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How to set up a water garden

By Catalogs Editorial Staff

A water garden is a must-have for any garden.

A water garden is a must-have for any garden.

Water gardens are one of the latest trends in home landscaping – perfect for bringing nature and beauty to any yard. Here are some helpful instructions to help you in setting up a water garden.


Type of Garden

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The first step to creating your own water garden is to decide on the type of garden you want. Would you like the garden to be a home for aquatic life such as goldfish, koi or plants, or will your garden’s purpose be aesthetic only and contain a waterfall? A typical water garden is home to both goldfish and plants; a koi pond is set up primarily for the health of the fish and tends to limit the amount of plant life you can have in the garden.




Next, decide on the location of your water garden. Most people prefer to build their gardens close to their homes for easy enjoyment. Water gardens are attractive to wildlife such as birds and butterflies, so try to place the garden where you will be able to sit and enjoy it.


For easier maintenance, try not to place the garden too close to trees ? the leaves will fall into it and you will have to clean the debris more often. Leaves will clog filters and pumps and can damage fish and other plant life. In addition, the water will need to be refilled; placing the garden near the water hose makes good sense.


Remember that plants such as water lilies require four to six hours of direct sunlight a day, so base the positioning upon the type of plant life you want to inhabit your garden. Shade is fine for koi gardens and other fish only ponds.




Have the necessary supplies. Setting up a water garden requires the following:


  • Liner or pre-fabricated pool
  • Pick, shovel or backhoe, rope, water hose and excavation stakes
  • One or two straight boards, a level
  • Border materials such as stone or brick
  • Submersible pump, filters, outlet
  • Builders sand, underliner for base of the pool
  • Assorted aquatic plants
  • Fish (if desired)
  • Water treatment and fish care supplies
  • Fountain/waterfall or desired accessories
  • Lights (if desired for nighttime illumination)


Building the Water Garden


Dig the hole. This is the manual part of setting up a water garden. Once you have decided on the size of the garden, which is often based on budget, you can get to work. It is suggested that water gardens be at least 18 to 24 inches deep, preferably deeper in cold climates.


Outline the pool shape with your rope or water hose and stake it out. An alternative to staking is to use spray paint to mark out the perimeters of the pool. If you are installing a pre-fabricated pool, place the pool on the ground and trace around the outside. Dig a hole to the exact shape, remembering to dig the hole two inches deeper than the depth desired to account for a layer of sand. A great idea is to dig a shelf area 9 to 12 inches along the perimeter to place a container or marginal plants.

Clear the hole of rocks and debris, smooth the soil and level the top edges. Place a two-by-four across the top of the hole at various spots and use a carpenters’ level to make sure the pool is level.


The pool liner will be easier to work with if it’s warm so let it sit in the sun for a short period prior to installation. Place the liner in the hole and spread out corners. Smooth out any bumps. Anchor it with stones or bricks. If you are using a pre-fabricated shell, lower the shell into the hole and make sure it fits as securely as possible. If there are any gaps on the outside between the shell and the ground, fill with soil.

Trim away any excess liner, leaving at least six inches on all sides for anchoring. Note that this is not necessary when working with a pre-fabricated shell.


Fill the pool with water and shut the hose off when the water is level with the liner on all sides.


Stock Your Garden


There are various types of plant life you can use in your water garden. Deepwater plants include water lilies and lotus; bog plants (also called marginals) include cattails and creeping primrose, while oxygenates like anacharis and vallisneria will keep the pond environment healthy.  In addition, floating plants such as duckweed and water hyacinth are beautiful additions to any water garden.


Do research on all the plants you may like to include to discover what plants work best with each other as well as the required conditions for the health of each plant. It is wise to place the plants in the garden two or three weeks prior to the fish. Do research on the fish species you choose as well to make sure you provide the optimum environment.


Setting up a water garden is worth the work and provides enjoyment for nature lovers everywhere.


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