Know This Before Owning Koi


The short answer:

  1. Koi need ample space to thrive – When estimating pond size, you need at least 300 gallons per fish. For example a 3000 gallon pond could house no more than 10 koi.
  2. Great water quality – this can be accomplished through various types of filtration system.
  3. Protection from predators

There is nothing more relaxing and calming than sitting by the ponds edge watching the kaleidoscope of colors dance just below the surface as the graceful koi move about.  There is something magical about these fascinating creatures.

I got the koi “bug” shortly after I caught the pond bug.  It seemed to be the natural progression of things. If you are in the same situation, then you know what I am talking about.  What started out as a mild curiosity has grown into a grand obsession.

I ponder such things as how koi can survive the harsh winter months. How a mere “fish” can be taught tricks, and actually learn things. The different personalities they possess. Koi are more than mere fish, they are extraordinary beasts that have an aura of magic, legend and lore that come with them.

Caring for koi properly begins with proper pond design. The old thinking that koi will grow to the size of their environment is false. They will grow to the size they are going to be regardless of the size of the pond. If you plan on keeping koi, the size of the pond must allow for this.

Pond Design

The right design is key to not just keeping these animals, but allowing them to thrive. Koi can reach lengths of 30” or larger depending on the breed. 

When designing your koi pond, It’s important the depth of their environment is greater than their length. Just like you and I, koi also need exercise. If they do not have the proper depth, they cannot exercise their fins properly by swimming up and down.

A proper environment should have a depth of at least 42”. This will not only allow them proper exercise, but also allow them to survive in colder climates. Depending on what part of the world you live, the frost line needs to be one of the determining factors of how deep your pond will be. The depth of your pond should be well below the frost line for your part of the world.

If your pond freezes solid, this could spell sudden death for your koi. Regardless of 42”, your pond should also be deeper than the frost line. If both of these criteria are met, then you will have success caring for these creatures.

Water Flow

Most pond kits (link to amazon for the most up to date prices) do not come with a bottom drain. Even if the kit is labeled a koi pond kit, without a bottom drain it may not suffice for optimal water quality. The bottom drain (affiliate link to amazon for a bottom drain to add to a pond kit) helps to take some of the maintenance work out of the equation. When set up properly the current in the pond forces most of the sediment and waste to the bottom drain where it can be removed and filtered out.  

Without a drain set up you will need to vacuum and remove the waste manually.  Save yourself some work and design this out of the equation. Not only will it save you work down the line but your koi will be happier and healthier with a cleaner environment.

creating propoer water flow in a koi pond

A proper koi pond setup contains a skimmer, bottom drain, and multiple return lines to create a swirling effect in the pond as seen in the illustration above. This swirling effect moves waste and debris to the center of the pond where it can be removed by the bottom drain.

The main differences between a water garden and a koi pond is the use of a bottom drain, and the filtration set up. The key to keeping koi is superior water quality. That being said the key to superior water quality is proper filtration.

What Filtration Do You Need

Gravity flow filtration systems are extremely effective keeping water crystal clear and koi healthy.  The reason they work so well is the water flows steadily and slowly to the bottom drain. The key words are slow and steady. 

The reason behind this is to move the waste, especially the large waste that settles to the bottom and keep it intact to the first chamber of filtration, ironically known as the settling chamber.

A gravity flow filter consists of different stages or chambers.  Each chamber with different water levels. Water is always seeking its own level.  A pump (link to my pond pump reviews) is placed after the final chamber pulling the water through the system and back into the pond. 

One challenge of the gravity filter is the fact that the water level in the chambers must be slightly below the water level in your pond.  Hence the term gravity filter. Since water always seeks to find its own level, the pond pump is merely used to pump the water back into your pond, and gravity pulls the water through the system.

The water enters at the bottom of the chamber, flows upward through filter media, then into another pipe at the top and into the bottom of the next chamber.

The filter media gets finer and finer as the water flows from one chamber to another. Most of the particulate is removed with this system, returning crystal clear water to your pond.  

One downside to this system is the space it requires. Keep this in mind when designing your pond layout. It will be necessary to have ample space for this and a creative way to hide it.

The cycle the water flows for filtration is as follows:

Bottom drain into settling chamber to mechanical filtration to pump, and finally back into the pond.

Below is an illustration of this type of system.

gravity filtration system

Other Filtration Systems

There are other methods of filtration that can be incorporated into your koi pond filtration system.  Each will also require ample space and need to be hidden behind the scenes while at the same time easily accessible. 

The typical pond kit does not have a bottom drain. It consists of a skimmer box (affiliate link to amazon for our recommended skimmer box) with a mesh net and filter media. The skimmer box also houses the pump. Water is then circulated to a waterfall unit where it flows through more filter media, and returned to the pond.

Koi can be kept with this style of pond setup, however it may require more hands on maintenance throughout the season. For example the netting and the filter media will need to be cleaned on a regular basis.

The differences between these filtration systems is how the water flows through them, and how thoroughly they can remove particulate. All of them require a pump of some sort. Some of the best filtration systems use a combination of both gravity and power to achieve exceptionally clean, clear water.

This is the golden rule, you can have as many koi as your filtration system will allow.

Once you have decided on the pond size, type of your filtration system and how to implement the whole thing into your landscape, the next decision is what is the overall feeling you are trying to create in the space.

The typical koi pond has the black liner along the sides and bottom. This really makes the colors of these beautiful fish stand out. Another advantage of having only the liner exposed is for the ease of debris to make its way to the center drain for filtration. Having a smooth bottom allows the water to flow more completely in the environment without getting hung up on rocks.

The koi pond edge is where rocks come in. A shelf should be excavated approximately 12 inches from the water surface and rocks or other edging material should be used.  The liner should go across this “shelf” and hidden up behind the rocks on the edge. 

The pond built in our how to build a pond guide has the sides and bottom covered with rocks. Check out the link above to do this properly. The rocks make it a bit more difficult to clean, however it has a very natural look that easily blends into the landscape. 

Your ponds edge and liner should be slightly higher than the surrounding grade to prevent rain runoff from entering your pond. 

Quick side note: Depending on your budget you may not use a liner at all and choose to have your pond made of gunite, the same material that is used for swimming pools. For the sake of discussion, we are not going to elaborate on this any further because this method is beyond the scope of the DIY’er. This method requires professional installation and specialized equipment.

Most of my clients prefer the look of a natural rocked in pond if their budget allows. It is still possible to keep koi without the use of a bottom drain as mentioned earlier.Keep in mind that more maintenance will be required to keep the water quality high.

to keep the water at the highest quality a UV light should also be installed into the system. More on that here. The UV light will sterilize the water and kill any bacteria, or algae that passes through it.

Design Variations

A raised koi pond is another method of building a koi pond.  A liner can be used in this as well. The only limitation with this is the depth you choose. Be sure it follows the guidelines discussed earlier so your koi can survive whatever type of winter you experience in your part of the world.

The raised type of pond can have two variations.  The first is a completely raised pond. Think of it like an above ground pool.  This would be constructed of cinder blocks and covered with a veneer of your choice. 

The part that is seen above ground can be constructed of cinder blocks and lined with an EPDM liner (affiliate link to amazon for the best price on pond liners). This serves as a very effective means to create your pond. It will have a more modern formal look. The variation you choose will depend on the surrounding design of your outdoor space, and your taste.

Depending on your décor, tile, stone, wood, or even bamboo are just a few great choices to finish off your raised pond. The raised pond is ideal for warmer climates, where a frostline is minimal.

If you live in a colder climate like I do, you can still have a raised pond but will need to modify it a bit. It will be constructed in the same way above ground, but excavated well below the frost line. 

Koi Ponds In A Cold Climate

When waste collects, it creates an environment that depletes the oxygen in the water as it breaks down. If the debris and waste is not removed, this unhealthy environment will be at the bottom of your pond. 

Guess where your koi go in the winter months? Down at the bottom where there is less oxygen.  

This could potentially suffocate your fish if the pond freezes over and the poisonous gasses cannot escape.

To avoid this simply add an aerator (affiliate link to Amazon for the best price) to your pond at a shallow depth. Placing the aerator at the bottom of the pond will introduce cold air at the bottom creating an unhealthy environment. The movement from the aerator will keep the surface from freezing solid and allow the poisonous gasses that build up escape.

