Top 10 Pond-Building Mistakes to Avoid

Pond season is officially here and you’re anxious to put shovel to dirt and get more ponds in the ground for your customers. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran builder or a novice who’s new to the water feature industry, you’ll benefit from our top ten tips to ensure you follow the basics of successful pond building.


1. Poor Location

You’ve heard the real estate mantra, “location, location, location.” It’s no different with ponds – location is everything! Too often, ponds are placed in an unused area of the property or built in a low spot that collects water. Both locations cause problems. Unused areas of the landscape are unused for a reason and it’s a shame to put a key feature in an area that won’t be seen regularly. Always try to bring the pond – or any water feature – as close to the house and viewing areas as possible.

Low spots in the landscape that collect water are challenging to build in (high water table) and water quality can suffer from too much runoff and pollutants entering the pond system. So although you might think it’s a great place since water already collects there, think again.

Unused portion of backyard not suitable for pond
An unused portion of the yard isn’t always the best place for a pond


2. Underestimating Labor

Underestimating the amount of physical work involved with a pond installation is very common – especially for contractors who are new to water features. Consider the pond’s location, the type of soil, the topography, and other obstacles that might add to the time it takes to excavate the pond.


3. Creating Steep Sides

Digging a deep pit with no provisions for shallow areas makes stacking stone on the inside of the pond very difficult. The excavation is unstable and since there aren’t shallow areas, it is difficult and dangerous to get in and out of the pond for maintenance. Plus, there’s no ledges for aquatic plants, the majority of which grow in less than 12″ of water.


4. Too Shallow

A shallow pond might be easier to dig than a deeper one, but if it’s not deep enough, the fish won’t be able to over-winter in the north.  And if you live in the south, your pond won’t stay cool if it’s too shallow. Aim for a minimum of 24 inches when building a pond that contains fish.


5. Lack of Ledges

A common mistake is when the pond is excavated in a bowl fashion, with gently sloping sides that get deeper towards the middle. You’ve probably seen this a lot when you’re called in for a pond renovation. Lack of ledges is difficult to disguise with rock since gravel will slide towards the deep area and boulders will take up too much room.

Excavated and rocked pond
A proper pond should have ledges for stability


6. Improper Use of Rock and Stone

An installed pond is disguised with rock to give it a desired naturalistic appearance; a typical feature will use several tons of stone. Novice contractors might decide this to be too much work and they’ll choose small, manageable stones that are easy to move and place. While the work might be easier, this results in the pond falling short of aesthetics. Also, the pond loses the structural importance provided by the larger, more difficult-to-move boulders.


7. Too Small

Small ponds are easier to construct (less digging and rock placement) but they’re actually harder to maintain. A small feature is less stable than a larger volume of water and most of your customers will end up wanting to enlarge the water garden later down the road because they not only love it, but their plants and fish outgrow a small feature.

Small backyard pond with waterfall
A small pond can be a wise choice for a budget-conscious customer


8. Lack of Proper Filtration

Filtration is key to a low-maintenance ecosystem pond and shouldn’t be overlooked. According to Ed Beaulieu, vice president of field research and contractor development at Aquascape, a mechanical skimmer filter is the most important piece of a pond’s filtration. Pair the skimmer with a biological filter and a properly size pump to ensure a pond that’s easy to maintain.


9. Poor Access

Before you get started on your customer’s pond, think about where to place your rock and gravel when it’s delivered or where you want to place the dirt during excavation. Poor planning can lead to having little to no room to get in and out of the property during the construction process.


10. Improper Berm Size for Waterfalls

If the mounded or bermed area for the waterfall is too small or too steep, then the waterfall will look out of place and more like a volcano than a waterfall. The berm and waterfall need to be scaled according to the size of the property and feature. Some of your customers may want a big waterfall that looks and sounds great, but it can become difficult and expensive to build and it can overpower the space. The waterfall needs to fit with the property and lifestyle of the pond owner.

To ensure “Ponds Done Right,” be mindful in avoiding these common mistakes that both new and experienced pond builders sometimes make. And to make sure you’ve got “Customers Served Right,” don’t hesitate to educate them on the importance of proper pond location and filtration.


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