Can I put a pond in this space?
July 11, 2009 6:05 PM   Subscribe

What kind of backyard pond can I successfully put into this space?

I'm giving serious consideration to putting in a small backyard pond. I grew up around them and now that I have a home of my own I can tinker with, I think it would be pretty great to have one.

Unlike my relatives who had them (and 10 acre country lots to put them on) I'm on a small city lot and the best/most logical place for my pond would be in a large (in city terms) area behind my garage that measures 12x22 feet.

The area is enclosed on three sides. The north side is the back wall of the garage which is white wooden siding. The west side is the back of my neighbors fence (he has a similar sized space behind his garage and recently put a cool little sitting area there, thus the new fence), with the posts exposed to my side. The south side is fairly generic stockade fencing (two inch slats, pointy top), and finally the east side is open to the remainder of the yard.

I would, of course, for safety reasons put a small 3-4 foot fence across east side with an ornamental gate.

So this leaves me with a 12x22 foot space, in a zone 5 gardening climate, that receives a solid 8+ hours of summer sun (enough sun for the previous owners to have used to space for gardening.)

My principle concern is: Will this space be adequate for a small ornamental pond? I don't want a huge pond nor do I want a basic pre-molded pond too small to winter fish in. I think, and those of you who have ponds can tell me if I'm wrong, that a roughly 8x10 foot pond with a depth of 36 inches should be sufficient to support some basic plants, a few ornamental fish, frogs, and so forth.

My secondary concern is: If I can successfully put a pond there, will it look like I stuck a hole in the ground behind my garage? I'm willing to go the extra mile to dress up the space and create a bigger sense of space in the process, but I'm not sure where to start. Tall ornamental grass to mask the fence? Ivy on the fence? Bamboo?

Even if you're not sure you have a specific answer for my problem, if you're into pond keping I'd love some links to share that would be awesome. It's tough finding pond keeping forums that have active communities!
posted by JFitzpatrick to Home & Garden (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
My parents have a pond in their backyard. I don't think it's even as big as that… maybe 6x8? And I don't think it's 3' deep.… and they keep fish in it over the winter in southern Ontario. They use a little heater thing to keep it from freezing solid.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 6:49 PM on July 11, 2009

I built an 8x12 pond at my last place. I used railroad ties under the liner, and it was 50% underground and 50% above ground the depth ranged from 2.5 to 3.5 feet. The tops of the sides were finished off, and provided extra seating. I trained vines up on the fences behind my house (climatis, bleeding heart, runner bean) and planted tall plants. We used railroad nails to attach all of the ties together, and then finish nails for the top. Fish overwintered beautifully (Northern Virginia). I had a bed of gardens around the edges of the fence, and then a thin strip of paving stones and pebbles, and then the pond.

My biggest mistake in constructing the pond was choosing to have the ties delivered; There were enough in stock when I bought them, but when they delivered the ties 3 days later, they only had half of them in stock, and I had to wait 3 weeks to get the rest of my pre-paid order. I was on vacation when they finally arrived, so my father and uncle finished my pond for me.

You could also put some bright white trellis against the fence to make it seem more "gardeny" If you use spacers made from 2x4s between the trellis and the fence, you might get the perception of layering and a bigger space that will fool the eye without using up too much room.

Heck, you could add trellis to cover the stacked railroad ties if you go that way.

My parent's pond (20x16) is right next to an old shed - they put potted plants at different height against the shed (painted white) - and have been talking about a bench there, too. a bench or a table and chairs, can make it look like a purposefully-designed area - particularly if you mount nice lights for evening pond-sitting. When I was in high school, I was agitating for external canvases to be hung on the walls of the shed - either in bright colors or ones that I could paint weird things on.

Honestly, I can't think of a single good link for you. I've looked, too, and not found anything. :|
posted by julen at 9:17 PM on July 11, 2009

I have one in a much smaller space -- about 3 x 6. So yes, it's definitely possible. You're talking about a very large small pond, though. So before you commit, think about how much ongoing maintenance you want to commit to.

Some things I wish I'd considered, in retrospect:

-- My pond is right in the fall zone of a Chinese tallow tree. I did not take this into account when I was digging the hole. Sure wish I had, because right now my pond is full of catkins. And in the fall, it gets clogged up with beautifully colored leaves.

-- I really wish I'd put a submersible pump in to keep water circulating (if not an outright filtration system, but those were too expensive for my budget). That's the sort of thing that's better planned for from the outset; harder to do once you realize you've got problems.

For full sun, your main problem will be algae. Look into getting some oxygenating plants. (Plants are the funnest part of having a pond, if you ask me.)

Also, I have mosquito fish in mine. The county mosquito vector control program provides them for free. I've had them die off after long winters; the county comes out and supplies more, free of charge.

I got my pond liner at Home Depot. You can probably find them cheaper online. Calculate the area/volume you need to cover, then get one that's slightly larger. If I were you, I wouldn't dig the entire thing 3' deep. Give it a deep and a shallow end. You really only need an area 36" deep if you're going to grow lillies, or if you're going to have fish in a climate that has hard freezes (or marauding raccoons). Also, before you go the frog route, you should recognize that some frogs will eat some fish. And a word on fish: Koi are finicky and require perfect conditions in order to survive (which translates into WORK). Also, they're expensive. Do lots of research before going that route.

As for landscaping, you can find nice large rocks, or buy bricks, to lay around the edges, covering up where the pond liner overlaps the ground. A living border of boggy reeds or papyrus plants on one edge is another nice touch. (Google 'pond plants.' There ARE links out there. Or at least, there were 5 years ago when I put mine in. You could also check the yellow pages for a pond supply store near you. They're not really that uncommon.)

One last thing to consider: Pond liners degrade over time. Know this, and have a plan for when you have to pump the thing out and replace the liner. Also know that if after 7 years you decide NOT to replace the liner, fill dirt is cheap.
posted by mudpuppie at 3:02 PM on July 12, 2009

I know what I forgot to mention. Invest in the highest quality pond liner possible. Right now that's 20 year liner. It's thicker and more durable, which is important if you get in your pond to take care of your lilies - our goldfish push pebbles in the top of lily pots onto the bottom of the pond. Even if you never get in and let your lilies grow wild, it will survive any neighborhood dogs.

Look for local pond specialists. You can buy some interesting pond plants at local garden centers (and even Home Depot - I got some nice curly rush there last may), but I like making little pilgrimages to Springdale in Greenville, VA or Lilypons in Lilypons, MD. Both will do mailorder, and do it well, but i llke to go look at and pick out from their high quality, more diverse stock of plants.
posted by julen at 6:23 PM on July 12, 2009

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