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In a water garden, the focus is on the pond plants and ecosystem. As on land, always plan your garden before you build it. Begin with the basics:

- Include a deep water area (24-30") for two reasons: it allows the pond to over-winter plants, fish and scavengers below the ice in the winter, and it keeps the pond cooler in the summer. Hardy water lilies live at this depth year-round.
- Include a marginal shelf (12-15" deep and a minimum of 12-24" wide) for plants which require a shallower depth of water. Often these plants are referred to as marginal or bog plants. This shelf is also a good safety idea - if critters dive into the pond, it provides an easy way out.
- Include a lotus shelf 18" deep and at least 2' wide in the sunshine pond. This is a perfect year-round depth for the magnificent Lotus.
- Make your sunshine water garden as big as you can imagine! Remember that the big bloomers on land and in the water alike love the hot Midwest sun!
- In a shadier location, plan for a smaller pond. The architecture of the pond becomes more prominent, with more open water and less bloom. Include a waterfall or stream, and place lots of great hostas and ferns around the pond.

There are many different aquatic and wetland plants for the water gardener. Water plants are vigorous growers, and need little or no help from us other than trimming, dividing and fertilizing. Feel confident you will experience rapid growth and lots of bloom, even the first year! Start with tried and true plants hardy to our area. From your primary viewing, place the taller plants toward the back of the pond, using bigger, broader pots to provide mass plantings and compliment the stonework. Leave "negative space" just in front of the waterfall, where the water dances off of the stones and into the pond. Fish love to frolic where the water is most disturbed.


Place water lilies and other floating-leaf plants in the quieter waters with the taller plants behind, flanking the waterfall. Low growing plants can hide the pots of larger plants and soften the edges of the pond and stream, where the water meets the stone margin. Plant "terrestrial" plants on the outside of the stone in the same way. If you wish to invite wildlife to your pond, create a stone peninsula out into the pond...or make a small section of pebble beach, where critters can walk up to the water to bathe or take a drink.

In the water garden, the key to good water quality is plants, plants, plants! They use up excess nutrients, hide fish fry and tadpoles from prey, and shade the pond to cool it and prevent algae photosynthesis.

Plan to spend a half hour to 2, depending on the size and stocking levels (both plants and fish) and season, "playing in the water" per week. Your time will be well-spent nipping and trimming, servicing the pump and filter, topping up the pond, and generally checking the well-being of the inhabitants of the pond.


Place It
To plan your garden pond, use 2 hoses or 2 extension cords to outline the inside (water’s edge) and outside (stone’s edge) of the pond’s perimeter. Allow approx. 18-24” width for the stone margin, and avoid extreme curves and angles!! It is difficult to make the liner conform to “L” shapes and tight inside curves.

Stand back and take a look, viewing it from your living space, or the place(s) from which you will be viewing your pond the most. Make adjustments as needed. When you are satisfied with your design, mark the stone margin with paint. Next, outline the marginal shelves and other areas at different excavation depths (e.g. footings for waterfalls). All shelf widths should be a minimum of 1’ wide to accommodate aquatic pots.

Dig It
A birds eye view of the pond planning process.Before you Dig: Call 1-800-DIG SAFE or your local utility companies and have them flag any underground lines which may exist in the area. Use stakes and a 4’ carpenter’s level to mark the desired water level. (stakes in-pond and string lines are awkward during the "dig".) You can swing the level out over the hole from any stake to measure the depths of the excavation as you’re digging. Dig the rough version first, then the finish levels - no short-cuts! With a liner pond, the excavation is the form. Make the excavation count! Added time and careful attention will serve you well over the years.  

All depths are relative to the water level. Remove only the dirt necessary to conform to the plan. The floor and shelves should be level and smooth. Sides should be dug at a slight angle to accommodate winter ice heaving. To insure margin stability and prevent erosion over time, build a reinforced concrete ring to give the stone margin a good footing.

Fine-tune the excavation, removing the forms and all stones, roots and sharp objects. Cover the floor and shelves with 1- 2" of well-tamped sand or underlayment material, and underlayment as needed on the walls.

Line It
Inside the stone, measure the longest length, & at a right angle, the widest width. The formula below is meant for more-or-less level ground. Be sure to adjust the formula for hillside ponds and waterfalls.


Carefully set the liner in the hole, giving it lots of slack. Be sure it laps evenly over the rock shelf all around. Begin filling the pond, pulling out the wrinkles on the bottom and making sure the liner fits snuggly in all the corners. As the water rises to 6", make the folds necessary to conform to the shape of your pond. Fold away from primary view points, from the bottom straight up. A few large folds are less obvious than many small ones.

Remember, your liner serves two functions: It keeps the water in and it keeps the rest of the world out.

As you lay your stone borders, always bring the liner slightly above the surrounding grade. This prevents soil and chemical run-off into your pond. For questions, call WATER'S EDGE.

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