Your backyard is beautiful, it’s a work of art. Your flowers are in bloom and your grass is green and healthy, but you are missing something. A backyard pond can be the icing on the cake, the perfect item for completion of your backyard oasis. Here’s how you do it.
Find the Perfect Location
A pond will need certain things in order to thrive and remain clean. Putting a pond away from large trees is a safe way to preserve the liner from destructive tree roots and ensure that the pond does not fill up with leaves come fall. You will need to have a power source close to the pond for the re-circulating pump – keep that in mind when choosing a location.
Standard or Custom-Size?
Decide if you would like to go with a mold for the pond liner that is already pre-set and you simply dig the hole to correspond with the size of the desired liner. Or alternatively, you may choose to do a custom pond as this will allow you more creative freedom. To do this you will need a soft liner that will form to the size and depth of pond you have decided on.
Dig Yourself a Pond
Once you have decided on the size of your pond, go ahead and start digging! Outline the pond’s surface will give you a guideline and idea of how much space your pond will take up. Be accurate with your measurements so you can get the right size for your liner. Also think about what you would like the pond to accomplish while digging. If you want to have overwinter fish you need the pond to be deep enough to accommodate their needs. There are also many different aquatic plants that you can have live in your pond, but be certain to research ahead of time so as to provide the perfect habitat for these picky plants.
Installing the Pond
This will be the most technical part of the process. After the hole is dug be certain to line the hole with 1-2” of sand and place an underlay fabric specifically for ponds over the area of the pond. The rubber liner will be placed on top of the underlay fabric. Carefully place the rubber lining of the pond and secure it on the sides at the top of the pond and then start filling your pond with water! Be mindful to pull the liner as the pond fills with water to remove any wrinkles. Once the water is approximately 4” from the top of the pond you can stop filling and secure the overlapping liner with decorative rocks to keep it in place.
It may seem like a daunting task, but the helpful staff at Ritchie Feed and Seed are here to help you achieve your backyard paradise. Visit our garden supply stores in Ottawa, Stittsville, Richmond, Brockville, and Winchester to shop for pond supplies, pond plants, and pond accessories!
Opening Your Pond In Spring
If a pond is well installed, it can be the most attractive part of your landscape, however, if not installed properly it can be one of the most difficult items to maintain. When you are ready to open your pond in spring it is important to perform several jobs.
The first job we recommend is to review the pond itself and ensure that all the items involved are working properly. The pond should consist of the following items:
- Pond liner. Fully overlapping in all the area’s where there are different liners connecting. There should also be a full foot of overlap at the ponds edge. If there is not enough overlap it can lead to water loss. This liner can be either a prefab (very small and somewhat limited), or soft rubber liner (epdm rubber is all that should be used, NEVER use roofing membrane as it is toxic to fish and plants). While there are other liner options available we do not recommend anything but 45mil epdm rubber liner.
- Pump. The pump should be enough to recycle the volume of water at least once every two hours, if not once every hour. This is to ensure that there is enough oxygen in the water and proper filtration is taking place within your ecosystem. If you are unsure if the pump is appropriate to the pond that you have, double check the measurements and follow this formula. Length x width x depth x 7.5 = gallons (measurements are all in feet). For example a 10’ x 6’ x 2’ deep pond would hold 900 gallons and ideally this should be pumped through every hour.
- Filter. The filter is also an essential part of your pond. A filter is a true filter system that allows for proper mechanical and biological filtration. An item that does not count as a filter is a piece of foam or plastic strainer that pre-sifts the water before it goes through the pump. This is merely a strainer and is not an actual filter. A true filter properly allows for biological development of beneficial bacteria that will help to break down the organic material in your pond as well as a mechanical component that will allow you to clean out the excess debris that will collect in the pond.
Depending on the state of your pond in the spring, there are certain levels of cleanup that you may not need to do. The best water quality will come from a full cleanup. To do this you will need to drain all of the water out of the pond. Using a submersible pump, drain off the water to the garden or drainage area. Once enough water is cleared out to make removal of the fish easy, remove the fish with a net and put them in a storage tank or bucket large enough to house them for a short period of time. Ensure the bucket is filled with water from the pond.
