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Water Gardens 101

Water Gardens 101

Water Gardens & Fish Ponds 101

A healthy pond doesn’t just happen. It’s created and maintained by you. Imagine seeing your fish thrive, your plants flourish, and your pond water turned crystal clear! We know ponds, and we’re here to help you be the best pond owner you can be. You can achieve that kind of pond by understanding the five elements of a healthy pond: filtration, aeration, aquatic plants, healthy fish and beneficial bacteria.

Filtration – Keeps water clean, healthy and safe.

There are two types of filtration: mechanical and biological. Mechanical filtration involves removal of visible solids like leaves, floating debris and fish waste. Mechanical filtration is often done by skimmers, filter brushes, foam pads and other tools. Biological filtration eliminates invisible waste (excess nutrients) by introducing a living tool – aerobic bacteria. Aerobic bacteria attaches itself to surfaces (rocks, plants, filter media, etc.) and eats away excess nutrients.

Aeration – Promotes pond and fish health.

Waterfalls and fountain sprays alone cannot product enough oxygen but aeration systems like the Airmax® KoiAir™ and PondAir™ can. Subsurface aeration works from the bottom up, circulating water and increasing dissolved oxygen levels. When the sun goes down, fish and plants both use dissolved oxygen in your pond water. By providing subsurface aeration, oxygen levels stay high all day and night. Aeration is also great for freezing climates. Running an aerator and a deicer together cuts your electricity costs and keeps a hole open in your pond.

Aquatic Plants – Natural algae control.

Aquatic plants are a key part of a balanced pond. They feed off “processed” fish waste and help reduce algae blooms. Fish waste (before it goes through filtration) can be toxic to aquatic life. However, once filtered, fish waste becomes fertilizer, which can be consumed by plants and produce exceptional plant growth. Approximately 40-60% of your pond’s surface area should be covered in plants. This is extra important if your pond is in direct sunlight most of the day.

Fish – Add color and excitement.

It’s critical that your filtration system is the proper size to handle your fish population. Fish naturally multiply and grow. The more fish, the more waste, so fish loads must be controlled. General rule? With standard filtration and 60% plant coverage, allow 1-2 koi or 2-3 goldfish per 200 gallons of water. If you need help figuring out how much filtration your fish need, give us a call!

Beneficial Bacteria – Natural treatments for a balanced pond.

Using natural treatments, such as those found in The Pond Guy® DefensePAC®, aid in keeping your pond balanced and happy. The DefensePAC® is designed to keep a pond’s ecosystem perfectly balanced by breaking down waste, removing excess nutrients and maintain clear water.

What Types of Water Features Are There?

Water Gardening has grown from the standard formal Koi pond into all type and shapes of water features. Rocks, fountains, statuary, waterfalls and streams can be combined with the pond to add visual interest or become its own feature. With so many types to choose from anyone can add a water feature to their backyard landscape.

Preformed Pond

Typical “Do It Yourself” beginner pond usually purchased as a kit at Lowe’s or Home Depot. A hole is dug into the ground with the same layout and the preform shell is inserted to hold the water. In-pond filtration systems are easy to install and can hold a few colorful fish and some aquatic plants. This pond type is where many customers begin before upgrading to a more custom pond design.

Liner Pond

Also a “Do It Yourself” construction or an elaborate professional installation. These features use a flexible EPDM rubber liner. Rubber liners allow for more creativity when constructing the shape of your pond and are often decorated with rocks and waterfalls. These ponds are generally larger and utilize waterfalls, pressurized filters and bog filtration to provide circulation and filtration. These ponds can contain many colorful koi or goldfish as well as a variety of aquatic plants. With the flexibility of the liner these ponds tend to bland into the surrounding environment and look more natural.

Pondless Water Feature

Pondless features are just that, a feature such as a waterfall but without the pond. These features use a catch basin to gather water. These basins are filled with rocks to allow water to pass through without seeing an open body of water. Customers concerned with safety, working with smaller areas or are on-the-go and don’t have time for a full pond love this option because of the ability to enhance their landscape with less maintenance.

Disappearing Fountain

This feature also uses a catch basin to re-circulate water however instead of a waterfall a decorative fountain, pot or rock can function as the water feature focal point. This type of feature requires little room, provides the sound of running water and is less maintenance.

