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Pond Design : A Crucial Component of Pond Health

by Muhammad Faraz Raza on December 08, 2022

If you build it…They will come.



The pond… Build a pond, and they will all come to fawn over the splendid brilliance on your property…….and perhaps take in a ballgame!

Constructing your pond correctly will increase its effective lifespan and make maintenance cheaper and less time-consuming.  A little forethought goes a long way towards creating a waterbody that you can enjoy for years and years.

This article will address the construction of both backyard watergardens and large ponds.

I plan to delve into more detail in forthcoming posts……

Watergardens/Koi Ponds:

Small backyard ponds are versatile and flexible enough that just about any shape you come up with is do-able, assuming you create space for proper filtration and water movement.

The object here is to construct your pond so that your filtering system moves the entire water volume of the pond.  Avoid slack-water areas.  These parts of the pond will be problem spots moving forward.

This simplistic design illustrates the flow of water through the entire system, leaving no slack-water areas.

This image is illustrates a pond with a stagnant area.  Water flows across much of the system, but leaves a portion un-mixed. This area will become a high maintenance zone over time (i.e. nuisance algae, poor oxygen saturation).  A simple fix lies below.

Adding the second waterfall will not only improve the flow of water through the system, it will add a secondary feature or focal point.

Watergardens need ample filtration. Be sure to design in abundant space for plants. Plants are your friends; they will be the cheapest and hardest working filter your pond has.  As soon as you think you’ve planted enough plants…… plant some more.  Rule of thumb: 40{6c8836d2f3445d168e6feed4277a5cf4d20a1a56684abb3f87851dccb9239822} of the pond’s shoreline should be vegetated for good results. Please see my article on plants for more info.

Create planting shelves around the perimeter of the pond, ideally varying in depth from 7-12 inches. This will accommodate different planting depths for different aquatic plant species and create more diverse habitat for all the critters in the pond.

Something like this:


I am not a huge fan of submerged plants (oxygenators) in watergardens as they have a tendency to take over the pond.  The best designs integrate several species of aquatics with different growth forms and blooming periods.  I’ll be going over my favorite species in an upcoming article, so stay tuned…..

Make sure to protect your fish from predators by adding fish caves.  All you’ll need is a large flat piece of bluestone or slate.  Place the stone so that it creates a place at the bottom of the pond where your scaly friends can take refuge from predators.  Constructing a refuge for your fish also reduces stress during normal conditions.  Having abundant plantlife in the pond will provide cover for your critters too.

Make sure to have at least 2 feet of water depth in the deepest part of the pond (deeper is preferable).  If it freezes in your neck of the woods, you’ll need an aerator or circulating pump to keep your fish alive through the winter months.

koi pond aerator

Large Ponds:

Large pond design is different ….. and the same as designing watergardens.  Thinking about water flow and habitat are crucial to the longevity and health of the water column and the critters that live within.  Designing a large pond with these thoughts in mind will lead directly to happy fish/wildlife and a positive resource for you and your family.

1.) Dig it as DEEP as you can as FAST as you can.  The deeper the water, the more water your pond holds (super complex right?).  The more water your pond has in it, the more fish it can carry, the more ecological change it can resist, the less weeds and algae issues it’ll have, the clearer the water will be, the larger your fish can get, the more habitat you can create, AND the more fun you can have as a pond owner. (Deep breath.) You need to research the soils in your area to determine the slopes that you will be able to maintain with out sloughing or collapsing into the pond.  As an example: clay soils will hold a much steeper slope than sandy soils.

2.) Islands are dumb.  (But Joe, they’re so pretty, and like, I wanna have a golf hole out there or maybe a gazebo…)  NO, stop it!  BAD pond owner!

Islands limit the maximum depth you can achieve in any pond, and they are the bane of water-flow and mixing.  These bumps of turf add nothing of value to a system unless it is truly large (over 4-5 acres).  I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to maximize the water volume of your new pond.

Islands also attract geese. These vile, honking, spawn of a goat mixed with a rat mixed with a turkey are my personal nemesis and should never be allowed at your pond. An adult Canada Goose can defecate (that’s a delicate word for sh$t) up to 3lbs a day when it is not migrating.  3 POUNDS!!!!!!!! Shoot them, scare them away… sick the neighborhood 8-year-old and a Back Lab on them…. just make sure they don’t stick around.

3.) Hey…. Which way is the wind blowing?

Always design your pond knowing that the prevailing winds will push leaves and other debris to one side.  Our westerly winds will push all of the junk to the east/southeast side of the pond (here in the Midwest).  Therefore, do not put your beach on the east side of the pond. In fact, place the beach/dock/patio/most used areas of the pond on the most windswept side to keep maintenance to a minimum.

Notice how the winds will clean your beach for you?  Sweet, right?

4.) Dig a hole….Check for water.

The water table is not always where we expect it to be. Before you dig a mammoth hole in the ground, dig several test holes to see where the water line of your new pond will be.  If the water table is well below the grade of the surrounding land, you will have a difficult time excavating it out to a suitable depth and an even harder time landscaping it into your property as there will be a very nice pond at the bottom of a very steep hill.

If you don’t find water, or if the water table is too low, a liner is your best bet.  This will likely triple the cost of your project, but you will be able to hold whatever waterline you desire. These ponds have their own special challenges but are well worth the investment if designed correctly.

5.) Habitat, and Preventative Maintenance

Mother Nature has set up her fish minions to live, grow and reproduce in environments best suited for their needs.  Most of the ponds I know about fit only some or none of those needs naturally and therefore need to be designed and managed properly in order to produce large, healthy fish.

What does that mean for you?

Aeration, habitat, and population control.

Properly aerating your pond will triple the carrying capacity of the system.  Among plentiful other benefits that a good air system brings, it creates an oxygen-rich environment that is the base to any good, stable food chain.  This high oxygen environment can also reduce the mortality of our scaly friends due to improved vigor.  That is, a healthy, strong fish can fight off disease and is less susceptible to parasites because it has a less stressful environment with plenty of food and habitat.  (You may recognize this last paragraph from a previous article on fish growth, so please refer to that article for more….. Fish Growth)

Aeration is my single best tool for keeping ponds young and vital. Always budget for a good system when designing your pond. Here’s are some good systems, or please search our website for several others that will fit your project.

Aeration systems

Once again, this is a much bigger topic than I have space for here. If you are thinking of putting in a pond and need some advice, please ask.  I will answer all questions in the comments section, or feel free to email anytime (joe@mwp.testpoint.dev). Thanks so much for taking the time to read my articles.


Senior Biologist



📷: http://thatmomentin.com/2015/02/08/that-moment-in-field-of-dreams-1989/