Keep the pump running until all of the dirty water is out of the pond. Use a pressure washer to clean off the bulk of the algae and dirt from the rocks. Clean out all debris, old leaves, algae and dirt from the bottom of the pond after cleaning off the rocks. You can pump out the water accumulated from the pressure washer. DO NOT USE DETERGENT OR SOAP. At this stage, you can add any gravel or rocks to the bottom of the pond where there may be liner showing.
Your filter should be thoroughly cleaned at this time. If it is a biofalls filter of some sort, the filter medium should be taken out and completely washed so as to remove all matter that has been accumulated over last year and winter if it was running all winter. If the filter medium is starting to degrade now would be the time to replace it. Generally speaking, replacing filter medium happens every 2-3 years with this type of filter, or every year if the filter is a pressurized filter. If you have a skimmer, the skimmer should be thoroughly cleaned as well, take the brushes out and rinse them off using clean water only, as well as cleaning the screen or filter basket. Replace the pieces in the skimmer.
If you are using a pressurized filter system then you should have removed the filter over winter, and at this time, if you did not clean the filters in the fall and if they are still usable, they should be cleaned now. The manufactures of the filters list how often you should change the bulb in these filters. Most manufactures of these filters recommend that you change the light bulb in the UV portion of these filters every year. Whatever the recommendation is for your filter is what you should follow and replace anything that needs to be done. Check the gaskets and if there is any question as to their integrity it is worth while replacing them as well. With UV systems, any leaking at all within the UV chamber will damage the unit likely beyond repair.
While cleaning out the extraneous filters and bio falls you can be filling up the pond with clean water. Once the pond is filled, use a dechlorinator to remove chlorine and chloramine so that the water is safe for fish and plants.
Beneficial bacteria die over winter as they need the warmth to survive. As they are an integral part of your aquaculture, now is the time to add new bacteria. There are many options to choose from and can be either in a liquid form or a powder form. Follow the directions on how much is required for the size of pond you are working with. Ideally, keep enough bacteria on hand so that you can add more on a regular basis. When in doubt you may add extra bacteria as it is a slower acting product and completely safe to use in extra doses. We usually use bacteria every month as a precaution against algae growth.
If you have a biofalls, you may also add at this time barley straw pellets to the top of the bio falls. They will slowly dissolve and over the year will act to help prevent string algae.
At this point you can also re-introduce your fish to the pond. Be sure to acclimatize them slowly by allowing their body temperatures to match that of the new water. Do this by placing the bucket with them in it completely into the pond until the water temperature has become equal. Then slowly pour the old water and fish into the pond. Handle the fish as infrequently as possible as it is not healthy for them to be handled often.
In the cases where your pond does not need a full clean out, such as not having a heavy fish load, or not having a lot of leaves or debris at the bottom of it, you may instead choose to only empty half of the pond. In doing this you would still need to remove the fish so that you can physically remove any debris that is in the pond, including old algae, or leaves, etc.. After this is done continue with the other steps regarding filter cleaning, biofalls and skimmer cleaning, adding the beneficial bacteria and barley straw pellets, de-chlorinating the new water and re-introducing the fish to the environment.
If you have any questions, come in and talk to our professionally trained staff on what to do with your pond and how to keep it as enjoyable and work free as possible. Many ponds may have been made without a skimmer or biofalls system. While they take more work to keep clean, they are still quite serviceable, and there are systems in place so that you can retrofit a skimmer and biofalls to your pond as well. As us if you need any help in figuring out how to make your pond a pleasure instead of a job.
Building a pond
Water gardening has become one of the newest and fastest growing trends in garden design in the past 5 years. However, water gardening has been around for a very long time. There are many factors to building a pond. Understanding the entire process before you begin will be very helpful in allowing you the opportunity to learn about common mistakes and problems before you even dig the hole.
One of the most important tips to know is that the most common mistake people make when deciding to put in a pond is not researching their wants compared to the site selection of the pond. This is to say, often people decide they want a pond and start digging the hole right away. Sit selection is the first step to building a pond, because once the site is selected then the possible pond designs are dictated by this selection. It is best to make a site selection based not only on what is available but also what will you want this pond to be for.