A pond heater (affiliate link to Amazon) is another option if your part of the world is exceptionally cold. This keeps a small portion of the surface melted allowing the gases to escape.

Keeping the bottom as clear from waste as you can is imperative to the health and longevity of your beautiful fish.

A third option to deal with old man winter is to place your koi in holding tanks over the winter months, out of the severe weather.  It is not necessary to keep them warm, just keep them out of the elements where they could freeze.

Disease And Your Koi Pond

Koi, being as hardy as they are can usually fight off any infections that would be brought on by fungi, or bacteria. Stress is the main cause for disease in your fish. This type of stress is not from an aggressive boss, or getting stuck in rush hour traffic. This stress is caused by water quality.  

Water quality can be compromised by:

  • Stress
  • Placing sick fish into your pond
  • Overcrowding
  • Outside contaminates
  • Spawning

Just like with any ailment, catching it in the early stages is key. This can prove to be difficult at times, however if you pay attention to the behavior of your fish, say at feeding time you will notice these changes. If a fish isolates itself from the rest, this may be a sign that something isn’t right.

The problem with disease is that it can spread quickly and wipe out your entire population if not treated in a timely manner.

As the old saying goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. When it comes to keeping fish, no truer statement could be made. The most important thing is to keep the quality of the pond water high. This will keep your fishes’ immune system in great shape and keep disease at bay.

Protect Your Plants

If this is your first experience with koi, be forewarned that they can be very destructive when it comes to pond vegetation. They will uproot and destroy anything they can. If you choose to have plants in your pond like most of us do, you will find that you will need to keep them in planters to protect them from the koi. 

protect your plants from koi

This keeps everyone happy, the koi get the benefit of shade and oxygen from the plants, and you get a little piece of mind that your plants will be there every time you visit the water garden.

In Conclusion

When it comes to creating and maintaining your koi pond, filtration and water quality are the most important things you can do. Not only will your fish stay healthy and thrive, but the beautiful environment you create will bring you years of enjoyment. 

The key to success is to get set up properly. It’s difficult to add a bottom drain a few years down the road, so decide and design your koi pond the right way from the start. Do yourself a favor and set yourself up for success. I wish you success with all you projects, and if you have any questions or comments I encourage you to leave them below. Until next time enjoy your backyard water garden.

~Jeff

Climbing Mount Marcy

view from the top of mount marcy

At a Glance

Elevation: 5344

Distance to Summit: 7.4 miles

Total distance: 14.8 miles

Trail Entrance Location Coordinates (google maps): 43.108471, -74.368059

What to Bring

  1. ½ liter for every hour in the woods
  2. Jacket, the top of the mountain is about 20 degrees colder than where you start your journey
  3. Dense foods. Granola bars, nuts and trail mix, string cheese
  4. Toilet paper
  5. Bug spray
  6. Leg Gaiters – Waterproof to keep your feet dry (amazon link for the best price)
  7. Sunscreen
  8. Properly fitting already broken in footwear – hiking boots or trail running shoes
  9. Map – although the trails are well marked a map is always a good idea.
  10. Adjustable Hiking Sticks (here is a link to amazon, I won’t hike again without them) they certainly help you to move quicker over some of the terrain. Just about everyone that flew past us were using these to navigate the trails.

Why Mount Marcy

You know how your hanging out with your buddies and the night starts to get late, that’s when the really “good” ideas come out. That’s what happened back in December. Somehow the idea that we would all climb a mountain seemed like the one thing we all HAD to do. 

I’m writing this as it’s still fresh in my mind, before the blisters have healed. Our group was not a band of hiking fanatics, just 4 amateur with ages ranging from 16 – 43 on a mission.

marcy dam

How did we decide on Marcy, well it’s the highest peak in New York and the Adirondacks with an elevation of 5,344. So it was the obvious choice for us. We would also be within a 2 hour drive from where we vacation on the 4th of July, so it was the perfect day trip.

After doing a little more research I realized that it wasn’t just the mountain that would be a challenge, it was the 15 mile (14.8 miles)  hike that came along with it. As I said before, we are complete amateurs. To us, a 3 mile hike is a long distance, so keep that in mind as you read.

Here Is The Video Of Our Adventure

How Do You Get To Marcy

The best way to get up Marcy was through the Van Hoevenberg trail. There is a welcome center without an address. That’s where the trail begins, you will need to use the coordinates 43.108471, -74.368059 in google maps, or a good old fashioned map to find it.

My GPS did not work properly on the ride up and cell phone reception is very limited so keep this in mind if you plan to rely on technology.

Newbies in the Woods

Get your parking pass inside if there is no one at the gate. We began speaking with one of the welcoming members upon arrival. She was asking us questions to make sure we were prepared for our day in the woods. I guess we really stood out!

Adirondack welcome center

She immediately pointed out that most of us were wearing cotton. A bad choice for a day long hike in the summer. Live and learn… the hard way. Cotton does not wick away the sweat as well as other materials. Instead it just gets heavier and uncomfortable as we found out first hand.

“Just go as far as you can. There is no shame if you don’t make it all the way up.” She said. I wasn’t sure if she was trying to discourage, or inspire us but with that we headed toward the trail. 

What to Expect Climbing Mount Marcy

Be sure you register at the registration hut before you begin. Also take note of the bear warning, for correctly storing your food. The trail was clearly marked with blue discs, and a mile marker sign every few miles. Marcy is not the only mountain along the trail, but that was the focus of our trip so we never ventured off in any other directions.

mount marcy trail bear warning

The trail was well worn with lots of foot traffic. The only hiccups were the roots that gnarled their way through it. I thought, “this is a piece of cake.” 

starting the hike to mount marcy summit

Marcy Dam

At 2.1 miles you come to Marcy Dam. We were fortunate to have perfect weather for our day out as you can see in the pictures. You cant see Mount Marcy from here but this is a great place to stop for a water break.

The next stretch of the trail gives you a taste of what’s to come. You begin to head upwards a bit, walking over rocks that litter the trail. It was a bit muddy because of the wet spring/summer we have had. Navigating the rocks isn’t too difficult and it keeps you out of the mud. I recommend wearing gaiters to keep the water out.

Indian Falls

The next highlight on the hike is Indian Falls. You come to a stream you need to cross and there is a sign for the falls. Marcy was one way, and the falls was another. We decided not to travel to the falls not knowing how far away they actually were, and like I said earlier we were on a mission. We figured, depending on how we were feeling we could hit the falls on the way back.

We were informed by other hikers that this was about halfway to Marcy’s summit. We didn’t realize it was the “easy” half.

Never Ending Stairway

We headed down the trail marked with blue discs and came to what looked like a dry creek bed with very large rocks going up. This went on for just over 2 miles. At this point we were all starting to slow down. The enthusiasm we started off with was slowly draining with every step upward. At this point the black flies were relentless, and every water break needed a re-application of bug spray.

climb mount marcy creek bed trail

Once through the dry creek bed, the trail changes back into a more typical trail. The vegetation also begins to look a bit different. As you make your way along the trail there are small clearings with breathtaking views. This helped motivate us to keep going.

About a mile away from the summit there is a clearing where you can get a good view of Marcy. It looked so far away but we had come this far so going back was not an option. This was the “fun” part of the climbing according to my son (16). From this point on the trail changes, and you are now faced with climbing the rock that IS Marcy. The trail is marked well with yellow stripes. Some of the spots were challenging to navigate, mainly because we were out of gas. This last bit of the trail was the greatest. The view was spectacular with every changing movement forward.

climbing mount marcy

Although it was July in New York the top of the mountain still had a little snow on it. The air was cooler and the wind was a consistent 20mph, but it was refreshing on the warm buggy day.

small snow pack on top of mount marcy

The vegetation completely changes at this point, there are no more trees. You enter a tundra climate zone. 

On Top Of A Mountain

Upon reaching the top, after a short rest we were greeted by a ranger. He informed us that he was there to greet people and answer any questions they had. He was enthusiastically knowledgeable about anything we asked.

One of our questions: “Is there a shortcut to get back down?” (probably heard that a million times) and he told us the quickest way down was the way we came up. He hikes up to the summit every morning and hikes back down at the end of the day. I found this to be quite unusual, and couldn’t imagine doing this on a daily basis.

