There are many reasons to undertake the project of building your own backyard water garden. For some people, it is the appeal of aquatic plants like the water lily and lotus with their brilliant and exotic flowers. For others, it’s the soothing sound of a babbling stream or waterfall that inspires them. Experienced gardeners may find the sheer challenge of building their own water feature and tending a private aquatic environment to be the driving force behind such an undertaking.
Whatever your reason, creating your own backyard water garden can be both an exciting and rewarding experience.
Here we’ll go over the necessary steps for the planning, creation and maintenance of your own personal aquatic garden sanctuary!
Planning Your Water Garden
The first step in creating a successful water garden is by far the most important: Planning.
There are many factors involved in this step and while some of them may feel like a drag compared to the excitement of actually building the garden, proper planning will help you to avoid many common mistakes which might otherwise sap the fun from your water gardening experience.
Decide What You Want To Grow
The first step is to determine your goals for the new water garden.
Is it your wish to exclusively grow plants or will you be raising fish or other animals in your garden as well? What kind of water feature do you want to build – a waterfall or babbling stream, or perhaps a still pond?
Depending on what kinds of plants you want to grow in your new water garden, you will need to ensure that you build in an area with the right amount of sunlight. For those who want to raise fish, turtles or other animals, consider what needs they will have. Are there natural predators in your area and if so, what kind of protection should you provide for your new aquatic family? Will any of the plants you intend to grow be dangerous for the animals? Also, how big will the water feature need to be in order to house the animals?
The possibilities are endless when it comes to choosing denizens for your new water garden. If you have any questions or concerns in this area, your best bet is probably to consult with the providing pet store or nursery for advice on keeping both plants and animals healthy in their new environment.
Determine the Best Location
Before you do anything else, you’ll want to first locate any underground waterlines or cables which would prevent you from digging the site for your new water feature. If you aren’t certain of their locations, call your local utility companies and inquire about them.
Once you know where any buried utility lines are located on your property, decide where you want to place your new water garden. Again, consider aspects like sun exposure and protection for any animals who will be living in the garden. The slope of the ground, proximity to other structures or large trees which may have far-reaching roots are some other things to keep in mind when choosing the best location.
Draw Up a Diagram
Once you’ve decided on the perfect location for your new water garden, create a diagram. Start by mapping it out on paper and be sure to include any important surrounding features such as buildings, other garden areas, trees and large plants. If you need help calculating the area where you will be digging for your pond, fountain or stream, try outlining the spot where you plan to dig with a garden hose to give yourself a solid visible boundary that will make taking measurements much easier.
What To Do With All That Extra Dirt…
One thing that often gets overlooked during the planning process is the fact you are about to have a lot of spare dirt on your hands (and for all of my fellow always-have-dirt-under-my-nails gardeners – pun intended!) Figuring out what you want to do with all that extra soil before you get started will save you the hassle of moving it twice. Perhaps you want to build a hill for your waterfall-to-be? Or maybe you have a low spot somewhere on your land that could use a good fill-in? Keep this in mind when deciding where to dig and how much soil you’ll be excavating for the new water garden.
Gather Your Materials
Besides a shovel and a strong back, there are several important items which will be required for installing your new water garden. Underlayment, pond liner, a pump, filter and water hose are some of the most common hardware items which you will need. Submersible lights, pond heater, rocks, sand, and fish (and of course plants!) may also make it onto your shopping list. Finally, consider any food and fertilizer that you will need to keep your water garden and its denizens happy and healthy.
Preparing the Site
Once you have all of your materials ready, it’s time to start preparing the site of your new water garden. You should start by clearly marking the outline of your pond or other water feature. You can do this with colored landscape spray or chalk spray. If you have previously outlined your area with a hose, you can also get away with simply tapping a garden shovel into the ground along the hose to mark where you will be digging.
As you excavate the area, be mindful of depth requirements for your plants, animals and/or water pump. Also remember that adding rocks, sand or soil to the bottom or edges of the pond after placing your liners will alter its final depth and size. Plan accordingly during the ‘Draw It Out’ phase and adjust your measurements as needed.
When you’ve finished digging the hole for your water feature, remove as many sharp stones, roots or other objects which may puncture the underlayment or pond liners as possible. Then, begin working your underlayment into the bottom of the hole, making certain to completely cover the bottom and all sides. Ideally, you will want to have a good amount of material left over to stretch out beyond the edges of the hole as the liner will settle a bit after water is added to the garden feature.