If the pond that you want includes fish, and a water stream, then it is very important to look at site selection to include a good water stream or waterfall. In addition to this, when fish are being added to the pond, the pond will have to be deep enough to accommodate the ecosystem they need to be healthy.
Choosing a site.
Preferably the site should be a level area without overhanging trees. The problem with having overhanging trees is that the pond will fill up with rotting leaves in the fall which is detrimental to the ecosystem of the pond. In addition to this, roots can be problematic to the pond liner.
Ponds require a re-circulating pump to keep water flow, and filtration. As such, ensure that it is possible to have power run to the site, either by having power directly nearby or by running an extension cord to the area. The area should also allow for the easy cleaning of the pond.
Most aquatic plants do best with a full sun location, making a shady location not the best option for a pond or water feature that will be filled with water plants. If you want to have a pond that is deep enough to leave fish outside over winter, it is best to ensure you can have at least a 36” deep pocket at the bottom of the pond for over-wintering the fish
Choosing a liner.
There are two common methods of building ponds. The first method is to use a prefabricated liner that is made of a hard plastic. This method is often popular for first time pond owners who want a small pond and do not want a long of design concerns. The nicest factor to these ponds is that all you have to do is dig the hole to fit the prefabricated shell and place it in the hole.
The second method is to utilize a soft liner to line the pond. This is the most popular method to installing a pond. This method allows the pond installer to customize the pond to exact specifications the suits the pond owner. This method is much more flexible as per design options as virtually anything can be designed.
It is best to come in and talk to one of our service representatives if you are having trouble deciding which method would be best for you.
Calculating Liner Size.
If using a soft flexible liner, the first step is to determine how big the pond is going to be and if there are going to be any other liner requirements, like waterfalls, or streams. The second step is to determine the maximum length, width and depth of the pond. The most common mistake is to make the pond too small, which happens almost 50% of the time on a person’s first pond. In order to help you visualize the size of the pond, take a garden hose and arrange it in the shape and size you would like the pond to be in the exact location you have in mind. Once you have decided on the size of the pond, use the following formula to determine the amount of liner you will need.
(Depth x 2) + Width + 2 = Liner Width
(Depth x 2) + Length +2 = Liner Length
A pond measuring 6’ x 9’ and 3’ deep
(3 x 2) + 6 + 2 = 14’
(3 x 2) + 9 + 2 = 17’
In order to install this pond you would need a piece of liner at least 14’ x 17’
Your Pond Measurements
Length _____ Width _____ Depth _____
Pond liner size = _____
Total Gallons = _____
Digging the Pond
Outline the shape of the pond with a garden hose or string. Dig out the first layer of the pond about 9” deep. For marginal aquatic plants you should have a shelf that is about 9” wide, or a little more. The second layer of the pond can be as deep as you need, or you can continue to tier the pond in shelves for different styles of plants or to have a deeper area to overwinter fish. It is very important for the pond to be level, otherwise it will be difficult to maintain the proper water level. Use either a long plank and a carpenters level, or if the pond is too large to accommodate this, use twine and a line level.
Installing the Pond
After the hole is prepared, it should be lined with 1” to 2” of sand, after which an underlay fabric made for ponds should be laid before the rubber liner. Smooth out the underlay so that it is a wrinkle free as possible before putting in the rubber liner. The rubber liner should be put in with as little walking on it as possible as this can damage the liner. Once the liner is place in the hole, weight down the top that is overlapping the top of the pond.
Start filling the pond with water, while the pond fills, constantly walk around the ponds edge and lightly pull on the liner to help remove wrinkles. As the pond fills the water will push the liner out to fill out the pond. Keep filling up the pond until it is about 3-4” from the top. At this point, you should place the capping rocks around the pond to help hold the liner in place and also to hid the liner.
At this point, you have the choice of whether to add river rock or decorative rocks to the bottom of the pond or not. Most people do to make the pond look more natural. In addition to this, the natural stone helps to encourage natural enzyme growth and allows for a more natural ecosystem.
Selecting your Pump
It is important that your pump is adequate for your pond. In order to determine this, the first thing you need to know is how big your pond is. Once this is determined, you should be recycling the water you have in your pond at least once every two hours, and once an hour is better. In addition to this, it is also important to know if there are other add-ons you would like to do, such as a water fall, water spitters, secondary ponds, etc.. One of our staff would be happy to help you determine which pump will best fit your needs.
