Building your own pond is an exciting project that involves some elbow grease, a little sweat, and considered forethought. Although the work of moving rocks can be hard, the results are extremely satisfying! Most do-it-yourselfers find instructions for a building a pond in a book or on YouTube. Before putting spade to soil, take a look at our list of common pond-building blunders so you can avoid any unnecessary mistakes.
Poor Location: Ponds are too often placed in an unused area of the property or in a low spot that collects water. Both of these locations cause problems. Unused areas of the landscape are unused for a reason. These typically include corners that are away from your house. Rather than place your pond in a far corner, bring it up close to a patio or deck where you can easily see it and hear it from inside the house. Low spots that collect water are challenging to build in due to a likely high water table, not to mention, water quality can suffer from too much runoff and pollutants entering the pond system.
Underestimating Labor: Underestimating the amount of physical work involved with a pond installation is very common. Professional pond contractors are regularly called to complete ponds that are partially excavated by a homeowner. Plan to spend a lot of time digging the hole, or consider renting a small excavator to do the job. Better yet, recruit a couple of friends or family members to help. Grill a steak dinner for them when the job is completed.
Creating Steep Sides: Digging a deep pit with no provisions for shallow areas at the sides makes stacking stone on the inside of the pond very difficult. The excavation will be unstable and since there aren’t shallow areas on the sides, 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 inches of water.
Too Shallow: A shallow pond is obviously easier to dig than a deeper one, but if it’s not deep enough, than 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. Fish don’t like hot ponds! It’s best to create a pond that’s at least 24 inches deep if you plan to keep fish.
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. That can be a lot of wear and tear on the family minivan and it needs to be moved and placed properly. Many do-it-yourselfers will 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. In some cases, the novice pond installer will just eliminate the stonework altogether, which can look bad. Without rock and gravel, the system fails to function properly because stone not only lends to the aesthetics of the feature, but it also functions as a habitat for colonization by a variety of benthic organisms from bacteria to crustaceans which are critical to the success of the pond ecosystem.
Too Small: A small pond is easier to construct (less digging and rock placement) but it’s actually harder to maintain. A small feature is less stable than a larger volume of water and most people end up making the water garden larger later down the road because they not only love it, but their plants and fish outgrow a small feature.
Lack of Proper Filtration: Consumer thought is that real lakes, rivers, and streams function without pumps and filters, so why does their backyard pond need it? Well, that’s not even a close comparison because it’s completely different hydrology. Do-it-yourselfers sometime purchase inadequate filters or will purchase components “a la carte.” It may be cheaper to purchase the items piecemeal, but it’s challenging because different manufacturers use different fittings and they need to be rigged to work together versus having everything matched and designed to work as a unit. Efficiency and simplicity will create a better system for your pond, which is why pond kits are always a preferred choice to avoid headaches.
Poor Access: Before you get started, 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.
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 coming up out of the earth than a natural waterfall. The berm and waterfall should be scaled according to the size of the property and feature. Many people 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 surrounding landscape.
Now that you have our list of most common pond building mistakes, you know what to avoid. For additional help, be sure to watch our handy pond-building video series that takes you from opening the pond kit, to enjoying your personal paradise!