A Backyard Oasis

Sitting by a garden pond, watching bright fish weave their way through tangles of lilies while listening to sounds of rushing water—does this sound good to you? When we moved into our house we inherited a fish tank and found out just how nice it was. Unfortunately, the tank resembled a moonshine bathtub. So we have decided to give the fish a new home. Planning the pond has been fun, but there are a lot of things to consider before you start digging.

Where to put a pond is the first decision. A location close to where outdoor living takes place is important. You may also consider placing it where it can be seen from inside the house. Size is the next consideration. There is no limit, but remember size does matter. Generally, the larger the pond, the easier it is to maintain, but one that is too large can be overwhelming. Our bathtub tank was 115 gallons, our new pond will be 450.

Water gardens can be as simple as a pre-formed shell or as complex as a large lined excavation with waterfalls and streams. The choice is yours. If you opt for a pre-formed pond, make sure it fits in your vehicle or arrange to have it delivered. Ponds with a liner can be dug in any shape you desire. For our part of the world, a pond 18 to 24 inches deep is enough to keep fish safe from both predators and winter freeze. Water needs filtration and aeration which can be accomplished in a variety of ways. A pump with a filter is a simple, effective option for smaller ponds. A waterfall paired with a larger pool is beautiful way to filter and aerate a pond and offers additional landscaping options. Be sure to add dechlorinating compound to the water; fish and chlorine are a fatal mix.

After the pond and filter are installed, it's time to add plants. The three main types of plants you'll need are: marginal, floating, and oxygenating. Floating plants such as water hyacinth and duck weed are invasive so be sure they don't get into the ground water. At this point test the water for chlorine and pH. If necessary make adjustments. Test kits for these as well as nitrates and salt can be purchased at any pet supply store.

Two weeks after adding plants check water quality and make necessary adjustments. Then it is safe to add fish. It's best to slowly acclimatize the fish to their new surroundings. At first they may be reclusive and not eat, but don't worry, in a few days they will be swimming like crazy!

Well, it's all done, and our fish are happy and zipping around. We are sitting by our new pond in the evenings relaxing and imagining how nice it will look when the plants grow and the landscaping fills in. All in all, both fish and homeowners appear to be happy.

Ready to plan your own water garden? These books and Web sites will give you a great start.

In the Library: Fish in a backyard pond

Better Homes and Gardens: Water Gardens, Pools, Streams & Fountains
This book covers everything from inspiration to maintenance. Different water features for different landscape needs are presented, as well as construction, stocking and plants. It has useful diagrams and wonderful illustrations. A comprehensive guide to plants and animals is included in this helpful guide

Complete Guide to Water Gardens, Ponds and Fountains by Kathleen Fisher This book begins with a short history of water gardens from ancient times to the present. It continues with descriptions of the different types of gardens available and offers numerous design ideas. This book is lavishly illustrated with photos, easy to understand diagrams and also has an extensive section devoted to fish and plant care.

The Master Book of the Water Garden by Philip Swindells
Another beautiful book dealing with design, building and care of a variety of water features. This book has a good section on fish feeding and disease.

Water Features for Small Gardens by Francesca Greenoak
Let your imagination run wild with this book of unique water garden treatments.

On the Web:

Natural Solutions Etc.
Products and help with water gardens and fish ponds

The Water Garden
Building tips, a large how to section and pond and fish supplies

Water Gardens International
Information and help with every aspect of water gardens, fish and aquatic plants.