How a pond is filtered will determine the water quality of the pond. In some cases, it may be best to use a skimmer system with a biological waterfalls filtration system. Other options include in-line pressurized filtration systems, or in pond filter chambers. Whatever the water feature, we have all the filtration needed, and it is best to have one of our staff help you determine which filter will work with your pump and pond design.
Whether you know exactly what you want or if you need ideas on how to best create what you are looking for, come into Ritchie’s and one of our knowledgeable staff would be happy to help you determine what all your pond requirements are.
Winterizing your pond
Having a pond is often associated with a lot of work, but there is really very little that needs to be done to keep a pond, and even less to maintain the pond over winter. In Ottawa, you can keep your pond running for most of the year, and many people do so right up to Christmas. If we have a very cold winter, January and February are often very difficult to keep a running pond enjoyable and there are more difficulties to deal with, but with these two months out of the equation, it is very little work to enjoy your pond up to the end of the year.
Once the temperatures have begun to drop to where it is too difficult to keep the pond running, it is important to remove the pump and store it indoors in a bucket of water. Once a pump as been used the seals have expanded, and if allowed to dry out will leak water into the pump itself and the pump will burn out. It is very important to store the pump where it will always be underwater.
As far as water plants go there are several types of plants, there are water lilies which will survive fine in a pond that is 2 feet deep. Trim off the top of the lily pad and ensure the pot is at the bottom of the pond. If the lily is planted into the pond then just leave the lily where it is at the bottom of the pond and cut off the pad itself. Marginal hardy plants can be just trimmed back to just above the water level. and left in the area where they are planted. Items like arrow heads and iris are hardy and will be fine where they are. Annuals such as tropicals, water hyacinths and lettuce are not worth over wintering. Treat these plants the same way you would bedding plants such as petunias and impatiens and remove them in fall and buy new ones in the spring.
Koi are hardy fish and can survive in Ottawa in a pond that has two feed deep of water and stones and gravel in the bottom. In order to over-winter these fish you will need to have some sort of oxygen source, such as a pump or air pump. In addition to oxygen you will also need to keep a part of the ice open. The easiest way to do this is to use a small pond heater that will keep a portion unfrozen. This is to ensure that the toxic gases accumulating in the pond can escape. It is also very important to not feed your fish once the temperature drops below 50°. Fish can take up to two weeks to digest food and their metabolism slows down drastically when it gets cold, and if they are fed to late in the year they may not digest the food before their metabolism slows down. This can in turn kill them over the winter.
At Ritchie’s we have everything you need to help you over-winter your pond. Come in and ask us anything you need to help you with your pond.
Controlling Algae in Your Pond
There are two types of algae to be concerned about in your decorative pond. The first is suspended algae which is a free floating algae that causes your pond to turn the greenish colour often referred to as pea soup. The second type of algae is string algae which creates longer hair like strands that form in clumps. This algae is the type that plagues pond owners once it gets warmer. Often it seems like it comes out of nowhere overnight.
In reality there are several reasons for the algae to grow the way it does, and there are several easy to carry out steps that will help control it so that it never bothers you again.
The first and most important step to getting better water clarity and reducing algae is a working filtration system. Many times people have a pond with a pump in the centre of it that has a plastic and foam “filter” attached to it. This is not a true filter, but rather a debris strainer. It helps to keep anything from getting stuck in the pump but it does very little to filtering the pond.
` Ideally, a filter should have two components to it, mechanical filtration and biological filtration. The mechanical filtration is a series of foam or media that the dirty water has to flow through, leaving behind the floating particulates as it goes. This helps to remove the suspended algae as it gets cleaned through the mechanical filter. The biological filter helps to colonize beneficial bacteria which, in turn, helps to control floating and string algae. The beneficial bacteria break down sludge, nitrites and ammonia and this helps to control the algae in your pond.
A filtration system works hand in hand with the pump used to recycle water within the pond. It is important that the pump and filter be the right size for each other and that they work together properly. In addition to this it is also important that the pump recycle enough water to clean the right amount of water per hour. The general rule is that you should recycle the water in your pond at least once every two hours, or as often as once an hour. This helps to ensure the water is filtered properly.
