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Water Gardens: the Basics

Updated on July 11, 2013

How to Choose the Right Water Garden for You

If you're thinking about adding a water garden to your outdoor space, you have a lot of decisions to make, including location, size, planting, fish or not, fountain or not, waterfall or not... there are many, many choices. This page will help you make sense of the range of options and choose a pond which will be a pleasure rather than an annoyance.

While exact definitions differ, a water garden is typically a man-made water feature that contains aquatic plants. More loosely, it can be used for most smaller water features or for a garden of plants surrounding a pond or bog.

All photos used under Morguefile license

Backyard Pond with fish
Backyard Pond with fish

Backyard Ponds and Container Water Gardens

Backyard pond

This is the classic water garden that people are probably thinking of when they think of water gardens. This is a pond, often quite small, that contains plants, fish, or both. Backyard ponds vary greatly in size and shape depending on the owner's desires and the space available. Koi ponds, for example, need to be 1000 gallons or larger because koi are large fish, while a pond containing only a single marginal plant could be six inches deep and a foot wide.

Backyard ponds may be formal or informal, and raised or sunken. Small ones may even be housed in containers.

Container water gardens

Small ponds can be made from containers filled with water. This can be anything from a bucket containing water iris to a half barrel with water lilies, cat-tails and a few goldfish or a small fountain. There are also smaller fish than goldfish that may be suitable for your container water garden. You have limited space in a container, but if you only have a tiny space for a water garden, this isn't much of an issue. They are much cheaper and easier to install than larger water features.

One thing to watch with shallow fishless ponds is that they tend to grow mosquito larvae. The tiniest ponds can simply be tipped out and refilled when this happens, but this is difficult to impossible with larger containers. If you keep aquarium fish this is a feature rather than a bug, as mosquito larvae make magnificent fish food, but otherwise you may be stuck netting out and killing the obnoxious insects. There are chemical methods, but some of them are bad for your plants and will kill beneficial pond life. If you choose to use them, you don't want to use them constantly.

Do you have a pond?

Do you have a water garden or pond?

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Fountain with no pond
Fountain with no pond

Fountains and Water Gardens

Pond with fountain

A fountain adds the sound of falling water to your pond, and sparkles in the sun. In addition to being beautiful, if you have fish it helps oxygenate the water and stimulate water movement. This helps your fish stay healthy, especially during hot weather. To run a fountain, you need a pump. This means electricity. Many fish ponds are already using electricity to run a filter, but you do have to be able to run electricity to the pond if it doesn't already use it. The other option is to buy a solar fountain, which will make its own power supply using a solar panel.

Water fountain without a pond

There are a variety of fountains that are freestanding or mount on a wall and don't have a pond of any size. While you can't keep most fish or pond plants in these, they will give you the sound of running water and are simple to operate. You also won't have problems with mosquito larvae. Some plants that like water spray in the wild may also grow better when placed next to these fountains. Fountains vary widely in price depending on size, complexity and the materials they are made from.

Waterfall in pond
Waterfall in pond

Streams and Waterfalls for your Pond

These typically have a pond at the bottom, from which the water is pumped back up to the top of the stream or waterfall. The stream may have multiple small ponds along its length, or no pond at the bottom at all. While stream or waterfall features sound like they must be large and expensive there are ready-made pond forms that are built in this style, some of which are quite small.

Stream or waterfall features give you the sound of running water while not looking so artificial as a fountain. They are likely to attract wildlife, and can be truly wonderful additions to naturalistic gardens. One good thing about stream or waterfall features that don't contain a pond is that mosquito larvae can't survive in fast-moving water. As with other moving water features, they require electricity to operate.

If you have a pond or water garden, or you plan to build one, tell us what you like about it!

What kind of water garden do you like best?

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      saerae01 5 years ago

      Great lens! It helped me a lot to understand.... I think I'm going to make one now.....