Let the fun begin! You have all your materials, the hole is dug, and you’re ready to put all the “pieces” together. This may look intimidating but just take it one step at a time and you will see exactly how to rock a pond. This will be the time when all that hard work pays off. Your pond will come to life right before your eyes!
Ahhh … Where Were We
One thing left out in the previous installment of this “how to” guide, was to dig out a place for a fish cave. If you plan on having fish in your water garden, it’s a good idea to give them a place to hide from predators.
This can be accomplished by digging out a small channel. The liner will form to the shape you made. After your liner goes in, use a large drain pipe or bucket to be the walls of the “cave” then rock around to hide it. Once I start rocking the whole thing in you can see the cave better. Check out the pictures below.
It will be helpful to have a second pair of hands for this next step. Unfold your underlayment all the way beside the pond. Lift the underlayment over the hole (be careful not to fall in) so it’s centered and put it in the hole. Be sure you have even amounts on all sides. The underlayment should be big enough to go 12 inches or so on either side and over your waterfall and skimmer box (on opposite ends of the pond).
Once the underlayment is centered and placed in the hole, step in, and starting at the bottom kick it into place. Start in the middle of the bottom and work your way around the perimeter. Be sure to remove any sticks, stones, or sharp objects you come across. Move up to the next level and do the same. When you finish the underlayment should have taken the shape of your pond.
Pond Liner Installation
This is definitely a two-person job depending on how big your water garden is. The pond liner is much heavier than the underlayment. When dealing with the liner, more care must be taken to ensure it is not damaged during installation. Do the same with the liner as was done with the underlayment. Open it up all the way next to the pond. Gather your friends and lift the liner and center it over the pond. Once it’s lowered in the hole, it needs to be formed to the shape of the pond.
Start in the middle of the bottom and work it so it lays as flat as possible and fully into the corners. I don’t recommend kicking it into the corner. On your hands and knees, push it where you want it to go. The liner is durable enough to walk on, but it can be sliced easily. The liner should mimic the underlayment. It should extend beyond the pond 12 inches or so all the way around, including the skimmer box and waterfall.
At this time avoid the temptation to trim the excess liner. That will all be taken care of when we do all our finishing touches.
This Is Where The Magic Happens – Get Rockin’
With the liner in place it’s time to begin placing rocks around the perimeter of your pond. Start at the bottom and work your way up. Dry stacking can be tricky, the rocks need to fit well together so they lock in place. This is a very tedious task. Make sure the rocks are placed in the corner where the bottom meets the step. Never go higher than two rows where the seams line up without putting a rock across. You can see in the picture what I mean. This helps add stability. Place larger rocks on the bottom row and build up from there. Be sure to set aside the best looking rocks for the very top of your pond, where the waterline will be.
Another way to add stability is to use waterfall foam. It’s similar to spray foam insulation, but it is a dark gray. Use it sparingly, as it will expand as it cures. Fill all gaps with gravel first, this helps save on foam. Add a small amount of spray foam, then more gravel to hide the foam. Use gravel to fill in any large gaps as you go, again this adds to the stability of the entire pond.
Don’t Forget The Lights
Another thing to remember at this stage is to add any submersible lighting. Be sure to hide all the wiring as you go. The kit I used came with only one submersible light. Looking back I should have used a couple more, but that will be a project for another time.
Once you’re done, fill the bottom up with about two inches of gravel. I used river rock for mine. There are all sorts of gravels you can use depending on the look you are going for. Keep moving up one layer at a time. As you can see you will need a lot of rocks!
Save your biggest boulders for your waterfall itself. Notice how a stream and waterfall are usually framed in by large rocks and boulders in the natural world. If you try to mimic nature, you can’t go wrong. Stop rocking when you reach your skimmer box.
Setting The Skimmer Box
Be sure the hole you dug out for your skimmer box is flat on the bottom and the dirt is compacted below it. Place your skimmer box in the hole and check that it’s level from side to side, and front to back. Remember, your water line will be approximately ¾ the way up from the bottom of the skimmer box opening.
Before you begin it’s a good idea to read over the installation manual that came with your skimmer box, so you can familiarize yourself a bit.
