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So, you’ve decided you want to build a water feature in your back yard That’s a wonderful idea. A pond draws hummingbirds, songbirds, and butterflies. The trickling sound of a stream is soothing as
is watching colorful gold sh or koi swim lazy laps. Water lilies in full summertime bloom are stunning. You’re already imagining perfect pond-side summer garden parties. That vision is possible, if you avoid mistakes commonly made when gardeners swap sod for water.

WHY DO YOU WANT A POND?

This is the most important question of all: Why? Are you interested in having fish? How about plants? Do you dream of hearing water and a treefrog chorus through your open bedroom window? The answers will define your pond, help design it, and determine placement. For instance, if you want goldfish or koi, you’ll need a deeper hole. A waterfall or stream — commonly called pondless water features — may
be a better choice if you crave the sound of water without the responsibility of owning fish. Choose a location that gets at least a few hours of sunlight a day.

One tip: Avoid spots directly under trees or you’ll be scooping leaves or needles on a regular basis.

DO IT RIGHT THE FIRST TIME

Determine your budget, then buy quality material. Plan and then dig a hole and line it with durable pond liner, which stands up to UV rays. Using pond liner vs. a pre-formed plastic pond allows more exibility. Liner also lasts longer. Resist the urge to turn that old hot tub into an in-ground koi pond. Don’t cut corners. It only leads to future headaches.

ADD FISH AND PLANTS FOR INTEREST

Start with gold fish rather than koi. They are less
expensive — which helps to ease the blow of hungry heron (see below) — yet varieties such as shubunkin gold fish can be just as showy as their more glamourous cousin, koi. To keep fish and plants healthy, watch your water quality, checking for pH, phosphates, nitrites and ammonia.

Plants soften and naturalize constructed water features and play a vital role in establishing a balanced ecosystem. Fish and water plants are perfect partners. Water plants consume fish waste, pulling nitrogen and ammonia out of the water. In return, they provide shelter for the fish. Water plants also help to control algae growth by providing shade and removing nutrients algae need to thrive. There are two types of algae — string and microscopic. String algae mats on pond edges like a fraying neon green sweater. Check your pump to clear it of string algae. Microscopic algae is invisible to the eye but obvious when your crystal-clear pond suddenly looks like pea soup. Both are unsightly, but they don’t cause damage to plants or fish. You can control algae with various products. Or learn to accept it.

Aquatic plants are loosely grouped into three categories — submerged, oating, and marginal (ones that grow on the edge of ponds in moist soil.) Water lilies and water hawthorn are two popular examples of submerged plants. Floating plants such as water lettuce and water hyacinth work well. Marginals include grasses and iris.

Start with a few plants, mixing by placement, height, and seasonal bloom. Consider sunlight and water movement when choosing plants. Water lilies, for instance, need at least six hours of direct sun to prosper and prefer calm water.

HELLO, HERON

Your new pond is likely to attract critters that aren’t as welcome as gold finches and treefrogs. Depending on where you live, expect to see heron, king fisher, raccoons, or otter. They’re capable of hauling out small and large fish and wreaking havoc on water plants. Tips: Net your pond in the fall and winter. Install a motion-activated water spray system for other times of year.

Develop patience. Ponds add tranquility to a garden. Successful pond owners learn to transfer that Zen-like state of mind to water gardening itself.

Mary Vermillion is co-owner of Mud Pond Koi

"Don’t cut corners. It only leads to future headaches."