Water has the power to calm the senses with an extra dimension of sound and movement. It also brings in the element of surprise, turning your yard into a magnetic habitat for birds, dragonflies, and other wildlife. And the aquatic plants and lush greenery surrounding the water’s edge introduce an entirely new ornamental element to your yard.
Today homeowners are rediscovering the advantages of a backyard pool. While a pool can cost anywhere from $100 to $3,500 or more depending on materials and plants, a small water garden can still come in under $100. Follow these 10 simple steps and create your own sensory experience that only water can bestow.
1 – Decide on the type of water garden you want
With flexible liners, you choose the dimensions that suit your needs, then cut the liner to fit. Liners made of PVC or EPDM rubber are more durable than polyethylene. You can find them at home-improvement stores and garden centers.
2 – Determine the location and size:
The best spot is one that is fairly level, somewhat open, and receives at least five hours of direct sun. Choose an area away from trees and any runoff from rain that might affect the pool’s ecosystem. Select a site near the house for easy access to an electrical outlet equipped with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). Most backyard pools range in depth from 8 inches to 3 feet. Plan on 3 to 4 feet deep in colder regions of the country. Deeper pools also stand up to summer heat and winter freezes.
3 – Dig in:
Using a garden hose or rope, mark the outline of your pond on the ground, then excavate the site to the desired shape. Slightly slope the sides inward to the desired depth, or dig a shelf (about 12 inches wide by 8 to 12 inches deep) around the inside perimeter to accommodate potted water plants. Check to confirm that the outer edges are level.
4 – Prep the space:
Remove any rocks or tree roots from the sides and bottom of the hole so they won’t puncture the liner, then rake the area smooth and tamp the soil firmly in place. Cover the bottom and sides of the excavated area with an underlayment such as a commercial underliner or 2 to 3 inches of damp sand. This will help cushion and further protect the pond liner.
5 – Install the pond liner:
To determine the size liner you’ll need, measure the pool’s length and width, then add twice the maximum depth plus 2 feet. For example, a pool that is 10 feet long by 7 feet wide and 2 feet deep will need a 16 x 13-foot liner (length is 10 + 4 + 2 = 16; width is 7 + 4 + 2 = 13). This will allow for a 12-inch overlap around the pool’s perimeter. Center your liner loosely over the hole and unfold it, leaving an even overlap around the pool’s perimeter. Stretch out and smooth the liner into place so that it fits snugly on the bottom and up the sides. Minimize the wrinkles, but leave a few folds where the sides curve to allow for slack.
6 – Cover up:
Cover the pond liner with a 2- to 3-inch layer of pea gravel, or use smooth rocks with pea gravel poured in-between. This will lengthen the life of the liner and give your water garden a more natural appearance.
7 – Finish edges:
Place stones or boulders around the outer edge to hold the liner in place. For a more natural appearance, strategically graduate the stones up to and over the rim of the pool. Trim any excess liner around the edge so that a 12-inch overlap remains.
8 – Fill with water:
Place a garden hose in the center of the pool and fill with water to within a few inches from the top. As water flows in, smooth out the liner by folding and pleating portions of the material.
9 – Add plants:
Tuck in moisture-loving plants (see sidebar for suggestions) around the outer edges to soften the rocks, then add any aquatic plants to help filter the water and keep algae under control. Water lilies and other floating aquatic blooms should ideally cover 50 percent to 65 percent of the pool surface. Want to add a little life to your project? Goldfish are most suited to a small pool. A koi pool, however, needs to be larger in size—at least 10 feet by 10 feet and ideally 3 to 4 feet deep.
10 – Create a balance:
Maintenance is minimal if you establish a balance of plants, fish, and other aquatic life. In addition to floating plants, each square foot of water surface should support one bunch of submerged (oxygenating) plants, small fish (about two inches in length), and one pond scavenger, such as snails and tadpoles. Add water during summer as needed to maintain the proper level.
Don’t have the time or space to build an outdoor water feature? Bring it indoors with a tabletop fountain. These self-contained fountains come in a variety of soothing designs, and many include space for plants. Prices start at under $100. Available at home-improvement and garden-supply centers or online at sites such as amazon.com or simplyfountains.com.
A combination of submerged plants (grown in pots underwater), floating plants, and marginals (grown in shallow water at the edge) will help keep your water garden ecologically balanced and clear.
Submerged oxygenators: Canadian Pondweed, Eelgrass, Fanwort, Hornwort, Water Moss, and Water Violet.
Floating plants: Duckweed, Fairy Moss, Frogbit, Lotus, Water Hyacinth, and Water Lilies.
Marginals: Arrowhead, Cattail, Horsetail, Iris, Lobelia, Marsh Marigold, Papyrus/Umbrella Plant, Rush, Sedge, Sweet Flag, Water Canna, Water Hibiscus, Water Hyssop, and Water Parsley.