Container Water Garden

The smallest of water features this type of “pond” can make use of any type of decorative pot. Simply place a few potted aquatic plants, maybe a fish or two, and you are done. Great for decks and patios!

Building a Pond

Perhaps you encountered your first water garden while on a local home and garden tour. Maybe your neighbor installed a koi pond, or your best friend put in one of those disappearing fountains. They’re everywhere and for good reason! Water Gardens bring so many benefits to your outdoor living space. If you are still deciding to build a pond or are ready to go, read below for general pond installation steps.

Step 1- Unpack Kit & Mark Area

Decide on the location of your pond and unpack the pond kit components. You will want to use a garden hose or rope to decide on a pond layout. Once you decide on a shape you like mark the shape with a can of marking paint. Be sure to make wide curves and make special note of the direction you would like your waterfall to face.

Step 2- Place Waterfall Filter & Flexible Pipe

Put your waterfall filter in place next to the pond edge. Next lay out your flexible pipe from the waterfall around the pond to the opposite end for the skimmer. Connect the flexible pipe with the included adaptors and cement.

Step 3- Excavation of Pond Area

Be sure to contact local authorities to check the area for hidden cables or pipes before digging. Dig out the pond area roughly 6-8” deep or whatever depth you would like to construct your plant shelf. Use the dirt from this area to build a retaining wall for your waterfall box. Once the area is excavated mark out an inner ring to create a deeper pond area. This can be any size or shape you like but keep in mind this area will be filled with rock so avoid tight curves. This area should be around 2ft deep. You will also need to determine where the water level will be in the pond and excavate an area the size of your skimmer box so that it will sit with the water level about an inch from the top of the skimmer opening.

Step 4- Install Skimmer & Pump

Tamp down the soil to pack it, and then place the skimmer. Push the flexible pipe through the grommet and into the skimmer. Connect an overflow pipe to the back of the skimmer. Assemble the check valve assembly on the pump and place in skimmer then connect to flexible pipe.

Step 5- Install Underlayment & Liner

First lay underlayment across the pond working the underlayment into all corners of the excavated area starting from the middle and working your way out. Be sure to leave underlayment loose to allow for movement and settling in the future. Next lay the liner over the underlayment, again working from the middle towards the outside and pushing into the corners.

Step 6- Attach Liner to Skimmer

Attach the liner to the front of the skimmer box using the skimmer faceplate. Hold the liner flat up against skimmer while the other person makes a hole through the liner with something sharp like an ice pick or nail then put a bolt through two of the holes. Temporarily remove the liner and place a large bead of silicone over the mounting holes. Next reattach the liner and faceplate and install the rest of the bolts and tighten. After everything is tight, you can trim the liner from the inside of the skimmer using a razor.

Step 7- Add Boulders & Rocks

Place larger boulders first for structural support starting with the pond’s vertical walls, then fill in with smaller boulders and rocks starting from the bottom and stacking on the inside of the pond. Be creative, you may need to rework the area a few times before you achieve the look you want.

Step 8- Attach Liner to Waterfall Box

Your waterfall box should be level side to side and tip slightly forward, about an inch, towards the pond. Hold the liner up to the front of the waterfall box and mark the top bolt on each side. Then remove liner and apply a bead of silicone over the mounting holes. Now line up the waterfall lip, liner and waterfall box and screw in first two bolts. Attach remaining bolts. After everything is tight, you can trim the liner using a razor.

Step 9- Add Gravel

Add gravel between boulders to fill in gaps and across the bottom of the pond to cover and protect the liner and make the pond look more natural. You will want to use gravel that is about 1” in diameter with smooth edges.

Step 10- Add Lights

If you are adding lights install them now by nestling them in between boulders. Be sure to wrap a foot of power cord around the light so you can extend the light out of the pond for maintenance. Place lights so they shine out away from the viewing area.

Step 11- Add Aquatic Plants & Fill Pond

Plant bog plants on the shallow plant shelf and lilies in the bottom of the pond. Don’t worry if they do not cover the pond’s surface yet they will grow quickly. At this point you will also want to backfill around the skimmer and pond for additional support.

Step 12- Apply Waterfall Foam

Waterfall foam is expanding foam made for use in ponds. Use waterfall foam to fill in gaps between rocks in the waterfall area for support and to keep water flow above the rock surface.

