Container water garden ideas


Building a Small Water Garden

A serene, reflective pool has its allure, it’s something that has always drawn mankind. There is something about water that relaxes us, that makes us feel peaceful and calm. It resonates with a deep inner part of us, a part perhaps long forgotten, but the connection is still there. After all, water is the very stuff of life itself.

Water features are becoming common additions to gardens these days, almost to the point of becoming clichéd! Unfortunately, they are more often than not just lifeless statues with flowing water. A pond has a far greater attraction than a plain old water feature, as it’s literally brimming with life. Anyone who has ever seen children around a pond, especially if it has fish in it, will know what a captivating effect it can have.

Most people in an urban setting have neither the space nor the expertise to construct a full-sized pond, but that doesn’t mean they can’t enjoy the benefits of a small water garden. Water gardens in containers are easy to build, and “half-barrel” water gardens are becoming quite popular for that very reason. Using a real wine barrel cut in half, or a similar sized plastic container, a water garden can be completed in an afternoon.

Beyond mere aesthetics, a water garden has its place in a permaculture garden. It can be used to grow edible aquatic plants and fish, provide a breeding site for rare and endangered fish or frogs, and produce many other valuable outputs.

A water garden is an aquaculture system – a diverse aquatic ecosystem, one of the most productive and efficient systems around. They are far more productive than any land based systems. This is because in an aquaculture system, aquatic plants have a constant supply of water that has nutrients dissolved in it, which they can easily take up. The waste from fish and other animals in the system provide additional nutrient to the plants, making for a very efficient and productive system.

Part I – Basic Water Garden Design Theory

In any water garden or pond, one of the most basic requirements to create a stable aquatic ecosystem are the various types of plants in it, each of which plays a specific role to support and sustain aquatic life.

There are four categories of water plants that can be included in a pond to achieve perfect balance.

  1. Rooted floating plants, such as water lilies
  2. Marginal plants
  3. Submerged (oxygenating) plants
  4. Floating plants

Image source: Virginia Cooperative Extension article, Urban Water-Quality Management: Purchasing Aquatic Plants. ID 426-044

Lets have a look at the four categories of aquatic plants in detail:

1. Rooted Floating Plants

Rooted Floating Plants, also referred to as Deep Water Plants, have their roots sitting in the bottom of the pond (or in a container on the bottom of the pond) and their leaves reach up to the water’s surface. They are sun-loving plants and can survive with 10-20cm or more of water above the plant’s crown. The best known examples include Waterlilies (Nymphaea spp.) and Lotus (Nelumbo spp.).

They produce floating leaves that shade the water, which reduces the growth of algae. They also provide shade and a hiding place for fish. Many rooted floating plants also produce spectacular flowers (most species need full sun 10 hours a day for best flowering).

Place these plants away from fountain sprays, as strong water movement or splashing water inhibits water lily growth. The leaves and flowers are constantly replaced and should be removed when they die off otherwise they will rot down and create more organic matter that can algae feed off.

Examples include the following:

• Dwarf or miniature water lily (Nymphaea spp.)
• Golden club (Orontium aquaticum)
• Hardy water lily (Nymphaea spp.)
• Lotus (Nelumbo spp.)
• Tropical water lily (Nymphaea spp.)
• Victoria lily (Victoria spp.)
• Yellow pond lily (Nuphar lutea)
• Water Poppy (Hydrocleys nymphoides)
• Nardoo (Marsilea mutica)
• Water Hawthorn (Aponogeton Distachyum)

Water Lily


Water Poppy


2. Submerged (Oxygenating) Plants

Submerged Plants. also called Oxygenators, grow with their roots anchored in soil, but the leaves stay underwater. Oxygenators are essential for keeping the pond healthy and the water clear. The best known examples include Anacharis (a deep green plant with many delicate leaves, which will grow in water 15cm to 150cm deep) and Hornwort (dark green grass-like leaves, need 15cm to 30cm of water above the crown).

These plants absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen into the water, and by oxygenating the water they help it support more aquatic life such as fish and beneficial aquatic insects. They also absorb excess nutrients in the water and help purify it, which reduces the growth of algae. Oxygenators also provide food and shelter for fish. The leaves, which are usually fern-like, lacy, or hairy, provide cover for the microscopic aquatic life forms which are an essential part of a balanced aquatic ecosystem.

Oxygenators can multiply very quickly and outgrow their space if not cut back regularly. Remove excess plants and compost them, they are a great source of plant nutrients. You will notice that fish eat these plants too, and that is not a concern because they can regrow quickly, and the fish just help control their growth.

These plants are usually planted in pots that are sunk to the bottom of ponds, so they sit vertically in the water, but they can also be left to free float on the water surface horizontally, though this doesn’t look as tidy.

Examples include the following:

• Canadian pondweed (Elodea or Anacharis)
• Hornwort (Ceratophyllum)

Some of these plants are Submerged/Emergent Oxygenator Plants, that is, they grow below the water’s surface, and also above it, examples include the following:

• Variable Water-milfoil (Myriophyllum variifolium)
• Water Milfoil (Myriophyllum propinquum)
• Water Primrose (Ludwigia peploides)



Variable Water-milfoil

Water Primrose

3. Floating Plants

Floating Plants are plants that float on the water’s surface, they do do not need soil, nor to be anchored to kind of base, and they grow by extracting nutrients from the water.

They control algae in two ways. Firstly, by shading the surface of the water, they restrict the light that algae needs to grow. Secondly, they are act as natural filters to remove excess nutrients from the water, which limits the nutrients available to algae.

They also have many other useful functions. Duckweed is a protein rich food source for fish, goldfish consume it greedily! Azolla is a tiny fern which supports nitrogen-fixing bacteria just like legumes do, so it captures its own nitrogen from the air. This makes it a great nitrogen source for the compost pile or as a source of rich food for worm farms.

Examples include the following:

• Duckweed (Lemna)
• Fairy moss (Azolla)
• Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)
• Water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes)



Water hyacinth

Water Lettuce

4. Marginal Plants

Marginal Plants grow in the shallow margins around the edge of a pond, and they can survive with up to 10cm of water over the plant crown. These plants do best in still to slow moving water.

These plants can serve several functions. They can be decorative, adding colour and height to any shape of water garden, as well helping to blend in the edges of a pond into the surrounding ground. They also provide more practical functions, such as shelter from the wind, and shade. They also serve as a barrier around the water’s edge, providing protection to fish and frogs from predators. .

These plants are usually planted in pots, and set in shallow water on shelves or piles of bricks to achieve the correct elevation, or they can be planted directly in soil around a pond or stream.

Examples include the following:

• Arrowhead (Sagittaria spp.)
• Cattail (Typha spp.)
• Water iris (Iris laevigata)
• Water plantain (Alisma)
• Yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus)
• Lizard’s Tail (Saururus cernuus)
• Pickerel Rush (Pontederia cordata)
• Aquatic Mint (Mentha aquatica)
• Dwarf Papyrus (Cyperus papyrus)
• Horsetail Fern (Equisetum hyemale)
• Vietnamese Mint (Polygonum odoratum)
• Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria)

Yellow Flag Iris

Lizard’s Tail

Pickerel Rush

Aquatic Mint

Vietnamese Mint

Dwarf Papyrus

Putting It All Together

Now that we’ve covered the four types of water plants, we can look at how they come together to create a balanced ecosystem.

In Permaculture the principle of stacking describes the seven defined vertical layers of a forest garden that all work together to create a balanced ecosystem, as listed below:

  1. The canopy
  2. Low tree layer (dwarf fruit trees)
  3. Shrubs
  4. Herbaceous
  5. Rhizosphere (root crops)
  6. Soil surface (cover crops)
  7. Vertical layer (climbers, vines)

In aquatic ecosystems, we have four layers that similarly work together to create a balanced ecosystem.

  1. Marginal plants
  2. Floating plants
  3. Rooted floating plants
  4. Submerged (oxygenating) plants

This too is a “stacked”” arrangement in terms of utilisation of vertical space, and when these plants are brought together with the right proportions, all the plants in that system benefit.

The rules for constructing a water garden to get the “perfect balance” are simple, as listed below.

For one square metre of pond surface area you need:

  • one Water Lily (or other Rooted Floating Plant),
  • three Oxygenating Plants and
  • one to two Marginal Plants.

For coverage of the water’s surface:

  • One third to one-half of the water’s surface should be covered with free floating and rooted floating plants.
  • Or, conversely, no more than half of the water’s surface should ever be covered with floating plants.

Now, with this theory in mind we can look into building a small half-barrel water garden.

Part II – Water Garden Construction

One of the easiest water gardens to construct is a half-barrel water garden. You can literally use any watertight container of sufficient size to construct a small water garden.

In this project, we’ll use a plastic half-wine barrel liner (pictured below) for our water garden. These liners are rigid containers that can be used without putting them inside a wooden half-wine barrel, and have a capacity of around 100 litres.

Whatever container you use, make sure it is clean. A word of warning though, if you intend to put fish in your water garden, do not use any soaps, detergents or chemicals to clean the container, the residue (which won’t be detectable by you) will be present in enough quantities to kill the fish!

