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Installing a Garden Pond

Selecting a location     - Top

When selecting a location for your garden pond, be sure to choose a spot that doesn’t get a lot of run off when it rains. Pay special attention to the amount of sunlight that area gets. Your aquatic plants will thank you for this later. Trees can be an important part of the water feature. The closer the pond is to a tree, the more maintenance the garden pond will require. Select an area that is visible from entertainment areas of your house. Make sure a garden pond will look natural in the area you have chosen. For help on choosing an area visit our Ponds: Where to Start page in our reference section.

Sizing the water feature     - Top

Once you have chosen an area, you will need to size the garden pond. When sizing the garden pond, it’s easier and less expensive to make a larger pond now than to make a smaller pond and try to enlarge it later. Also, larger bodies of water require less maintenance.

Use a long garden hose to outline where the edges of your garden pond will be. Be creative while doing this. Taking pictures of the lay out for reference in case the garden hose is moved before your ready for construction would be a good idea. Let the hose sit for a couple of days and take notice how the sun shines on the area and how much shade it gets from near by trees. This information will be helpful when its time to purchase plants.

Be sure to size your garden pond deep enough that your decorative fish can survive the winter and the heat of the summer. Two feet deep is a good depth for all over the United States. Areas in far southern United States should think about digging a little deeper so the water will stay cooler. Areas in far northern United States and Canada should dig a little deeper so the pond will not freeze solid.

Once you have decided how deep your pond needs to be, you will need to find out how much water your pond will hold. You will need to measure the length and width of the shape the pond will be. Multiply the average length x the average width x the average depth x 7.48. offers a Pond Volume Calculator to help with the calculations.

Sizing the pond equipment     - Top

Size your Pond Pumps by the gallon size of your garden pond for filtration or width and depth of the waterfall stream. Use our Head Pressure Calculator to determine how gallons per hour (gph) your pump will need to produce in order to turn your garden pond at least once an hour through the filter. For example, a 3000 gallon garden pond needs a minimum of 3000 gph at the height of the filter.

Size the pond skimmers and pond filters by the size of your pump. Larger pond skimmers and pond filters require a larger amount of water to pass through them. Tubing size can reduce the amount of flow from the pump to the filter.

Pipe Size – Max Flow Rate

1 ¼” – 1200 gph

1 ½” – 3000 gph

2” – 4800 gph

3” – 9000 gph

An EPDM pond liner is needed to line the pond so it will hold water. Use underlay to beneath the pond liner to avoid punctures from sharp rocks and roots. With the garden ponds measurements in hand, visit our Pond Liner Size Calculator to determine what size liner and underlay you will need. Be sure to add 2’ to each side of your liner

If you are unsure about what size pond supplies to get, try one our pond kits. These kits have taken the guess work out of sizing the pond equipment and come with all of the pond components you will need.

Below is the layout of a typical water garden

  1. Berm - Raises the ground in order to get the desired waterfall height (discharge is 3’ above water level
  2. Waterfall Filter - Filters debris from the water and diffuses the water before it exits the filter and may provide a home for beneficial bacteria.
  3. Tubing - Flexible tubing allows water to flow from the pump located in the pond skimmer to the waterfall filter.
  4. Pond Shelf - 12” to 18” Deep. The pond shelf is used for planting marginal plants.
  5. Pond Depth - 2’ to 2-1/2‘ Deep. This pond depth is sufficient in Okla. for fish and plants.
  6. Pond Skimmer - The pond skimmer pulls surface debris into it, preventing the debris from sinking to the bottom and keeps debris from the pond pump.

Layout and excavation     - Top

Now that you have all of your pond supplies, it’s time to start building your garden pond. Begin by outlining the pond with cover paint. Next place your waterfall filter box so you will know where to place the dirt you have removed for your garden pond. Waterfalls are great for garden ponds. They keep the water aerated and prevents the pond from freezing completely over in winter. Place the pond skimmer box on the opposite side of the garden pond from the waterfall filter. If you have a lot of trees around your garden pond, you may need more than one pond skimmer.

