The Doc's Dream System -- A Construction Guide to Backyard Ponds

That spot in the yard where a waterfall and pond would look the most natural is most often the worse location for the pond. It’s often a hill that spills down to an area around the deck. Perhaps it’s hard to grow grass on the hill and the hill is eroding. Instead of planting low-growing junipers like everyone else in the neighborhood is doing, you may want something more dramatic like a lively waterfall that splashes into a nice, big koi pond. After all, it would look natural spilling out from the line of trees on top of the hill.

Before digging the hole and throwing on a liner take some time and watch what happens when it rains. Soil erosion is actually a clue that the spot on which you want to build the pond is a rain runoff area. You might think that a pond would simply fill up from the rain and overflow — that it wouldn’t hurt a thing. That’s what a lot of folks think but they find problems later when the first major storm rolls in.

Downpours of rain cause more problems to ponds than any other common natural occurrence. Water seeps down behind the liner and it balloons up! Heavy amounts of soil are washed down into the pond and deteriorate the quality and clarity of the water. We hear complaints about UVs not doing the job of clearing the water only to find out that runoff is the culprit. What happens when your neighbor on the hill sprays his lawn for weeds and a heavy rain comes up that night? You wake up to a pond full of dead fish. You can’t blame your neighbor. You placed the pond in the path of their runoff.

Re-directing the path of runoff rain so that it doesn’t run into the pond should be an important part of the design of your pond. It may be as simple as moving mounds of soil and building a berm at the top of the waterfall where the runoff begins to guide the rainwater around the sides of the waterfall and pond. If that doesn’t do the trick install drains. It’s an inexpensive and easy project that can save you plenty of money, worry and time.

Have the runoff rainwater spill out onto the driveway or downhill from the area where the pond is located. Don’t allow it to accumulate or puddle anywhere in the yard. This breeds mosquitoes. If you’re in a subdivision be aware of how your runoff will affect your neighbor. Unless you particularly enjoy arguments with your neighbor I would advise you to guide your runoff where it can do no harm to his property.

If the perfect spot for the pond and waterfall is in the path of rain runoff don’t be afraid to place it there. Just plan to re-direct the runoff and you’ll avoid the headaches.

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Traditionally during pond season one must spend an hour or so every weekend maintaining the pond otherwise the pump gets clogged and the waterfall stops running. Anyone who “never has to clean his pond” is probably the proud owner of a swamp. Submersible pumps are often set in heavy containers filled with rocks or other filter media making it difficult to pull up out of the water. Gravity-fed biofilters, even the expensive ones, require routine cleaning regimens. If they are not cleaned regularly the pads tend to clog as well.
Ammonia is deadly. It is primarily created through the fish’s gills, kidneys and intestinal waste. Decaying uneaten food, plant material and leaves also contribute to ammonia accumulations. Ammonia is reportedly the leading cause of fish stress, breaking down his immunity system and leading to bacterial disease. Measurable to high levels of ammonia is common in new ponds (and aquariums), over-stocked ponds and established ponds from heavy feeding in the spring prior to biological bacteria growth or from inadequate filtration
There are professionals who know ponds and there are others who don’t. There are some that are in the learning curve and will become great pond builders one day. As backyard ornamental ponds increase in popularity so do the number of contractors who become overnight experts. Suddenly everyone knows how to build a pond.
Components of a pond system are ugly. You’ll get no argument from me about that. The filter is a very necessary part of a healthy pond and the only filters we’ve seen that are easily hidden within the landscape (submersed and the side-skimmer) are not considered “good” filtration methods. Whether the “good” filtration method is a large settling tank nestled on the slope of the backyard or an egg-shaped canister seated on the hill just above the waterfall it takes imagination and a little ingenuity on the part of the installer or landscaper to make it blend into the surrounding environment. This is where the backyard pond mechanic is separated from the professional pond installer or landscaper.
Springtime is the most critical time of the year for fish in the pond. As water temperatures rise it puts our fish in the danger zone also referred to as Aeromonas Alley. The danger zone is water temperatures between 50° and 65°. In many states during the winter the water temperature drops below 50° which kills all the bacteria (good and bad) and most parasites become inactive. Fish do not eat at these temperatures and the pond goes into a period of dormancy. Here in Georgia, however, spring's warmer daytime temperatures starts raising the water temperature but we still have cool nights.
Most folks are going to grab whatever is handiest and cheapest for the fish in their ponds. Little thought is given to what kind of food it is and for what purpose. The fact is ornamental pond fish really DO NEED to be fed because Mother Nature cannot supply worms through rubber liners. We, at Pond Doc’s, DO look at the label and size up just what the food does for the fish. Some brands are extremely poor quality and build fat on the fish. Yes, fish suffer from obesity just like humans do! Others are on the other end of the spectrum, supplying the equivalent of our steaks and caviar.