The construction of the water garden consists of the following steps:

  1. Gathering of materials
  2. Potting up of water plants
  3. Setting up container with “shelves” to sit plants at their correct height
  4. Filling with water!

Step 1 – Preparation, Gathering of Materials

Gather all the materials required to build the water garden.

To build the water garden itself, you will need:

  • A container to use as the water garden
  • Bricks or pavers to elevate the plants to the correct height

A plastic half-barrel liner and half dozen solid paver bricks

To pot up the water plants that will be placed in the water garden you will need:

  • plants
  • plastic pots
  • garden soil
  • newspaper
  • pea gravel or river pebbles
  • trowel or garden spade

Plants, plastic pots, garden soil, pea gravel and newspaper

A few helpful tips:

  • While building the water garden, place the plants in a small amount of water, and put them in a shady spot, so the plants do not dry out. For deep water plants and delicate oxygenators, put them in a bucket of water until you are ready to use them.
  • When selecting pots to plant up aquatics, plastic is the best material to use because it is lightweight. Use dark coloured containers, black works well, so that they are not as visible through the water.
  • The best soil to use for potting aquatic plants is heavy clay garden soil.
  • Do not use potting mix, as this is too light and floats to the top.
  • Do not use compost, as it will colour the water brown.
  • Do not use manure or too much fertilizer, as this will lead to water eutrophication – (excessive nutrient levels which trigger algal blooms (massive algae growth), which sink to the bottom and are then broken down by bacteria which use up oxygen in the process. The water at the bottom become hypoxic (low in oxygen) or anoxic (devoid of oxygen), creating conditions stressful or even lethal for marine invertebrates and fish.)

Step 2. Potting Up Water Plants, Step-by-Step Planting

Planting usually entails removing plants from where they are currently growing and placing them in their new location. When you do this, they take some time to re-establish themselves in their new homes. So, with any replanting, keep the following in mind when deciding to build a water garden.

  • If you are repotting or relocating planted water plants, the best time to do this is during their growing season, from late spring until the end of summer, as they can quickly grow new roots and re-establish themselves.
  • If the plants and in containers (pots), you can move the containers at any time to a different location, even while the plants are dormant.

Now, let us look at the planting procedures for each of the four types of water plants:

A. Marginal Plants

  • Marginal plants can be planted in regular plastic pots, just make sure you plant only one type (species) of plant per pot, otherwise stronger growing species of plants will take over when they start growing.
  • You can use several of the same plant in the same pot to create a denser planting, which will have more visual appeal.
  • Use black or dark coloured plastic pots so they won’t be visible under the water.
  • A good size plastic pot that can accommodate most marginals, and that is an ideal size for a half barrel water garden id a 6” (15cm) wide pot. For larger plants you could use a 8” (20cm) wide pot.

The steps to potting up a marginal plant are as follows:

  1. Select an appropriate sized regular black plastic garden pot and line it inside with newspaper so the soil doesn’t leak out.
  2. Add soil so that the container half full.
  3. Add some fertilizer (such as Osmocote, or a water lily fertilizer tablet) into the soil at the bottom of the pot, this way it doesn’t leach out into the water.
  4. Position the marginal plant in the pot with the crown at the top and then add soil around the roots, but leave the crown uncovered.
  5. Add a 1-2cm thick layer of pea gravel or river pebbles on top of the soil to hold it in place, but once again leaving the plant’s crown uncovered.
  6. Sit the pot in your water garden or pond, at the edge, to create a border or boundary around the water.
  7. Sit the pot in your water garden or pond, at the correct height, so that there is 5cm-10cm of water above the crown of the plant (elevate the container by sitting it on bricks or pavers to achieve the correct height if necessary).

B. Water Lilies

Water lilies grow from rhizomes. A rhizome is a horizontal underground stem of a plant from which new stems and roots grow. These rhizomes spread quite rapidly, so water lilies are planted in low and wide round or rectangular aquatic basket pots (pictured below).

  • Miniature water lilies are planted in medium sized (20cm) aquatic basket pots.
  • Regular sized water lilies are planted in large sized (30cm) aquatic basket pots.
  • You won’t have to worry about aquatic basket pots unless you are propagating your own water lilies – when you buy a water lily it comes in the correct sized pot, and all you do is sit it at the bottom of your water garden or pond.
  • Lilies can be introduced into your water garden or pond from spring until early autumn.

The steps to potting up a water lily are as follows:

  1. Select the correct sized aquatic basket pot and line it inside with newspaper so the soil doesn’t leak out.
  2. Add soil so that the container half full.
  3. Add some fertilizer (such as Osmocote, or water lily fertilizer tablets) into the soil at the bottom of the pot, this way it doesn’t leach out into the water.
  4. Position the lily in the pot with the crown at the top and then add soil around the roots, but leave the crown uncovered.
  5. Add a 1-2cm thick layer of pea gravel or river pebbles on top of the soil to hold it in place, but once again leaving the plant’s crown uncovered.
  6. Sit the pot in your water garden or pond, in the centre, or away from the edge, to give the leaves room to spread
  7. Sit the pot in your water garden or pond, at the correct height so that there is 15cm-45cm of water above the crown of the plant (elevate the container by sitting it on bricks or pavers to achieve the correct height if necessary).

NOTE: Other types of Rooted Floating Plants are planted the same way as water lilies, but you can use regular black or dark coloured plastic pots, 6-8” (15-20cm) wide instead of the fancy aquatic basket pots.

C. Submerged (Oxygenating) Plants

Submerged (Oxygenating) plants absorb their nutrients directly from the water, and as a result, require a lot less soil than other water plants, and can therefore be potted in much smaller pots.

These plants are often planted in a pot filled with gravel only, just to anchor the plants to the bottom of the water garden or pot.

The steps to potting up a submerged (oxygenating) plant are as follows:

  1. Take around five or six stems of the plant, and bunch them together
  2. Put the bottom end in a small plastic pot, and fill it with gravel or river pebbles.
  3. Sit the pot in your water garden or pond, so that there is 15cm-40cm of water above the leaves of the plant

D. Floating Plants

Floating plants just float on the water’s surface, and their roots hang into the water. These plants do not require pots or soil. Simply place these plants on the water’s surface and they care for themselves, that’s it!

How To Pot up a Marginal Water Plant

To familiarise ourselves a bit better with the actual process of potting up a water plant, we’ll step through how to pot up a marginal water plant in greater detail, in six easy steps.

1. Line the pot
Line the inside of a plastic pot about two thirds of the way up with newspaper.

This is to stop the soil from leaking out of the holes below.

2. Position plant in pot
Fill the container about one-third full of soil, then place the roots of the plant in the soil and continue to fill while holding the plant at the correct height in the pot.

Be sure not to plant it too deep. You can add several plants of the same type into a single pot if you want a fuller look.

3. Fill with soil
Add soil to the correct depth and firm down lightly, so it sits about 4cm below the rim of the pot.

Water the plant
Water the plant to settle the soil around the roots and allow excess water to drain off.

Note: If this plant will go into a water garden with fish, water with rainwater or dechlorinated water, as the chlorine in tap water irritates fishes gills.

Wash top dressing (pebbles)
To stop the soil washing out of the pot, you need to add a layer of river pebbles or pea gravel as top a dressing.

To remove any dirt or residue that might cloud or pollute the water, the top dressing needs to be washed.

One simple way to washing the top dressing stones is to put them into a pot with drain holes that are smaller than them so they can be rinsed under the tap.

Fill small rinsing pot or other suitable container with stones for washing.

Rinse top dressing under tap to wash out any dirt.

4. Apply top dressing
Cover the top layer of soil with about 2cm of river pebbles or pea gravel, stopping about 1cm below the top of the rim.

The potted plant is now ready to go into the water garden!

Step 3. Setting the Water Plants at the Correct Height in the Container

As mentioned earlier, the various types of water plants will tolerate a specific height of water above their crown. The “crown” of a plant is the point at which the stem and roots join.

As only one level of water exists in a container, we accommodate plants that need shallower water by building “shelves” in the water garden to lift them to the correct height.

Typically, marginal plants will have about 5cm of water above their crowns, and one way of elevating them is to use pavers or bricks. Ensure that the pavers or bricks are clean before putting them in your water garden.

Stack the pavers or bricks to the right height, and ensure that they are stable and support the base of the pot all way around as shown in the picture below.

Here is the marginal plant set to the chosen height, now it’s just a matter of adding the rest of the plants, and filling with water.

NOTE: If you are intending to put fish in your water garden, make sure you fill it with rainwater or dechlorinated water. The chlorine in tap water burns fishes gills!

The completed water garden, placed in the correct position, all plants placed in the container at the correct heights using pavers, and water added.

New water garden even passes inspection by the local fauna!

Additional Notes – Fish for Mosquito Control

Fish can be added to a newly built water garden to control mosquitoes, though you might give the water garden a week to settle and allow the aquatic ecosystem to stabilise before adding fish.