Plumbing the falls     - Top

You need to plump the waterfall now, because you will backfill around it once you start digging the pond. Connect the flexible tubing to the waterfall filter per the filter’s instructions. If you are installing a back flush kit, you should do this now. A back flush kit helps in cleaning your waterfall filter by allowing water to empty out of the filter onto the ground, where you choose it to go. Then set the waterfall filter into place. Set a rock in the waterfall filter to keep the filter from moving while backfilling around it. Using a carpenter’s level, level the waterfall filter from side to side. Make sure the waterfall filter is tilting slightly forward, about half the bubble from center on the level. When backfilling the waterfall filter, be sure not to fill above the liner connection area. You will need to attach the liner later. For further instructions on how to build the waterfall visit our How To Install A Disappearing Waterfall page in our reference section.

Excavating the pond     - Top

Remove sod from in and around the pond’s outline. Use this sod later to fill in empty patches. Dig the entire area of the outline down approximately 8” (the standard height of a shovel head). Now dig the hole for the pond skimmer box to fit in. You need the top of the pond skimmer to be at grade and level. The pond skimmer needs to be level from both directions. Mark and dig around the second level of your pond, also 8” deep. The second level can hold marginal aquatic plants. Create this second level by preplanning where you want your plants to be located. Continue digging down 8” creating more shelves until you reach your desired depth. Use the removed dirt to build a berm around the waterfall filter. Place a large rock inside the pond skimmer to hold it in place while you backfill.

Now it’s time to mark the water level. Set a string level or laser level at the right height and mark the water level all the way around the pond with marking paint. A bottom drain is recommended because it helps keep the pH balance in the garden pond and pulls debris that has sank to the bottom into the pond skimmer to be filtered out. Dig a 6” wide and 6” deep trench from the deepest part of the pond to the pond skimmer for the bottom drain.

You will need to dig a trench about 24” or more from the outside edge of the pond that extends from the pond skimmer to the waterfall filter.

Begin building your stream by varying the width and direction to give it a natural look. See our How To Install A Disappearing Waterfall guide for more tips on making your stream look natural.

Once the waterfall is created remove any rocks, roots or anything else from the pond and waterfall that could puncture the EPDM pond liner.

Underlay and Pond Liner Installation     - Top

Place the underlay in the pond and waterfall making sure to tuck it into every nook. Use any extra to place under large rocks. Once you have laid the underlay you can begin laying the EPDM pond liner. The pond liner will be laid the same as the underlay. Once the pond liner is placed, be sure to remove any wrinkles. Wrinkles are inevitable but do the best you can. Once you have installed the liner into the pond you can start installing it on the waterfall. Make sure there is enough liner to drape over and down to the bottom of the first shelf of the garden pond.

Waterfall Filter Installation     - Top

Since different brands of waterfall filters are installed differently, install the waterfall filter per the manufactures instructions. Remember to create an “S” fold when attaching the pond liner to the waterfall filter for settling. Once the waterfall filter is installed place the filter media into the filter via the manufacture’s instructions.

Pond Skimmer Installation     - Top

Like the waterfall filters, different brands of pond skimmers are installed differently. Install the pond skimmer per the manufacturer’s instructions. For connecting the bottom drain, attach the pond liner to the drain hole using a bulkhead fitting. Next attach the male adapter and ball valve on the inside of the pond skimmer. Then attach the elbow to the bulkhead fitting on the outside of the pond skimmer and slide the tubing into the elbow. Lay the tubing into the 6” trench you dug earlier and attach the drain. Sealant isn’t needed in these steps because the fittings will be underwater. Now install the liner to the pond skimmers faceplate. Remove the faceplate and pull the liner over the opening of the pond skimmer. Leave pond liner enough for an “S” fold at the bottom. If any settling accures the pond liner will be pulled from the “S” fold instead of tearing from the pond skimmer. Apply a lot of silicone around the opening of the pond skimmer, putting extra on the screw holes. Lay the pond liner over the pond skimmer opening making sure to get a good seal and use clips to secure it. Find the opening in the liner and cut an “X” taking special care not to cut past the opening. Reattach the faceplate immediately. Screws can tear the liner eliminating the watertight seal. Use an ice pick or something similar to poke holes in the liner for the screws to enter. Screw the faceplate into place by screwing in the screws starting from the corners then from side to side. Once this is done it’s time to install the pump. Different pumps have different discharge kits. Now it’s time to install the auto fill kit. Be sure to install this where the float will not get stuck causing the float valve not to operate. Install the filter media per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Adding rock to your garden pond     - Top

