Backyard Ponds Get A Makeover
For many, the idea of owning a backyard pond has been the holy grail of gardening. The images a pond evokes can be stirring; a cool oasis of waterfalls, babbling brooks, bright waterlilies and darting fish, where the stress and cares of the day just melt away. Open the back door and enter another world,a private world apart, a backyard paradise.
In the past, unfortunately, many who grasped for this glittering prize discovered instead the other side of paradise. What they got for their hopes, dreams and hefty investment was a murky high-maintenance nightmare, choked with unsightly clumps of green algae, filled with stagnant water from debris-clogged pumps, or leaking from concrete liners that cracked during spring thaws.
Mention to one of these disgruntled veterans that you’re considering a backyard water garden and you’ll likely get a lengthy diatribe on the hidden, horrific perils of backyard ponding.
News that “things have changed” will be lost on such folks. In fact, if you are considering a plunge into ponding these days, it may be better to keep the idea to yourself until the deed is done. If you’ve done your homework, chances are you’ll have installed a new-generation natural ecosystem pond. And then the naysayers and envious neighbors can be invited over for a celebratory libation around your low-maintenance, high-impact backyard oasis.
Technology Takes Ponds Back to Nature
In recent years, there’s been a back-to-nature revolution in aquatic landscaping that has transformed how ponds are designed, built and maintained. The new techniques and technology have put the dream of a beautiful backyard water garden within the reach of mainstream America.
According to Greg Wittstock, president and founder of Aquascape Designs, a leading North American manufacturer and innovator of water gardening products, it’s time to forget everything you thought you knew about water gardens and ponds.
“All the old objections are gone. A water garden can now be an affordable, beneficial, low-maintenance environment that provides an enormous return in enjoyment,” says Wittstock. “Water gardens and ponds today are about beauty, plants, fish and a relaxing natural lifestyle.”
Wittstock acknowledges that the traditional water features of the past were often more a nuisance than a joy. “Many people grew to hate their ponds, which is too bad,” he says. “Most of these old-style installations were not sustainable without constant maintenance and frequent major repairs. But all that has changed.”
Five Elements Work Together in Easy-Care Ecosystem Ponds
State-of-the-art water gardens today are based on creating an ecologically-stable system using five basic elements: mechanical and biological filtration, bacteria, fish, plants and lots of rocks and pebbles. There are no visible pumps, plumbing or liner material. Routine maintenance involves occasionally emptying a skimmer basket of twigs and leaves, adding some natural bacteria and doing basic seasonal plant care.
The availability of these easy-care water gardens dovetails nicely with a growing trend toward outdoor living. More and more people are rediscovering their backyards as an extension of their homes. Water gardens, more than any other single improvement, have the ability to transform a backyard into a place of tranquility, relaxation and renewal. Nearly without exception, people who have installed these new organic water gardens say they have created a personal “oasis.”
Moving Forward After a Look Back
The past objections to ponding made quite a list. It wasn’t merely a lifestyle choice as it is today. It was often a life-altering decision at worst, a complicated and usually expensive hobby at best. Common wisdom dictated that pond fish, like colorful koi, needed deep water. The in-pond pumps, pipes, pots and bare bottom liners that many pond builders used were both unsightly and ineffective. Ponds constructed of concrete or pre-formed plastic tubs often cracked and leaked. Water quality and clarity were difficult to achieve and maintain without constant testing and adjustments with chemicals or the use of UV light sterilization. On top of all that, or more precisely at the bottom of every pond, was organic waste build-up and muck necessitating frequent draining and cleaning.
“That’s the biggest change,” emphasizes Wittstock. “Organic water gardening is low-maintenance and nearly self-sustaining for years on end. It turns a water garden into what it really should be, a relaxing backyard paradise.”
For example, ecosystem water gardens rely on active bacteria to provide biological filtration. Organic waste that would otherwise become bottom muck is broken down into nutrients that feed the pond’s aquatic plants. Today, keeping a pond in top condition entails no more than minimal routine maintenance and a recommended annual clean-out; tasks that many see as being on par with maintaining an established perennial garden.
Another exciting breakthrough is in water containment. Concrete and other inferior liner systems have been replaced by flexible, fish-safe urethane pond liners that disappear completely from sight when covered by the rocks and smooth pebbles that are essential elements to a balanced pond ecosystem. The ecosystem pond also employs a high volume of moving water. Fish are not just recommended, they are a vital element in creating a sustainable, natural ecological balance.
