How to Design Your Pond

Deciding the location and design of your pond is the most important step in creating a beautiful water garden. A pond placed in a poor location of the landscape or a pond not fully thought out prior to installation can cause major headaches. Here at it would seem that we have DSCN7528experienced nearly every headache imaginable to pond design and pond building. All of our in-house designers have at least four years of installation experience as crew leaders. Now let’s begin to transfer some of that knowledge and information as you begin creating your new water feature.

Location: You probably already have a location in mind for your new water garden so let me just make some general suggestions as to where to locate your pond. Keep in mind that you want to be able to hear, see, and interact with your pond as much as possible. With that in mind, a pond situated around the area of your yard that you spend the most time in is ideal. If you spend most of your time outside on your deck or patio then design your pond within sight looking out from those areas. The closer you bring your pond to you the more enjoyable it will become. A pond that is visible from all areas is ideal too. If you spend a lot of time in a favorite chair in the family room then consider locating your pond within sight through a window while sitting in that chair. Or maybe your kitchen/dining area has a nice bay window and you’d like to locate the pond so it can be viewed while seated at the table. The point is that you locate the pond in an area of your yard that you will get the most enjoyment from. Choose the location of your pond with you in mind.

Waterfalls and Streams: If you plan on having a waterfall and/or stream be sure to place this so that it faces you in your favorite area. You want to be able to view and hear the waterfall and stream so designing them so that the water flows towards you is best. If your design incorporates a stream try to create it so that it winds and bends throughout. Straight shot streams (or what we refer to them as “waterslides”) don’t look as natural as a stream that meanders throughout the landscape. Also keep in the mind the height of your waterfall. I’ve seen to many people try to create a 7 or 8 foot high waterfall in the flattest yard imaginable and not be happy with the outcome. Create your waterfall with a natural looking berm around it so that it doesn’t look manufactured. Creating the berm around the waterfall will tie it nicely to the overall project and will allow additional space for plantings.

Sunlight and Shade: Most aquatic plants require an average of six hours of sunlight per day to achieve full beauty. If your pond will be located in an area that receives full sunlight all day then you will have some concerns with algae growth and will want to compensate by adding additional plants to help cover or shade the ponds surface. The basic formula for the average pond is to have about 60% of the ponds surface covered by plants. A pond that has between six and eight hours of direct sunlight is the easiest to maintain and has the most success. If your pond will receive less than four hours per day of sunlight then you will be limited on the number and types of aquatic plants but you also will have less problems with algae growth. A pond located beneath trees should also have a skimmer box as a mechanical filter so that the debris that falls into the pond can be easily removed.

Electricity and Water: If you do not have electricity near your pond then you will have to run a GFCI extension to your pond from your house or have an electrician run electricity to the area. If you are using a skimmer box filter then I recommend placing the electrical supply within 36 inches of the skimmer box. Water is not as big of a concern as you can run enough hose from your outlet to the pond. However, having water easily accessible is convenient when maintaining your pond.

Some other considerations when designing your pond are soil content and rain run-off. As far as the water garden itself is concerned, whether you are building in sand, clay, soil, or a rocky area doesn’t really matter. However, digging in clay or a rocky area is much more labor intense and will add additional labor to the job. Most people think that sandy areas are the easiest to construct in, however, caving of the pond’s edges prior to liner installation is something you’ll want to be careful of. Spraying the sand with a garden hose to keep it moist will help keep the pond’s edges in tact. Digging in sand or soil, however, is much easier than digging in clay. Another consideration to design is to make sure to place the pond so that you minimize rain run-off. If your yard gets a lot of run-off then be sure to build the edges of the pond up so that you minimize the amount of run-off into the pond. This run-off water picks up contaminants and fertilizers from the soil and places them into your pond. The end result is increased amounts of algae and murky water.

Size and Shape: There are really two styles of ponds that most people create: formal and informal. Here at we specialize in informal ponds so I will focus my discussion on that. Simply put, an informal pond is a pond that has no straight lines. The shape has no definition as it curves throughout your yard. One consideration as you define the perimeter of your pond is to make sure not to create “dead spots” where water will not flow easily. Another is to make sure to allow enough room when making a curve in your pond to allow for rockwork (should you decide to place rocks in the pond). The boulders you use inside your pond will take up space so be sure to make your curves large enough to allow for them. Other than that there really is no formula for deciding on a shape. As for the size of your pond there really are two considerations. The first being the size of your yard or the size of the area you want to put the pond in. Make sure that the size of the water garden compliments the landscape, not overwhelms it or worse yet goes unnoticed. For example a 5′ x 7′ water garden won’t look natural in the middle of a ten-acre backyard. Now that’s a little extreme but you get the point. Similarly, creating Niagara Falls in the backyard of your city lot won’t blend in much either. Having your water garden compliment your existing landscape so that it all flows naturally together is best. The second consideration is budget. Here at Sunrise Aquatics we commonly ask customers what their budgets are in creating their water feature. We don’t do this so that we can maximize the sale. We do this so that we can create the most maintenance free water feature possible for the budget you have available. That being said, I have one recommendation for you: MAKE YOUR POND AS LARGE AS YOU CAN AFFORD! Again, I am not saying this to entice you into spending more money. Over 85% of people who install a water garden wish they had made it larger originally. Ask the people you know who have ponds if they wish it were larger. But be sure to keep in mind the comment earlier about making sure that the pond doesn’t overwhelm the landscape. The point here is that the overall price difference between an 11′ x 17′ pond and a 15′ x 20′ pond is minimal but the enjoyment and benefits of a larger pond is huge.

Another consideration when designing your pond is whether you will keep fish in it or not. Many people think that if they keep fish in the pond that it will increase maintenance and the pond will be less clean. That is a huge misconception. Did you know that Koi reduce algae by feeding on it and they fertilize plants with their waste? So really, Koi reduce pond maintenance, not to mention they are absolutely beautiful to watch and fun to interact with. As far as design and shape of a pond are concerned, if you decide to keep fish in your pond then it is recommend that you dig the pond to a minimum of 24″ in depth. However, if you live in a zone that freezes then it would be best to dig your pond to an overall depth of around 30″-36″.

TIP: Take your garden hose and lay it in the area you have decided for your pond. Use the hose to layout the size and shape. Once you think you’ve found the ideal position, step back and look at it from all areas- both inside your house and out. Look at if from your deck, gazebo, porch, kitchen, bedroom, family room, etc. Once you’ve made any necessary changes to the size and shape, measure the longest length and the widest width and bring those measurements with you to the next step!

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