The most beautiful garden ponds are the ones that look like they have been there for a long time. Using rock that is common in your area will aid in making your garden pond look natural. Also avoid using rock that is the same size and placing them in a symmetrical arrangement. You can get inspiration from local lakes, rivers, and streams. Once the rock has arrived, you will need to separate it by size, setting the most interesting rocks as focal point rocks. Focal point rocks will be the first rocks to be placed. Lay a piece of scrap underlay beneath large rocks to protect the liner. Start placing the large rocks in the garden pond and waterfall, working your way down in size until you get natural look and feel. Small gravel should be the last thing you place. River rock is used as filler in the empty spaces between large and small rocks.

Installing lighting     - Top

Use pond lights to highlight rocks, plants or other points of interest within your water feature. When purchasing pond lights be sure to get lights that are submersible, this will eliminate any electricity in the water. Place lights between rocks to hide them as much as possible but leaving enough for them to do their job. Leave an extra five feet of cable coiled up under the light, hidden as well. This will save you a lot of trouble later when it’s time to change the bulbs by allowing you to pull the whole light out of the water. Once the lights are secure, run the cord to the transformer. Depending on the brand and type of pond lights you purchase will depend on the number of pond lights that can connect to the transformer. Once your lights are in place, plug in the transformer, set the settings and watch your pond light up the night.

Adding aquatic plants     - Top

Aquatic plants help maintain the quality of water in your garden pond while adding beautiful and natural touch. Aquatic plants require different planting techniques than landscape ornamental plants. Follow the garden centers aquatic plant instructions for plant placement. For more information on aquatic plants visit the Aquatic Plants for Water Gardens page in our reference section.

Testing the installation     - Top

Now that everything is installed fill the pond about two thirds full with water, just enough to get the pump working. Now plug in the pump to get the water flowing. At this point check the pump to make sure it is working properly and check the lighting. While the water is flowing, make adjustments to the waterfall to get the look and sound you are wanting. Once you are satisfied with how the garden pond components are working and how the water is flowing turn the power off so you can do the finishing touches.

Finishing touches     - Top

Once the power is off and the rocks are wet you can start filling in around the front side of the large rocks in the waterfall with black waterfall foam. This expanding foam will stick to just about anything and causes the water to run around the rocks instead of under or between them. Let the black waterfall foam dry for 45 minutes before turning the water back on. While it’s drying trim any excess liner and underlay. Hide the edges under and behind rocks. Add planting areas around the edges of the pond and waterfall. Use mulch to help hide cords, liner and tubing. Skim the water with a net to remove any large debris. Now you can fill the pond the rest of the way with water and turn the power back on. Before adding fish to your pond it is important that you visit our page on Adding Water to Your Pond and the Re-Introducing The Fish To Your Clean Pond section of the Spring Start Up Guide page in our reference section.

It’s been hard work installing your new garden pond, so now sit back and enjoy it’s wonderful sounds and beauty.

By following the steps outlined above you’ll be able to wow your friends & family with your beautiful disappearing waterfall.

  1. Waterfall Filter or Weir - Filters debris and diffuses the water before it exits the filter. Provides a home for beneficial bacteria.
  2. Tubing – Flexible tubing allows water to flow from the pump to the Waterfall Filter.
  3. Liner Underlay – Protects liner from items that could damage the liner.
  4. Pond Liner – Allows water to flow without soaking into the ground and keeps dirt from mixing with water.
  5. Pond Shelf - 12” to 18” deep. The pond shelf is used for planting marginal aquatic plants.
  6. Cobblestone (pea gravel) - Used to hide the liner in the pond and on the pond shelves.
  7. Fieldstone - Used to create small waterfalls, pond border and focal points in the pond.
  8. Pond Skimmer - The pond skimmer pulls surface debris into it, preventing the debris from sinking and keeps debris away from the pond pump.
  9. Pond Pump - Circulates water from the pond skimmer to the waterfall filter.