A Case of Bigger is Better
One of the tricks to achieving a sustainable backyard pond ecosystem is building a pond thatÕs big enough. Though a properly designed and equipped 6-by-4-foot pond can achieve a natural aquatic balance, larger ponds, 8 by 11 feet for example, achieve the same balance quicker, more effectively recycle organic waste and establish a more stable ecosystem. Experience has proved: The more water in the system, the lower the maintenance.
“We often see that real pond lovers own three ponds in their lives,” says Wittstock. “The first is usually a plastic pre-formed liner and a pump bought at the local garden center.
“The big problem with these ‘starter ponds’ is that they’re a lot of work,” explained Wittstock. “The pump sits at the bottom of the pond. It clogs all the time. You’ve got to wade in and clean it out. It’ll still get gunked-up with algae. And the only way you can deal with it is with chemicals or UV filters, or draining the thing and refilling it,” notes Wittstock.
He says the surprising thing is how many people remain undaunted by these difficulties. “The thing is, even with all these problems, ponds are fun. So people upgrade the pond and get better pumps and make the pond bigger,” he says. “But if the basics aren’t sound, if you’re not working with Mother Nature, then bigger won’t be better.”
In addition to all its other benefits, a backyard pond can also add value to your home.Many real estate experts estimate that well-designed landscaping, such as a yard with a great water garden, can add from 10 to as much as 20 percent to a residential property’s value.
It’s only one more reason to sit back, relax and enjoy the thought that today a backyard paradise is a reality truly within reach.
Editor’s Note: For more information about the Aquascape Ecosystem or natural water gardening, call 888-306-5288 or visit www.aquascapedesigns.com.
The Basics of an Ecosystem Pond
A naturalized water garden can begin with an excavation, a flexible underlayment and a liner. They can be designed in any customized shape and include a waterfall so the water moves, facilitating the biological filtration. Dig the pond about 2 to 3 feet deep, featuring stepped ledges along the perimeter. The ledges will function as shelves to support plants, and provide an important safety feature for people entering and exiting the pond. Plants are an important part of the ecosystem, recycling fish waste into fertilizer and shading the pond. To achieve optimum eco-balance, plant approximately 40-percent of the water garden’s surface area.
To stabilize the ecosystem, allow the water to “naturalize” at least one week prior to introducing the fish to the pond. Fish are necessary for the ecosystem (usually koi or goldfish). Algae are also a natural part of the ecosystem, providing food for the fish and other aquatic life. To balance the ecosystem, add bacteria once or twice a month during active season. Regularly adding bacteria helps discourage “string” algae (undesirable accumulated algae). Routine maintenance involves emptying the skimmer of large debris, standard plant care, and an annual springtime “drain and clean.” If properly maintained, the various biological features of the pond will naturally balance each other, resulting in a low-maintenance naturalized ecosystem.
New Group to Share Ideas
Lovers of ponds and water gardens now have a national organization dedicated to the “enjoyment, education, promotion and protection of the water gardening hobby.” The North American Water Garden Society (NAWGS) is a new, non-profit organization that plans to aggressively address issues of serious concern to water gardeners throughout North America. The group plans to be active in both public education and regulatory issues, including water restrictions, plant and fish regulations, mosquito-born pathogens and more.
The NAWGS website features news and articles on water gardening and a list of upcoming events. Or visit the community forum to get tips on pond construction or fish selection. Check out the NorthAmericanWaterGarden Society at www.nawgs.com.
Complete Pond Kit
“With our NurseryPro MicroPond kits, even the do-it-yourself beginner starts with the right concept, a pond designed to establish a naturally balanced ecosystem,” says Greg Wittstock, of Aquascape Designs. “We’re confident homeowners are going to have a much more successful first pond experience. And, we continue to find that pond lovers will always want a bigger pond. Heck, I have a one-acre pond and I want a bigger pond!”
Available in 4-by-6-, 6-by-8-, and 8-by-11-foot sizes, the NurseryPro MicroPond kits come with everything you need to build a pond. Each kit includes liner and underlayment, skimmer, bacteria media, pump, plumbing assembly, 25-foot kink-free pipe, silicone sealant and complete instruction manual.