Retracing Our Steps

Once we felt a little rejuvenated it was time to start the long hike back to the car. You would think going down would be the easy part, it wasn’t. We moved along at a steady pace. The difficult part was the 2 miles or so of creek bed that seemed to never end.

Once we were through that the rest was fairly easy… just long.

We never did make it to see indian falls. I guess i’lll save that for my next trip. 

Is Mount Marcy Hard to Hike

This is a loaded question. There are lots of variables, like what kind of shape you’re in and how much drive you have. It was not too difficult as far as the climb goes. The most difficult part of the hike was the last mile or so, but even that wasn’t too steep.

The majority of the hike is a creek bed filled with boulders. It was difficult to look around and take it all in. my attention was mainly on the ground, trying not to twist my ankle. Two miles of this wore me down.

The length of the hike is another factor. Now i consider myself in pretty good shape. I work out 4 to 5 times per week for an hour or so at a time, watch what I eat, not overweight, but that wore me out. 

My son 16, had no problems and was waiting for us to catch up on many occasions.

Our Plan 

Begin hiking by 7:00Am

Reach the summit by 11

Recover for an hour then head back down at 12

Back to the car by 4

I assumed we would be hiking at an average pace of 2mph for 14.8 miles

Total time: 9 hours

Reality

Began hiking at 7:30

Reached summit at 1:05pm

Recovered for about 45 min and started to climb down at 1:50pm

Back to the car at 6:15

Total time: 10 hours 45 min

As you can see we were off a bit from our original plan. If you plan on doing this in a day be sure to get there early, parking does start to fill up the later it gets. If you are new to this type of hiking give yourself some extra time, another reason to begin early.

All in All A Great Day

plaque on top of mount marcy

It’s always great to get out in nature and get inspired. This trip recharged my batteries and filled me with enthusiasm. Trying to recreate what mother nature does so flawlessly is a challenge. But with this newly lit fire inside me I am up for it.

After doing something like this, as time passes your memory of the struggle weakens while the memory of the accomplishment gets stronger. I know it won’t be long until i find myself deep in the woods climbing more peaks. As I was warned by another hiker we ran into “Be careful, this is addictive”.

~Jeff

How to Build a Flagstone Patio A Helpful Guide

I’m warning you, be careful, if your wife is anything like mine, she knows how to plant a seed in my mind. Once planted I have no choice but to carry out her plans. She is crafty that way… and that’s why I love her. All she did was merely mention adding a flagstone patio near our backyard pond and BAM… I was obsessed!

flagstone patio by the backyard waterfall

Basic steps

  1. Plan – choose location and size
  2. Dig and level area
  3. Build up a level 4 inch compacted gravel base
  4. Add patio sand on top of the gravel base
  5. Lay out flagstone overlapping on another
  6. Trace and cut flagstone for a natural tight fit
  7. Level flagstones one at a time
  8. Fill the cracks with patio sand
  9. ENJOY!

Tools and Supplies

Most of the tools needed, you most likely already have, like a shovel and rake. The reciprocating saw and disposable blades (affiliate links to Amazon) are a must have if you encounter roots of any kind. As you can see mine is an older model, but it has served me well.

Another thing you will need to do this project right is an angle grinder and diamond blade (affiliate links to Amazon.com). Depending on the size of your project you can get a 3 pack of diamond blades like the ones I used in the video, or a single diamond blade.

  • Shovel
  • Wheelbarrow
  • Level
  • Reciprocating saw
  • Angle grinder with a diamond wheel
  • Metal rake
  • Sand
  • Driveway stone
  • Flagstone
  • Ambition!

A Video From Start To Finish

The Planning Stage

We needed more of a gathering place close to the pond, that would allow us all to hang out together. Here is a breakdown of the steps to get this done from start to finish.

Just like all the projects featured on this site, planning is a big part of your success. Whether it’s a pond, waterfall, grill island, concrete countertop, or simply a stone wall, you must have a vision of what you want before you set out to create it.

Figuring out what works best in your outdoor space is the first step. You need to picture what would fit best in your space. Brick has a rustic look to it, but a bit too formal for our application. This was why we chose flagstone. The natural look of the stone plays off well with the surroundings

pallet of flagstone ready to be a patio

This material is semi easy to work with, and it matches our natural looking pond. The field stone compliments the look of the slate and the whole thing comes together, creating an inviting natural patio and walk.

This Flagstone Patio Will Be A Piece Of Cake

My original thought was to scrape off the grass and merely place the flagstone in the dirt, leveling and fitting them in as I went. I marked out where I wanted it to go with a can of spray paint, and then chopped an outline in the grass.

Using a roto tiller to pull up the grass over the area. As I did this I ran into lots of roots. If you ever do a project like this… be sure to do it under the largest tree on your property (can you feel the sarcasm here!).

Root Removal

Once I was done complaining I realized there was no easy way to do this, and it had to be done the right. I ordered 5 tons of driveway stone and began to remove the dirt and cut out the roots about 5 inches below where I wanted my finished patio.

The easiest way I have found to remove large roots is with a reciprocating saw. The blades for these are relatively inexpensive, you can get a 10 pack on Amazon. This will allow you to cut through roots in no time.

Do not use a chainsaw. As soon as the chain makes contact with the dirt it will dull out.

Getting Back on Track

I used the dirt that I removed around the edge of the new patio. The ground was pitched about 6 inches on one side, and needed to come up if I wanted the patio to be somewhat level.

After I had removed enough dirt i used a hand tamper to compact the ground. Doing this helps reduce the amount of settling once everything is done.

Once the dirt was dug out and packed down, begin filling it up with driveway stone. When you do this, rake the stone until it is the level and pitch you want your flagstone to be.

bringing up the grade for a flagstone patio

If your driveway stone is higher than the surrounding elevation, dirt will need to be added around the edge to keep the driveway stone in place. If not when you go to compact it, the driveway stone will just fall away on the edges. Use either a power tamper, or hand tamper to compact the driveway stone.

This is where things are different between laying a brick patio and using flagstone. Flagstone varies in thickness from piece to piece, so your base doesn’t have to be perfect. Brick on the other hand demands a consistent surface to be laid on.

Each piece of flagstone needs to be placed and leveled individually. Since the flagstone is not always uniform the way it sits, it needs to be completely supported underneath to avoid cracking. Using a layer of paving sand on top of the stone base you just compacted down accomplishes this. Now the flagstone has even support and this will also stop it from rocking when stepped on.

Large pieces of flagstone can be difficult to manipulate without a helping hand. There are two benefits to using larger pieces of flagstone:

  1. Large amounts of surface area are covered by on piece
  2. The larger size makes the stone stay where you place it.

Using a pallet with wheels attached to the bottom was extremely helpful to move the large stone from the drop off point to the worksite. Keep this in mind when you have your stone delivered and place it as close as you can.

How To Start Laying Flagstone

My technique was to begin in the middle with a few very large pieces and then build out from there. It’s like having a giant puzzle. Finding the perfect piece for that perfect spot is what will set the whole thing off and make it look amazing.

If the pieces don’t fit… make them. Lay one stone on the other and trace the rustic edge. Using an angle grinder with a diamond wheel, score the line you just scribed. Flip the stone over and try to match what you did on the first side.

Scoring the stone on both sides will create a breaking point. Gently tap the piece you want to remove with a hammer and it should fall away. This technique may take a little practice but after a stone or two, you will get the hang of it.

This is the easiest way to make nice tight spaces between the stones. By using one stone to trace the other you maintain the natural looking shape rather than cutting straight lines to make them fit.

Place your first stone and pitch it the way you like, making sure it’s supported completely with sand. Find your next piece and off you go. Try not to have too many seams in a row. It just looks better to have a seam broken up after a rock or two.

finishing off a flagstone patio

If and when you place the last piece in place, take a breath and give yourself a pat on the back for a job well done.

After a short rest it’s time to fill the cracks with more sand. Use polymer sand if your seams are 2 inches or less. The polymer sand resists washing out and minimizes weeds. Once it gets wet the polymer sand will lock the whole thing together.

finishing a flagstone patio

Dump out a bag or two depending on the size of your project and sweep it around with a push broom until all the cracks are filled. Now wet the whole thing down. Try not to blast the cracks and wash the sand out.

