Pondbuilding Basics

Cross Section of Pond

Looking to build a pond? That’s a great idea. There’s a whole industry that’s grown up around residential backyard ponds over the last decade, so it’s easier than ever to get your hands on quality components. The basic steps are the same as they’ve always been: dig a hole, make the hole hold water, install a pump and filter, and fill with water.

How deep should you go? It depends on a variety of factors, but generally you don’t want to go too shallow. If you’re planning on having fish, 24 inches is a good depth. If you want to have fancy fish like koi and you want to overwinter them in your pond, 30 inches is about the minimum depth here in Virginia. However, you need to be aware that in many localities anything over 24 inches deep is considered a pool, and you’ll be required to provide a barrier fence around the pond. The illustration above shows a pond with planting shelves, which is a common way of building a pond. Not only does it provide a place for marginal plants, it makes it easier for you and any critters that may jump or fall in to get back out.

The most common means of keeping water in the hole is to use a rubber liner. What I’ve found to work really well is to use a layer of sand, then an underlayment (fabric layer), and then lay in the rubber liner. Rubber liners give you way more flexibility than the hard plastic shells you see at many big box stores, and provide a much more natural appearance.

Your pump and filter are critical to the installation. Not only do you want to make certain that you’re using the best quality pump and filter, they need to be sized appropriately for the amount of water you’re turning over. I recommend avoiding the big box stores, and buying your pump and filter (and other components) from a reputable store that specializes in pond components. Even with the shipping costs, my preferred pond and water garden store is Tranquil Water Gardens. Yes, the owner just so happens to be my brother, but I go for knowledge and value first- so should you.

The last step, filling it with water, is the easiest, but it’s not even worth it if you haven’t planned and shopped appropriately. If all goes well, you can have a beautiful pond like the one I designed for a client in Fairfax County:

pond and waterfall

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