While not all of us can live on a lake or beach, you can still incorporate water into your landscaping by building a pond. You'll need to spend some time choosing the best site, designing your water feature, and then doing the manual work: excavating, installing the filtration system and water pump, arranging rocks and gravel both for aesthetic impact and practical, structural purposes, and then landscaping, and adding animal life, if you choose (and animals will show up anyway). This project is a bit of a commitment, but the results will be worth it.
1. Select a Site
I suggest beginning the design process inside. Consider what the places are in your home where you'll be able to see and hear your pond. You want it close to your living space to really integrate it into your environment. You don't want to have to walk through 20 feet of grass to enjoy your water feature.
Avoid low areas that already collect water—you'll have to worry about flooding, runoff, and foreign pollutants. I advise against building underneath tree canopies, because you'll spend a lot of time digging out leaves. If you have large trees, ask an arborist about the likely root perimeter. And consider easements, fences, and potential future landscape design.
Once you've selected a space, get out the garden hose. Use it to outline your future pond, and play around with size and shape. The No. 1 complaint often heard is that after the construction is complete, people wish their new pond was bigger. Don't forget you'll be adding rocks and plants and possibly a waterfall.
Once you're satisfied, take a look at it from different angles, from inside your house, and from other areas of the garden. When you've made a decision, mark the outline with orange spray paint.
3. Ordering Supplies
Use a systematic approach to building your pond, and have everything on-site before you start digging. To calculate the number of rocks you'll need, take your pond length times width to get the square footage, divide by 65, and you'll get the tonnage. (For example, an 8 x 11-foot pond, a standard size, that'd be 88/65 = 1.35 tons). For the amount of gravel you'll need, take that tonnage and multiply by 30 percent.
Use a 2:1 ratio for small (6 to 12 inches in diameter) to medium stones (12 to 18 inches), and you may want to add in a few large accent boulders for variety.
You'll also need a liner and underlay, a filter, a skimmer, a pump, beneficial bacteria to keep the water healthy (because it's a closed water ecosystem), and PVC pipe. You can buy complete pond kits instead of purchasing everything separately, which will save you some time, and you'll also know that all the components will work together.
The plants in your pond aren't just for looks—they also help keep the water healthy. You'll want about 50 percent coverage of the pond structure when they're mature, and your best bet is to talk with your local garden center experts (The Great Outdoors in Austin is wonderful) and ask about the difference between floaters, submersibles, and marginals. As with the rest of your garden, plan for a year-round blooming schedule so there's always something attractive and interesting happening around your pond.
You'll get visits from the local wildlife. You are, after all, creating an attractive oasis environment for them, too. Butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, and maybe even ducks will be on the guest list.
And what would a pond be without fish? The guideline is 1 inch of fish per 10 gallons of water—make sure you don't overcrowd. If you're concerned about protecting your fish, place a fish cave or fish rocks where they can hide. This gives them natural cover and a stress-free environment, which means healthier and happier fish.
Expect your pond to take about three years to really grow in and look fantastic—but once you've hit that milestone, 10 to 20 minutes a week in basic maintenance is all you'll need to spend. That'll leave plenty of time to enjoy the beauty of your backyard oasis.
Check your local laws about requirements for enclosing a body of water. Some municipalities require fences around ponds that are larger than 250 square feet, some have no rules, and some apply swimming pool laws to backyard ponds. If you're concerned about child safety, then consider enclosing your deck with a gate, if possible, or installing a standard swimming pool fence.
The Fun Part….The Installation
Dig: Start by putting the filter and skimmer units in place at the edge of your pond, and connecting the PVC pipe to the filter (the pipe will be buried under the berm. Then it's shovel time. First, you'll bury the filter. Then dig out the first shelf in the middle to around 8 to 10 inches, building up the berm with the soil, and bury the skimmer around 20 inches deep. Excavate a second shelf (measurements depend on the size of your pond). Then you can lay out the underlay and the liner, and fit the liner around the skimmer.
Rocks: The rocks go on top—boulders first, from bottom to top, and fit them together as best you can. They should rise slightly above the liner. Then lay gravel over the bottom—not too thick, just enough to cover the liner—and the rest goes into the voids between the boulders. Hook up the skimmer, then wash off the boulders to get rid of the dust and dirt. Use a pump to get out the dirty water.
Fill: It's time to fill 'er up with the hose—you'll need about 700 gallons of water for an 8 x 11–foot pond, depending on depth. Because of evaporation and weather conditions, your pond will lose about 2 inches of water per week, so refilling needs to be on your maintenance schedule. You can upgrade to an auto-fill valve, which works like a toilet float. It goes inside the mechanical filter and then runs to the water spigot, where you can attach it with a Y-splitter.
Berm: At this point, you should have the beginnings of a berm using the soil you dug out to create your pond cavity. Bigger is better, because you'll have an easier transition to your landscaping. The slope should be a 2:1 ratio—for every 2 feet out, go 1 foot up. Larger berms also mean that you'll be able to plant deep-root-system plants; although, consider putting in a retaining wall for extra structural support. Trim the liner, and leave around 6 inches, then finish off with rocks, gravel and more soil.