope. Use stakes as a guide to mark the exact outline.
  • Excavate the soil and follow the contours of the preformed pond digging the hole 6" wider and 3" deeper than the pool to allow for the addition of sand. Measure the shelves and dig accordingly. Add 3" of sand to the bottom of the hole. Level he sand and set the pool in the excavation. Check that the pond is level using a 2x4 and a level. Settle the pool in the sand until it is exactly level.
  • Dig a rim around the pond approximately 9-12" wide for coping stone.
  • Fill the pool half way with water and recheck level. Backfill the hole with sand, tamping firmly as you fill.
  • Finish filling the pool with water. Fill to point just below the coping edge and add coping stones.
  • Conceal the edge with stone, pavers, bricks or plantings. Overlap the inside rim of the pool by 1 - 2" to provide a natural finished appearance.

Installing Flexible Liner

  • Mark the outline of the pond with a garden hose or sprinkle a line of flour.
  • Remove turf and begin digging hole. As you dig, keep the pond edge level.
  • Create a spot to overwinter plants and fish. It should be up to 3’ deep and as wide. Then, Dig the shelf for the marginal plants about 8-12" deep. After that, dig a ledge for the edging as deep as the edging material and slightly less wide.
  • Check that the level of the pond is level all around the perimeter. Place a 3" layer of sand, carpet padding or multiple layers of newspaper in the bottom of the excavation to provide good base for the liner.
  • Now loosely place the liner on top of the underlayment. Smooth out the liner and fold it neatly to fit into the contours of the pond. Leave a little wrinkle of extra liner in the bottom of the pond to allow the liner to spread a little when the soil settles and the water fills.
  • Fill the pool with a few inches of water then readjust the liner. Fill the pond about halfway and adjust the liner again. Once adjustments are made, fill the pond almost completely.
  • Trim the liner with heavy scissors or a utility knife, leaving enough excess to protect the edging shelf.
  • Use a layer of stones to anchor the pond in place. Fold the excess liner over the bottom layer of stones and top with another layer of edging stones. Trim away excess liner.
  • Let the pond settle a day or two before you add fish and plants.

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