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How to Design, Build, and Maintain a Backyard Water Garden

Updated on June 22, 2019
DavidCory profile image

David Cory is a water garden enthusiast. He has maintained several small water garden for over a decade.

The Backyard Water Garden

Building and maintaining a backyard water garden is a wonderful hobby. Water gardens provide enjoyment for people and natural habitat for local wildlife. Even migrating birds may visit your water garden! So what does it take to have your own backyard oasis? Read on to find out!

What's Involved?

The construction of a backyard water garden can be broken up into three main areas. They are:

  • Planning and building

  • Filling with plants and fish
  • On going maintenance tasks

Planning and Building

Start by planning out your water garden design. Where will it be placed? Do you want to add goldfish or koi once the water garden is constructed? How large do you want it to be? Also consider making it look as natural as possible. You want it to seem like it's always been there.

Building a water garden is probably the hardest part of the process. Why? Dig, dig, and dig some more! And after digging you will need a pond liner. Be sure not to skimp on this purchase. It is best to place sand and/or water garden padding down before laying a high quality liner down. This will allow the water garden to last much longer than a cheaper one with no sand or padding.

Add smooth rocks on top of the liner for added protection against tears or punctures. Continue by adding decorative sandstone rock up the walls of your water garden and out around the perimeter. Sandstone is preferred as it will not leach minerals into the water like limestone might.

"If there is magic on this planet, it is contained in water."

— Loren Eiseley

Filling With Plants and Fish

Koi or goldfish? That is the first decision to make. Koi get very large and are also expensive. Goldfish on the other hand are small and inexpensive. Either one you decide to buy for you water garden, be sure not to add to many. Also, run the pump for about two weeks with just water so as to allow good bacteria time to become established.

Plants are also needed in a water garden. Lilies are very popular and come in a multitude of colors. Reeds such as cat tail are also common. Lesser known are floating plants like water hyacinth and water lettuce. Both can be found at a local pond store. They are very effective at filtering the water and keeping it balanced.

Ongoing Maintenance Tasks

In order to have a beautiful backyard water garden you will need to perform regularly scheduled maintenance tasks. It is best to check on your water garden daily and perform at least some upkeep every week. The health and beauty of your water garden will improve greatly if the following tasks are done when needed. They include:

  • Water changes
  • Cleaning out the pump/fountain
  • Adding netting in the Fall to prevent leaves from sinking in the water
  • Placing a heater in the water garden if needed during Winter
  • Feeding your fish!
  • And keeping an eye on algae

Container Water Gardens: A Great Alternative.

An excellent example of a container water garden.
An excellent example of a container water garden.

A container water garden is much the same as the larger, in-ground type. Planning must be done with the limited size of the container in mind. Fish can still be added (not koi as they get too large), but special care must be taken as to not add too many. More frequent water exchanges may be necessary. No matter which type you choose, a backyard water garden is sure to delight you and your family season after season.

"Nothing is softer or more flexible than water, yet nothing can resist it."

— Lao Tzu

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2018 David Cory


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    • DavidCory profile imageAUTHOR

      David Cory 

      20 months ago from Indiana, USA

      Great questions! Thank you for taking the time to comment on the article.

      Water gardens with fish are best when they are a minimum of 18 inches deep. This allows for more movement for the fish and can help keep the water a more consistent temperature. Certain plants also need deeper water. Koi need more room and even deeper water.

      Koi are Japanese fish similar to goldfish. I believe they are actually a type of carp. They can live two to three decades and grow over three feet in length with excellent care. Depending on the specific variety they can also be quite pricey. I hope that helps!

    • Darryl R Ast profile image

      Darryl R Ast 

      20 months ago from Coloma

      I used to have a small pond and it was hard to maintain. I like the idea of a net, in spring I had to clean the leaves out of the pond. If you add fish to the pond or water garden about how deep should you make it? What is Koi?


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