Various fish that work well in water gardens in Melbourne’s cold climate* are:

  1. Goldfish (Carassius auratus auratus)
  2. Rice Fish or Golden Medaka (Oryzia latipes)
  3. White Cloud Mountain Minnows (Tanichthys albonubes)

NOTE: The Rice Fish and White Clouds are both small fish and can coexist together, but don’t mix them with Goldfish, which will grow big and possible eat the smaller fish.

(*Melbourne, Australia, is considered a cold temperate climate, though we don’t usually get frost in the city)

Frogs and Tadpoles

If you wish to put tadpoles in your water garden, there is a bit more involved to turn it into a frog pond. I recommend reading up about frog ponds if this is what you intend to do, as this subject is beyond the scope of this article. Just a few brief points:

  • Frogs need a gently sloped side with shallow water so they can climb out of the water, with lots of water plant cover and shade around the edges, as well as things to hide under on the ground, to stop them getting eaten by birds.
  • A pond set in the ground with a deep end and a shallow one, with heavy planting on the shallow side to create a natural barrier, is better for frogs than a small deep container.
  • If considering frogs,remember that they make a lot of noise at night too!
  • Also, don’t mix fish with tadpoles, the tadpoles will get eaten by most larger fish such as goldfish!

Other Useful Additions to a Water Garden

  • Fountains – add water movement and sound and to help oxygenate the water, though keep in mind that some rooted floating plants like water lilies don’t like water splashing on their leaves.
  • Protective covers- made from wire mesh or bird netting stretched over a thin frame or hoop, can protect fish from predators, and discourage birds or cats from turning your water garden into a fishing spot!

Part III – Water Garden Plant Care and Maintenance

Once you put together your water garden, it may look a bit sparse at first, as the plants may still need to grow in size to give it the look you want. Be assured that aquatic ecosystems are one of the most prolific and fast growing because of the constant supply of water and nutrient, in no time it will be possibly overgrowing.

Another point to keep in mind is that after a water garden is constructed, it takes some time to establish the right balance – it is a complex ecosystem and it has to settle in. If the water fills with algae, do not change the water, this is a normal part of the process. With enough shade from floating plants to cut out some of the light, and with the submerged pants growing and taking up excess nutrient in the water, the algae will reduce and disappear.

Each of the four types of plants will require their own particular maintenance around the year:

A. Water Lilies

Water lilies are heavy feeders, and should be fertilized every two months during the growing season (spring-autumn or September/October through to April/May) to ensure good flowering. Push a water lily fertilizer tablet into the soil near the roots, or put some slow release fertilizer granules (such as Osmocote) into a folded piece of newspaper or brown paper (this paper isn’t bleached and doesn’t contain harmful chemicals) and push it between the soil and the side of the pot.

Remove any dead or dying leaves (yellow or brown leaves) to reduce algae growth, if these are left in the water garden and rot down they will provide nutrients for algae growth. Removing old growth also helps promote new growth.

Hardy water lilies can survive in cold areas and do not need to be removed from the water as long as the water does not freeze down to the roots. If the water garden or pond is very deep, and the water lily pot is elevated, then it may be necessary to move the pot even lower to the bottom to ensure that the roots are below the level of the ice. If the water all freezes completely solid, then remove the water lily before this happens.

B. Marginal Plants

Fertilizer tablets can be pushed into the soil when the plants are flowering.

Since many marginal plants multiply by division, you will eventually need to unpot them and divide them up to thin them out a bit, then repot only some of them back into the same pot. This will probably need to be done every 1-3 years. The excess plants can then be repotted to make more plants, this is called propagation by division. Surplus plants can be given away or composted, or used to make more water gardens! With water gardening, you end up with lots of spare plants!

C. Submerged Plants

Thin out submerged plants if they become overgrown and crowded, especially if there are fish in the water garden and they have very little room left to swim around. The excess plants can be given away, or they can be composted.

Floating plants reproduce quickly, and can cover the water’s surface.

Remember, only one third to one-half of the water’s surface should be covered with free floating and rooted floating plants. This means that any time, no more than half the surface of the water should be covered with floating plants. When they cover up more than half of the surface of the water, scoop them out by hand, with a net, or even a plastic garden pot, and give them away or compost them.

As mentioned before, duckweed makes excellent fish food, and azolla makes great food for earthworms in worm farms, so make best use of this free resource where you can.

In Conclusion…

As you can see, water gardens are quite easy to set up, and they can be set up in any container that can hold a reasonable amount of water. Once you have an established water garden, I promise you that you will have so much surplus plants that you won’t know what to do with them all !

So, if you’re lucky enough to know any other water gardeners, you’ll find that they are more than happy to give you spare plants they don’t want, and this way, you can construct your water garden for next to nothing!

How to Build a Water Garden

Water contributes a sense of peace and tranquility to a garden, making it more inviting, more romantic, more livable. Whether the water garden is little more than an enlarged bird bath or an elaborate aquatic milieu brimming with plant and animal life, its presence alone makes your yard a more pleasant place. Water cools the air on hot days and helps keep frost away on cold ones. Activated by hidden pumps, moving water also supplies a relaxing background of natural music. And water in the garden attracts birds and butterflies.

In this article, we’ll explore some of the aspects of building a water garden, including planning a water garden, planting a water garden and animal life in the water garden.


Famous Gardens Image Gallery

Many gardeners put off plans for a water garden because they think water gardens require too much effort to start or a great deal of experience to maintain. Actually, water gardens require little care and are no more difficult to maintain than the average flower garden. Some knowledge of the care and maintenance of garden pools and aquatic plants is necessary of course, but all the basics are explained in this article.

So why wait? Even the smallest backyard or patio can host a water garden: for example, a half barrel containing a single dwarf water lily. There is no limit to how extravagant the project can be if you have the space: two or three levels interconnected by waterfalls, complete with wooden bridges and garden lighting, and brought alive by sprays and fountains. All that is possible in an average backyard.

In the next section, we’ll show you how to plan a water garden.

Looking for more information about water gardens? Try these links:

  • How to Install a Water Garden Pond: Learn how to install a water garden pond by using a flexible liner or prefabricated pool.
  • How to Care for a Water Garden: Learn how to care for a water garden so that it grows and thrives on its own.
  • Water Garden Plants: Explore the different plants you can choose for your water garden.
  • Water Gardens: Check out everything you need to know to get started on your own water garden.
  • Gardening: Learn the basics of successful gardening.

How to Build a Water Garden Pond

The first step is sketch a design on a piece of paper. Then paint the design on the ground to actual dimensions. Then, paint where you envision the Hydro Vortex™ Easy to Clean Waterfall Filter and the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer will be installed. The two units should always be opposite each other – water exiting the pond should always be at the furthest point away from where water enters the pond for maximum circulation.

Measure the widest points of the pond. Measure the length of your stream. Measure the distance between the pond and where you will remotely install your HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer. Measure the distance between the skimmer location and the filter location. Then either order your Custom Water Garden Pond Kit here online or call our Friendly Customer Service Associates and give them your dimensions. Either way, we’ll create a custom water garden pond kit specifically tailored to fit your design! With a Custom Water Garden Pond Kit from Russell Watergardens & Koi, you won’t have to make your water garden pond design fit inside the limitations of a pre-packaged pond kit!

With your Water Garden Pond Kit on site, set out the components to gain complete perspective of what you are envisioning.

Place the Hydro Vortex™ Filter at the head of your waterfalls and stream.

Place the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer and its Remote Installation Pipe at the opposite end of your design.

A water garden pond is virtually always designed with three shelves at varying depths. The pond is excavated in “stair-steps” to a maximum depth of 24″. The first step is the “Marginal Plant” shelf at 6″ – 10″ deep. The second shelf is the “Water Lily” shelf with varying depths of 12″ – 18″. The Maximum Depth is typically 24″.

The first step in constructing your water garden pond is to attach the plumbing to the Hydro Vortex™ Easy to Clean Waterfall Filter. All Hydro Vortex™ Filters come complete with PVC pipe adapters, drain pipe, and Fish-Safe Silicone Sealant.

Place a bead of Silicone on the 1½” PVC male pipe adapter for the Clean Out Drain Pipe.

Please note:

The Ahi Hydro Vortex™ Filter has one 1½” Solid Brass female threaded Inlet Port and matching PVC pipe adapter and one 1½” Solid Brass female threaded Bottom Drain Clean-out Outlet Port and matching PVC Pipe adapter.

Both the Marlin and Dolphin Hydro Vortex™ Filters have two 2″ Solid Brass female threaded Inlet Ports with one 2″ PVC pipe adapter and one 2″ PVC plug. Both units also have one 1½” Solid Brass female threaded Bottom Drain Clean-out Outlet Port and matching PVC Pipe adapter. (The plug may be substituted with a second pipe adapter when dual plumbing main-lines are used.)

You’ll then thread the PVC male pipe adapter with Siliconed threads directly into the Solid Brass Female threads of the Hydro Vortex™ Filter’s Bottom Drain Outlet Port. It is the port in the middle and closest to the bottom of the filter. Thread it in just as tight as you can get it with your hands – no need for a large wrench. Make sure to not cross the threads.

