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How to Build a Pond from Scratch (the natural way!)

how-to-build-pond-naturally-beautifullyDo you want to build a pond from the ground up –  but don’t know where to start?

Don’t you wish you could just talk to someone who has done it themselves instead of sorting through conflicting styles of pond creation on the web?

Well, today is your lucky day!

Judd, a happy Nualgi Ponds user, reached out to us and described the success he has had with building his own natural bog, water garden, and pond combo with waterfalls. We wanted to learn more about his experiences and Judd has kindly allowed us to interview him on the subject of DIY pond building.

All photos used in this article were taken at the beautiful Stoney Hedge pond & gardens.

Pond Building Article Contents:

“I haven’t changed the water since 2005, and I have never had a fish disease problem.” – Judd

In this blog, learn how to build a pond from start to finish so that your final result will flourish like this!

Challenges of Building a Pond from Scratch

Why is it so challenging to find the right information about how to create a pond? Everyone can dig a hole and put water in it, but there are so many different types of ponds and so much information out there – it can be overwhelming. On top of that, everyone has a different approach and there is more than one way to get to the final goal.

Another reason building a pond can be a challenge is the fear and discouragement of making a costly mistake. No one wants to be in the middle of building a pond to realize that they have to backtrack to correct themselves.

One thing you can be sure of: Building a pond is a big undertaking.

A lot of planning, time, and resources are necessary to make this work. Believe us, stay committed, it’s more than worth it to have the enjoyment and the accomplishment of building a beautiful backyard pond. The many years of enjoyment you receive will give you a priceless return on your investment.

Below, we have a step-by-step instruction guide to build the pond of your dreams. If you follow these instructions, you will be sure to create a pond where you can sit back and enjoy for good! Remember patience is a virtue in this hobby.

Bio: Judd Bristow of Stoney Hedge

Creator of Stoney Hedge, Horticulturist at Heart, Retired Systems Engineer with IBM

Location: Des Moines, Iowa

Mantra: “I can do it.”

Mission: The Stoney Hedge website was created to document the 38-year renovation of a beautiful 5 acre property. Judd wishes to inspire others so that they, too, “can do it” by sharing his personal experiences with enormous and complex DIY projects. Some of his many projects at home include building a pond from scratch, constructing a fire pit, and executing custom landscaping designs.

View all of Judd’s Projects at http://www.stoneyhedge.com/

 

The Story of Stoney Hedge

Judd reached out to us via our website. He had a story to share about how he and his wife built their own pond from scratch and how much Nualgi reduced his daily maintenance.

Born and raised in Northeast Iowa, Judd’s parents taught him to think, “I can do anything if I put my mind to it.” When you consider the scale of all that he has accomplished at the Stoney Hedge property, it’s evident that having the faith and perseverance to make your dreams come true can really pay off.

From his hobby of woodworking, to his degree in Electrical engineering, to his passion for gardening; Judd and his late wife, Cathie have done it all. They founded and managed a computer consulting company as they ran a SCUBA diving instruction business simultaneously!

With Cathie as his inspiration, Judd knew he could do anything. Judd drafted the Stoney Hedge vision on a piece of paper and didn’t change even a single line of the original design as he executed it, year over year.

Together they hand-built a beautiful home together for their children, installing a pool, a fire pit, the pond, and endless other personal touches that makes Stoney Hedge the majesty that it is today.

We are so grateful for Judd Bristow sharing his expert advice on how to build a pond based on his personal experiences beautifying the Stoney Hedge property, and executing his DIY project.

Judd’s Steps to Build a Pond from Scratch

You can also find more details of his projects on the Stoney Hedge Website, but for now we just want to share with our users the invaluable steps that Judd followed to create this beautiful pond, stream, and bog.

Lower pond at Stoney Hedge

Most Important: Planning to Build a Pond

Planning your pond is by far the most important part of building your pond. Before any work is done, you want to make sure that your pond is serving its function, not being built over top of obstacles, is draining away from your home, and has the right filter setup.