Do the same with your pond liner and temporarily secure both layers around the top of the hole by placing stones or other blunt heavy objects around it to hold the liners in place while you complete the next two steps.
Position Your Hardware
Once the underlayment and pond liner are installed, position your pump, filter and any other hardware in their designated locations and secure them in place with rocks or whatever else you’ve decided to use to keep them from shifting once submerged. Be sure to follow any specific manufacturer guidelines provided with the equipment regarding depth, clearance and any other safety measures before proceeding to the next step!
This is also a good time to add any other submerged items like rocks and decorations to your garden while you still have easy access to the bottom of the water feature.
Just Add Water
This is when building a water garden really gets exciting. Up until now you’ve been working hard with pencil and paper, spending (probably lots of) money, and performing some fairly taxing manual labor – all well and good if you’re into that sort of thing – all leading up to this one magic moment… (Can I get a drum roll, please?)
It’s time to add the water!
This step transforms all of your hard work thus far from being a big ugly hole in the ground with an unsightly rubber liner tucked in it to an actual pond, stream or whatever shape you’ve chosen for your new water garden to take. Now take a step back and admire your work for a moment. You’ve earned it!
Test The Hardware
After you’ve added water to your new garden feature, it’s time to get the hardware up and running and to make sure that everything is working properly. At this point, you may want to wait a day or two before introducing plants or adding any animals to the garden. This will allow the pond liner to settle so you can add more water as needed. It will also give you time to monitor the equipment for potential problems which would be much harder to address once plants and animals are added to the garden.
Choosing Plants For Your New Water Garden
When it comes to aquatic plants to grow in your water garden, there are three main types of plants to choose from. Submerged species like water lilies may have leaves and flowers which grow above water, while the rest of the plant exists beneath the water’s surface. There are also free-floating plants which grow completely unanchored on the surface of the water. Some common species of floating plants include water clover, water hyacinth, and duckweed. Then there are marginal plants like cattails, lotus and arrowhead which thrive in shallow water with submerged roots and all aerial parts growing above water. Marginal plants are often grown in submerged pots where the lip of the container is just beneath the surface of the water.
When choosing plants for your new water garden, be aware of any species which may be considered invasive in your local environment and either avoid these or keep them carefully contained to prevent harming the surrounding ecosystem. Also, take care to pick species which will compliment each other and not compete for nutrients with other plants in your water garden.
If you intend to keep animals in your water garden, again be sure to look into any potentially hazardous species which may harm your fish or other aquatic pets.
Adding Animals To The Water Garden Environment
For a truly rewarding experience, consider adding fish, turtle, snails or other animals to your water garden. Keeping aquatic animals can add charm and interest to your garden. They can also help to balance the aquatic ecosystem by keeping microscopic organisms in check and helping to fertilize your plants. Some popular choices include koi, goby, minnows, carp, bass, eels and catfish, as well as snails, salamanders, frogs, turtles, crayfish and fresh-water prawns.
Should you choose to introduce aquatic animals to your water garden, be sure to pick species that will thrive in your climate. Also, keep in mind that if you live in an area with particularly frigid winters, you may need to install a heat source when building your pond in order to prevent the water in your garden from freezing solid during the colder months.
As previously mentioned, fish and other animals in your water garden may attract predators. You will also need to provide shelter or some form of barrier against the local wildlife in order to keep your aquatic pets safe and happy in their new home.
Water Garden Oxygenation and Algae Control
One of the biggest problems facing water gardeners is the overgrowth of algae. While algae is a sign that your garden is rich with nutrients, these organisms can rapidly get out of hand. Should you find yourself with an overgrowth, avoid killing the algae with chemicals that will cause it to rot and sink to the bottom of the garden. This will only add more nutrients back into the water and result in the growth of even more algae. Instead, try skimming away and disposing of any excess growth. Then add more plants to help take up the excess nutrients. Also, remember that having too many fish or other animals is a leading cause of algae overgrowth, so you will want to avoid over-populating your water garden to prevent this problem from arising.
While an ideal aquatic ecosystem will recycle waste products from one organism into food for another, that perfect balance can be hard to achieve. Keep in mind that still water has a tendency to be lower in oxygen than moving water – a condition known as hypoxia. Adding more aquatic flora to the environment can help to correct this imbalance. However if you plan to keep fish or other animals in a still pond, you may wish to include some form of aerating device in your initial design to ensure there is enough oxygen in the water to support your chosen fauna.