Now that you put your “puzzle” together it’s time to finish the edges and bring the whole thing together. I used the dirt from where the patio was going and created a berm.

Just adding a few plants really help to set the whole thing off. Now mulch and voila! Instant outdoor entertaining space.

planting and mulch around a flagstone patio

In Conclusion

That’s all there is to it. Don’t put it off until next season. Start now and before you know it you will be enjoying your new patio.

Put all the pieces together one at a time. It may look overwhelming but if you go step by step anyone can accomplish this. Hope you found this useful. I would love to hear about projects you have created to bring your outdoor space to life. Please comment below. Until next time… enjoy your backyard water garden.

Planting Water Lilies

dew drops on lily pads

Planting water lilies may seem like a daunting task, but if you take it step by step and use the right variety, you too can have a green thumb.  There is nothing more beautiful than a delicate water lily bloom floating across the calm water on a silent pond. Check out this short video, or keep reading.


Gazing out over the water the blooms are like stars gleaming in the night sky.  How does nature create something so beautiful?  When I try putting water lilies in my backyard water garden I got lily pads, but no blooms.  What was I doing wrong? 

Part of the problem was, the part of my pond where the lilies are planted is in the shade for part of the day.  If you want your lilies to bloom, they prefer full sun. Another reason why I may not be getting blooms is the fact that I never fertilized them before they were planted.  Two rookie mistakes that I could have avoided.

Tougher Than You Think

That’s the great thing about water lilies, although they look fragile and delicate, they are extremely tough and very hardy.  Water lilies can be grown in every USDA zone across the US.

Some varieties go dormant in the winter and can be left in the water, while other tropical varieties need to be taken care of during the winter months.  The tropical varieties require a minimum water temperature of 70 degrees F.

pink lily bloom

Although the tropical varieties may need more care, let me assure you they are worth the effort.  The blooms from these plants are truly incredible.

Water lilies grow best at a depth of 16 to 24 inches.

The easiest way to go about planting lilies is to use a container or pot.  This makes them easy to remove if you live in a climate where your pond freezes solid during the winter months.  If your pond does not freeze solid, you may still wish to move your plants to a lower depth in your pond during the cold season.

Another reason we recommend using a container for your planting is to protect them from any fish you may have. You can get cheap planter baskets right from Amazon. If planting in a koi pond be aware that koi can be very destructive when it comes to pond plantings.

Planting Step By Step

  1. A water lily is a tuber so it requires a shallow, wide pot.  The pot should be approximately 12-18 inches wide, and 6 – 10 inches deep.  If your container has drain holes in and around it, line it with burlap, or landscape fabric to keep the soil in place.
  2. If soil does escape from the pot it could cloud the water in your pond.  Use a dense soil unlike potting soil that is light and fluffy. Soils that contain peat, perlite, or vermiculite all have the tendency to float out of your container.
  3. Use an aquatic fertilizer that is designed for pond plants and mix it into your soil.  Be sure to use the recommended amount. Too much of a good thing is not a good thing. Also, if you over fertilize your plants you will also encourage algae growth and could turn your pond green.
  4. Cut off any old dead leaves and any thick roots.  Leave only the small hair like thin roots and the budding leaves.  Place the lily up against the side of the container with the bud pointed at a 45-degree angle towards the center of the planter.
  5. Cover the tuber with soil and then place pea gravel over the soil.  The gravel will help to contain the soil once it is lowered into the water.  Place the container into the water with care. Be sure there is no air trapped in the container after it is submerged by lowing it in at an angle.

Let Nature Take Its Course

Your pot should not be planted any lower than 18 inches to begin.  If your pond is deeper than that and it doesn’t have planting shelves, then you will need to put the pot up on something to reach that depth.  The leaves will float to the surface.

water lily starting to bloom

Planting these winter hardy water lilies will make it look like you do have a green thumb after all.  By following these simple steps, you will have a water garden filled with lily pads and magnificent blooms.

Conclusion

If you are ready to get your hands dirty and plant some of these wonderful plants in your water garden pond be sure to get winter hardy variety if you live in a cooler climate. The pre-grown water lilies are ready to enchant your water feature.

If you have any questions or comments, please don’t hesitate to leave them below.  We love to hear from you, that’s what we are here for.

Keeping Koi Safe From Pond Predators

koi and goldfish in the backyard pond

Something you may have not given much thought to is how you will keep your fish safe from pond predators.  Here is a typical scenario that may give you a wake up call

The Time has come to finally sit back and enjoy your amazing water feature.  Weather you put it in yourself, or hired professionals for the installation you are ready to take in the ambiance of this amazing… wait, what happened to the fish that were in here.  I know I had three, now there is only one. And why are those rocks overturned? Vandals?

Know Your Enemy

Depending on where you live, your pond and koi fish can fall victim to an array of unwanted guests.  From the dreaded blue heron that will feast on your prized koi. Even raccoons and chipmunks pose a threat to your beautiful creation.

blue heron by the waters edge

The Bird of Death – For Pond Fish

The predator that concerns me the most is the blue heron.  In my part of the world this fisherman is always on the top of its game.  A perfect example of how nature has created the perfect fisherman. With its spear like beak and the “S” curve of its neck, always ready to strike with speed and precision.

It will land in the shallow waters, and remain perfectly still.  The patience this bird has is incredible. It will stand there, stoic waiting, waiting then bam! Lunch!


These birds fly by scoping out promising hunting grounds from the air.  This bird will darken the sky when it flies overhead, as if some mythical beast has just spawned from middle earth.  Its legs stretched out behind it as it flies. At first glance you may think you are looking at a pterodactyl, or something prehistoric.

Blue Heron taking flight

Now What

The best defense against such an intelligent predator is to take preventative action before these birds have claimed your pond as their new hunting ground.  You have a few options at your disposal that will prove to be effective:

  • Decoys – You can use decoys to keep them away, but keep in mind that you are dealing with an intelligent advisory.  They will learn that decoys are just that, decoys. As long as you keep them moving around your space decoys will be effective. When doing research for this article I came across this ultimate pond protection kit on Amazon.
  • Water spray – A motion sensor device designed just for this shoots a stream of water when it is triggered, keeping away many nascence animals.
  • Water Dye – This is another tactic that can be used to ward off herons that are looking for a free lunch.  The dye will make your pond look deeper than it truly is and help hide your fish from the sky.

I’ve even heard of people going as far as putting rebar grates over the tops of their ponds.  To me that seems like overkill but I suppose once you lose a koi or two you may see things differently.

black autumn pond netting
Seasonal

Pond netting could be the answer if you don’t mind clearing the debris that gathers on it every now and then.  If you enjoy your pond from a distance, then this would work well for you. The black netting is very difficult to see from a distance and will keep just about anything out.

When it comes to netting, I use it for a different purpose.  I don’t bother with the net until the leaves start falling in autumn.

Keep the Pests out by design

backyard pond with waterfall

When you build your pond, the best practice is to build it into shelves so there are steep drops, then a level shelf, then another drop, and so on until you reach your desired depth.  One reason for this is for planting. This way you could enjoy different species of plants that need different depths of water.

The other reason for this is to keep out predators.  If you had your edge gradually go down into the water, it would be more like a beach.  This would be an open invitation for raccoons, weasels and the like who would all love to make a meal of those beautiful koi.  The gradual decline gives them easy access in and out.

digging a backyard pond with three levels

In order to combat this, when you dig your pond dig it in layers.  This has two advantages. One, raccoons and the like will only be able to get what they can immediately reach. Two, the layers are perfect for planting different types of vegetation.  Not all plants prefer the same depth in the water.

Danger Comes From All Angles

Baby water snake made a home in my pond skimmer box

Although your biggest threat may seem to come from the sky, do not overlook other dangers that come from the ground.  This tiny water snake attempted to make a home in the pond skimmer box.

If not taken care of my fish may have been inn danger as the snake got bigger.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure as the old saying goes.

One other type of pest to look out for is one that is as old as the dinosaurs. This hungry slow moving beast will turn your pond into a buffet if you don’t catch it in time. The snapping turtle. We recently relocated one that was found near my pond.

