Requests for a recreational pond, or a swim pond, or a natural swimming pool are increasing every day! People seem to have had enough of chemicals in their life. We understand this new trend and have always preached against chemically-dependent landscapes, using integrated pest management techniques instead.
The terms for these larger human-interactive bodies of water are often used interchangeably. The terms and descriptions in this article are based on how WE define them.
We deem a recreational pond to be simply a large ecosystem pond. Some people just want lots of Koi. Some people want to be able to wade in a bit, which would be necessary for gardening the feature. Some folks want game fish so they can practice their fly-fishing techniques.
A recreational pond starts in the size category of about 25’ x 30’, and includes a skimmer or intake bay, biological filter or constructed wetland, and is typically a 2-pump system. The plants and fish are contained within the pond itself. It is NOT designed for regular human swimming activities, as the pump is a submersible and the filtration system is designed for aquatic life, not human activity. You can get into any ecosystem pond, provided is designed and built properly for ingress and egress, for gardening activities, etc. However, we sell these as “landscape water features not intended for swimming.”
Budgets for this category begin around $40,000, and of course there are lots of options.
Swim Pond or NSP (Natural Swimming Pool)
A swim pond is a bit of a sticky subject as far as Arizona law is concerned. Arizona law currently does not have anything on the books for “swim ponds.” As it stands now, all bodies of water for human interaction over 18” in depth are considered “pools” and subject to those standards and restrictions.
A swim pond is a very large ecosystem pond, which would include at least one skimmer or intake bay, needs a constructed wetland for filtration at least 1/3 of the size of the pond, can have a separate pond area for the fish, and requires that the pumps be located outside of the feature. Yep, this is going to take up a little more room in your yard.
A natural swimming pool (NSP) is a whole different animal! The natural pool trend began in Europe several decades ago. Since then, they’ve been slowly gaining popularity in the United States, Australia, and other regions with sunny climates. Unlike a traditionally rectangular, chlorine-filled swimming pool, a natural pool is often designed to imitate pools, ponds, or other bodies of water in the wild with irregular shapes, rocks, waterfalls, and boulders.
This requires a pretty big yard because you’ll need a separate pump area and a very large regeneration zone for filtration.
An NSP is NOT cheaper than building a conventional pool. In addition, there will be a cumbersome permitting process, which Arizona laws are still not quite equipped to handle, so it’s going to be a hassle and take some time. But it can be done if you’re up to the task.
Budgets for this category begin around $85,000.
Pros & Cons of Swim Ponds or Natural Swimming Pools
There are a lot of things to think about when considering these types of water features.
If you’re considering any of these types of water features, here are a couple of cool videos about what goes into the design, construction & maintenance of recreational ponds, swim ponds, and natural swimming pools.
As a responsible contractor, we believe that you should have the WHOLE story. Here are a couple of resources for further research on concerns with recreational ponds, swim ponds and natural swimming pools:
Pond Itch is a concern in any open-air natural body of water, but can be avoided by simply hosing down or showering off immediately after being in the water. Ducks are actually the main perpetrator of this problem, as they transport this from pond to pond during their visits.
Brain-eating amoeba is a concern in warm fresh-water environments; however, this is a rarity that can be avoided by not putting your head under the water.
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If you’re feeling stressed out, overworked, or uninspired, these could be signs of depression. Maybe you’re not in need of pills, but of a little Nature! It has been scientifically proven that interacting with Nature supports the healing process, lifts the spirits, and can even help you live longer! Nature experiences and interactions help alleviate brain fog, stress, anxiety, depression, and a whole host of other psychological disorders.
Women Who Live with Nature Live Longer
According to a new study, when women live in nature they live longer. We assume this goes for men, too. ;-) Various National Geographic studies on people who live the longest have confirmed this hypothesis. Granted, most are living in natural environments, growing their own food, chopping wood, and using their bodies in some way every day. However, all natural environments help reduce stress and increase physical and social activity, which keeps people healthier. Cities are full of pollution, as well as crime, and not conducive to peace of mind.