Step 13- Add Biological Media

Add filter media to your waterfall box. Usually 1-2 layers of solid mat media, like Matala Medium Density, and a media bag filled with additional media like bio balls on top. This will be used to colonize the bacteria that will filter your pond water.

Step 14- Add Finishing Touches

Trim liner and underlayment leaving 6-8”. Roll liner under and cover with gravel to secure and finish off the pond’s edges.

Step 15- Add Water Treatment & Review Owners Manual

Now that your pond is complete start the waterfall and add water treatments such as chlorine remover and natural bacteria to get your pond ready for fish.

Now that you have the basics it’s time to get to work on your own backyard paradise. The most important thing to know about planning a pond is that you should have a great time doing it. You’ll enjoy this backyard feature for years, so do your research, think through these points, and spend time designing something that you’ll love!







Aquatic Plants

In a water feature, plants are absolutely vital in balancing the ecosystem, and they offer an aesthetic touch to your landscape. If you ever wonder what causes algae to grow or why your pond isn’t clear, evaluate the use of aquatic plants in your pond.


  • Fish Cover: Floating plants like water lilies and water lettuce provide your pond’s inhabitants cover from predators and bright sun. Your koi and goldfish will appreciate the safety and shade those leaves provide, particularly when a heron comes to visit!
  • All-Natural Water Filter: Aquatic plants are nicknamed “nature’s water filter” for a reason: They remove excess nutrients from the water while releasing oxygen during photosynthesis.
  • Habitable Habitat: Plants also create a perfect habitat for your aquatic life—both above and below the waterline—by providing food and shelter. Fish and snails hang out around the leaves and stems and frogs hunt for bugs or hide in the shade.
  • Aesthetics: Aquatic plants’ flowers and greenery also make for some nice scenery. Imagine water lilies and irises bursting with color, and curly corkscrew rush or lizard’s tail softening the outline around the pond. Not a bad view while enjoying a balmy spring evening!


  • Floating Plants: Floating plants such as water hyacinth & water lettuce are best used to absorb excess nutrients that cause excessive algae growth. They also provide shade and cover for the fish.
  • Submerged Plants: Submerged plants are fantastic oxygenators. They are also used to absorb nutrients, so there is no need to fertilize them.
  • Bog Plants: You can add a nice touch to your water feature using bog plants. Bog plants are planted around the edges of the pond in shallow water areas. They also act as a visual anchor to the surrounding feature. Bog plants are perennials, meaning that they will grow back every year based on your zone.
  • Water Lilies: Hardy water lilies are perennials. They will bloom all summer long on the water surface. Hardy water lilies have smooth waxy leaves that are rounded at the edge. Tropical water lilies have very fragrant blossoms and will have several blooms at a time. These lilies come in daytime and nighttime blooming varieties. Tropical water lilies will be jagged or pointed around the edge of the leaves.
  • Water Lotuses: Hardy water lotuses have very large blooms and leaves that can stand out of the water from two to five feet depending on the variety. A hardy water lotus may take up to two years to become fully established.


  • Plant Coverage: The recommendation for aquatic plant coverage is 60% of your overall water feature surface. This will provide enough absorption of nutrients to help combat algae before it has a chance to grow. To start aquatic plants in a pond up to 50 sq. ft. use 6-12 floating plants, 2 bog plants, 5 submerged plants and 1 water lily.
  • Know your hardiness zone:The USDA publishes a hardiness zone map that shows in which areas of the country various types of plants can survive and grow. The majority of your pond plants should be from your hardiness zone because they are best able to tolerate the year-round conditions of your area.
  • Know your pond’s depth.Some pond plants prefer deep water and some pond plants prefer shallow. Hardy water lilies prefer deep water, for example, while bog plants prefer shallow.
  • Know what type of sun exposure your pond receives.In addition to hardiness zones, plants also are categorized by the type of light they like to receive (full sun, partial sun, or shade). Marsh Marigolds yearn for sun, while Clyde Ikins Water Lily can tolerate the shade.
  • Know your pond’s flow.This is a factor that water gardeners often overlook. Some pond plants love moving water while others prefer the water stand still. Dwarf cattails, for example, do well in streams because they enjoy moving water, but water lilies are not fans of being right underneath a waterfall.

Now that you are equipped with a little more plant knowledge, take a step back and see how your pond compares. If you are fighting water quality issues chances are you may just need to add more plants!