It’s Not All Bad News

chipmunk made his home it the side of the waterfall at the water garden

Having a pond also attracts all sorts of other inhabitants.  A pest is a very objectionable word. It’s the same as calling something a weed.  A weed is just an unwanted plant. One persons weed is someone else’s pride and joy.  It all depends on if you see something is a pest or not.

Right now my pond has attracted this crazy chipmunk who has turned my waterfall hill into Swiss cheese.  For the time being its fine. He is fun to watch scamper about. As long as he isn’t doing damage he can stay.  He also adds an element of entertainment to the space.

Chipmunks aren’t the only things that the pond brings into your yard.  The variety of birds that grace my pond with their presence is astonishing.  Birds I have never seen in the wild before now bathe themselves in the rushing waters of my waterfall.

Small Creatures Welcome

Oriole bathing in the backyard waterfall

I have seen Orioles, yellow finches, sparrows, cardinals, blue jays, and other birds I couldn’t recognize.  This has awakened my curiosity and now find great pleasure in bird watching. We have even downloaded an app that plays specific bird calls to coax some rare breeds to our water garden.

color changing tree frog blending in at the water garden

Frogs and toads are another added bonus to pond ownership.  There is nothing sweeter than a frog song in the midsummers night air.  Mosquito control is another perk for inviting these wonderful creatures to call your backyard pond home.

To Sum it Up

It’s a good idea to put some kind of preventative action into place before your pond turns into a buffet.  However, if you go too overboard it will cut down on your overall enjoyment. That’s the main reason you have a pond in the first place.  The key is, just like everything in life, to find the perfect balance of keeping your space safe without taking away your overall enjoyment.

If you have any tips or tactics to share, we would love to hear them.  Please leave a comment below. Be safe and happy gardening!

The Pondless Waterfall – DIY

The Pondless Waterfall

The pondless waterfall is exactly what you need if you have ever thought about putting a water feature in your outdoor space.  After researching all that is involved with pond ownership realize that it’s tons of work?  Your life is busy and finding the time, energy and money that goes into digging and maintaining a pond is almost unimaginable. That’s where the idea of a pondless waterfall comes in.

There are a couple of ways to approach this.  If you are looking for a simple plug and play type of solution, then a backyard fountain may be enough to satisfy that craving for bringing another dimension to your space.  However, if you are like me and want a more natural feel, then the pondless waterfall is exactly what you are looking for.

Keep It Simple

typical backyard pond and waterfall setup

Much of the hassle of a conventional pond and waterfall setup can be eliminated.  The digging is minimal and the maintenance that goes along with pond ownership is almost completely eliminated as well.

Come Up With a Game Plan

So let’s begin this project the way any project should begin, in the planning stage.  This can be the most difficult to do if you have a tough time making decisions. Location is the key.  Not only do you want your new waterfall and stream visible, but you also want it within earshot of your normal outdoor gathering place.

summer rushing waterfall

A stream with rushing water is one thing, but if a waterfall is added it’s entirely something else as far as sound is concerned.  I had no idea the impact a waterfall had on the noise, even in the outdoors. The white noise it creates almost completely eliminates any other sound from the space.  This is important to keep in mind when choosing location.

I have noticed from personal experience that conversations around my waterfall are somewhat private.  The sound of the water eliminates the chance of someone eavesdropping in on what you are saying. Just keep this in mind if you plan on a roaring waterfall next to your outdoor dining area.

Flow or Fall

When going the pondless route, you may not find a need for a waterfall at all.  Just the mere sound of water winding down over the rocks to its destination is a tranquil sound that won’t completely disrupt the atmosphere, and adds a bit of seemingly natural ambiance to the space.  The above image is a stream at a venue for a wedding. It creates a beautiful backdrop without completely taking over.

Once you have decided what you want, and where you want it, it’s time to lay out your project.  Use a garden hose to outline either side of your waterfall or stream. Move the hose around until it looks exactly the way you want it to.

pondless stream waterfall

The basic design of a pondless water fall is a waterfall unit or spill way, the water then flows down your rubber liner into a reservoir where it is then pumped back up to your spillway unit.  Be sure there is a correctly grounded power source near the reservoir.

Hammer Out the Kinks

How the water flows from one end to the other is entirely up to you?  There could be a steep cascade and then an area where the water can pool before dropping down again.  Or it could simply rush from your spillway to your reservoir without dropping off at all. This is all in your vision and design.

small pondless waterfall without a stream

If your goal is a robust waterfall with ledges and spill overs, then you will need to increase your elevation from start to finish.  If you are starting with level ground this could be a challenge. The higher your waterfall the deeper you will need to dig to provide the right amount of excavated dirt for your drop off.  Or you could order a few yards of top soil to help with raising the elevation.

When In Doubt Improvise

Instead of using dirt under your starting point, stacked cinder blocks work very well.  When they are placed on undisturbed ground they will settle very little. You could use them throughout as you step down from start to finish.  Be sure to put a thin layer of dirt, or even a piece of old carpet over top of them to act as a cushion between the blocks and the liner.

Although the rubber liner is very durable, I would rather not take my chances with a tear due to the liner rubbing on the course cinder blocks.

If you are starting on level ground, you will create a pitch by placing the dirt you excavate from the reservoir to the start of your stream.  If your plan is to incorporate a waterfall, more dirt may need to be brought in. Keep in mind, dirt that has been freshly disturbed is going to settle, so compact it as you go as best you can.

Crunching the Numbers

albert-einstein-alphabet-black-and-white-256369

The rule of thumb for the size of your reservoir is to have three times the volume of water your stream and waterfall hold.  This will ensure that your pump doesn’t take on any damage due to it running dry. To calculate water volume, the formula is Length X Width X Depth X 7.5 = water volume in gallons

Here is an example: For a 3’ wide stream that is 20’ long with an average depth of 3”

3’wide X 20’length X .25’ (3inches) deep X 7.5 = 112.5 gallons of water in the stream and waterfall

112.5 X 3 = 337.5 gallons of water in reservoir

In the case above example the reservoir would need to be approximately 48 cubic feet.  This is calculated by taking the gallons of water in the reservoir and dividing by 7.5.  Dig a hole with the dimensions of 6’wide X 4’long X 2’deep and it would offer a 360-gallon reservoir.  It is better to be oversized than undersized.

Go All In

Ok, you know how much liner you will need, it’s time to order your materials.  If you do this now before you break ground, there is a good chance everything will show up right when you are ready for it.  You can purchase precut liner in various sizes, just don’t forget to order the geotextile underlayment to go with it. This helps protect the liner from shifting rocks and roots underneath the liner once it is in place.

We have put together some pondless waterfall kits for your convenience in our pond shop to help with ease of ordering.  If you want to purchase items one at a time that’s fine too. Here is a list of what you will need for a typical installation

Typical Parts List

  • Pump
  • Filtration
    • Pondless Waterfall Vault
    • Pondless Vault Extension
    • AquaBlox (or gravel for a reservoir)
  • Waterfall Spillway
  • Lighting – (optional, but recommended)
  • Return Hose
  • Liner – 45 mil EPDM
  • Underlayment – Geotextile – protects liner from sharp objects
  • Components – Pump Check Valve Assembly, all necessary fittings and
  • Silicone sealants

Now that you have all of your dimensions figured out and you’ve decided on a location it’s time to get to work.  Place your waterfall filter unit or water diffuser at the desired height you wish your stream to start. Get it close to level but don’t worry about getting things perfectly level at this point, we will do that in a later step.

Use a can of spray paint if possible and paint an outline of your project.  Remember before you start any project be sure the area is void of utilities. Call before you dig

Here We Go

Begin to dig, starting with where your reservoir will be.  As you dig, place the excavated dirt at the opposite end of your project, creating an elevation for the water to move through.  If your design is going to be similar to a mountain stream, then there will not be much elevation required.

Amazing steep waterfall

The pitch can be as gradual or as steep as you wish, but there needs to be one.  No less than 1 inch drop over 4 feet. For a 20’ stream you would need to drop at least 5 inches at the very minimum from start to finish in order to keep the water flowing.

As you dig your stream bed you also must dig a trench alongside the bed to place your return line.  This small trench only needs to be a little wider than your return line, and I would recommend a depth of at least 8 inches.  This trench needs to go from your reservoir to where you place your diffuser.

