Home and garden tips: How to design a fish pond

Designing a fish pond requires that many questions be addressed up front
The addition of a fish pond to your property can result in substantial aesthetic and economic rewards. Not only can fish ponds add beauty to your property, they can add value in that they increase the market price of the land and have the potential to even reap a net profit for the owner. Designing a fish pond, however, requires that many questions be addressed up front.

The first question to ask yourself when designing a pond is exactly what do you hope to gain from this pond. Is it going to be a small affair that will be added to the back yard to serve as a home to a few goldfish or is it going to be a larger pond that will be stocked with catfish or trout? The answer to these questions will identify two very important design criteria: size and purpose.

Home and garden tips: How to design a fish pond

Although the specifics of pond designs will vary, they all have certain elements in common. The most important is that obviously some provision must be made to hold the water. For earthen ponds this provision comes in the form of soil. It’s quite possible that the existing soil at your property will exhibit the qualities that you need for water retention in the pond.

A quick test for substrate suitability is to mix samples of the soil that represents the different strata at your proposed location site with water and to form them into lumps in your hand. Next assess just how cohesive these lumps are. If you drop them do they stay basically intact? If you form them into snakes can you bend them without their breaking? If the answer is yes then the soil that you have in place is a likely candidate for pond construction.

You can take the initial evaluation of soil suitability one step further by simply punching a few holes in the bottom of a bucket, adding a few inches of gravel, and finally topping it off with a few inches of your soil sample. Compact the soil tightly into the bucket, fill it with water and observe how long it takes the water to drain out of the bottom. Next talk to other pond owners in your area and find out if their ponds are earthen. Ask what problems they have encountered with their ponds and what construction tips they can give you.

If your soil doesn’t appear suitable for pond construction, don’t despair! You can either haul more suitable soil into the site to incorporate into your pond or choose to construct a lined pond. Small ponds can be easily constructed using a pre-formed liner or a sheet liner. According to your overall goals, you can buy the lining materials that are designed specifically for that purpose or you can improvise. Use your imagination as to what could serve as a liner for your pond. Maybe a kid’s wading pool or some rubber roofing obtained from your local building supplies store? You could even use the body of a worn out wheel barrel and cover it with plastic sheeting! Essentially anything goes with smaller ponds!

For larger ponds, of course, the design considerations are going to be more complex. These considerations will vary with the specifics of your land and your proposed use. Are you going to have to dig the pond from scratch or can you build a dam at one end of a low depression? Do you want to use the pond for hook and line fishing or do you want to produce a crop that can be commercially harvested? The answers to question such as these will determine design criteria like depth, slope, and vegetation. The key to designing a functional pond lies in the leg work that you do in that design process. By asking yourself just a few questions up front you can insure that your completed pond will meet all of your expectations.

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