Predator Control

There’s nothing more frustrating than hiding or skittish fish. Part of the joy of having a water garden is to sit by the pond’s edge, feed your fish and relax while you watch them enjoy their underwater world. When they dash off and hide at the site of anything coming near them it almost defeats the purpose of having koi or goldfish in your pond! The most common water garden predators are herons and they can clean up in one afternoon. It is important to know your enemy and using the tips below will help to discourage predators from your pond.

Use a Decoy

Your first plan of defense should be setting up a realistic Blue Heron Decoy. Heron are territorial by nature, and when one cruises overhead and sees that one of its feathered cousins (fake or real) has already claimed the area, it’ll keep going until it finds its own pond to fish. Move the decoy regularly to make it appear even more realistic. Another expert tip: Remove heron decoys during mating season, which runs from March through late May or June.

Make the Pond Perimeter Difficult to Access

Heron refuse to land in water and hate stepping over wires, so we recommend Heron Stop as a second line of defense around the perimeter of your pond. The impassable barrier – made up of nylon line and stakes – prevents the bird from approaching and protects up to 40 feet of shoreline without blocking your view.

Provide Pond Coverage

Barriers like pond nets, prevent the birds from landing in your water feature and spearing your fish. Planting aquatic plants that cover the surface of your pond will also make your fish difficult to spot. The harder they are to find the harder they are to catch.

Set Up a Motion Detector

For a final layer of protection, set up a ScareCrow® Motion Activated Animal Deterrent. Thanks to a built-in infrared sensor that detects movement up to 35 feet in front of it and up to 45 feet wide, this heron-scaring tool chases off unwanted visitors with a surprise spray of water. It works both day and night to set boundaries around your water garden or koi pond.

Caring for Fish

Caring for Fish

Feeding Your Fish

One of the greatest joys of keeping koi or goldfish in a decorative pond is mealtime. When it’s time for the fish’s daily dose of food, they’ll swim right to shore and seem to beg for those tasty morsels! Of course you want to provide your fish with a diet that’s healthful, but choosing one can be a challenge. Here are 5 tips for making mealtime fun for you and your fish.

  1. Start Feeding Pond Fish When The Weather Warms – Once your pond temperature reaches 40 degrees, fish feeding can begin. During the colder months, your fish are hibernating and live off of their stored body fat so they will be hungry when spring arrives.
  2. Train Your Fish –Fish need a schedule. Feed them in the same area at roughly the same time each day. Eventually, they will show you that they are ready for food by rushing to greet you at the edge of the pond with their mouths open.
  3. Feed Pond Fish Slowly – At first, add only one or two pellets to the pond. This causes a ripple on the pond surface that will get the fish’s attention. Once the fish begin coming up for food, you can increase the amount of food given.
  4. Don’t Over-Feed Your Fish –New fish may only be able to eat a small amount. Once they become more alert and accustomed to being fed, they may start to eat a little more. Don’t offer any more food than what your fish can eat in about five minutes.
  5. Use The Right Food – This one depends on what kind of fish you have. Some of the most popular pond fish for backyard water gardens are Goldfish and Koi. We recommend feeding based on temperature and overall goals.

For cooler temperatures, Wheatgerm based diets are packed with easy-to-digest plant matter. This formula is key for transitioning koi and goldfish in to and out of cold weather. Feed this food when water temperatures are between 40 and 50 degrees.

Once temperatures reach 50 degrees, color-enhancing foods like The Pond Guy® Growth & Vibrance, bring out the color in your fish, making the reds more vibrant, the blacks deeper and the oranges richer. These unique protein and nutrient-filled diets can be fed throughout the summer months. These foods also include extra protein for growing fish quickly.

If you aren’t looking to grow your fish you’ll want to change your fish’s diet to one that’s formulated with a balance of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. These fish foods, like The Pond Guy® Staple, contain protein, minerals and vitamins to help the fish develop muscle as it becomes more active during the summer months. These foods are especially important if you have young or growing fish.

Besides feeding your fish a healthful, balanced diet, you may wish to supplement it with some treats, like fresh watermelon or lettuce. Not only will your fish gobble them down, but you’ll also be developing a closer relationship with them, and ensure they’ll follow you around the pond at mealtime!

