After establishing a budget, you can pick the proper components. Choose either a pre-packaged kit or customized kit. Pre-packaged kits may be the best choice to assure that there are no missing pieces and that all the filters are compatible. Few tools are needed, but a wheelbarrow is a necessity to haul the rocks around.
Photo courtesy of Pond Supplies of America

In the past four years, this segment of the industry has grown faster than any other, (although landscape lighting is a close second). If you havent caught on to this latest wave, heres your chance. And, the good news is, though you need some knowledge and tools, the skill level required to be proficient is easily acquired.

The key to succeeding and prospering with water features is to follow a step-by-step plan for construction. So if you are planning to include a water garden, a koi pond or a combination of both, this article will explain the techniques and equipment that you will need to get started.

The main components needed to begin are the container to hold the water, the pump and plumbing to circulate the water, and the filters to clean the water from toxins and debris.

The liner typically recommended for this application is designed to be fish-safe, flexible, and puncture-resistant, even when cold. A fabric underlay material installed in the hole first will help prevent punctures in the liner and allow the organic gases to escape from under the liner. This liner should be tough enough to resist damage from the rock loading recommended to cover and anchor the liner.

The pump is the heart of the filter system. It pulls water from surface skimmers and bottom drains and sends the water through the biological filter to the waterfall. Bottom drains are recommended anytime optimal water quality is desired or for heavy fish loads (such as large koi) or for deep ponds. The splashing water from a waterfall or stream adds oxygen to the pond for use by the fish and other pond inhabitants in a living ecosystem.

The skimmer is a mechanical filter that should be fish-safe in design. It removes large debris from the pond, trapping it in a net bag for easy removal, eliminating most of the day-to-day maintenance chores. The biological filter has a material that allows bacteria to grow in order to consume ammonia, nitrite and other toxic chemicals from the water, making the water crystal clear and keeping algae under control. Both a skimmer and a biological filter are considered essential to install a modern, carefree water garden or koi pond that will function for many years, with only a few minutes needed each week for maintenance.

Boulders and gravel in the water garden pond serve several purposes and add a special beauty and naturalness. They cover the sidewalls and give handholds for people and animals to get out of the pond without damaging the liner. A thin layer of gravel on the flat areas of the liner protect it while hiding the liner and, very importantly, give a large surface area for more bacteria to grow and colonize. The skimmer will easily prevent most debris from collecting between the stones, even in wooded areas.

Live material like plants, animals and friendly bacteria work together to create the functioning ecosystem. More plants and fewer animals make a water garden that is easier to maintain.

Following is a sequential plan for constructing water features that will allow you to avoid problems and be more creative with your designs.

It is usually best to locate a pond near the house, patio, deck or other living areas for best views and interaction with the fish and waterfalls. If possible, locate at least part of the pond to receive two or more hours of direct sunlight, for better plant growth. Trees are not a problem when using skimmers designed for pond use, but avoid building under evergreen trees.

Use a rope, garden hose or spray paint to define the shoreline and waterfalls location. View the future pond site from the rooms in the house, and from outdoor areas like patios, decks and benches.

In most parts of the country, flexible PVC pipe can be used. Lay the pipe next to the hole so that as you dig the hole, the dirt can be used to cover the pipe connecting the skimmer to the biological filter.

The majority of water gardens can be dug without mechanical help. Larger and deeper koi ponds may need a machine to speed up the excavating of the deep vertical sidewalls. Streams have two shapes at the same time. A canyon shape with sidewalls and a stair step shape for waterfalls. Excavate a trench in the pond bottom for the bottom drainpipe, if one is being installed. When creating a berm, save and use the soil from the hole. Use it to make a backdrop for the pond so it will look more natural in the landscape. Create a planted area behind the pond and around the filter to give it the proper setting, and choose plants that will attract butterflies, birds and other wildlife.

Make a natural edge to the pond by digging a shelf of varying width and depth. Place various sizes of rocks, boulders and gravel to create a variety of planting pockets.

After excavation, cover all areas of the hole with a cushioning material to protect the liner.

Follow the instructions for each filters proper height and distance from the pond. Be sure to make all connections secure and let the glue dry for the specified time before turning the system on. Be sure to follow local electrical codes, using ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) equipment and underground conduit. It is suggested to install two 20-amp service lines from within the home in order to control your pond. (At left) One line will service your waterfall and filter pump(s), and a second line will supply a transformer(s) for underwater lighting and possibly a deicer in winter.

Rocks for the waterfalls should be foamed into place using expandable foam sealant. Use large stones to build retaining walls in the pond on all the vertical surfaces.

Underwater lights can create stunning, romantic images and make the pond safer for visitors at night. They are easy to install when tucked into the rocks and pointed away from the viewer. Leave enough cord coiled up at the light fixture to be able to lift the light out of the water to replace a burned out bulb. Use 12V lighting for safety.

Rinse all dirt down to the pond bottom and use a pump to remove the dirty water prior to the final filling of the pond.

The liner will have wrinkles that when folded over may allow water to seep out at the pond edge. Check to see that all of the liner edges before final trim are about 12 inches above the water level. Look for splashes from the waterfall that may be landing outside the pond or stream. Never cut the liner closer than about six inches to the waters edge until the pond is completely filled and running. After the pond is full, trim the liner to within six to 12 inches above the water level. Hide the liner edge by folding it behind rocks or mulch. Leave as much excess liner as possible to allow for settling.

Plant wetland plants in the gravel of the pond where the water temperature is proper for each kind of plant. Be sure the water is free of chlorine and is the proper temperature for the fish being added. Add nitrifier starter bacteria as soon as the pond is filled and de-chlorinated. Add regular bacteria to the biological filter and the pond when the fish are added, due to the fact that fish release ammonia into the water as they breathe. The bacteria that consume the ammonia release nitrite that can also build up to toxic levels. Once there are enough bacteria for the number of fish in the pond, the levels of ammonia and nitrite will be zero on the test kits. All fish and plant care in the pond is done at specific water temperatures, not on a calendar basis; so make sure to place a thermometer somewhere for easy retrieval.

Your customer can now sit back and relax while he watches and listens to the natural music from his beautifully landscaped waterscape.

Now is the time to tap into this segment of the market and reap the rewards.

Editors Note: We wish to thank Greg Wittstock, president of Aquascape Designs. Inc., and Gary Wittstock, president of Pond Supplies of America, for their help in creating this article.