You’ll then repeat the process with a second PVC pipe adapter and thread it into the Hydro Vortex™ Filter’s Solid Brass female threaded Inlet Port.

Using the Purple PVC Primer included with your Custom Water Garden Pond Kit, clean and prime the inside of each of the pipe adapters you just finished attaching to the Hydro Vortex™ Filter.

Next, grab the 1½” x 10′ flexible PVC Drain Pipe that was included with your Hydro Vortex™ Waterfall Filter. Clean one end of it with the Purple PVC Primer. Clean and apply primer all the way around the pipe, and up the pipe about 3″ from the end.

Next, open the can of Red Hot Blue PVC Glue that was included in your Custom Water Garden Pond Kit. Apply the glue all the way around the end of the primed flex pipe. Apply the glue to the same surface area of the pipe as the primer.

Insert the primed and glued flex drain pipe into the Bottom Drain Outlet Port of the Hydro Vortex™ Waterfall Filter. Slightly twist the pipe back and forth as you’re pushing it into the pipe adapter to remove any air bubbles in the glue. Hold the pipe for 60 seconds. The drain pipe is attached first because it is the lowest pipe. The inlet pipe is above the drain pipe. The drain outlet is always at the bottom center of the Hydro Vortex™ filter and perpendicular to the filter’s round side wall. The inlets are always parallel to the filter’s round side wall.

Your next step is to unroll your main-line pipe and extend it from the Hydro Vortex™ Filter to where you will be installing the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer. Like the drain pipe you previously attached to the Hydro Vortex™ Filter, you will clean and prime the pipe with the Purple PVC Primer then apply a coat of Red Hot PVC Glue to the pipe.

Set the Hydro Vortex™ Easy to Clean Waterfall Filter on firm level soil. If your soil is soft, wet, or high in peat – first place a 4″ thick bed of compacted crushed gravel as a footing. Remember when full of water, the filter will be very heavy – if the filter isn’t set on a firm footing – settling can occur that may cause leaks in the future. Extend the drain pipe out to a waste area, and extend the main-line pipe back towards the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer.

You are now ready to begin excavating the pond. You will use all the excavated soil to cover your mainline pipe, fill around the Hydro Vortex™ Waterfall Filter and to create the stream shoulders.

It’s best to excavate your stream down about 3″ – 6″. Build the “shoulders” along each side of the stream up 4″-8″. The shoulders hold your water in, and help keep any ground water run-off out of your system.

Once the Hydro Vortex™ Easy to Clean Waterfall Filter is set on firm level ground, have someone stand inside it with a level to hold it in place. This is to maintain the filter’s levelness while others surround the filter and cover the pipes with soil excavated from the pond location.

Standing in the filter is traditionally reserved for the “supervisor” of the project.

Compact the soil as it is being placed to ensure uniform compaction from the bottom up. The soil should come up to within 1″ – 2″ of the upper rim of the Hydro Vortex™ Easy to Clean Waterfall Filter.

This particular design called for a two-step waterfall – compacted soil is used to construct “steps” that will become footings for the waterfall boulders. The height of the steps are a division of the total height of the waterfalls, in this design, the falls are 2′ high, so one stair step of 12″ is created with soil, the upper fall will be created with the Hydro Vortex™ Easy to Clean Waterfall Filter itself.

To properly estimate the width your “stairs” should be, add the width of the waterfall effect you are creating plus each “shoulder boulder” that the waterfalls will fall between. In this example, the waterfall will be 18″ wide and we’ll have 18″ boulders on each side of the waterfall – so the width of the stair step needs to be 18″ + 18″ + 18″ = 54″ wide.

Waterfalls, like streams, need to have “Guides” or “Shoulders” to hold liner above the water line. These “Shoulders” should be at least 6″ – 8″ above each horizontal level of the stair steps.

Rake the excavations as smooth as possible – and remove any sharp rock edges or tree roots.

Set the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer down into the skimmer hole excavation and check its levelness. If the skimmer is not level front to back and side to side – remove it from the hole and rake and compact the soil until the skimmer sits in the hole level.

Just as you previously installed the Hydro Vortex™ Waterfall Filter, have the “project supervisor” stand inside the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer to maintain its levelness while others backfill with soil. Backfill the rear and sides of the skimmer.


With the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer level side to side and front to back and backfilled with soil, you’re now ready to attach the remote installation pipe. Using Fish Safe 100% Silicone Sealant included with your HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer, apply a solid bead of Silicone around the inside edge of the rubber coupler that will join to the skimmer’s inlet pipe.

Make sure the inside of the rubber coupler and the outside edge of the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer’s inlet pipe are clean and dry prior to applying Silicone. Use the Purple PVC Primer supplied with your Custom Water Garden Pond Kit to pre-clean these surfaces.

Whether you’re installing a straight rubber coupler, or a reducing rubber coupler – install it so that the Stainless Steel Nut is near the top for easy access.

Now apply another bead of Silicone inside the other end of the rubber coupler.

With the skimmer remote installation pipe installed, you can now tighten the Stainless Steel Nuts of the Stainless Steel clamps to lock it all in place.

Level the skimmer’s remote installation pipe.

Backfill the skimmer’s remote installation pipe.

With the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer and its remote installation pipe installed, you’re now ready to install the underlayment down into the pond excavation. Tuck in the corners, smooth out all the wrinkles you can, and fold over the remaining wrinkles.

With the underlayment installed into the pond excavation, you’re now ready to install the pond liner. Tuck the liner into all corners while leaving 2″-4″ extra at the base of each shelf as expansion joints. Then smooth out as many wrinkles as you can and fold over the remaining wrinkles.

Your Custom Water Garden Pond Kit comes with a HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer. All HydroClean™ Pond Skimmers have 3 Interchangeable Outlet Ports – one of which will be plumbed as the Overflow. They are all at the same height inside the skimmer’s body. The pond’s water line will be measured from the bottom of the Over Flow Outlet Port.

This photo on the left is showing a pump plumbed to the Outlet Port on the left, a plug in the Outlet Port on the right, and the rear Outlet Port ready to be plumbed to an Overflow pipe. Also, the optional Automatic Water Fill Valve is installed it its own Water Inlet Port.

Hold a string level at the bottom of the Over Flow Outlet Port, extend it out of the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer through the Inlet on its front side all the way across the pond. When the string is level – paint a mark on the side of the pond at the end of the string. That painted mark will be the pond’s water line. You can then make other string line measurements from that painted mark.

With you liner installed in your pond excavation hole, you’re now ready to attach the liner to your HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer’s Remote Installation Pipe.

Clean the end of the pipe and the backside of the pond liner with your Purple PVC Primer. Apply a bead of Silicone around the outside end of the pipe.

Fold the liner around the end of the pipe, pull out the wrinkles, then place the rubber collar over the liner and pipe end.

Cut a hole in the liner in the center of the pipe end equal to 1/2 the diameter of the pipe. A 4″ pipe would have a 2″ hole, 6″ pipe – a 3″ hole, and a 10″ pipe would have a 5″ hole cut.

Holding the rubber collar in place, push the pipe through the hole cut in the liner – or pull the liner and collar back over the pipe. The liner will stretch tight around the pipe.

Your next step is to attach the check valve assembly (CVA) to your pump. Simply thread the CVA to the pump’s discharge port.


The check valve will keep the plumbing from leaking. (You’ll need to be able to disconnect the CVA from the pump at some point in the future.) Use silicone or pipe tape on the skimmer/CVA joints.

Attach your pipe to the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer the exact same way you previously attached pipe to your Hydro Vortex™ Waterfall Filter. Prime the outside of the pipe, and the inside of the pipe adapter with your Purple PVC Primer – then apply your Red Hot PVC Glue to the outside of your pipe. Push the pipe into the pipe adapter while gently twisting back and forth to remove any air bubbles. Hold the pipe in place for 60 seconds.

Repeat the process for your Overflow pipe. The overflow pipe is usually the “left-overs” from what was cut off your main line pipe – unless you order extra pipe with your water garden pond Kit.

With the liner attached to the HydroClean™ Pond Skimmer and/or its Remote Installation Pipe, you’re now ready to start installing your rock.

Before “rocking-in” your pond, make sure that there are no “tight-spots” in the liner that might tear when rocks are placed. Make sure each stair (or level) in the pond has at least 2″-4″ of excess liner at the bottom as expansion joints.

When “rocking-in” a water garden pond, you’re essentially building rock retaining walls. Start at the bottom and work your way around and up. Make sure that no sharp edges on the rocks point towards the pond liner or a puncture may result.

Since a water garden pond is relatively shallow – at only 24″ deep at its maximum – you’ll need to construct “Fish Condos” or caves in your rock walls as hiding places for your fish.

You can’t have too many Fish Condos in your water garden pond! Your fish will thank you.