Fish Spawning

There is a ton of information available for selectively breeding koi and raising fry. Purchasing fry holding tanks with separate filters, specific breeding media or even choosing the perfect fish to mate. If you are like most homeowners you are not looking to dive in to serious koi hatching, however, there are a few things you can do to help your Koi still have a successful spawning season.


The leaves, stems and root systems of underwater plants give your pond fish safe places to spawn and lay their eggs. And when those tiny fry hatch, the plants provide protection, food and a comfy place to call home.

Submerged plants are easy to add to your water garden or fish pond. Simply fill planting baskets, like the Laguna Planting Baskets, with planting media, add some oxygenators, and place the planted basket on the bottom of your pond or on a plant shelf on the side of your pond. The planting baskets allow the plant’s roots to branch out and find nourishment while containing it and preventing fish from nibbling on its root system.


Temperature and time of year matter when it comes to koi breeding. The fish typically spawn when water temperatures are 65° to 70°F. In many ponds, this typically happens between May and June – in late spring and early summer, when the birds and bees start to get busy!


When Koi prepare to spawn, you will see the males chasing after the females, nudging her sides with its mouth and fins. This is to encourage the female koi to lay her eggs. Once the eggs have been laid, the male koi will fertilize them, and the future koi will begin to grow and develop. You may also notice cloudy or foamy water accompanied by a distinct odor.


It is important that you keep the water in your pond clean and free from disease while the fry are developing. Perform regular water changes and use Pond Logic® Stress Reducer PLUS when adding new water to remove any chlorine and toxic heavy metals from your tap or well water. Be sure you are adding pond salt to the water to keep fish stress down and also help prevent diseases.


Once the fry emerge from their eggs, they can’t swim and will need a protected area that’s safe from natural predators, like tadpoles, frogs and koi. Make sure you give them plenty of coverage with water hyacinth, water lettuce and other aquatic plants. You might also consider using a fine mesh tent, like the Nycon Fish Spawning Incubator to protect them and prevent them from getting lost in your filtration system.

As your new additions began to grow, there will be added ammonia and nitrates in the pond. If you plan to keep these new Koi make sure you are providing adequate filtration in your pond and you are not deviating from a practical fish load for your size pond. Having more fish in your pond than your filtration can handle will lead to additional more severe algae blooms and muck accumulation. It is important that you keep adding beneficial bacteria such as Nature’s Defense or Muck Defense to break this waste down.

With a little staging and encouragement, it’s not too difficult to convince your koi to spawn. Good luck!

Introducing New Fish to Your Pond

Now that your pond is constructed and flowing, bringing home fish is the next step in bringing your pond to life. This process can be both exciting and stressful for you and your fish. Follow the steps below to ensure a safe transition for your fish.


Make sure the water in your pond is ready for new occupants by treating for chlorine or heavy metals found in city and tap water. Chlorine can cause burns in fish and on their gills, which in turn will cause even more fish stress. You can accomplish this by adding Stress Reducer PLUS. You should also test pond water for acceptable pH and Nitrate levels in the pond. Many potential health issues can be avoided by simply maintaining a clean and healthy pond.


It is easy to get attached to that perfect fish right from the start but be sure to make sure they are feeling ready to travel. Some common signs to look for are clamped fins, open sores or separating themselves from other fish in the tank. Choosing a fish that is healthy right from the start ensures a more successful transportation.


Your newly purchased fish are typically handed over to you in an oxygenated plastic bag or container to allow adequate time to transport them to their new home. As you travel be sure to keep fish in a cool dim location to keep them calm and keep water cool. Cooler water will also hold more valuable oxygen that your fish will need as they travel.


You will want to gradually equalize the temperature of the water your fish are currently occupying with that of the water in your pond. If the container carrying your fish floats, go ahead and place it in your pond. The water inside will start balancing with the outside water temperature. This process should take no longer than 30 minutes.

During this time frame, slowly add small amounts of water from the pond into the container, which will allow your new fish time to acclimate to the chemistry of your pond water. Most of us have, at one time or another, jumped into a pool too early in the summer only to find that the water is unimaginably cold. Those of you who’ve been in that situation understand why you will want to take your time with the acclimation process. Now that the water on both sides of the container is the same and the fish have had time to try out the make up of the water in the pond, you are clear to release them into their new environment!

Take a few moments throughout the day to check in on the pond and monitor the behavior of the newly introduced fish. Active and curious fish are happy and healthy fish.