Backyard Ponds

By Eric Christensen

July 2, 2012 5 min read

According to the 2012 Residential Landscape Architecture Trends survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects, decorative water elements -- such as ornamental ponds, splash pools, waterfalls and bubblers -- were rated the most popular outdoor recreation design elements.

The surveyed landscape architects said that American homeowners want outdoor spaces that are low-maintenance and good for entertaining. Ponds and water elements are a great way for homeowners to do both. Depending on your space, budget and comfort with do-it-yourself projects, homeowners have a variety of options.

Albert Short, president and owner of Harmony Ponds, says: "The first question I ask a client when we're standing in their backyard is: 'How do you want to use this space? What are you trying to achieve? Is this a look-at thing? Is this a functional thing? Is this an entertainment space, and if so, for how many people?'"

Short advises against putting ponds in low-lying areas to prevent water from accumulating underneath the pond's liner. He also advises that homeowners take the time to consider the sightlines of the pond from a variety of angles.

Homeowners with a large space may wish to build a pond that incorporates rocks, plants and fish. Homeowners with a smaller space may prefer a small fountain or pondless waterfall where the water circulates under the display, rather than falling into a pond. Homeowners looking for something different may want to explore splash ponds, which are a "downsized version of the commercial water features that use a series of jets that are animated and shoot water back and forth," Short says.

Steve Shinholser, owner of Premiere Pond, says: "Maintenance is the No. 1 issue. Do you want high-maintenance or low-maintenance?" Shinholser highly recommends that homeowners incorporate a skimmer and filter into their pond setup. A skimmer will need emptying once every other week, and the filter will require only annual cleaning when used with a skimmer. As a rule of thumb, Short says, a homeowner should anticipate a modern pond to have the same level of maintenance as a perennial bed of the same size.

Both Short and Shinholser also stress the use of an EPDM "pond grade" rubber liner instead of vinyl or plastic. Short says: "Spend a little bit more, and get top-quality materials if you're doing it yourself. You're not saving money by buying a cheap liner. It will have to be replaced, and the whole pond will need to be taken apart. ... EPDM rubber is warrantied by Firestone for 20 years. ... We have never had to replace a rubber liner because it was deteriorated."

Homeowners interested in do-it-yourself pond installation can purchase complete pond kits or the individual components. However, both Short and Shinholser say homeowners should know their limits when it comes to the big projects. They say they receive several calls per year from homeowners who are in over their heads or who wish to expand or replace their previous do-it-yourself efforts.

Shinholser suggests a homeowner be confident that he or she is "mechanically inclined" and "comfortable moving 10 cubic yards of dirt." Short says that he sometimes even uses cranes to place stones in and around the larger ponds.

If a homeowner decides to contract out the pond construction, Shinholser says to look for certification from a manufacturer. "Verify that this pond company installs ponds on a regular basis," he says. Short suggests visiting the company's website to get a feel for the company's "engineering and aesthetics." If the company has built ponds that match your vision, talk to clients to ensure that the ponds have held up over time. Short believes this will help you avoid landscapers who only "dabble in ponds."

A backyard pond can be as simple or complex as a homeowner's space, budget and imagination will allow. But like any home improvement project, a homeowner should think carefully and plan ahead before beginning. If you buy the right materials and assemble them carefully, your pond will last a lifetime. If you have the know-how, a pond can be a great do-it-yourself project. But don't be afraid to let an experienced and reliable company help if your do-it-yourself dreams fall short.

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