Time To Put The Pieces Together

Once you’ve excavated the dirt and are happy with the pitch it’s time to be sure your stream is free from rocks, roots or any other sharp objects that could possibly puncture your liner.  Now place your underlayment into the stream. It should be placed wherever the liner will lay.

Now place your liner into your river bed.  It’s ok to walk on the liner. Remove as many wrinkles as you can.  This could be difficult depending on the shape of your design. You don’t need to get all the wrinkles out the stone will hide them in the next step.

Take notice that when you place your liner there is excess of 8”-12” on all sides to allow for proper water containment.  The bank of your stream and the reservoir need this as well to be sure no water is lost when the feature is on.

Get The Right Gear

Aquascape Waterfall Spillway water diffuser

If you are using a typical water diffuser for the outlet of your pondless falls, then all you need to do is be sure it sits lower than the liner surrounding it.  Don’t worry about how it looks, this will all be taken care of in the next few steps.

I would recommend using a diffuser as opposed to a waterfall filter as the water outlet, just because it would be much less maintenance throughout the year.

Does Size Really Matter

Depending on the size and scope of your project you may find it beneficial to use two separate liners, one for your waterfall stream, and another for your reservoir.  Be sure that if you go this route the long stream liner goes into the reservoir liner and they overlap by a couple of feet. You could also seal them together for extra insurance.

Now that the liner is in place it’s time to create some empty space in your reservoir.  This can be done using large gravel, or the more efficient and cost effective way is to use Aquablox.  These polymer blocks can be used to fill the void allowing the maximum volume of water in your water feature system.  Use as many as necessary to fill the void.

large and small AquaBlox

At this point you will also need to put your pump housing in place.  If you use a pondless waterfall kit, then the pump housing and Aquablox will connect together assuring proper operation.  Be sure the top of the pump housing is above grade so it doesn’t wind up under water if things ever flood out. Use gravel or large rocks to level and get your housing to the desired height.

Putting It All Together

aquablox installed with optional waterfall vault

Now it’s time to hook everything up before we start to rock it all in.  Connect your return line to your pump and run it in the trench you made alongside of your stream.  Connect the other end to your water diffuser at the top of your water feature.

Go ahead and tighten all of your connections at this point.  We will be testing our system once we get our rocks in place.

Be One With Nature

Perhaps before you start to rock your stream or waterfall bed, take a walk in the woods and notice how nature is the perfect architect.  There are no perfectly straight paths. Creeks and streams are usually framed in with larger rocks and boulders.

a quiet stream in the woods

By doing the same thing in your project, you will create interest and make your feature more appealing.  Starting at the top of the stream where your water diffuser is, begin to rock your stream bed. Begin with the larger rocks and frame in the way you wish the water to flow.

Place larger rocks in the center of the stream to add interest and give the water something to flow around just like in nature.  Once you’ve framed in your stream it’s time to cover all the remaining liner with the river gravel (I usually use river rock that is native to my part of the country for a natural look). When you are placing your rocks, remember to try and mimic nature.

Waterfall Creation

If you are adding things to your feature like waterfalls and drop-offs, the key to this is to find the right spill rock.  I use a piece of slate which works very well. When setting your spillway, start from the bottom up. Stack up rocks under your spillway.  Use waterfall foam to help hold everything together, but don’t completely rely on it.

Your stacked stone should be able to stand on its own without the aid of the foam.  When stacking stone, it is a good practice not to let any vertical seams go more than two courses high.  This practice will add a lot of stability to your stonework.

natural waterfall

Once you’ve built a level solid place for your spillway rock to rest put it into place.  Check that it is level and slightly pitched forward to encourage the water to flow in the desired direction.

The biggest problem with spillover rocks in a stream is the fact that most of the water will tend to flow behind your spillover rock rather than over it.  To avoid this use waterfall foam between the spillover rock and the liner. After you spray the foam, immediately place rocks and pebbles into the fresh foam to disguise it.  This provides a great barrier to force the water in the right direction.

Merrily Down The Stream

Using large character boulders to make a man made stream look natural

Make your way down the stream covering the liner with rocks and pebbles.  Make things look as natural as possible. Don’t worry about the liner that is past the border of your stream.  That will be dealt with when we do our plantings in a later step. Stop when you get to the reservoir.

Clean It Up

Now it’s time to take a break and wash everything down.  I used a dirty water pump for this process. If you don’t have one they can be rented relatively cheap.  I knew I would use mine more than once so I purchased one.

Place the pump at the lowest point in the reservoir and begin to wash everything down.  As the reservoir fills up, pump out the dirty water. Doing this will save you wear and tear on your waterfall pump.  Keep rinsing everything down until the water is clear. It may take a while, and don’t worry about getting every last bit of dirt either.  Just get most of it. When you are done, pump out all the water from the reservoir and remove your dirty water pump.

With your rocks and stream all rinsed off its time to fill in the reservoir around the Aquablox.  Be careful not to move them as you fill around them. As they sit, they should be well below grade so getting rocks and gravel beneath them could cause problems down the line.

hidden waterfall vault

Add gravel until the Aquablocks are covered being mindful not to get gravel into your pump housing.  With everything rocked it, now comes the fun part. Begin to fill up your reservoir. Do NOT turn your pump on until your reservoir is full.  Running a pump dry will burn it up. Keep filling until the water level is a few inches from the top of your pump housing.

The Moment of Truth

Now gather everyone around for the moment of truth!  Perhaps a drum roll may even be required. Plug in your pump and stand back in AWW as the space you’ve created comes to life.   At this point sit back and relax a bit. You should let your new water feature run for at least 24 hours just to be sure there are no leaks or issues.

Once you are confident everything is up to par, it’s time to do all the finishing touches.  Let’s start with trimming the excess liner from the edges. When doing this it’s important to leave a little extra just in case things settle and shift over the course of the seasons.

transition from water to land hiding a pond liner

The liner can be hidden fairly well by sandwiching it between rocks on the side closest to the water, and dirt on the backside.  Then whatever is sticking up can be trimmed off. The key is to be sure you don’t put the liner lower than your water line. If you do, water could leak out of your feature and your pump would run dry.

Another trick to hiding the liner is to add a planting where the stone meets the dirt.  This is great camouflage and adds a natural look to your whole feature. See some of our other articles for lighting tips and other ways to finish the edge.

In Conclusion

So there you have it.  The pondless waterfall may be exactly what you have been looking for.  All the perks of a garden waterfall without the maintenance involved with pond ownership.  With the pondless water fall or stream, once its built there is nothing more to do but relax and enjoy it.  Creating your own at home getaway can work wonders on your stress levels, not to mention the pride you will feel by doing this yourself.  Ready to start your project? Head over to our pond shop, we have everything you need to get the professional results you deserve. If you found this tutorial helpful, please leave a comment below.  If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to leave them below, we love to hear from you.

Family Bonding Activities – The Water Garden

When I first set out on the journey or should I say adventure of fatherhood, I knew there were a few key elements from my childhood that I wanted to carry on.  One of the most important things for us was that our family always sat down every night (not in front of the TV) and enjoyed dinner together. This was one of my favorite family bonding activities.  This was a time to share how our day had gone, any funny stories, or any positive and negative things that happened to us.  It was a wonderful outlet for a child. Everyone got their turn to add to the conversation, and everyone had a voice.

Lucky

clover close upI have been fortunate enough to carry on that same tradition with my family.  With technology advancing at unimaginable rates, all the while growing older and time seems to be speeding up.  It’s nice to think that there are still things that we can all do as a family.  No matter what age we are, we all need that feeling of togetherness and belonging.

Here I go rambling on, but think about a family trip you may have been on.  It’s much more difficult to remember the trips that went smoothly. For example, I bet you remember the trip when you got that flat tire, or your luggage was lost in oblivion.  The mishaps in life are what gives it flavor.

Overcoming difficulties and prevailing is what makes it all worthwhile.  Life wasn’t meant to run smoothly, and if it weren’t for the bumps, how would you even know you were living.  What we leave behind are the memories that we shared with others.

Bringing The Family Together

digging a holeOf all the family bonding activities, this was the mother of them all.  Trying to find activities that brings everyone together is more difficult now than ever before.  It’s hard to find people looking up from their phones for more than a few minutes… even while driving.  My son may disagree, but there is nothing better than digging in and getting your hands dirty. Even though I know he is allergic to hard work, the memories we all made was worth the sweat.

aquatic-plants-background-beautiful-424763digging a holeLife is a funny thing, when you look back in retrospect there are moments that really stand out among the rest.  I believe that is what I have created with my family.

