Pond Planning Pitfalls & Problems

8 minutes read

Often writers of books on pond building reinforce a misconception that ponds should be built in the sun. Place the pond where you’ll enjoy it most keeping in mind the pros and cons of sun versus shade. Waterlilies bloom best in the sun but so does algae. Trees shed their leaves so ponds in the shade are typically harder to keep clean but nothing compares to the serenity of lounging by the pond in the coolness of the shade.


Don’t Make it Too Shallow


If you are planning to (or even thinking about the possibility of) putting fish in your pond give the fish a place to go that is 3 feet or deeper. Blue Herons can wade in 2 feet of water and clean out a pond in no time at all. Also, deeper water stays a bit warmer in winter and cooler in summer.


Avoid Plant Shelves in the Fish Pond


This is mostly true for the part that houses the fish. Some predators will sit on a plant shelf and go fishing. A favored plan is to have 2 bodies of water separated by a stream. The top pool can have plant shelves at varying heights. Place most of your plants in this bog pond. Keep only floating plants in the fish pond and make sure the sides slant only very slightly.


Don’t Make it Too Small


We’ve never heard anyone say they made their pond too big but we hear over and over again that they made their pond too small. The fact is it is easier to maintain a larger body of water than a smaller one. A small pond needs cleaning more often. A large pond can hold more fish naturally and taxes the filter less.


Don’t Use a Preformed Pond


Though the idea of using a preformed pond in theory seems easier it can actually make the job harder. You must dig a hole anyway. The preformed does not give you the freedom to shape the pond as you want it. Very few, if any, offer 3 feet depths. You cannot install a bottom drain. The form often settles and shifts causing the waterline to lose its level. Any large, heavy rocks placed on the lip can crack the shell which is extremely difficult (if not downright impossible) to repair.


Make the Most of Your Liner


Our favorite liner to sell and use is EPDM 45 mil. It’s thick and it forgives and is perfect for the inexperienced as well as the professional. EPDM 45 comes in 5 foot increments in width, starting at 10 feet. We stock 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 foot widths and can readily get larger. Liner is priced by square foot and is not inexpensive. If you place a piece of liner that is - let’s say - 15’ width by 17’ length in the hole you have dug and you have 3 feet left over on one side you have just wasted 51 square feet of liner. This equates to $62 of your hard-earned cash. Why not make this pond 3 feet wider and add 382 more gallons of water to your pond without adding a cent to your cost? When deciding the size of your pond remember to leave 18" of liner on either side. Don’t short-sheet yourself by trying to be conservative.


Here’s a tip: To get the proper measurements for the purpose of buying liner, place one end of a string 18" from the side of the hole and drop it down, across, and up to the other side at the widest part of the hole. Then 18" on the other side. Measure the string. (Remember — once liner is cut there is no returning it and seams will probably eventually leak).


Put in a Bottom Drain


The reason most pond owners dread cleaning the pond is that they have to lift out a heavy, wet submersible pump that often smells foul. Bottom drains make it possible for the pump to suck up debris and put it where you can easily get to it — on the outside of the pond. The extra cost and time to install it is nothing in comparison to the time and energy saved during the weekly (or twice weekly) cleaning. Bottom drains are easy to install and you have the benefit of having us here to show you how to do it. Note: an external pump is necessary whenever you install a bottom drain.


Don’t Line the Bottom with Sand


Sand shifts over time and can render plant shelves useless. It’s better to use commercially prepared underlayment.


Find Your Correct Gallonage


Knowing your correct gallonage will come in handy later on. You will have a perfect opportunity to find this out by using a water meter (expensive — but you can rent one from us) to determine your exact gallonage when first filling the pond. Another trick to finding out the gallonage is to time to the second how long it takes to fill a 5 gallon bucket then (without interrupting your water flow pressure) time how long it takes to fill the pond. When finished, all you have to do is do the math.


A formula for determining water volume is as follows: width x length x depth x 7.5


This formula is only accurate if you have an exact square or rectangle and does not hold true if you have plant shelves or varying depths. In most cases we find the volume of water is grossly over-estimated when this formula is used.


Filter Your Water at Least Once an Hour


If you have 500 gallons the minimum you should buy is a pump that pumps 500 gallons per hour. With every foot that you move the water (for example, from the main pond to the top of the waterfall) you lose water pressure and have to size up on the pump to regain your initial 500 gallons per hour. We can help you determine the proper sized pump if you aren’t sure.


Use the Correct Size Hose


No matter how powerful the pump you can only squeeze so much water through small hoses. It really depends on the particulars of your pond and the power of the pump you purchase as to the size hose you need. As a rule, 1 1/2" hose is the most commonly used for ponds up to 1500 gallons. Anything over that should go to 2" or 3" hose. If unsure, bigger is better in this case.


Build for the Future


You may say you’ll never put fish in your pond. In fact, 50% of our customers say the very same thing but only 1% ends up with no fish in their pond. They are hard to resist! If you even suspect you may want fish in the future but aren’t ready to purchase the biofiltration needed for fish in the pond you should construct your pond with the premise of adding a filter later on. An example of this is a fellow who purchased a Cal Pump 4000 when he only needed a Cal Pump 3000 because he knew he would add a bead filter later on and would need the extra push to locate the bead filter away from the pond. The difference in cost of the pump was about $25. It sure beat paying for another pump later.


Don’t Cement In Your Hardware


Don’t bury your hardware under concrete if at all possible. What if you develop a leak in the future and have to dig up the concrete to get to it? Pumps don’t last forever and eventually need to be replaced. You’ll make it hard on yourself if you cement the rocks that cover the line and you can’t get the plug to the new pump through. It’s much better to dry-stack that portion of your rocks.


Do Your Homework


Take the time to research and get as much information as possible before you start the project. We are happy to sit down with you and go over every step of the project with you — and at no charge if you come in to see us and purchase your products through the store. When you show off your hard work to friends and they oooh and aaaah at its beauty we want you to feel like you can tell your friends about the good customer service you experienced through us. Mostly we want you to be happy with your new pond.


If you’ve done any research on the subject of building ponds you have noticed that there are as many methods of construction as there are ponds in this world. We’ve spent the last couple of years performing what we refer to as "retrofitting". Retrofitting is redoing a pond’s system to please the owner (better known as the one who has to do the maintenance) and to add biofiltration to ponds that are unhealthy because of too much fish load and not enough filtration. Much of it gets back to not planning for high fish loads. Retrofitting a pond adds cost to an already costly project.


We think we found the recipe for the healthiest, cleanest and easiest to maintain pond system — and you can achieve this system the first time around. There are no complete kits, cheap shortcuts or all-in-one miracle techniques for building a pond correctly. It takes common sense, an understanding of how water works and lots of good information. We hope these hints and pointers can help you but if you’re in doubt about anything, as always, we are here to put a pencil to it with you and help insure that the mistakes we did won’t be re-done by you.

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