You’ve decided you want a pond. Now what?
Designing your pond is a complicated process requiring you to balance numerous factors, all while considering cost and maintenance. Start from the big picture, and work your way down to the specifics.
1. Define your purpose
What is your main motivation to have a pond? Do you want to hear the gentle trickle of water while you drink your morning coffee? Maybe you’d like your own private fishing spot. Or an extension of a land-based garden. Do you envision a waterfall, or maybe a fountain? Fish or no fish, plants or not, size, placement – These are all factors that will affect the construction of your pond.
The species of fish you chose will drastically affect the size of your pond. Trout, for example, require very cold water and lots of swimming space. We would suggest a minimum water depth of 15ft in order to keep them cool in the summer.
Goldfish and koi can tolerate a very wide range of pond sizes, and a wide range of temperatures. Goldfish and koi are very versatile but beware: they are not recommended for non-lined ponds -- they constantly forage in the dirt for bugs. The result: your water will always be muddy and murky. In addition, these species must not be kept in a pond where there is any chance of escape into rivers, streams, etc. They are extremely prolific and will cause serious problems for native wildlife.
Regardless of species, water must be at least 4ft deep to prevent freezing solid over winter and killing the fish. For the summer months, shallow ponds should have lots of shaded areas for the fish to cool off.
Water features are a key aspect of many people’s vision for their pond. It is more practical to add provisions for a waterfall or fountain (like elevation changes and power supply) into your original design, as opposed to making it work later. Despite adding an aesthetic appeal, they are also functional in that they circulate water and add vital oxygen. In the event that you decide not to have either, we would strongly suggest another form of aeration – a bubbler system. Bubblers provide water circulation, add oxygen, use minimal electricity, and have limited visibility.
2) Decide on your dimensions
Once you’ve decided on the above factors, you can make decisions on location and size. Size correlates very closely with cost and maintenance, so bear this in mind.
If you’ve decided on a large pond, you will probably have an earth-bottom or lined pond. If you’ve chosen very large, you’ll probably go with earth- or clay-lined because of the lack of availability of large liners. If you would like a small pond, you will likely use liner or preformed ponds. When deciding on your substrate, you may want to consider the cost – large liners are very expensive. Once you’ve decided on the size of your pond, you can use the dimensions calculate the volume of water that you will have. This will be important for deciding on equipment.
3) Sizing equipment
Although you’re now ready to decide on equipment (filter, waterfall weir, fountain, etc.) you may want to wait to purchase these items. Unforeseen complications in digging your pond may force you to make small changes to your original design. Similarly, do not buy liner without having already dug the pond, and measured twice. Liner is very expensive to end up with a piece too big, and seaming pieces to make it larger is not always reliable. If you've chosen a small preformed pond: buy the pond first, then dig the hole to match.
The size of your waterfall or filter will dictate the size of the water pump you will need to deliver the water. You’ll select your pump based on the flow rate, as well as the head – the measure of height that the pump needs to push the water.
For fountain sizing, you’ll need to calculate the surface area of your pond. The fountain should be large enough to provide adequate aeration and water circulation, without concerns of emptying your pond onto your yard.
Before getting too far into your planning, it’s a good idea to look into local bylaws regarding ponds. Also, it is very important to locate underground utilities before you dig.
Check out our Calculations page for some common calculations that will help you in your planning.
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