Pond & Lake

How to Build a LOW Maintenance Water Garden


Place the pond so it can be easily viewed and enjoyed. Avoid fruit bearing trees or trees with heavy leaf or needle droppings. If trees are incorporated directly by the pond make sure to include a skimmer in the pond to reduce debris build up from the leaves.

Pond Shape

Prior to excavation, use a garden hose to outline the desired pond shape. Avoid eccentric shapes that create stagnant areas and exaggerated liner folds. The Natural and Formal shapes shown here are always good choices. Be sure to take into account fountain, waterfall, filter and piping locations.

Room to Grow

Now that you've traced out your whole pond, make it bigger. The single biggest complaint from pond owners is that they made the pond too small. It costs much less to make a pond larger when you are first installing than to try to modify and expand it later.


The dirt from the excavation can be used to create a waterfall if you are going to have one. A good minimum pond depth is 2' to 5'. Deeper ponds have lower evaporation rates and the plants and fish winter over better. The deepest point of the pond should constitute at least 30% of the overall surface area. Shelves for marginal aquatic plants should be 6" - 12" deep and 18" wide. Make the pond deep enough to accommodate fish. Many people are undecided about fish. A surprisingly high percentage end up deciding once the pond is installed that the color and slow moving beauty of fish would be enjoyable after all. However, if the pond is not designed to accommodate fish during the initial installation it may not be possible to modify it later. In addition, if the property is ever put up for sale the new owners may appreciate the option to add fish. Since greater depth improves pond health and reduces evaporation, it is beneficial to make it deeper regardless of whether fish are ever added.

Selecting Liner

Quality materials are essential to success. Poor liners puncture easily, degrade rapidly in sunlight, are subject to freeze damage and can kill fish. All the effort of building a pond is wasted when a low quality liner leaks, rendering the pond unusable. A good quality liner should be a durable, 45 mil. fish-safe, synthesized butyl. It has outlasted and out performed other types of liner. The quality is reflected in the manufacturer's warrantee. If the smooth surface of cement is desired place a liner beneath the cement. Cement sooner or later settles and gets cracks that lead to leaks. A cement pond may take one season or many years to develop cracks, but sooner or later it will crack and the liner will be there to stop the leak. The exception is gunite (cement mixed with fiber and shot under extremely high pressure) which normally holds up far several decades before cracking. Always line waterfalls and streams with a flexible membrane. You may also consider using a preformed pond which can be constructed out of preformed fiberglass or some type of preformed plastic pond.

Using Underlayment

Underlayment extends the life of a pond, the least expensive material to install is a geotextile fabric. This material is easier to work with than sand and outlasts other underlays. It also protects vertical sides and coping shelf areas. Underlayment is an inexpensive way to avoid the expensive problem of a damaged liner. Purchase the same square footage of underlay as liner. The scraps can be doubled up under rocks for added protection.

Calculating Liner Size

To calculate the proper size liner add twice the ponds depth to the maximum length and maximum width and then add another three feet. Always use the maximum length, depth and width. Trim excess liner after the system is running. Be sure to leave an extra foot rolled up and buried around the coping shelf for future modifications.

Use of Rock with Liner

Avoid approaches such as lining the pond with rocks in on attempt to compensate for improper workmanship and filtration. The pond liner is designed to handle full sun exposure for decades. A natural layer of growth will disguise the liner within a few months time. Piling rocks can damage the liner and the rocks can trap debris which develops anaerobic bacteria and can pose a threat to fish. When excessive debris develops the only way to clean a rock lined pond is to fully drain it and power-wash or remove the rocks. Avoid this approach for it shocks the ecosystem, not to mention the person doing the cleaning and can promote excessive algae growth. A properly designed system saves you time and money while reducing maintenance and improving your ponds health. A smooth bottom design makes waste removal a snap and allow's the pond to operate for decades without requiring complete water changes: The pond is allowed to achieve a stable natural balance that only comes with age.

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