Once the proper filter/pump arrangement is in place, the next step is to ensure that there is a good colony of beneficial bacteria. Bacteria can be easily added to your pond in either a liquid or a powder form. They need warmer temperatures to live and become active so they should be added to your pond every spring once the water temperature reaches a minimum of 50°-60°. More of the bacteria would be added in the spring and early summer while the pond is just getting started, with regular doses being given later on throughout the season when the water temperature has increased.
Beneficial bacteria are needed to help break down sludge, ammonia and nitrites. This all in turn helps to keep the pond free of algae. Sludge is organic material that collects at the bottom of the pond over time. This organic material can come from many sources and by using bacteria it is broken down over a period of time. Bacteria will not eliminate all sludge from the bottom of the pond, and in some cases it needs to be cleaned out or physically removed.
A good way to diminish the amount of sludge and organic material collecting at the bottom of your pond is to use a skimmer system which helps to prevent organic material from collecting on the bottom of the pond. Skimmers are a main filtration component in swimming pools and have only recently become more popular in garden ponds. They are very easy to retrofit to a pre-existent pond and if used in conjunction with a biological waterfalls filter which is also easy to retrofit, they provide the most efficient and natural looking filtration system possible.
If you have a large amount of floating particles in your pond, be it either floating algae or other particles, you can also use a flocculant to help clump together the particles so that they are large enough to get caught by the filtration system. There are two types of flocculants, one used for inorganic debris, and another used for organic material. I prefer to use a product that clumps together both types of particles, so that both problems are taken care of.
There are several other steps that you can use to help maintain a healthy pond ecosystem.
Do not overfeed your fish. Fish are not like us and do not need three square meals a day. A good pond ecosystem will support the fish and they will need little feeding. In the extreme heat you can reduce your feeding schedule to three or four time a week at most. Fish should only be feed enough food at each feeding that they can eat within a few minutes. You do not want the food to break down in the water and add to the nutrient base that will feed algae.
Do not overstock your pond with fish. Generally speaking your pond should have no more than 1” of fish length per square foot of pond surface. The more fish you have the more waste is excreted into the water increasing your ammonia in the water, which in turn will increase the nitrite and nitrate balance, causing the algae to grow more. It is better to have the right amount of fish and a healthy clear pond than to have too many fish and not be able to see them.
Do not drain and refill your pond regularly. The goal is to create a balance in your pond that will support an ecosystem, which will not happen if the water is removed on a regular basis. If you have to do this to see the bottom of your pond, the filtration system and pond balance are not working together. This is a common problem and often a reason why people get turned off of water features. It is possible to fix these problems and we are happy to help you do so.
Never use an algaecide in your pond. This makes your pond chemical dependant and makes it extremely hard to develop an ecosystem. While it seems to help the pond immediately, in the end it makes the job of owning a pond more difficult. It is much better to institute a proper filtration system with the use of beneficial bacteria than to dose your pond with an algaecide.
Do not use pesticides or fertilizers close to the pond or allow them to runoff into the pond. This will upset the balance in your pond and make it more difficult to keep in a healthy state.
Add beneficial bacteria on a regular basis. This bacteria does a wonderful job at eating up the excess nutrients that cause problems in your pond. They are an organic and healthy part of your pond that are not dangerous or toxic to your, your fish or to plants in any way. Bacteria are a constant source of balance to your pond.
Keep plants in your pond. There are a large selection of plants that help your pond in various ways. Mix up the varieties so that you have marginal plants, oxygenators, floating plants, water lilies and other deeper plants. Plants are a very healthy part of your pond and they help to detoxify your pond and add oxygen. Keep in mind, there is a little maintenance to them, but very little for the benefit they offer your pond.
Attend one of our seminars on ponds. We are here to help you build your backyard paradise.
Don’t be afraid to dive into water gardening. If done properly, it is less work per square foot than maintaining a lawn once it is installed. The enjoyment and attraction of water in your backyard is indescribable, and is so easy to do that you can be enjoying your water garden in no time. Come in and see one of your water feature specialists and let us help you develop the lifestyle that you’ve been missing.