Residential “Greenness” and Mortality
The main purpose of this most recent study was to get insights on the relationship between “residential greenness and mortality.” The research was conducted on 108,630 women between 2000 and 2008. Of those women, 8,604 died during the study. Factors such as age, race, smoking, and socioeconomic status were taken into consideration during the study, and they found that women living with the most greenery in the 250m area near their homes “had a 12% lower rate of all-cause-non-accidental mortality.”
Green is More Social
The conclusion of the research was that high levels of green vegetation have a contribution in decreasing mortality rates for women. These results are quite important in modern times since more and more people are living in urban areas. However, there is a question that still arises: why less greenery means less social activity? One answer would be that nowadays people spend a lot of time in their car or behind a computer monitor. Less physical and social activity could potentially lead to depression. From now on, just think about this: how much time do you spend outside every day? If you wish to live a healthy and happy life, try to surround yourself with nature every day.
How Can I Get More Nature in my Life?
Glad you asked! Most of us don’t have time every day to take a walk in the woods, or go hiking. But what if you didn’t have to go anywhere? What if it was right there. At your home. In your backyard. Just waiting for you. Could it be any easier? Okay, so this might not be the ONE secret to living longer, but why take the chance?
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Design of an indoor pond
The type of filtration will depend on what kind of aquatic life you’ll host. Goldfish would likely be the easiest to deal with. Turtles would add the most maintenance.
You’ll need a controlled overflow to the outdoors or the sewer system so that you don’t flood the house.
Plants for an indoor pond
Aquatic life for an indoor pond
Servicing an indoor pond
Here’s a great video of an indoor pond created for a unique pet store:
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This video of a great project at the Wildlife Waystation in California shows a walk-through of the project a year after the wetland was installed:
You’ve got the water, you’ve got the plants, you’ve got the fish, but something just doesn’t seem right in your aquatic paradise. Something seems to be missing -- something that made every childhood vision of a lily pad complete. What natural ecosystem would be complete without frogs?
Well, besides being just plain cute, there’s a valid reason why you would want frogs and other amphibians hanging out in your pond or water feature. They play an important role in the ecosystem. In fact, the number of amphibians in your pond can be a good indicator of the health of your pond. Ecologists are constantly monitoring the frog population in nature, as they are a first-alarm indicator of a problem in the area.
Say Adios To Insects!
Amphibians are instrumental in keeping the undesirable insect population to a minimum. This is certainly a good thing for your neighboring garden, but also for those lazy summer nights when you want to sit on your deck and not have to worry about pesky bugs bothering you and your guests. Frogs and toads will keep the mosquito population in your yard at bay, and will also help with other annoying pests, like crickets. Since they hunt at night, scorpions & centipedes are absolutely fair game -- and a delicacy!
Having these wonderful creatures around reduces the need for harmful pesticides that conflict with Mother Nature! They are what is known as Integrated Pest Management, which means you can, and need to, stop using chemical controls around your yard. In fact, those will harm the good guys, as well as the unwanted ones.
Water attracts amphibians such as frogs, toads, salamanders, and newts, mostly because they need a place to breed and lay their eggs. Since tadpoles need water to live, it seems only natural that a pond is a great place to raise a frog or toad family.
Keep in mind that tadpoles can be a great snack for your Koi. Water features are often built with a place where the eggs can hatch and mature out of the reach of the hungry Koi. Something like a small, upper pond separated by the main pond with a stream, would do the trick. Just make sure that the force of the waterfall doesn’t push the eggs and tadpoles over the edge toward your fish and mechanical filtration system. The force of the pump inside the skimmer could pull your tadpoles straight into it. While tadpoles have been known to make it through the pump unharmed, it can be a wild, shocking ride for them.
Certain species of salamanders also need water in which to breed and raise their young (referred to as larvae). So, come breeding time, you may see these salamanders by your pond as well.
Newts spend half of their lives in water and then, as adults, retreat to land. These part-time pond inhabitants have an interesting way of caring for their unborn. When the eggs are laid, the female wraps each sticky-coated egg in a leaf or other similar material using her hind legs. With as many as 600 eggs per year, it may take her as many as two months to produce her annual clutch.