Now push your liner into the corner where the skimmer box meets your first shelf. Allow for some slack there. You don’t want any tension on the liner around the skimmer box, or the waterfall. Now lay the liner vertically across the face of the box, so that it sits flat. Now, using a nail or other sharp object poke a hole in the liner in the top right corner where the first mounting screw will go. Do the same for the other side all the while holding the liner steady.
Keep the nails there to hold your liner in place. From inside the skimmer box using a pen or marker, trace the opening. Fold the liner toward you keep the nails in the liner. This will help to realign where you dry fit the liner. Now place a ¼ to ½ inch bead of sealant about ¾ inch in from the opening you traced. Be sure the bead is continuous and there are no gaps.
Using the nails that are poked through the liner as a guide place the liner against the skimmer box pressing firmly all around the opening. Rest the mounting plate on the nails. Remove the first nail and place in the first screw. Do the same for the other side. Now using a nail make a puncture where the next screw will go, then install the screw. Do this repeatedly all the way around the mounting bracket.
Connect The Plumbing
The skimmer box is in place, now is the time to attach your pump to the waterfall return line. When hooking all the pieces up it goes pump, check valve, then return line. Be sure to install the check valve in the proper orientation, since it only allows water to flow one way.
Finish The Rocking
With your skimmer box set, finish rocking around the whole pond. Once you’ve completed a step, add gravel to the bottom and move on. When you get to the last course be sure to mix large and small rocks to make it look more natural. Be sure the rocks go up and over the bank of the pond.
Build Your Waterfall
Keep in mind as you build your falls, that if you want to add any lighting, now would be the easiest time to do it. It could be done later, but it may be more difficult to hide. I used a strip of waterproof led lights tucked under two of my spill rocks. This lighting allows me to change the color with a remote. The effect is, really cool. There are pictures of this on the Finishing Touches page, in the next section.
As you build up from where the water line will be, make sure you “frame in” where the waterfall will be. Mimic nature and you will have something spectacular! Use large boulders on the edge and flat slate for the spill over rocks.
Setting your spill over rocks can be tricky. For the water to run over them properly be sure they are set level across, and pitched slightly forward. One thing to look out for is to be sure the water doesn’t run behind them. This is where the waterfall foam comes into play again. You won’t know for sure how the water will flow until you actually turn your waterfall on. If you foam between your spill over rocks and your liner, the water should flow over the rock instead of behind it. Hide all the foam with gravel before it cures completely. Stop rocking when you get close to the waterfall compartment.
Attaching Your Waterfall
Be sure to read the manual that came with your waterfall for any specifics that aren’t mentioned here. Just like previously when we attached the liner to our skimmer box, we are going to follow the same process. The key points are the same.
- Be sure there is no tension on the liner
- Make sure the liner goes beyond the waterfall
- Use one continuous bead of sealant
- Have no wrinkles in the liner between the waterfall and the mounting plate
- The sealant goes between the liner and the waterfall, NOT the liner and mounting plate
Go All the Way Up
Now continue rocking up to the waterfall. Use larger rocks as a border. Be sure the liner is under the bordering rocks. Back fill behind the liner with dirt or other rocks to hold it in place.
Again, avoid the temptation to trim the liner at this point. It will be done with all the finishing touches.
Almost A Pond
Now that everything is covered with rocks, it’s a good idea to wait at least 24 hours to let all the sealant cure. Everything needs to be washed down at this point. I purchased a cheap, dirty water pump from amazon to accomplish this. If you have encountered any rain during any of this, the pump is handy for that as well.
Spray down all the rocks with a garden hose and pump the dirty water out of the bottom. It’s amazing how much dirt is actually on the rocks and gravel. Keep doing this until the water is fairly clear. Don’t get crazy, you will never get it all.
Fill Er Up
Time for the moment of truth. Start filling your pond. This may take some time, depending on the size of your master piece! At this point it’s a good idea to test your lighting systems and make sure everything is working properly. At least that’s what I told myself… I am a bit impatient and I couldn’t wait for nightfall.
In all reality, this is a perfect time to sit back, grab a drink, and relax a bit… you deserve it. The next part of how to build a backyard water garden is my favorite! Finishing touches. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave them below and I will get back to you.