Make a Splash
In early spring when the ice melts off my little fish pond, I’m always surprised to see the goldfish bubbling up at me after a full winter of neglect. For such delicate looking creatures they sure are hardy little boogers. It’s hard to beat a water feature in your yard, whether it’s a waterfall running into your koi pond, or a 3 x 3 plastic pond insert you picked up at a big box store. If you’ve ever thought about a water feature, I’d encourage you to give it a try. It’s actually very easy to maintain with a few tips, and now is a great time to put one in place.
Step one is determining where you’d like to place your pond. It’s there to be enjoyed, so next to a deck or patio is perfect. If it’s out of sight, it will probably be out of mind, so choose carefully. The sound of water can be a real stress reducer, so consider having some movement in your pond like a small fountain, a series of ponds running into each other, or a waterfall feature.
Step two is to install the pond itself, and there are basically two easy options. You can pick up a free standing pond insert, or a series of inserts, or you can dig the shape of your choosing and line it with pond liner, which is a rubberized membrane that’s safe for fish and can be molded to just about any shape. The pond inserts are a little easier to install, and a good pick if you want a small water feature, but they tend to have a oh-I-see-you-went-to-Home-Depot look about them.
Step three is to install some type of pump if you would like some movement in the water, and some help keeping the water clean. A variety of pumps and features are readily available, and they can power a small sprite fountain or a full waterfall and filter system. My setup is pretty simple, it’s a round insert about four feet across and about two feet deep and it has a small pump that brings the water up to my 1940’s concrete fat cherub riding a dolphin fountain that spits it back in the pond. Come to think of it, the only reason I have a fish pond is that I had to have the fat cherub riding the dolphin fountain, then I had to have a fish pond to go with said fountain. Don’t judge, a girl wants what a girl wants.
Step four is to landscape around the pond to give it a more natural or formal look, depending on your taste. A rectangle shaped pond edged by rectangular flagstone looks great, as does a free form pond edged with natural stone and plants. For the free form look, there is an art to placing stones and plants to create a natural look, so a little time with a “water feature ideas” search will give you some ideas to consider.
Step five, pick your plants to go inside and around your pond. Water lilies are my favorite, they are readily available online and at local nurseries, come in all sizes and colors, and the hardy varieties are perennials. For small ponds, check out the dwarf and miniature varieties. Nymphaea Helova is a great pick since it’s beautiful, hardy, and only spreads from one or two feet. Nymphaea Perry’s Baby Red is another nice choice with its red double flowers, and both varieties are a treat in a container if you’re not quite ready for a pond.
Another favorite is papyrus, which has a great look and can be either in the water or nearby. I’ve had good luck with the King Tut variety since it’s on the small side and it’s surprisingly drought resistant once established next to a pond. Other work horses include Siberian or Japanese irises. They are hardy perennials that will do well next to a pond, or simply plant them in a container, cover the soil with pea gravel to keep it in place, and set it a few inches below the water’s surface. Finally, no water garden is complete without some water hyacinths floating on top. Originally found in the Amazon, they float in pods, reproduce quickly, and have lovely orchid looking blooms. (They are invasive, so keep them away from natural bodies of water.)
Finally, find your fish. Water straight from the tap is not fish friendly since it contains chlorine and other additives, and fish need some helpful bacteria to stay healthy. Once you fill your pond, give it a few days to allow the chemicals to naturally dissipate, and add some chlorine remover. That and other fish friendly water additives are available in pet stores or online. Fish options include just about any cold water fish, but the mainstream choices are koi and goldfish. Koi are gorgeous, but need more space and care, and will eat any plant it can reach. Goldfish come in a variety of styles, and will grow to fit the size of their space. My favorite are Shubunkin goldfish since they look a lot like Koi, but are inexpensive and easy to care for.
The trick of a low maintenance pond is to provide a balanced environment. Fish provide the organic fertilizer for water plants, and the plants clean the water by absorbing the nitrates in the water. Water gardens also attract mosquitoes, but fish love to eat the nymphs, so a well stocked pond will keep your yard mosquito free. Water snails are also a great addition since they eat and clear out dead vegetation. That natural balance will occur in a few weeks if your pond has plants and fish, but it takes a little time to get there. It’s best to start with a few feeder fish from the pet store to get the process going, then add your prize fish later when the water is safe.
That’s a really short summary of how to install a water garden, but they are easier to maintain than you may think. If you’re curious, start with a water container on your porch or patio and try a few plants and fish there. Hope this helps, and if you have any questions PM me.