That’s where my backyard water garden comes in.  It represents the time we all spent together. It’s something we can still do as a family.  It’s when we come together to accomplish something that we grow an appreciation for things. They all pitched in and helped with the digging, some more reluctant than others.  However, having a challenge that we all overcame together was a priceless lesson.

Never Stop Learning

albert-einstein-alphabet-black-and-white-256369Sounds crazy but you can learn a lot from digging a hole.  Digging a hole is a metaphor for life itself. Sometimes you hit a stone and have to dig around it to get the scope of it before you can remove it.  Running into a root and having to take a step backwards to get it out before you can move forwards. These all echo life, especially the notion that if you keep at something eventually you will get to your desired result.

Starting with a simple pond kit, building and working in my water garden has given me the opportunity to bond with my children. It has taught us all valuable lessons about life, persistence, and a little something about nature, all the while beautifying our home.

More Than I Could Imagine

amazing-balance-blur-312839I have to admit it has been a great experience all the way through.  Now when I get home from work I sit at the waters’ edge and drink coffee with my wife.  My kids come out in their own time and tell me about their day.  Carving out this little sanctuary in the busy world has worked wonders for my stress level. It also provides a welcoming, tranquil atmosphere for my family to gather and talk.

blue-sky-bright-cloud-formation-174540Creating your very own sanctuary to recharge your batteries and ponder all the things life throws at you is really not that difficult.  When you’re ready to start your project, see our build a water garden guide and begin your journey. If you’re not sure what you will need to begin, complete kits can be found in our pond shop.  They have everything you need to get started.

Reflections In The Water

macro-reflection-splash-45229Life goes by in a hurry, I hope you are as fortunate as I have been to capture the moment and create memories with your family.  Remember the larger or more difficult the family bonding activities are, the more powerful memory they create. 

This article may not fit into the typical post about pond life, it’s just a reflection of what I have experienced building my backyard water garden.  I would love to hear your experiences, or if you have any questions or comments, please drop them below.  We enjoy the feedback we get from you. Wishing you only the best on all your future projects~

At The Water Garden – Season in Review

Summer in a Nutshell

I know I know; Most of my time has been spent at the water garden.  I haven’t added much as far as articles go this summer.  Things have been busy at backyard water garden headquarters. Between a constant string algae invasion, a family of frogs moving in and a new discovery, there is never a dull moment.

Summer bloom blossom colorsNow that summer is slowly drawing to a close and we start to transition into the next season things are beginning to slow down a bit. It has been a wild summer (pun intended) this year for sure!  If you subscribe to my YouTube channel, then you know that things have been growing and evolving all season long.

From Out of Nowhere

My daughter was the first to notice our latest discovery. Nature had taken its course and our pond is now filled with tiny fry, one of which has actually changed to an orange and black color.  We call him “Tiny”, although he is growing rapidly. This was the first of the spawn that we noticed. Over the next few days we noticed more and more emerging from the pond vegetation.

The koi have only been in the water garden for two seasons, and I was under the impression that they would not spawn until they were at least three or four.  Must be something in the water “wink wink!”

All kidding aside, I think I may be in trouble.  From what I could count there seem to be dozens of them.  Another thing is that they are all different sizes, which leads me to believe they are from different batches.  

Small Fry

The fry, grey in color until they reach a certain size then it seems their true colors come shining through, although to contradict what I just said, I have seen some very small ones that are colored already. Koi fry start to get their colors approximately two weeks after hatching.

koi fry

I haven’t done anything to encourage this to happen.  I was always under the impression that getting koi to mate and have the fry survive was a daunting task.  This has been a learning experience thus far, and if things keep going this way I may just have to create another water garden… MY FAVORITE!!!

Onto the Next Big Thing

rushing waterfallMy mind is already filling with all sorts of crazy ideas!  In fact, it’s one of my favorite parts of the whole thing, letting my imagination dream up the next project, then bring it to life.  I am warning you, once you start with a hobby like this it’s tough to not let it get out of hand. 

I am already trying to figure out how to create a natural looking hillside in my backyard creating an upper and lower pond connected by a rushing stream.  Similar to the picture you see here… wouldn’t that be something!  I may need a little more help with this project than my kids!

The difficult part will be getting my wife to go along with it, although she has been nothing but supportive during this whole backyard adventure.  She has even been the one capturing most of the pictures you see here. To see more beautiful nature shots, not just ponds check out DK Photography.

Another Discovery

The other day I went to do my routine skimmer box clean out, when I was greeted by yet another guest.  A small water snake had made its home in the dark corners of my skimmer box.

I carefully and swiftly placed it into a bucket to transfer it across the road and around the corner in a nearby creek.  When it comes to location, I am fortunate to live where I do. Poisonous snakes, alligators, poisonous spiders and the like are not a huge concern.  Keep all this in mind if you do live in a warmer climate, just like that famous quote from Field of Dreams “If you build it, they will come.”

Fortunately, the worst thing I have to be weary of is how cold it’s going to get this winter.

Be Sure to Prep

Now back to my dilemma.  My plan so far is to get my water garden ready for winter in the same way I did last year, and wait until the spring to see how many of the young koi make it through.  Our winters can be harsh up here in Western New York, but the koi seemed just fine all season long.

Autumn leaves over waterBut before I begin thinking about the snow, there is another nuisance that shows up first.  When the leaves come down. Sure they are a beautiful site on the country side and when driving through the mountains.

This can be an irritating time for any water garden owner.  However, there is a remedy for this just like everything else.  Use black netting to cover your pond. I have done this in previous years and it has worked like a charm.

One tip, keep the netting above the water by pulling it tight.  If the weight of the leaves makes the netting dip into the water, it will act like a giant tea bag.  This happened to me the first year. The water turned a deep brown in color. It went away after my spring cleaning, but why go through all that.

Beware Old Man Winter

The most important thing to remember is to keep the ice broken on the surface so the poisonous gasses can escape.  This can be accomplished by using an aerator to keep the water moving. An aerator is simply an air pump with a hose that connects to an air stone that is submerged in water.  If you have ever seen a bubbler in a fish tank that is essentially the same thing. That’s what I used and it seemed to do the trick.

winter landscapeThere were a few days that the surface froze over even with the aerator moving the water, and I had to go out and break up the ice a bit, but those days were rare.  Another thing is to not place your aerator on the bottom of your pond. If you built shelves like I did, then place them on the shallowest shelf. The reason for this is to not disturb the deeper water with air that is cooled by the winter air.  By keeping it close to the surface you will break the ice without super cooling your fish.

Wrapping It Up

frog in the water gardenIt has been a great season out by the water garden.  There is always something new to see and enjoy.  There is still plenty of time to enjoy out by the pond as the seasons change.  When you’re ready to start your project stop by our pond shop, we have everything you need to help you get started.  Comments and questions are always welcome so feel free to leave them below and I will respond as soon as possible. I believe everyone should have the opportunity to have their own waterfront property!

The Water Garden

OK, let’s face it, this is obviously your “thing” or else you wouldn’t be here still reading this right now.  We all have a passion for gardening, and creating beautiful spaces by way of plantings and water features.  Here are a few tips to keep your water garden looking its best.  The key is naturally transitioning into the landscape.

Planning

waterfall with stone edgeWhen you first started out designing your project you may have had the edge in mind. Maybe your design includes a deck or boardwalk that hangs over the water to get you as close as possible to the water’s edge.  In this case you may make the water deeper where the deck is.  This way your fish will be happy to greet you at feeding time.  There is just something majestic about hand feeding koi.

Another beautiful design that may suit your taste is to have a flagstone walk up to the shore of your new water feature.  Whatever your vision, be sure to plan ahead for it so you can bring it to life when it is finished.

Gardening – Out of the Water

stone garden edgeNatural garden transitionA lot can be said for how you finish off your garden.  This is just as important as the construction of your pond.  After all, it’s the first thing you see when you walk up on your water garden.  The plants at the waters’ edge and surrounding area will determine how natural your pond blends into the landscape.

