Ponds and Water Features: A Backyard Paradise

A few years back, I installed a 11′ x 16′ pond with a waterfall in our back yard, next to our paver patio. It’s something that I’ve enjoyed immensely, and has become the focal point of the yard. Any water feature that we have installed for our clients has been become a real favorite spot for them to spend their outdoor time.
I thought I’d share with you some of the important features of a well-built system.The following is condensed is from an article I wrote for the Northfield News a while back.


The popularity of water gardening is growing rapidly, as back yard ponds are becoming a frequent landscaping feature. More and more mn. are coming home at the end of a stressful day and unwinding to the relaxing sound of a stream, the enjoyment of seeing the water lilies with their white to pink blooms, the colorful fish, and birds of every kind that are attracted to this little oasis that you’ve provided for them.

One of the most enjoyable of having a water feature is that each one is a totally unique creation. You are only limited by your imagination as to it’s size and shape. A good standard size water feature is 11′ x16′ with a 6′ stream and a waterDSCF0026.JPGfall. If you are thinking about installing a pond of your own, it is better to invest a little more time and a few extra dollars into a system that will give you the most enjoyment for the longest time.A well designed system is a biologically balanced, self-maintained ecosystem. It is totally chemical free so that it’s not harmful to the fish. 1 (6).jpgNot only is there less maintenance involved, but the aesthetic differences are easily evident.

It is a common but mistaken belief that fish cannot survive a winter in in your pond. Fish can comfortably hibernate in a pond that is 24″ deep, if a hole is kept open in the winter so the gases created by the fish and organic matter can escape.. This can be done by an aerator or a floating de-icer, like you find in cattle tanks. Or you can bring them inside and put them in an aquarium.
What about mosquitoes? In a well balanced system the pond fish will eat the mosquito larvae and the moving water caused by the pond’s circulation system won’t be attractive to mosquitoes, anyway.
The nice thing about these pond systems is that they are almost maintenance free, with the exception of taking a few minutes each week to add a biological element that will control the algae (more about that later) and adding some water every now and then. (Or you can get an automatic fill valve soCopy (2) of DSCF0033.JPG you don’t have to worry about it).

If you are thinking about having a water feature installed or if you want to do it yourself, it is better to invest a little extra time and money in to a system that will give you the most enjoyment over theDSCF0073.JPG longest period of time. You’ll find that it is well worth it. Not only is there less maintenance, but the aesthetic differences are very easily evident.
A well-constructed water feature will be a beautiful addition to your home. It will be pleasure to look at and listen to. It won’t be long before you are watching the fish multiply, shopping for the newest varieties of water lilies, or or arranging a special rock here and there to get that “just right” look!

Next week I’ll be going over the basic elements of constructing a new waterfall and pond system.

Pond and Water Feature Basics

The interest in having your own water feature has risen dramatically in the past few years. If you are thinking about installing your own pond or water feature, there are some basic principles  you need to keep in mind if you want to get the most enjoyment out of all your planning and hard work.  The following is a brief checklist of pond basics you should know before you start your project. For more in-depth pond articles and other pond blog entries, click here.


If you are thinking of placing your pond in a far corner of your yard, stop right there! Unless you plan on spending a lot of time in the far reaches of your yard, cross that off your list of possible locations. It will take away most of the features of your pond that you’ll enjoy the most!

Put your pond close to your house or patio where you can enjoy it. Listen to the sound of the waterfall cascading down to  small stream. Watch your new fish and get to know each one…which ones are shy? Which one seems to always be the first one to the food? Enjoy the water lilies blooming. Arrange a few stones here and there, or even dangle your feet in the water on a hot day.
In addition, try to locate it where it can be enjoyed from the inside of the house. You can open your windows on a summer evening and enjoy the sounds of the waterfall, or the wildlife that will be attracted to it.
Full sun is best, but I constructed mine (see photo) in light shade, and it is doing just fine.

Try to make your pond and waterfall look as natural as possible….like it belongs there. Make liberal use of water plants and bog plants.  Make the falls look as if they are spring fed by building up the soil higher behind them with boulders or berms.  When you choose your Koi or goldfish, pay special attention to how  they look  from the top rather than the side, because that’s that’s how you’ll be seeing them in your pond. A quality seller of Koi will display them in a large blue tub about 3-3 1/2 feet high so you can easily see them from the top. Don’t use native fish, because because they will be camouflaged against the natural stone bottom. Having lights in your pond will greatly enhance your enjoyment in the evening when it gets dark.

Mechanical and biological filtration. The mechanical filters (located in the skimmer and waterfall container) take care of debris while the biological filter (which is “good” bacteria that you add to the pond periodically) keeps the green algae to a minimum by out-competing it for nutrients.

Water pump and plumbing. The pump sits in he skimmer basket, where the pond water begins its journey through the filtering system.  (See photo at left, in the foreground). The pump then circulates the water through an underground flexible PVC pipe to the opposite end of the pond, where it passes through another series of filters and into the biofalls before plummeting into the pond as a waterfall.

Liner and underlayment. The liner, 45 mm thick, prevents water loss (obviously) while the underlayment protects the liner and also allows gases to escape from under the liner.

Rocks and gravel These elements are crucial to your system. They protect your liner from ultraviolet radiation,  andprovide a home for the bacteria to colonize.

Plants and fish. Plants remove nutrients from the water that the algae would ordinarily feed on, and provide shelter for fish.The fish snack on the algae, control the mosquitoes and other insects and fertilize the plants with their waste. Read my other blog entry about what to do with your fish in the winter.

Eliminating any of these factors will result in an out-of-balance ecosystem, which will in turn will result in more maintenance and decrease the enjoyment of your pond!

Most important point:  Celebrate a job well done!!









Written and posted by Doug Grove, Grove Landscaping, Northfield, MN

Peg’s Pond Part II

Last time I wrote an entry (Peg’s Pond) about building a pond for my sDSCF0068.JPGister-in-law Peg. A planting season has gone by, and as you can see by the pictures, the place has changed quite a bit! Peg now has some Koi and a few goldfish, and they have taken a real liking to their new home. Peg has really done something right, because they have started breeding, and she saw her first batch of Koi hatch-lings last Spring, with more hatching throughout the summer. The pond plants have done well, and combined with the fish, she has achieved a good biological balance to keep her pond healthy, and created a nice aquatic ecosystem.

Part of the design process of determining the location of the pond was preserving the great view from inside the house. There is a wetland DSCF0043.JPGarea behind her home, and we wanted to incorporate the pond with the view. Now with plants maturing, they help make a smooth transition from the house to the pond to the wetlands. We used mostly perennials and grasses, many of which were native to the area. The photo at the left shows the main waterfall feeding one of the two streams we constructed. That’s Joe Pye plant and Back-eyed Susan around the waterfall.

Even though the picture
doesn’t show it, the stream in the photo is one of two streams. It exits in to a small upper pond, which in turn cascades into the main pond. Peg told me she even saw some baby Koi in the upper pond!

The view from her picture window has now becomeDSCF0073.JPG a real focal point in her home. Peg does a lot of work out of her home for people that have mind-body coordination issues (she uses a process called Brain Gym therapy), and the view of the pond and waterfall provides a very relaxing atmosphere for her clients.

The two streams have been a real nice touch. They have created more interest, and the sound of the two streams adds DSCF0055.JPGa lot of dimension to the sound of the water. The photo to the left shows the other, larger stream headed down to the main pond.

Peg has really done a great job on her pond. I’m looking forward to watching it grow and mature.”Hey Peg… I could use some Koi for my pond, and I see that you have a few to spare…..”