Here’s a tip that will help you move rocks and boulders more easily. Use a piece of underlayment doubled over itself as a sling. Roll a rock onto the the underlayment, and with two or more people, pick up the corners of the sling. As you lift the underlayment it will lift the rock and/or give you a way of sliding the rock around. Make sure your sling is wide enough so that the rock or boulder won’t roll out!

Always use proper “heavy-lifting” practices – lift with your legs and not your back and wear proper lifting gear.

Once all your vertical rock walls and Fish Condos are complete, you’re now ready to add pea gravel to the horizontal surfaces.

When building a water garden pond, we recommend using mostly 3/8″ pea gravel as the gravel layer instead of the 2″ – 8″river rock that is used in the stream and perimeter of the pond. Simply put, there are much less void spaces in pea gravel that can trap debris. A layer of river rock will have large voids between the individual stones that will trap debris – and make it much harder for you to clean and keep clean. Pea gravel has much smaller voids – and thus debris tends to settle on top of the pea gravel layer instead of down in it. This makes for much easier cleaning. A few river rocks may be placed in the pea gravel layer for cosmetic purposes.

Here’s a tip on installing pea gravel. Place the pea gravel in ordinary plastic plant pots that have holes in the bottom. Pre-rinse the pea gravel by running clean water through the pot until the water running out of the pot’s holes is clear. Now you’ll have relatively clean pea gravel inside a plant pot. The plant pot will then double as an easy way for you to pour it onto the horizontal surfaces of your water garden pond.

If you chose to purchase an Underwater Light Kit with your Custom Water Garden Pond Kit, now is the time to install the light fixtures. HydroStone™ Lights simply sit directly on the horizontal surfaces, while HydroLights™ and LED HydroLights™ get tucked into your submerged rock walls. Make sure to leave enough wire coiled up behind the light fixture so that you may lift it out of the water to change the bulb! Run the remaining wire out of the pond and connect it to your low voltage transformer.

With your submerged rock retaining walls, fish condos, pea gravel, and underwater lights installed – you can now add your aquatic plants.

Since a water garden pond contains pea gravel – you’ll be planting your aquatic plants directly into the pea gravel. Remove the plant from its pot and rinse off the majority of the plant’s mud and soil from the roots. Part the pea gravel where you want a plant. Spread the plant’s roots out onto the liner. Push the gravel back over the plant roots and you’re done!

Make sure you plant lilies on the lily shelf and marginal plants on the marginal shelf. You can now begin filling your pond!


While the pond is filling with water – use this time to attach the liner to the Hydro Vortex™ waterfall filter. First, pull back the liner from overlapping the filter. Using the Purple PVC Primer included with your pond kit, clean the entire flat “U” shape face of the Hydro Vortex™ waterfall filter.

Place the liner back up and over the filter’s face – smooth out any wrinkles. Place the filter’s Liner Gasket Flange (flat “U” shaped plastic piece with screw holes in it) up to the face of the filter with the liner in between. Poke a screwdriver or awl through the upper corners of the Liner Gasket Flange and matching screw holes of the Hydro Vortex™ Filter. The liner will be pierced in the middle. Leave the screw drivers or awls in place. They will be used to temporarily hold the Liner Gasket Flange to the Liner.

Clean the entire area that the Liner Gasket Flange outlines – from screwdriver to screw driver. Let it dry for 60 – 120 seconds.

Purple PVC Primer stains whatever it touches – so don’t get it on any clothes that aren’t purple – and don’t set the can down on anything you don’t want purple.

With the liner and face of the Hydro Vortex™ filter previously cleaned with the Purple PVC Primer – and the Primer dry – you’re ready to apply Silicone to the filter.

Using the 100% Silicone Sealant that came with your Hydro Vortex™ filter, apply a solid ½” thick bead of Silicone completely across the “U” shape face of the filter. Make sure the bead is unbroken and runs through the center of every screw hole on the Hydro Vortex™ Filter’s face. Remember, wherever there is a gap in the Silicone – it could become a leak! So make sure there are no gaps in the Silicone bead!

With your solid, un-broken bead of Silicone across the face and in the screw holes of the Hydro Vortex™ filter – you’re now ready to attach the liner.

Lift the Liner Gasket Flange, Liner, and Screw Drivers as one piece and insert the screw drivers through the upper most corner screw holes of the Hydro Vortex™ Waterfall Filter. Smooth out any wrinkles between the filter and the Liner Gasket Flange.

Place one Stainless Steel Washer on each Stainless Steel Screw and push it through the Liner Gasket Flange, Liner, and screw hole of the Hydro Vortex™ Filter. Place one Stainless Steel Nut without a washer on the end of the screw on the inside of the Hydro Vortex™ Filter. Do NOT tighten the screws until ALL screws are installed. You may need to slightly shift the Liner Gasket Flange to insert all the screws.


Once all the Stainless Steel Screws with Stainless Steel Washers are installed, and each screw has a Stainless Steel Nut attached on the inside of the Hydro Vortex™ Filter, you can tighten each of the screws.

With all the Stainless Steel Screws fully tightened – you may proceed with cutting the liner out of the waterfall opening.

Using a razor knife, use the Liner Gasket Flange as your guide. Cut only the inside of the waterfall opening – do not cut the liner sticking up over the filter’s corners or any other liner at this time.


With the liner cut out of the Liner Gasket Flange ONLY – smooth out the Silicone bead between the Gasket Flange, Liner, and Hydro Vortex™ Easy to Clean Waterfall Filter.

Notice the liner is un-cut outside of the Hydro Vortex™ Filter’s Liner Gasket Flange.


This allows you to see any low points in the liner that may cause a leak, and it lets you see exactly where the water line is so that you don’t accidentally cut the liner to short!

With the Liner attached to the Hydro Vortex™ Filter and the Silicone drying – it’s time to install the Stainless Steel Lever Ball Valve on the filter’s clean-out line.

Using the Purple Primer and Red Hot PVC Glue that was supplied with your pond kit, as before – attach the Lever Valve so that it is on its side. Note the water directional arrow on the valve’s body. With the valve open, the Lever should be “in-line” and parallel with the pipe and pointing in the direction of the water flow – in this case, away from the Hydro Vortex™ filter. With the valve closed, the Lever should be pointing towards the sky and be perpendicular to the pipe.

You’re now ready to begin construction of your waterfalls. The most natural looking waterfalls are those constructed using boulders. More “formal” looking waterfalls are constructed using cut stone or slate. The choice is yours. In this example, we’re using 1-man sized basalt boulders. Start with placing your “shoulder-boulders” on each side of your waterfall step – then place your waterfall boulder between the shoulders. Make sure the boulder is as level as you can get it. Use smaller boulders, pebbles, and/or river rocks as shims under your waterfall rock to hold its position. They will all get “glued” together later with the waterfall foam.

Construct you waterfalls from the bottom-up. In other words, start from you lowest stair step, then build each fall on top of the other.

Use smaller boulders, pebbles, and/or river rocks as shims to hold your waterfall rocks in position until you’re ready to “foam” them all in.

Before foaming your waterfall rocks in place, hand place clean and dry river rock stones in the gaps behind, below, and in between your waterfall boulders. This will take up space to allow you to use less waterfall foam. The foam will also bind the stones, boulders, and liner all together.

With all your boulders “dry-set”, you can now lock them all in place with your waterfall foam. Using waterfall foam is like squirting whipped cream from a can – it’s fun!

Fill all voids under and behind all waterfall boulders, and any boulders in your stream that you don’t want water to run under or behind. Don’t worry if you squirt too much foam – wait until it’s dry – then simply tear off any extra that you don’t want.

!!! Don’t try to remove wet waterfall foam – you’ll only make a mess!
It’s easier to remove excess foam when it is fully dry by tearing it or peeling it off !!!

Install the stream gravel mixture. This gravel is a mixture of 3/8″-1/2″ pea gravel, 1″-2″drain rock, and 4″-8″river rock for a natural stream look.

Plant bog and marginal plants directly into the gravel mixture after rinsing off most of the soil from the roots.

Marginal plants can be planted anywhere in the stream. Bog plants should be planted behind the edge boulders so only their “feet” touch the water.

A unique feature of the HydroClean™ pond skimmer is it’s ability to be installed away from the pond for a more natural looking pond.

To disguise the skimmer’s inlet pipe – place boulders, the gravel mixture, marginal and bog plants on and around the pipe. No one will be able to see that you have a skimmer on your pond!

A unique feature of the Hydro Vortex™ filter is its top grate.

The grate does two things: Holds the Hydro FilterSilk™ biomedia in place and provides a surface to place stones to completely hide the filter. Like the HydroClean™ pond skimmer – no one will see that you have a biofilter on your pond! All anyone will see is a beautiful pond and waterfall.

Hydro Vortex™ waterfall filters completely hide from view. All you see is a clean “spring of water” emanating from decorative river rock.

The Hydro Vortex™ waterfall filter is completely invisible. No one will know you have a biofilter!

Can YOU see the filter? The Hydro Vortex™ waterfall filter hides from view and is easy to clean!