I have seen many a tacky pond where this was overlooked.  Their outdoor landscape looked like a black tub in the middle of their yard with mulch around it.  Avoid this mistake and take the time to research and do some proper plantings around your water feature.  This will bring all of your hard work together and create the masterpiece you desire.

Softening the Edge

rock edgingThe stonework around your ponds edge came out incredibly!  You may be so happy with the job you did that you don’t want to hide it with plants.  I assure you that once you do, it will not hide your stone work, but enhance the overall look of the landscape.

Some plant species seem like a good idea at the time because they are fast growing and will add greenery to your landscape in a relatively short period of time.  Just look at the big picture when you are selecting which plants to use.  Some are extremely invasive and will take over if not kept at bay.  If you don’t mind the constant battle, then by all means use them.  Just remember when you spend an entire day cutting back the out of control Creeping Jenny, that you are the one who planted it!

If you insist on using an invasive species, you may want to give yourself a helping hand and plant in containers to stop it from spreading like wild fire.

Controlling Runoff – Avoid Contamination

Walk up pond edgeWhen it’s time to put the finishing touches around the edge of your pond it’s important to keep in mind that rain runoff water needs to be kept out.  To make this happen the liner of the pond needs to be brought up above the water level of the pond to make a ridge around the outside edge.

This can be accomplished by using a rock on the inside of the pond and back-filing behind the liner with dirt or stone.  In doing this you will ensure any runoff water will be kept out of your closed water ecosystem.

Another important thing to do is create an inviting way for visitors to walk up to the waters edge.  There are multiple ways this can be accomplished.  I’ve seen wooden decks built up to the edge, but I choose to use flagstone for a more natural transition.  Another reason to create an inviting walk up is to keep traffic where you want it.  I don’t want visitors walking and climbing on the other side of my water feature, so by creating this walk up area people are drawn to it and not the other side.

Planting up to the edge

transition from pond to gardenThe idea here is to make the transition between the water and land look as natural as possible.  The challenging part is to keep the water and land separate.  This can be accomplished by planting the same water loving plants in and out of the water close together.  The foliage from the plants will hide the transition for a natural look.

When planting in the waters’ edge, use pond soil wrapped in landscape fabric to hold the soil in place, then simply hide it in the rocks.  Plant the same type of plant on the other side of the liner so the foliage from both plants look like a single plant.

In Conclusion

The backyard water gardenBegin with the end in mind.  Just like any project, you need to plan it out before you begin.  Even the finishing touches need to be taken into consideration.  When you set yourself up in this way, it is much easier to see your vision come to life!

If you are ready to get started, check out our pond shop for some great deals on complete pond kits so you can bring your vision to life.  I believe everyone deserves their own water front property.

As always, I wish you the best on all your future projects.  Do you have any experiences you would like to share? I would love to hear about them.  Please leave a comment or any questions below and I will get back to you as soon as possible.  That’s what I’m here for, so please don’t hesitate to ask.

Building a Dry Stack Stone Wall

dry stacked stone wallBuilding a dry stack stone wall is not as difficult as it looks if you follow a few guidelines.  You can create a beautiful dry stacked stone retaining wall that won’t look like someone just dumped a pile of rocks around your garden.  You can also use these techniques when you are rocking in your pond.  If you follow these guidelines you will have a sturdy wall that will last for years.

Foundation

As with many things in life, you must start with a strong solid foundation.  The success of your project depends on this.  To begin with, dig down below grade. Keeping it as flat as possible.  If you are putting your stone wall on a hillside or ground with any sort of slant to it, then you want to start at the lowest point.  Dig down an inch or so below the lowest point.

This next part all depends on what type of climate you live in.  I am in the north east United States and we get our share of wintery weather. For me it is important to have proper drainage below your wall to prevent it from shifting during the freezing and thawing cycles.  This can be easily accomplished by simply adding about an inch or so of gravel below your first course.

By placing gravel below your wall you allow the water to drain out from beneath reducing your chances of the wall shifting due to excess rain or snow.

Keep It Tight

Be sure to compact the dirt or gravel to reduce settling. Try not to disturb the ground deeper than you plan on digging when you dig to lay your first course.  Keep your shovel flat will also reduce the amount of settling that occurs.

Start laying your first course.  Try to keep the size of the rocks random.  You don’t want to use all your large rocks in one course.  When laying the first course, find the flattest edge of the rock you intend to use and keep that on the top.  This creates a flat surface for the next rock to rest on.

The uneven portion of the rock can be placed in the ground.  Move the gravel around and ensure that your first course is straight and the flattest parts of your rocks are fairly level.  This is important because as you build your wall up all the uneven and unleveled parts will be magnified.  Sort of like a ripple in a calm body of water.

If you are building on a hillside, keep stepping up the courses and dig out your foundation as you go.  Lay your first course, then dig out where the next course will disappear into the hillside.  Then lay your second course across the entire wall.  Then dig in for your third course and so on.

Building up properly

well made dry stacked stone wallAs your awesome new masterpiece starts to take shape, remember these things take time.  Not just any rock will fit.  This is what separates the “men from the boys”.  I have built up most of a wall and stood back to look at it, and wasn’t “feeling” what I was looking at.  At that point I undid a course or two and then rebuilt it.

Remember when you do this, especially if it is for yourself, you are the one that has to look at it so take your time and make it what you imagine it could be.

As you build up it is very important to break the vertical seam.  What I mean by this is to make a letter “T”.  As you build you may have one or two courses where the seams between the stones line up with one another.  It is important to break that seam by laying another stone across the seam.

Never go further than three courses without breaking the seam.  That’s the rule of thumb that I use and it has suited me well.  This adds strength and stability to your wall.  If you don’t break the seam, the wall will topple over.

Drainage and backfill

gravelBuilding your wall up, it is important to back fill behind it as you go.  This will help tie everything together to give you a “rock solid” finished product.  It is important to have proper drainage behind your wall to help alleviate the pressure from excess rain or melting snow.

To be sure your wall is backfilled properly, bring dirt up to about 4” – 6” from the back of the wall.  Do this as you go.  Bring the dirt up every one or two courses.  As you bring the dirt up there will be a gap between the dirt and your wall.  Fill the gap with gravel.  This will allow water to escape without washing out your awesome wall.

If you have major drainage issues where your wall is being built, you can also place drain tile (4” perforated flexible drain pipe) behind the wall before backfilling it to help guide the water to where you want it to go.  Just remember water will always go to the lowest point trying to seek its own level.

I have seen many mistakes where people thought that just because they put in drain tile the water would just magically flow against gravity.  Just a side note, that’s all.  If you do use drain tile or any other method just be sure that it is place and pitched in the direction you want it to flow.

Use a Dead Man to Hold It Together

As your wall begins to take shape there is another technique you may want to take advantage of.  This also depends on how high you intend to build your wall.  If it is nothing more than 2 or 3 courses high then don’t bother with this, however if it is of significant height this will be paramount to your success.

Instead of just having all your rocks follow the wall in a line, use longer rocks and lay them so the face is flush with the outside of the wall, but the rest of the large rock goes back into the dirt behind it.  This technique ties the wall in to the dirt it is retaining.  These dead men act as anchors keeping your wall secure and tying the whole thing together.

Keep At It

short stone wallBuilding a stone wall isn’t for everyone.  If you are like me and loved playing with Legos as a kid, then I think you should give it a shot.  It’s like having a never ending Lego set.  Yes, all the pieces may not fit perfectly together but when you find that perfect fit and your progress is rolling along, there is no better feeling.

One last word of advise, be sure you have enough rocks before you start.  When you think you have enough, get more.  You can never have enough, and when you are looking for that perfect fit it’s better to have many to choose from.  The last picture in this post was a poor attempt at a wall, I used all the rocks, and the ones you see are all I had left.

Just like people have writers block, the same type of thing can happen with a project like this.  The best remedy is to walk away for a bit and then come back to it.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, but they sure have some beautiful stone work that has stood the test of time.

Conclusion

A dry stacked stone wall has a certain romantic charm to it.  It brings something magical to the landscape.  I would love to hear your experiences with this type of project.  Did you set out to build it and give up?  Did you seek out help?  What kinds of stones do you use for your projects?  Please leave any comments or questions below.  I would love to hear from you, and will respond ASAP.  Thanks for reading and keep building!

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