Contractor's Corner

Big Pond Transformation for a Small Space


Sometimes a total replacement is in order


low maintenance pond

The finished product is low maintenance, user-friendly, and a huge upgrade over the old pond.

I received a call in late spring 2016 from a concerned new pond owner named Tracy. She informed me that she and her husband Calvin had inherited a small DIY pond when they moved into their home the previous year. Unfortunately, they had struggled with green water and intermittent functionality of their pump and filter system.

“We’ve never owned a pond before, and we’re worried about the fish,” Tracy admitted. I asked her to describe the filtration system. “I don’t really know,” she said. “There is a pump on the bottom inside a pot connected to a garden hose that pumps water up through a pre-formed waterfall. That’s it. And there’s a lot of leaves and dirt on the bottom.”

Yikes, I thought to myself. This could be interesting.

After listening to more of her concerns, I began offering some potential solutions and their respective costs. “We’d need to clean it at the very least, which may cost $1,000 based on the conditions you’re describing to me,” I told her. “It also sounds like the pond suffers from poor filtration and less-than-adequate aeration. So if we looked at adding a skimmer and a waterfall filter, combined with the cleanout, we could be looking at between $5,500 and $7,000.”

Her response was “Hmm. I’ll have to talk to my husband and get back to you.”

“I totally understand,” I said. “And here’s one more thing to consider. You can invest between $5,500 and $7,000 into this existing pond that needs all these improvements. Or, we could just rip it all out and install a completely new pond with all the necessary filtration you need — plus you’ll get the aesthetic quality we are known for — for $6,000.”

algae pond

The existing pond was a mess. Green water, loaded with leaf debris, and an aesthetically challenged waterfall.

“Really? You can build a whole new pond for less than an upgrade to our existing pond?” she said. “That sounds like a much better deal.”

About an hour later, the phone rang again. It was Tracy, asking if she could schedule an on-site visit to talk about a new pond.

The design consultation went well. I educated them about proper pond care, construction and filtration. They looked through our portfolio and asked some questions. After about an hour, I left with a signed contract and deposit toward a standard small pond with waterfall for $6,000, our base model.

Fast forward to the build — I have to say that draining that little pond and removing all the goldfish was one of the hardest parts of the job! There was so much leafy debris in the pond that my cleanout pump was continuously getting clogged. Once we finally lowered the water level enough to begin netting fish, we were then hindered by the mass of lily roots and other debris. The rest of the demo was, thankfully, a bit more typical.

There was a ring of rock around the perimeter, but no gravel or boulders inside the pond. Removal of the liner and plumbing was easy.

The remainder of the project played out like a typical installation of an ecosystem-style pond. Dig the shelves, dig a hole for the skimmer, set biofalls, install underlayment and liner, etc.

pond shelf plants

Shelves were added to support plants and rockwork. A deeper zone was added as well.

So how does the removal of one 8-by-11-foot pond, followed by the installation of a new 8-by-11-foot pond, make much of a difference? Two reasons — filtration and aesthetics.

The addition of gravel and boulders within the pond and surrounding area makes the space seem larger and more expansive. Some of the landscape plants were moved to more desirable locations. These improvements transformed the look and feel of this entire corner of their property.

When it comes to filtration, there is no substitute for having adequate biological and mechanical filtration. In my opinion, a skimmer and biofalls ecosystem is a very reliable and simple way to achieve this in a small pond. With this setup, we can guarantee that green water will be a thing of the past.

Take a look at the accompanying video for a more in-depth look at this project. See for yourself how you can make even the smallest spaces of a backyard have a positive impact that many homeowners previously could only imagine.

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