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New to Ponds - learn from my mistakes

Step 1: Decide what kind of pond you want.

This drives everything. Good advice for one kind of pond is really bad advice for another. Here's the basics.

Wildlife ponds let nature do its thing. You can add plants and some goldfish or minnow type fish, which generally aren't fed. The most important characteristic is having muck on the bottom, or dead organic matter. Many bugs and creatures live in that muck, it's the foundation of a wildlife pond.

Kio ponds are at the other end of the spectrum. They use lots of filters to remove as much organic matter as possible as quickly as possible. Water is kept clear and the bottom as clean as a swimming pool. The goal is one living thing in the pond, Koi.

Water garden is everything in between.

You don't pick A, B or C, but where generally in the spectrum sounds good to you.

The bottom line is the amount of dead organic matter you'll allow or want in your pond. Trouble is you're new to ponds so how could you make a rational descision? You can't. But you do know yourself and what's in your current vision. Here are some questions I ask people before installing or remodelling a pond.


1. Do you want Koi for competing in shows?

No need to go any're building a state of the art Koi pond. Answering yes also means you know a lot about Koi so why are you reading this?

2. Are Koi a requirement?

We're talking about 1,000 gal pond size and bigger depending on how many fish. Lots of big Koi can be kept in very little water, but the greater the need for filters, the more this becomes a full blown Koi pond.

3. Is super clear water is most important?

Everyone wants super clear water of course, even in wildlife ponds. So we really need to narrow this down a bit. By super clear I mean you could read a newspaper on the bottom of the pond. Seriously. You really have to see a few ponds to get an idea of what is acceptable to you. Many cities have a local Pond Society which you can join and normally get to see lots of working ponds. They may also have pond tours once a year. Local Koi seller may have ponds you can see. Soon you will be able to tell super clear from clear and not clear and be able to tell what you'd be happy with.

In general, keeping super clear water requires filters. A UV to kill algae, bottom drain with tangential pond returns, sieve filter and a fines filter. Also probably no plants inside the pond.

4. Would you like goldfish as pets? That would come to you for feeding?

These ponds can be any size, even 100 gal, but 300 to 500 gal would be a good bet.

5. Is attracting birds important?

Build some shallow areas just 2-4" deep for birds to bathe. Insects produced in a wildlife pond is a benefit to birds, but not enough to actually attract birds. Bathing areas do attract them.

6. Do you like nature including insect life that aren't harmful to humans?

A wildlife pond would be a great.

7. Is the pond mainly for plants?

A pond filled with pea gravel and planted with spectacular water loving plants is fun and easy. You can even have a water feature like a fountain or water falls. These are commonly called a "bog" even though they aren't really. You say "potato," I say "patattah".

8. For remodels: Would you consider ripping out the current pond and rebuilding?

If you currently have a water garden and you want a Koi pond, you're probably looking at removing the current pond and starting over. You do have most of the hole dug, but unless you already have a large pond we're probably talking about a new liner. Your current pump can be used to run a skimmer and a new pump will be needed for the bottom drain.

9. What's your budget?

Koi ponds cost money. From say around $2000 for DIY up to the $100k range for gunite full blown state of the art Koi ponds. Plus the cost of fish which has no limit. Water gardens can be built for very little, say $200 to $1000 for DIY. Less if you're a good scrounger. Wildlife ponds can be had for the cost of a used liner, $50-100.

Step 2: Beware the experts.

There's a lot of info about ponds on the net and from local "professionals"...almost all of it based on myth, much of it darn right harmful. My best advice is to read a lot and be skeptical (including my advice). If something doesn't seem to make sense or too good to be true, it most likely is. Understand the reasoning behind the advice. Ponds can be very simple, they can run fine all by themselves. When we want to force an overcome, like clear water by this weekend, that things get a bit more complex and your ability to read and understand the difference between myths and reasonable will make all the difference.

Red flag #1: Any advice which includes "it worked in my pond". People often attribute good results to something they did rather than the actual cause. Also, most people keep a certain type of pond and they think everyone should keep the same kind, even if they say different. Their advice will always push their type of pond. Human nature. So you will seem to get conflicting advice and that can drive a person insane. Know where they're coming from.

Red flag #2: People who get defensive when asked follow up questions. They get defensive because they just repeated something that they heard and have no idea what they're talking about.

Red flag #3: Magic. There are lots of little magic things people would like to sell you to dump in your pond...they are all cons. I don't mean some...I mean all. But most do little actual harm. Their primary benefit is making you feel good for a short time. "Stressed out about green water? No this, dump it in your pond and it'll be clean in a few months. If it doesn't work it's because you didn't buy enough." All scams, but very good scams. Amazingly every one of these products fall into the sucker price bracket...not too cheap, but not so expensive as to make you want to check it out.

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