Are you considering building a pond? How tough can it really be, right?
If you're going to do it yourself, here are 10 common mistakes that you can avoid with a little preparation. Remember: Proper Preparation Prevents Piss-Poor Performance.
Starting with the design of the pond, Phoenix homeowners too often place their DIY pond in an unused area of the property or in a low spot that collects water. Both of these locations cause problems. Unused areas of the landscape are unused for a reason and it's a waste to put a key focal-point feature in an area that won't be seen regularly. Out of sight, out of mind … meaning nobody will care for it.
Low spots that collect water are challenging to build in (high water table) and water quality can suffer from too much runoff and pollutants entering the pond system. Rainwater harvesting and stormwater management in Phoenix are completely separate conversations from a simple fish pond.
Underestimating the amount of physical work involved with a pond installation is very common. As professional pond contractors, we are regularly asked to complete ponds in Phoenix that are partially excavated by a homeowner. Unless you dig for a living, it's tougher than you think! Proper pond excavation is something that needs to be thought out carefully to provide shelves and pockets for plants. If you just dig a hole and slap some rubber or plastic down, it's technically a pond, but you may not like the ramifications of doing it that way.
Creating Steep Sides
And speaking of excavation, digging a deep bowl with no provisions for shallow areas makes stacking stones on the inside of the pond in Phoenix very difficult. And they won't stay put, either. The stacking would be unstable and since there aren’t shallow areas, it is difficult and dangerous to get in and out of the pond for maintenance. Plus, there's no place or ledges for aquatic plants, the majority of which grow in less than 12" of water, even in Phoenix.
A shallow pond in Phoenix is obviously easier to dig than a deeper one, but if it’s not deep enough, the fish won’t be able to over-winter in the northern part of Arizona. And if you live in the central or southern area, your pond won’t stay cool if it’s too shallow. Fish don’t like hot ponds in Phoenix! 18" is the least amount of finished depth (after the rocks and gravel have been installed) that you want in Phoenix, and that's for goldfish. Koi need a bit more elbow room, and we recommend 24" minimum depth.
Lack of Ledges
A common mistake is when the pond is excavated in a bowl fashion, with gently sloping sides that get deeper towards the middle. This is difficult to disguise with rock since gravel will slide towards the deep area and boulders take up too much room. This will cause an unstable build and is a recipe for disaster and potential injury when maintaining the pond.
Improper Use of Rock and Stone
An installed pond in Phoenix is enhanced with rock to give it a desirable natural-looking appearance; a typical feature will use several tons of stone. That can be a lot of wear and tear on the family minivan, and it needs to be moved and stacked properly for stability.
Many do-it-yourselfers will decide this is too much work and they'll choose small, manageable stones that are easy to move and stack. While the work might be easier, this results in the pond falling short of aesthetics. Also, the pond loses the structural stability provided by the larger, more difficult-to-move boulders. In some cases, the novice pond installer will just eliminate the stonework altogether, which then eliminates the natural-looking feel that was the goal at the onset of the project.
Without rock and gravel, the system fails to function properly because stone not only lends to the aesthetics of the feature, but also functions as a habitat for colonization by a variety of beneficial organisms from bacteria to crustaceans… all critical to the success of a natural-looking, organic ecosystem pond.
Again, a small pond is easier to construct (less digging and rock placement) but it’s actually harder to maintain. A small feature is less stable than a larger volume of water, and most people end up making the water garden larger later down the road because they not only love it but their plants and fish outgrow a small feature. And then you'll need to decide whether to simply live with what you've created with all that blood, sweat, and tears, or to do it all over again.
Lack of Proper Filtration
Consumer thought is that real lakes, rivers, and streams function without pumps and filters, so why does their backyard pond need it? Well, that’s not even a close comparison because it’s completely different hydrology. Do-it-yourselfers sometimes purchase inadequate filters or will purchase components “a la carte.” It may be cheaper to purchase the items piecemeal, but it's challenging because different manufacturers use different fittings, and now you need to "McGuiver" things to work together, versus having everything designed to work as a unit from the get-go. Efficiency and simplicity will create a better system for your pond.
Poor Access/Staging Area
Before you get started, think about where to place your rock and gravel when it’s delivered, or where you want to place the dirt during excavation. Poor planning can lead to having little to no room to get in and out of the property during the construction process, potential tripping hazards, etc.
Improper Berm Size for Waterfalls
If the mound or berm area for the waterfall is too small or too steep, then the waterfall will look out of place and more like a volcano than a waterfall. The berm and waterfall need to be scaled according to the size of the property and the feature. Many people want a big waterfall that looks and sounds great, but it can become difficult and expensive to build, and it can overpower the space you have set aside for your pond.
The waterfall needs to fit with the property and lifestyle of the pond owner -- and, just as important, the pond needs to be large enough to contain the splash generated by the waterfall: splash width is two times the height of the fall.
There are more tricks of the trade, of course, but we don't want to give away ALL of our secrets!
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