Before you ever move a muscle, consider these questions:

  • What is the purpose of my pond? Is it for critters, plants, or both?
    • Once you decide on the function of your pond, this will affect the entire structure of the build.
    • If you want fish or critters, be sure to consider the right type of pond that is specific to the needs of your selected critter.
    • If you want to have plants, you may want to design shelves to hold the potted plants.
  • Are there any obstacles to construction?
    • Consider how tree roots, gas lines, or other home utilities may overlap your pond design.
    • Be sure you aren’t digging over some important pipes or your septic tank, you can easily find this information from your home plans or public records.
    • Also, be aware of overhead obstacles such as power lines or tree limbs – if you rent construction equipment for digging or moving boulders, you want to be sure you don’t damage nearby electrical wires.
  • Where is the water draining when it rains?
    • This is important to avoid pond runoff water from draining into your home.
    • Also, you want to be sure to prevent runoff from draining into your pond as rainwater can carry insecticides or other harmful chemicals that are toxic to your aquatic environment.
  • What strength of filter will I need?
    • If there was one area to spend lots of time researching, it would be to think deeply about the filtration before the pond plans are drafted.
      No matter how much you want it to, a pond cannot maintain itself, it will collect sediment that needs to be cleared out.
    • Be sure to plan the pathway of the water to determine the strength needed:
      • If your filtration system needs to be near your house, the journey that the water has to travel to get to the filter may require a stronger pump.
      • If you build out your plumbing with a lot of right angles, that also means you will need to have a stronger pump. You may have to go into the mathematics to calculate the pressure required here.
      • If you are incorporating a waterfall, you will also need a stronger pump.

The most common mistake that new pond-builders make is purchasing the wrong filter type or size.

  • Do I want an under-gravel filter? 
    • Really research how ponds get dirty, as water is not like air. As the pond is like a magnet for dust, it is recommended to install an under-gravel filter system. Consider the option to have a rock or gravel bottom instead of a bare bottom with bottom drain. This is not like the sand bottom substrate traditionally found in aquariums.
    • The biggest thing to remember for ponds is that only an under-gravel (bottom of the pond) filtration systems allow for sludge clearing in the bottom of the pond.
    • If you decide that you need a process to expel the pond-bottom sediment after your pond is established, it will be more than a challenge to fix this.
  • Where is my filter going to be located?
    • The last thing you want to do is build your entire pond structure around the size and functionality of the filter to find out later that you need to choose a different filter.
    • Lastly, make sure you have enough room to accommodate for the filter you need. This will avoid a later discovery that you have bought a filter that does not fit into your construction plan!
  • What depth do I want to build my pond? 
    • Different depths serve different purposes: If you are having fish, make sure there is at least a 3 foot depth to prevent predators from wading into the pond and give the fish a place to hide. It’s worth keeping in mind that bigger and deeper ponds are also easier to maintain.

 

As you begin to conceptualize your DIY pond build, you will have even more fun knowing that you have planned well to avoid any pitfalls.  Once you have the answers to the questions above, then it’s time for the fun part – execution!

Steps on How to Build a Pond (the natural way!)

1. Create a Design: It helps to do this step on a piece of paper.  Correcting errors will be easier!

2. Consider Potential Obstacles for Construction:  Be sure you aren’t digging over some important pipes or your septic tank! Also, be aware of overhead obstacles such as power lines or tree limbs.

3. Make Some Friends: Gather any eager friends or family and have plenty of hand tools for them. Bummer if you have no friends.

4. Manage Your Crew: Go over the plan with your construction crew to be sure everybody knows what they are doing.

5. Outline the Pond: Layout the outline of your pond or stream using paint, garden hose, sticks, or any other method that makes sense.

6. Excavate the Area: Time to get digging! Also, clear all sharp objects from the area.

7. Pay attention to Grade: Review necessary grade or slope for streams or level the edges of the pond. Remember to insert shelves for plants at this point.

8. Plan Underlayment and Pond Liner: Determine the width and length of underlayment and pond liner.

9. Integrate Materials: If you already purchased articles for your pond such as large stones, you may need to adjust your excavation to fit these materials.  If you have not yet purchased, maybe you should soon!

10. Install Underlayment: The pond underlayment protects the liner from tears and extends the life of your pond.

11. Install Liner: Do not crease the pond liner to follow curves or bends in your design.  The underlayment and liner should be large enough to cover the excavation without folds or creases.

12. Fill with Water! As you begin to fill your newly laid liner with water, carefully fan out folds and creases to be as fold free as possible.  There will be many folds and creases when you are completely filled with water, but do your best to flatten before adding water.

13. Cover Folds and Creases: Carefully cover all folds and creases with rocks or other covering like clay or mud to prevent potential sharp objects from piercing a fold or crease.

14. Leave Liner at Top Edges: Leave a generous amount of liner at the top edges of the stream or pond to provide anchor surface for the pond or stream edge of your choice.

15. Establish a Natural Ecosystem with Nualgi Ponds: UV filters and harmful chemicals like algaecides are expensive and not sustainable for a natural pond setting. Using a water treatment like Nualgi Ponds with beneficial bacteria allows you to create a safe and natural pond care routine.


Expert Advice: Tips for Building a Pond

If you have ever wanted to speak with someone who has built a pond from scratch, here’s your chance.