Hydro Vortex™ means:
“Beautiful Waterfalls and Clean Water”

Only cut the excess liner AFTER the pond is full and the pump is running! Leave 6″-8″ of liner everywhere around the pond and stream. Simply roll or fold the extra liner under itself and cover it with the gravel mixture.

Leaving this extra liner will give you some security if the ground shifts or settles over time. A big mistake many pond builders make is cutting the liner too short – then at some point in the future when the ground shifts or settles – a leak is created! If you have extra liner – all you have to do to fix the leak is unroll the liner above the leak point and compact soil behind the liner. If you don’t have extra liner – you have a much bigger job of fixing the leak!

Can you see the HydroClean™ pond skimmer on this pond? It’s 10′ away behind some landscaping. No other pond skimmer attaches to pipe for remote installation.

The skimmer and the skimmer inlet pipe are completely hidden from view. This makes for a much more natural looking water garden pond.

You just learned how to build a water garden pond! You used state-of-the-art filtration that becomes invisible!

Don’t hesitate to call or email us with any questions your help you may need. We’re here to serve you.

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30 Beautiful Backyard Ponds And Water Garden Ideas

Giving life to your backyard can be achieved by doing a lot of things such as planting a lot of trees and plants and arranging it to look as natural as possible.
But there’s one thing that will most definitely give life to your backyard both in terms of looks and sound. And that, of course, is a pond or a nice fountain.
The water from the fountain or pond will bring your backyard or garden to life by adding a really natural and fresh look to it, as well as the sound that it will produce from the water falling down the rocks from your fountain.

Concerning Backyards, a lot of things are available in current market that can assure the necessary attraction & comfort for your backyard. You might consider planting multiple flower plants like amaryllis bulbs, placing amazing furniture, installing multi colored sheets purchased from top acrylic sheets suppliers in town.

For that reason, we have made this collection of 30 beautiful backyard ponds and water garden ideas with which we hope to supply you with a lot of creative ideas and hopefully spark a little wish in your mind to create something similar in your own backyard. Also, keep in mind that you’ll need a proper water filtration system for your pond and water garden plans.

Tags: backyard, gardens&terrace, ideas, outdoors design, water garden

Lack of space cannot stop you from having a water garden. Find out 13 DIY Container Water Garden Ideas with tutorials for inspiration.

These container water pond ideas can inspire you to create a miniature water garden in the container.

1. Pond in a Pot

Use large tubs or containers to create a pond in a pot with the help of this DIY tutorial.

2. Outdoor Pond

Select any container that can hold water to build your container pond. This informative article also explains the variety of aquatic plants you can grow in detail.

3. DIY Water Garden

Try this DIY tutorial here to make an easy to set up, versatile container water garden.

4. Container Water Garden

This article at the Apartment Therapy provides crucial tips for starting a water garden in a container.

5. Wine Barrel Pond

Learn how to turn a wine barrel into the goldfish pond. You can prevent leakage by lining the barrel with the plastic sheet. Check out the video.

6. Patio Pond

Install this lightweight, durable fiberglass-resin aquascape patio pond on your patio, terrace, balcony, or porch. Click here for the video tutorial.

7. Aquatic Plants For Container

Create a water garden with the aquatic plants you love. Take the help of this article here.

8. Mini Water Garden

Lack of space cannot stop you from having a container water garden. Try this mini water garden tutorial.

9. DIY Aquatic Pot

Plant a low maintenance container full of water plants, taking help of this informative article available at the University of California extension.

10. Decorative Terracotta Fountain

Make this decorative terracotta fountain for yourself. Watch the video tutorial here.

11. Stock Tank Container Pond

This container pond built in the stock tank is enormous. If lack of space is not the problem, get more info about it here.

12. Decorative Container Water Garden

To replicate this idea of container water garden for yourself, click here.

13. Beautiful Container Pond

The addition of this beautiful container water pond will impart an aesthetic look into your small garden. Visit Midwest Living to learn more about this project.

Also Read: 17 DIY Indoor Water Garden Projects

Pond And Water Gardens – Information And Plants For Small Water Gardens

Few garden concepts provide the combination of soothing sound, color, texture and even wildlife habitat that a water garden can achieve. Water gardens may be large hardscape features or simple container water gardens. With a few instructional basics, most gardeners can make DIY water gardens. The do-it -yourselfer has a wide range of options, from pond and water gardens to easy birdbath or container features.

Designing a Backyard Water Garden

There are several factors to consider when designing a backyard water garden. The size of your yard or gardening space, amount of money you wish to spend, and maintenance level are all important considerations.

Building a DIY water garden may also require a professional landscaping crew if you choose something beyond the scope of your abilities. For the apartment or condominium dweller, simple container gardens are space savers, inexpensive and easy to assemble. Other considerations are visibility, light exposure and soil composition.

DIY Water Gardens

One or two people can install a pond and water garden. The process starts with a lot of digging. Line out the space and dig it to the depth you require. Remember, shallow ponds tend to cloud up and have algae problems.

Line the space with thick plastic. The easiest method is to use a pre-formed liner to line the bottom of the water feature. Use rocks at the edges to hold down the plastic and disguise the edges.

You will also need to install a pump and hose system, which are found at gardening centers. Fill the pond and let it sit for a couple of days to evaporate chlorine from the water.

Then choose and install plants. Choose plants that suit the light levels of your site. Fish installation should wait until the water garden has naturalized.

Container Water Gardens

Gardeners with minimal space or who don’t want a lot of maintenance can still have a water garden. Use containers and purchase pump systems to create container water gardens. These have minimal upkeep and still produce the soothing sounds and fluid display of a larger feature.

Choose a container that is water tight and large enough to accommodate the plants you wish to install. You can even implement fish in container water gardens as long as there is a pump to oxygenate the water.

Plants for Small Water Gardens

Plants help balance the composition of the water, provide cover for fish and oxygenate the water feature. Check the light level needs of the plants you choose and make a plan before you clog the garden with too many plants. Pond plants should cover no more than 2/3 of the surface. If you are buying immature plants, make sure there will be room for them once they mature.

You can plant edge plants such as rush, taro, sweet flag and many other plants.

Surface plants for water gardens, such as water lilies, must have their roots submerged but the leaves and flowers float above the surface.

Floating plants just drift on the surface and include water lettuce and parrot’s feather.

Still other water plants need to be completely submerged. These are suitable for ponds of at least 2 feet in depth. Examples of these are Cambomda and jungle vall.

Another factor to consider is hardiness. Many lilies and lotuses are frost tender and will need to be removed before winter temperatures arrive. In some zones, plants for water gardens are invasive, like cattails, so it is best to check with your county extension to ensure your choices do not compete with natural species.

NOTE: The use of native plants in a home water garden (referred to as wild harvesting) can be risky if you have fish in your pond, as most natural water features are host to a plethora of parasites. Any plants taken from a natural water source should be quarantined overnight in a strong solution of potassium permanganate to kill any parasites prior to introducing them into your pond. That being said, it is always best to obtain water garden plants from a reputable nursery.

Category / Water Gardening Blog / General Water Gardening / Water Gardening Blog

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Steps for Building a Pond

  1. The first step to consider is to decide what type of pond you want to build. You should consider what type of aquatic life you want in the pond. Is it going to be a home for goldfish or koi? Or is your main concern for the aquatic plants? Perhaps you only want the pond for the sound of a waterfall. Each type of pond will need to be planned for its specific features. Keep in mind that the most common mistake water gardeners say they made when building their first pond was making it too small. A small pond limits the number of fish and plants you can add.
    A koi pond is different from a water garden because koi limit the amount of plant life available to be grown. Simply put: koi eat some plants. A koi pond should also be larger because koi get quite large despite the size of the pond, it is recommended that a koi pond be no less than 1000 gallons in volume, the bigger the better. It also needs to have an area of the pond at least 3 feet deep, 4 – 5 may be better.
    A water garden typically contains both goldfish and a variety of aquatic plants. Water gardens in moderate climates usually need for an area of the pond to be at least 2 feet deep. Colder climates require a depth to provide at least 12″ to 16″ of water below the freeze zone.
    This topic has a page of its own.
  2. The second step in establishing a new pond is to select the proper location.
    Most ponds will be enjoyed more if they are installed close to the home. Select an area where you can see the pond year round. Ponds are great attracters of wildlife including birds and butterflies. Position the pond where runoff from rain will not flow into the pond. This may carry fertilizers, chemicals, and organic debris into the pond. It may be necessary to alter the terrain to accommodate this. Avoid placing a pond too close to trees. Falling leaves and other debris will need to be removed from the pond. You will want to place your pond where it will receive at least 4 to 6 hours of direct sun if you want to grow water lilies. Shade is fine for fish-only ponds. Water circulation is not essential but the use of a pump will allow you to keep more fish, it will keep your plants healthier. A pump is required to run a filter, fountain, or waterfall. The sound of running water adds greatly to the enjoyment of the pond. Most ponds will benefit from the use of a biological filter. This is essential if you are keeping koi or more than a few goldfish. We have several types of biological filters to choose from.
  3. Now you need to determine the size of your pond or water garden.
    The best way to do this is to use a rope or water hose and lay out the shape on the ground. A pond for goldfish or water lilies need be only about 2 feet deep for zones 5 or greater. Ponds built in colder areas may need more depth to keep the pond from freezing solid. Ponds built for koi should be close to three feet or deeper to allow these larger fish enough space. The biggest mistake that most people make is building the pond or water garden too small. A larger pond is more stable and easier to maintain. Keep in mind that a finished pond or water garden will be about 30% smaller than you visualize it. After you have laid out the shape, measure the maximum length and width. Add the depth twice to these measurements plus a foot or two for overlap and this will give you the pond liner size.
  4. Dig the pond or water garden to the desired shape.
    If keeping plants dig a shelf around the perimeter of the pond about one foot deep and one or more feet wide. Dig the remainder of the pond with a slight slope to the end opposite the waterfall if one is included in the design

