The home will take on new significance in the new millennium, as more and more families telecommute, put their emphasis back on the family, and design their homes as a place where the focus is on relaxation.

Creating an outdoor environment that is conducive to kicking back and relaxing often includes a water feature. Water features, ponds, and water gardens have become increasingly popular in the landscape. They add a feeling of serenity like nothing else does.

My landscape business has seen a complete transition in the past three years, from 50% to a 95% focus on ponds. (The other five percent continues to be irrigation, which provides me with a change of pace.) The potential demand for ponds is incredible, as they appeal to a wide range of people. My roster of customers includes high-tech executives, senior citizens, couples with children, and single men and women.

Building a pond or water garden is relatively simple, if you have the knowledge and experience behind you. Although for a newcomer getting into the business, it is definitely not a matter of buying a few parts, adding water and then a pond is born. I worked with an experienced builder for over a year to learn the ins and outs of building ponds. From there, over the years, like all landscape contractors, you continue to learn, perfect and improve your skills and knowledge.

Also, my goal is not just to build a pond for a customer, but to get the maintenance, and future add-ons, as well.

All of my ponds are custom built. Initially, I speak with the customer on the telephone. Most customers have a specific size in mind, and generally request a ball-park estimate. Most of the liner ponds I work with range in price from $6,000-$8,000. The size and type of rock desired determines the final price. I always provide the customer with a dig allowance, which includes approximately six man-days. Anything additional is an extra charge. After the digging is complete, there are never any extra charges, unless there is a change order directed by the customer. It is critical to detail this in the contract, to protect both you and your customer.

Building A Pond

All of the ponds and water gardens that I build follow the same basic formula. The key component in the success of a pond business is purchasing equipment that is specifically designed to be used for ponds. Building a pond can be accomplished by following these easy steps:

Dig a hole, 2 6" deep on the waterfall side, sloping to 3 deep. (The depth is the limit allowed on my C-27 license.) All sides are vertical with no steps, ledges, etc. I try to keep the shape smooth, since any irregular shapes will create dead water spaces.

Install 4" piping for the bottom drain. The bottom drain should be located in the absolute deepest portion of the pond. Have the entire pond slope to the bottom drain and glue the lower half of the bottom drain to the pipe.

Set the filter. I use a gravity flow filter, so installing it at the proper height is critical. The filter is installed 1"-3" above your pre-determined maximum water level. It filters all of the dirty pond water before it enters the pump. This eliminates many problems incurred when using your pump first in line. I avoid using any kind of pressurized system in my new installations. You can then connect the pipe to the filter. I also install a 4" knife valve about 1 out from the filter.

This allows for shutting off the water to the filter for regular maintenance.

Install old carpet over the entire pond bottom. Any carpet store will be glad to provide you with carpet for free. Always check for tacks and nails that might be in the carpet. Cut the carpet out around the bottom drain.

Install the liner, which should be fish-safe and 45 mil. Position the liner evenly in the pond, assuring overlap on all sides. Now kick the liner into position. The shape of the pond will dictate where the folds will be located. You will notice that the liner has folds in it already. Work your folds from there. Do not try to fight with the liner it is critical to go with the natural folds. I try to get all of the wrinkles out of the bottom before I install the top half of the bottom drain.

The next step is to install the top half of the bottom drain. Cut a hole about half the size of the drain, line up the screw holes, apply caulk, then insert all screws almost tight. Trim the excess liner and secure the screws. Always follow the directions for the bottom drain, as each manufacturer builds theirs a bit differently.

Start filling the pond with water, pulling out all wrinkles as it fills. Make all the folds vertical, as the weight of the water will push them flat against the pond wall. Never place any rocks into the pond, as it will just create a mess. In addition, your ponds will be wrinkle free, with nice folds.

Connect 2" PVC Sch40 pipe from the filter to a 2" check valve (flap type only) below water level. Connect the check valve to the pump assembly, using 2" pipe.

Use pumps that are designed for 24-hour-a-day pond use. They are low-amp, high-volume pumps. Dry pumps, which run outside of the pond, are recommended. I never use pumps that are located in the water, since clogging is always a problem, as is maintenance. A leaf trap should be installed directly in front of the pump.


I always include an ultraviolet sterilizer when I build a pond. I never build a pond without sterilizers. They eliminate green water by killing algae. This will cause algae to clump together, and the filter can remove it. The only maintenance that is required is to change the UV bulb every 12 months.

Install correct size pipe (this depends on the gph put out by the pump) to waterfall locations and pressure test the systems.

Install rock around the edge to hide the liner. Build the waterfall and connect the piping. Adjust waterfall rock to achieve the desired look.


Landscaping is a crucial element in designing the pond. This is the final step in the completion of your pond. Once the pond is working properly, the landscaping around the pond will be like a frame around a picture, setting it off like a work of art.

Add dechlorinator, following the manufacturers directions. Add dry bacteria, following the manufacturers directions.

Now its time to add the fish. If the customer wants many fish, add 4-5 every two weeks. This allows ample time to let the pond and filter gradually build with beneficial bacteria.

The pond business has become a profitable, as well as enjoyable, part of my business. Like landscaping, build ponds to what the customers want and through referrals, you can build a successful pond business. With a little knowledge and experience, and a love for ponds, you can look forward to years of success as ponds grow in popularity in the new millenium.

Nov-Dec 2000