We tried to ask Judd all the most relevant questions to help you best succeed. Building a pond is no small feat, so here are some useful excerpts from our interview with Judd to ensure that your home pond will be a great success to enjoy for many years to come.

Interview Questions and Expert Pond Building Advice From Judd

What kind of Pond did you build?

I built a pond that’s not a mud bottom or rubber liner bottom. One of my pet peeves is the person that says “no rocks on the bottom!” have you ever seen rocks on the bottom of a pond? Yes, hundreds of ponds, large and small. My pond was inspired by the Michigan and Minnesota Boundary Waters area.

 

How long did it take you to learn how to do build a pond from personal research?

For years I studied ponds and landscaping projects to understand the form and function of a pond. I do feel enlightened about the aspects of the pond as I have spent years of time invested in researching about pond creation. You have to be really thorough in your research to determine what is true or false. You can find someone who says clear water is completely black and someone will be on the internet to substantiate your claims. I developed my own sense of what was right and what was wrong from experience as well. What I did I did based on looking at ponds and creeks for inspiration.

 

What advice would you give someone who wants to take on a project to build a pond?

Read and read. Find a local person that builds ponds and ask if you can tag along. Do not be afraid to get help in the form of strong backs, and big machines. The trees have grown exponentially bigger, means there is a lot of leaves, let them fall in the pond, skim all the leaves out of the pond. As you grow older, you can do less and less. Whenever you build one of these things you want to build it with maintenance in mind. Nualgi is a real game changer. Nualgi helps reduce the maintenance significant as you don’t have to a lot of maintenance to remove the algae.

 

What did you wish someone would have told you before you began?

Decide to go big. Create a plan, execute the plan, enjoy it. Try to work smarter. The older you get the more intelligent you become, because you know that you shouldn’t do that or you can’t use that.

 

What kind of critters do you have in your pond?

I have not added fish since 2006 when I put 25 Kobeck Koi in there. [At the time] they were about 8 inches long, then I went to Petco and picked up 75 Goldfish. Then I put in 5 lbs of flathead minnows. The purpose behind that is that I didn’t want more than 25 Koi, and the minnows and goldfish love Koi fish eggs. 5000 minnows keep the goldfish at bay and every once in awhile we get 1 or 2 extra. One thing I didn’t plan on all of the great Blue Heron Visitors, as they are formidable and you don’t want them around your fish.

 

What difference did you see in the pond after Nualgi was added? Why would you recommend it to your friends who are making their own ponds? How often do you use it?

There was a time when no matter how much running water there was, we have 10,000 gallons per hour circulating, I still had a lot of string algae. And the string algae was not a real problem, but it was not the sight that I wanted to create. For years, I played with removing it. I was very good at it, but then the year before last (2015) I read about Nualgi and in 2016 I decided I was going to try the stuff. Literally I put one capful every week and it only took a week to notice a difference. I was astounded at how fast it worked. I’m a believer.

I was astounded at how fast it worked. I’m a believer.

What about Maintenance after Building a Pond?

During our conversation, Judd emphasized the importance of building a pond with the maintenance in mind. As you get older, you don’t want to be worried about maintenance.

Nualgi Ponds is a proven way to assist your pond without UV lights, harsh chemicals, or excessive algae removal. Just like Judd, you can reduce the time spent cleaning your pond and increase the time spent enjoying it if you create a natural pond cycle.

“It’s perfect. My water out of the pond today is crystal clear, and the pumps aren’t even on [in the winter]. “ – Judd speaking about Nualgi Ponds

As you begin to strategically plan for your own pond build, please remember what pitfalls to avoid, the general steps of how to “get there,” and why it’s all worth it in the end.

We hope that this article has provided you insight into how much planning and effort goes into creating a pond from scratch so that you can begin brainstorming for yourself.

Best of luck in your pond building!

Create a Natural Pond Environment from the beginning!

As Judd described in his personal testimonial, Nualgi is the real “bread and butter” of his long term and low-key pond maintenance. Especially when life gets busy, he explained that Nualgi really helps him to maintain a very large pond on his property in his older age.

Without chemicals or UV filters, you will see when using Nualgi Ponds that your pond water becomes and stays crystal clear right before your eyes. There are so many benefits for your critters, plants, and water quality when establishing a natural pond from the beginning. Never let your pond “bog” you down when you have Nualgi in your arsenal! 😉

When your new pond is ready, be sure to order your first Nualgi Ponds supply!

  • It’s always easier to create a naturally sustainable environment from the beginning of your pond creation.
  • The best way to get rid of nuisance algae overgrowth is prevention.

Benefits of Using Nualgi Ponds

Please leave us your ideas and feedback in the comments below.

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