  1. Position any external pond filters and/or pond skimmers and level these in their proper location.
    Pond skimmers should be buried to the proper level beside the pond. A ditch should be dug for the plumbing from the pond to the waterfall or external pond filter. If a pond skimmer is being used, dig a ditch to the external pond pump and from the pump to the external pond filter or waterfall. If you are using a submersible pump in the pond skimmer then the ditch will be from the skimmer to the external pond filter or waterfall.
  2. Line the pond or water garden excavation with Pond Underlayment.
    This can be cut with scissors or a utility knife. You may want to tape any small pieces together to keep them from moving when the pond liner is placed.
  3. Place the Rubber Pond Liner into the excavation and unfold.
    Position the liner evenly in the pond. Try to minimize folds and wrinkles but some will be necessary. After the water is added the folds should flatten out.
  4. Pond waterfalls and streams can be excavated now. An external pond filter or waterfall tank can be positioned to create the first waterfall. This can be placed to spill directly into the pond in which case the pond liner is held against the pond filter until you are able to stack stone from the pond shelf up against the pond filter to create a waterfall. If a small pool or stream is desired then excavate this several inches deep and to the desired size and shape. Position the underlayment and pond liner allowing extra material to overlap several inches into the pond. Plumbing from the pump can be brought over into the stream or pool or again if using an external pond filter this will be the start of the waterfall. Streams should be dug wider than the finished size to make room for stone that will be placed into the stream for the edging. Stone can be secured to the liner with mortar or expandable waterfall foam. This will hold back the water allowing it to spill over the stone creating the waterfall.
  5. Connect the pond liner to the skimmer, if one is being used, following the manufacturers directions. Place the pipe or tubing in place leaving a few inches extra to make your connections later.
  6. Place the stone or other coping around the edge of the pond or water garden.
    Arrange the coping stone around the edge of the pond and fold the pond liner up behind the stone to slightly above the water level. It is usually not necessary to mortar the stone into place if it is of sufficient size to be stable. If using small stone or if people will be walking around the edge then mortaring the stone for stability may be required. Back fill with soil to hold the pond liner against the stone. Fill the pond with water to within a few inches from the top and then make corrections if necessary to ensure that the pond is level. As the pond is filling remove wrinkles and make folds as necessary.
  7. Other methods of edging the pond or water garden.
    For most installations having a necklace of stone around the pond or water garden does not create a natural appearance. If your goal is to make your pond blend into the landscape in a natural setting then you will want to consider other methods of edging the pond. Besides the traditional method of edging with a thin stone on the edge overlapping the pond you can also use one or more layers of stone built up from the shelf. This provides a more natural appearance and will allow the water to fluctuate without seeing the liner. You can also create a cobblestone beach edging by placing a large stone at the inside of a large shallow shelf and filling the area with gravel and cobbles. You can naturalize this area by planting shallow water plants. This will create a more natural edge with plants partly in and partly out of the water. You can plant bare root plants directly into the gravel or place the plant with some soil still attached into the gravel. This will help the plant to establish quicker.
  8. Add dechlorinator to the pond to remove any chlorine or chloramines.
  9. Add aquatic plants as soon as possible after constructing the pond or water garden. Many aquatic plants are great at using up the nutrients that would otherwise feed the algae. Some of the most effective plants include Anacharis, Water Hyacinth, Parrot’s Feather, and Bacopa. Water lilies and other plants with surface leaves can be added to provide shade to approximately 66% of the surface area if in full sun. If less than full sun then less coverage is acceptable.
    Begin regular use of a packaged bacteria to seed the pond filter and help maintain a clean and healthy pond. Ideally, fish should be added a few at a time over several weeks to allow the bacteria to establish in your water garden.


Constructing the sides

Take the time to arrange the rocks in pleasing combinations.

There’s something soothing about the scent, sound and sight of water, something that washes away stress and strain. While you can’t stop by the French Riviera or Walden Pond after a hectic day of work, you can have a private oasis waiting for you at home, complete with gurgling water and colorful fish.

In this story, we’ll walk you through the basic steps for building one of our favorite water garden ideas, a backyard pond. Roll up your sleeves—it’s mostly muscle work. There’s no need for precise measurements, no unforgiving blueprint to follow, and no deadlines. Working like beavers, you and anyone else with a strong back could probably finish a large pond in a couple of weekends. But that would take the fun out of it. Give yourself plenty of time and creating a pond will be almost as relaxing as sitting beside it.

The basic pond consists of a good-quality liner, a high-efficiency pump, and lots of stone and gravel. For a little bit more money you can add the convenience of a filtration system, which will reduce your weekly maintenance chores. Larger ponds won’t cost a whole lot more; you’ve already made most of your investment in pumps and filters. We’ll show you how to build a pond waterfall with rocks here:

With water garden ideas, careful planning prevents trouble later on

Photo 1: Lay out the pond with a hose

Use a garden hose to establish approximate pond borders, adjusting and readjusting until you’re satisfied with the shape of the pond. Then dig out the pond bed, terracing both shallow and deeper areas for plants. Exposed rocks, tree roots and anything else that might puncture the liner must be removed from the hole.

Photo 2: Establish the pond borders

Set a level on a board long enough to span the hole. Make the banks level by building up low spots or cutting down high spots.

Photo 3: Check the depth

Measure the depth of the hole and plant shelves, keeping in mind that the water level will be a few inches below the banks of the pond. Fish require a section at least 18 in. deep.

Digging out a pond hole is grunt work, not an intellectual endeavor. Still, it requires some planning. Before you grab your shovel, roughly map out the shape, desired plant shelves (Photo 2), and the pump and waterfall locations. Here are some more key considerations:

  • Select a location where you can readily enjoy your pond, close to a patio or visible from a window. Don’t stick your pond in the back corner of your yard where only the squirrels will enjoy it.
  • You can locate your pond in most any area of your yard as long as it doesn’t receive runoff from rainfall. You don’t want lawn and garden chemicals washing into your pond. As a rule, the more sun the better, but don’t discount a shadier spot. Just stay away from the area inside the canopy of your trees, the “drip line. ” If you locate your pond near trees, be prepared to clean leaves from the pond more often. Most water plants prefer sun, but some can survive in shade. Choose hardier plants and fertilize more often if you select a shaded site.
  • A toddler can drown in the smallest pond, so some building codes require fences around ponds 18 in. deep and deeper. Call your local Department of Inspections, explain that you’re building a water garden (not a swimming pool) and ask what rules apply. But if you have young kids, consider installing a fence around it anyway. Be sure to choose a fence that cannot be climbed.
  • Caution: Before you dig, call your utility company or 811 and ask to have someone come out and mark your property for buried utilities. Utility companies usually won’t mark “private” lines, that is, lines added for convenience, such as a power line from a house to the garage or a gas line to an outdoor grill. Turn off the power or gas to these areas if you suspect a line is in the vicinity of your digging.
  • Oversize your pond if possible. Once you stock it with fish and plants, you’ll be surprised how much smaller it’ll look. Besides, a large pond is often easier to take care of than a small one. (Controlling algae is often easier with a large pond.) The additional expense is minimal. A 10 x 16-ft. size is a good starting point.
  • Water circulation is important, so position the pump as far as possible from the water inlet (waterfall, stream or fountain).
  • Digging even a small pond is a big job. Plan plenty of breaks or enlist the neighborhood teenagers to help you out for a day.
  • To power the pump, you’ll need an outdoor electrical outlet (Fig. A). Have a licensed electrician install a GFCI-protected outlet if you’re not comfortable with wiring.

How to build a pond waterfall with rocks: Pond-building tips

  1. Use the excavated dirt to berm up around your pond or build up your waterfall area. It will save you the hassle of having it hauled away or running it around your yard in a wheelbarrow.
  2. Before you start digging, lay on the ground the water circulation pipe that goes from the pump to the waterfall. Throw the excavated soil on top of it. This will save you the work of digging a trench to bury the pipe.
  3. Use a tablet-style fertilizer pressed into the soil around your nearby landscape plantings so the nutrients don’t leach into the water.

Choose a flexible liner

Photo 4: Line the hole

Line the pond bed with a 1/2-in. layer of newspapers. The newspaper helps prevent liner punctures and will eventually decompose and form a clay-like layer. You can also use the special pond underlayment that’s available at your pond supply dealer.

