Few things can add to a backyard’s ambiance like a water feature. From a simple pond to an elaborate waterfall, water features offer beauty, tranquility, and even a boost to wildlife and the environment.
In their simplest form, a water feature may consist of an easily installed, inexpensive preformed pond. Preformed ponds are manufactured from black plastic or fiberglass in a variety of sizes and shapes, typically 3 to 6 feet across and 12 to 18 inches deep, although sizes as large as 12 feet are available. Most preformed ponds are one-piece, but some of the larger ones come in sections that are assembled on site.
If you would like to give the appearance of an even larger pond but still stick with the simplicity of preformed units, consider placing two of them side by side and then concealing the intersection with a stone or wood bridge. Preformed watercourses, which mimic streams and allow for the water to drop and “gurgle,” are also available for combining with the pond.
Preformed ponds are installed by first marking out and excavating a hole in the desired location, then adding a layer of sand to reinforce the bottom. Place the pond in the hole, carefully level it, then backfill around it. To complete the installation, place rocks or other landscaping materials around the perimeter to conceal the edge of the pond and give it a more natural appearance.
Lined ponds consist of an excavated hole that is covered with a special pond liner, and can be made in pretty much any size and shape. Lined ponds offer a lot more flexibility in design, both for the pond and any stream beds or waterfalls you would like to incorporate, and are also more suitable for fish and more extensive underwater plantings.
For a lined pond, the obvious starting point is the excavation. The desired layout is first marked on the ground – a garden hose makes a good flexible layout aid for designing and then marking the perimeter of the hole – then it is dug out to the desired depth. Most pond excavations have flat ledges, called plant shelves, at different depths all around the perimeter. These plant shelves allow for the placement of different types of plantings of varying heights, to create a beautiful, natural foliage design around the pond that also helps purify the water and create a better habitat for fish and wildlife.
After excavation, remove any rocks, sticks, and other debris, and then line the bottom of the hole with a couple of inches of sand. This is followed by some type of underlayment to protect the liner from possible punctures. Liner underlayments range from old newspaper and cardboard to scrap carpeting to specially formulated liner underlays, but whatever your choice it’s important that this cushioning layer be put down prior to installation of the liner.
A pond liner is a heavy, black rubberized membrane that is specially designed and manufactured for this purpose. Do not use plastic sheathing, swimming pool liners, or other materials for your pond liner, as they are easily damaged and can be susceptible to degradation by sunlight and freezing temperatures.
The liner should be ordered after the pond excavation is complete. Liner size is calculated based on the width, length and depth of the excavation, the size and number of plant shelves, and the amount of edge overhang, so the sizing will be more accurate if done after the excavation is complete.
With a couple of people helping, the liner is unfolded into the excavation and allowed to warm in the sun, making it more flexible. The liner is then smoothed into place from the bottom up, and is lapped over the top edge of the pond 6 to 12 inches. A small amount of water is typically added to the bottom of the pond to weigh the liner down and help with the smoothing process. Folds in the liner, which will be necessary to help it conform to the curves of the pond sides, are incorporated as the liner is smoothed out.
Water is gradually added to work the liner into place, then the liner is usually allowed to sit for a day or two to complete any stretching and settling. An edge cap is then added over the top edge of the liner, both to hold it in place and to conceal the top edge. Depending on the overall design of the pond, this cap may be concrete, stone, brick, or similar materials, and may also incorporate a streambed or waterfall running into the pond from a higher elevation.
To oxygenate the pond and prevent it from becoming stagnant, a submersible pump is typically used to circulate water, and may also power a water flow over the streambed or even for a fountain. Depending on the size of the pond, a filter and even a skimmer may also be incorporated.
For best results, pond design and construction should mimic or at least coordinate with local nature, from rocks to plants. Many retailers of gardening supplies, patio furnishings, and other outdoor items now offer liners, pumps, and all the other pond-making supplies you’ll need, along with design assistance, complete instructions and even hands-on pond-making classes. If you don’t want to undertake the project yourself, many landscaping contractors also offer water feature construction services.
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