Going the Extra Mile
Amphibians are complex and need a little more than water to make your pond their permanent home.
Boggy Areas: Biologists suggest a boggy area full of plants to keep them safe and happy in your yard. Local wetlands are great places to check out when looking to mimic the right environment.
Aquatic plants: Plants are very important because they provide food and shelter for both tadpoles and adults, and a breeding site for adults. If you let areas of your garden grow a little wild, it will also provide a shady place for amphibians to relax and cool off.
Permanent Shelter: A well-located rock pile can lure toads, salamanders, and newts to your pond. These small piles can also be made out of bricks or broken concrete. The rock pile should receive both sun and shade, and here in the desert, you’ll want to put the pile in a mostly shady spot.
A ToadalLy Bright Idea!
Frog and toad lovers suggest using a light to draw these adorable creatures to your pond at night. Some people put lights up in their yard to accentuate their evening landscape or to keep animals away. However, for frog and toad enthusiasts, the exact opposite is true. The light should be set no more than 3 feet above ground, and placed near the garden. Insects are attracted to the light, giving your toads and frogs a great place to feed at night.
If You Build It, They Will Come -- And Stay
It is very important that your pond get the right amount of sunlight and shade for your new inhabitants. They need a little of both to keep their body temperatures in check. Since all of these animals love playing around in muck and debris, a perfectly manicured lawn is not their cup of tea. Leaving some tree, shrub, and garden litter out so that they have something to burrow through will help keep them safe from predators.
While they need damp conditions, some frogs can actually drown in water. Make sure that your pond has shelves, complete with rocks and gravel, so you don’t have steep edges. Remember, once they take a dip in the pond, you want to make sure they have a way out and steep edges can be deadly to them. A piece of driftwood hanging in a shallow portion of the pond can make a great dry resting spot for your favorite creatures too. And if you have a larger pond, a floating platform in the middle of the pond anchored to something is a great idea. Salamanders and newts are especially fond of cool, damp spots under logs.
Be cautious when handling these creatures. Some species of amphibians have poison in their skin glands, which can be harmful to you, your children, and your pets. Our touch can be a danger to them, as well. The oils and lotions we have on our hands could be harmful to certain amphibians.
You Can’t Lead A Frog To Water
It’s great to want frogs, toads, and salamanders in your pond to complete an ecosystem, but you should be patient. Don’t go to a store and purchase these animals to put into your pond. In many places, it is illegal to release certain species into the wild because they are detrimental to native plants and animals. In fact, Arizona Game & Fish highly discourages Bull Frogs. Chances are that they will not stay at your pond, and they may not survive in the wild. And by no means do we suggest that you go to a local pond or wetland and catch these animals to bring back to your pond, either – it’s never a good idea to remove them from their habitat because they will undoubtedly try to return to their place of origin and get killed along the way.
Creating A “Winter” Wonderland
In the winter, frogs are attracted to water and they will even over-winter in your pond. One of the myths out there is that frogs need to be in water that is at least 6 feet deep in order to hibernate. Not true! As long as you have mud for them to burrow in, whether it is a deep plant pocket or a potted plant, they’ll be just fine. Make sure the plant pocket or pot is deep enough to keep them away from cold temperatures. If your pond is shelved, they’ll probably go for the pot or plant pocket on the deepest shelf.
So, how do they keep from freezing? Simple: they are ectotherms, regulating their body temperatures largely by exchanging heat with their surroundings. The soil in the plant pocket or pot keeps the frogs nice and warm throughout the winter. Leaving some string algae in your pond over the winter months gives them a nice blankie to snuggle down in, too. It might be a bit unsightly to you, but the amphibians love it!
It’s always helpful to read up on any animals that you are trying to attract to your backyard paradise, so be sure to stop at the bookstore or library and pick up some materials. The more educated you are, the better off you’ll be in the long run. Get ready, because once you get these creatures in your yard, you’re never going to want to let go!
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