Julie A. Martens

Infuse your outdoor living spaces with the soothing effect of water. A trickling fountain, pond, gurgling stream, gushing waterfall—water garden designs can encompass a variety of sizes and styles. Your water garden design can host fish and colorful plants, and it will beckon all kinds of wildlife to your yard. Learn the basics about water gardening.

Before embarking on developing a water garden design, do your homework. Visit local water garden owners, and check out landscapers who specialize in water gardens. Many have display gardens on site at their businesses and are happy to share portfolios of their work. Some even have clients who offer to let potential customers visit their water gardens.

It’s important to learn what kind of maintenance your water garden design will demand. With ponds, you’ll have to clean—empty and hose out—filters and skimmers monthly. In autumn, experts recommend weekly skimmer checks to remove falling leaves. Invest in a good pair of waders, because once a year, you’ll need to wade into the pond to add, move or thin plants. Make sure you understand what you must do to keep algae in check. This is an often-overlooked but easily addressed potential problem in water garden designs.

How deep your water garden should be depends on where you live, what plants you want to grow, and whether or not you plan to host fish. Most ponds require an oxygen source, such as oxygenating plants or a fountain. You’ll also need a filtration system. With pond equipment, you tend to get what you pay for, so it’s worth investing in high-quality filters and pumps that will last.


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When adding a pond to your yard, you’ll choose between a preformed shell and a flexible liner. Either can create a natural looking water garden design. The secret is to make sure the shell or liner is fully hidden by surrounding materials.

Preformed shells are frequently made from rigid fiberglass or polyethylene. Fiberglass is the more durable material, but does fade when exposed to sunlight. Polyethylene shells don’t crack, fade, or chip and offer excellent durability and weather resistance. Expect most preformed shells to last anywhere from five to 50 years. How long your preformed pond liner lasts depends on your region’s weather, what the liner is made from and the installation techniques used.

Flexible liners are usually rubber or PVC. Both boast good durability, although rubber does have greater resistance to ultraviolet light. A flexible liner conforms easily to the earth, allowing you to create a pond with a one-of-a-kind shape, but it’s also easier to puncture. With a flexible pond liner, purchase the thickest material you can afford. A standard rubber liner weight is 30 to 45 mil, which you can expect to last approximately 20 years. 

If you don’t have room for an in-ground water garden, explore the options for patio and deck water features. A wall or tabletop fountain introduces the element—and sound—of water to an outdoor setting in an easy-to-maintain fashion. Tub water gardens can effectively host miniature water plants, including water lilies, corkscrew rush, or dwarf cattails. Include a fountain nozzle in your container water garden design, and you can savor the sound of moving water, too.

Any water garden design creates a watery ecosystem. Wildlife, including birds, insects, frogs, and turtles will likely visit your water garden and may set up housekeeping. Include a shallow puddle area in your water garden design so birds have a place to bathe. Add fish, and you’ll naturally keep mosquitoes at bay (fish love to snack on mosquito larvae). Take necessary precautions to protect fish from marauding wildlife, like herons and raccoons.

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