Photo 5: Spread the rubber liner

Lay in the liner so it loosely conforms to the contours of the hole. Don’t worry about folds and ripples; they’ll flatten out when you add water. Put rocks on one side to hold the liner in place while you adjust the other. Any excess material can be trimmed off with scissors or a utility knife after the pond is full of water and encircled with rocks.

Photo 6: Place the rocks and the pump

Line the pond sides with boulders and set in the pump container. Wash down the rocks after they’re in place and then empty the pond with your pump. For large rocks, lay a scrap piece of liner slightly smaller than the rock on top of the pond liner before positioning the rock. This helps prevent punctures.

We’re using a flexible liner made of a synthetic rubber called EPDM (ethylene propylene diene monomer). The liner is economical, durable and easy to install. You can create almost any shape and it adapts well to most site conditions.

Flexible plastic liners are also available. They’re made of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and HDPE (high-density polyethylenes). These liners aren’t as flexible as rubber liners. Plastic liners are often used on large holding ponds when economy is a concern and flexibility is not. The preformed liners found at many home and garden centers are less desirable. These are essentially large plastic or fiberglass tubs. At first glance, these seem easier to install, but this usually isn’t the case. Preformed liners can be difficult to handle and level and, when lined with rocks and boulders, aren’t as forgiving as flexible ones.

Guidelines for purchasing a liner

  • Most professionals use a 45-mil EPDM liner. (A mil is a thousandth of an inch.) It’s strong, yet flexible enough to handle easily (Photo 5).
  • If you plan to have fish, make sure your liner is stamped “fish-safe. ” Roofers often use a type of EPDM that’s been treated with chemicals that can harm fish.
  • Purchase your liner in one single sheet, large enough to cover the entire pond bottom and sides. Liners are commonly cut and sold from 100-ft. rolls with 10- to 20-ft. widths; you can custom-order liners up to 45 ft. wide. Liners can be spliced if necessary, but it involves more work and provides an opportunity for a leak. If your waterfall or stream requires extra length, use a separate piece of liner. You don’t need to glue the two liners together as long as the stream or waterfall liner is higher than the water level of the pond.
  • Calculate the dimensions of the liner by measuring the maximum length and the maximum width of your pond, then add three times the depth measurement to each dimension. Better a bit big than a bit small.

Figure A: Pond Features

This basic pond layout, with sloping, stair-stepped sides and a pump and waterfall at opposite ends, can be adapted to larger or smaller ponds.

Make your pond hospitable to plants and fish

Pond dweller

Plants and fish work together to keep the pond ecosystem healthy

A pond is just a hole filled with water. Add plants and it becomes a water garden. Add fish and your pond comes alive. You’ve got an entire aquatic ecosystem right in your back yard. Here are a few things to keep in mind when planning for plants and fish.

  • Before adding plants or fish to your newly filled pond, wait a week for the chemicals in the tap water to neutralize. To accelerate the process, you can add a dechlorinator to the water. Consult your water garden supplier for more info on this chemical.
  • Anchor plants in pots or baskets designed for aquatic plants. A third option is to place the roots of each plant in “root balls, ” a mix of gravel and soil in nylon stockings tied with soldering wire (Fig. A). Root balls are cheaper than pots or baskets and are easier to move. They also keep fish from disturbing the soil. Mistake: Don’t use standard potting soil in your pond. The high nutrient content encourages algae growth. Ordinary garden soil is just fine.
  • If you plan to stock your pond with fish, part of it must be at least 18 in. deep.
  • If you plan to leave your fish in year-round, keep a spot open in the pond by running an aerator or fountain all winter. If your climate is so cold that the pond still freezes, purchase a floating heater. Keeping your pond open provides needed oxygen for the fish and allows gases to escape.
  • For convenience, leave hardy water plants in all winter. Bring tropicals or water plants from warmer plant zones inside for the winter.
  • Fish, like teenagers, need their space. One inch of fish for every square foot of pond surface is a good rule of thumb. For example, a 4-in. fish needs 4 sq. ft. of pond surface.
  • Hardy fish—goldfish for example— don’t require much attention. You don’t even need to feed them once they’re established, as long as your pond isn’t overstocked. Hardy ones can survive by eating insects and the plant life in your pond. They actually help keep your pond clean. If you plan to stock your pond with more exotic species, you’ll have to do more to ensure their survival. Look in a library or bookstore for books about tropical fish, home aquariums and fish ponds.

Keep your pond healthy—make water fall

It’s important for water to circulate and aerate throughout the pond. Buying an inexpensive fountain head and connecting it to the end of the water circulation pipe is the easiest way to accomplish this.

The most dramatic way to circulate and aerate water in your pond is to construct a waterfall and stream. Install a stream bed liner the same way as for your pond. Begin by digging a holding pool. The pool keeps water from spraying out of the circulation pipe and allows it to spill lazily into the pond. Next, dig the course for the water to flow in. Two feet wide is a good dimension. Lay the liner in place, overlapping the pond liner by at least 6 in.

Creating an attractive water flow will take some trial-and- error adjustments of the rocks. But this is the fun part. Don’t mortar your rocks in place. The mortar looks unnatural and makes it difficult to move rocks around to get the desired effect.

To control water’s frustrating tendency to flow invisibly under or between rocks instead of pleasantly over them, fill hidden passages with expanding foam sealant. It’s available at hardware stores. Pond suppliers also sell a special black-colored expanding foam that becomes almost invisible.

Choosing a 24-hour-per-day pump

Buy a pump that’ll turn over the pond’s entire volume once per hour. To size your pump, calculate the approximate volume in your pond: Multiply the length (ft.) x the width (ft.) x the average depth (ft.) and multiply by the conversion factor of 7.48. Also note the height and distance the pump needs to move the water between the pump and the water inlet. With these figures in hand, consult your pump supplier for the pump size and circulation pipe diameter for your pond.

Once you’ve determined the pump size, decide whether to buy a high- or low-efficiency pump. High-efficiency pumps cost more but last longer and are less expensive to run. Since your pond pump will run 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the lower utility bills will soon make up for the higher price tag.

Place your pump in a pump container to keep it from clogging with leaves or debris. Either buy one from your pond dealer, install the pump in a skimmer container, or make one from a sturdy garbage can peppered with 1/4-in. holes (Photo 6). Don’t be shy about drilling holes. The more water you allow through the can, the better.

Simplify Maintenance with a Skimmer and Filter

Keeping your pond clean isn’t difficult; once you get it down it’ll be as routine as taking a bath. Your pond has two sources of pollution: debris that falls or blows into the water and algae. Pick up leaves and other windblown debris with a fine-mesh net. The type used for skimming swimming pools works great. Skim daily to prevent the material from sinking to the bottom, decomposing and creating sludge.

An easier but more expensive way to clean out this debris is with an automatic skimmer system, kind of a dishwasher for your pond. Once you have one, you can’t imagine pond life without it. A skimmer system works off the inflow of your pump. Water is drawn through a tub containing a mesh bag that collects leaves, paper and other debris. The system bags it for you—all you have to do is empty the bag about once a week. The frequency will depend on the time of year, the amount of wind and the number of trees in your area. It’s easiest to install a skimmer system w h e n y o u build your pond. If you decide to add it later, you’ll have to drain your pond, dig a hole and readjust the liner.

The second threat to a clean pond is algae, microscopic plants that’ll turn your pond green. A small amount of algae is beneficial, but large amounts can have your pond looking like the swamp monster scene from Scooby-Doo.

Keep algae at bay by limiting nutrients and sunlight. Here are some tips to do this:

  • Shade the surface of the pond with water plants such as lilies. A good rule of thumb is to cover one-third of the surface with plants.
  • Install a variety of plants. Plants consume nutrients from fish waste and decomposing matter in your pond, stealing the food algae need to live.
  • Keep debris out of the water. As debris decomposes, it releases nutrients into the water.
  • Don’t overstock your pond with fish. Too many fish will release more nutrients than the plants and bacteria can consume, leaving food for algae.
  • Don’t overfeed your fish. Food not consumed by the fish provides nutrients for algae.
  • As a further measure, biological and mechanical filters are available from your pond supplier. They take a lot of guesswork out of keeping a balanced, clean and clear pond.

Once you establish a biological balance in your pond, maintenance is minimal. A thorough annual cleaning (draining and rinsing out the pond) and periodic maintenance (keeping debris out) are all that’s required.

Required Tools for this Project

Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.

  • 4-in-1 screwdriver
  • Cordless drill
  • Drill bit set
  • Level
  • Spade
  • Tape measure
  • Utility knife
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Wire stripper/cutter

Garden hose

Required Materials for this Project

Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.

  • Biological/mechanical filter (optional)
  • Boulders
  • EPDM pond liner
  • Expanding foam
  • Flexible black plastic pipe
  • Gravel
  • Pond underlayment
  • Pump container
  • Rocks
  • Skimmer and filter system (optional)
  • Submersible pump

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