WATER FEATURE – SURE – BUT HOW BIG?
This article will help you decide whether to go big, small or in-between
in deciding your new pond size.
As a landscape designer and an ardent advocate of water features, I’ve found, after the client has decided to have a water feature, the question that next arises is, how big? The thinking and feelings of my clients on this vary considerably. I’ve found people have a lot of good reasons for choosing to go larger or smaller but there are also a few misconceptions concerning this issue. There are definite pros and cons to both small and large water features and it is imperative to understand what these are before deciding, because the consequences are lasting.
The two practical concerns people have when considering their future pond’s size are maintenance and cost. How much of their life will be devoted to caring for the pond and how much will it cost both to create and to maintain?
Of course, upfront costs in both time expenditure and money expenditure are greater with the larger pond, simply because there will be more of everything; more soil to remove, a larger liner and underlayment, bigger pump and filtration system, more fish and aquatic plants and more landscaping.
In addition, the larger pond will usually cost more in dollars to run. How much more will depend on the choice of filtration system and pump and the cost of electricity in your area. (See Pond Pumps) So why would anyone want a larger pond? There a lot of reasons.
I had designed a fairly modest pond for my client Judy, in Nantucket, who already had one pond at the lower end of her property. During the course of constructing the entire landscape she chose to enlarge the design for the new one. When I asked her recently about that, she said, “I continue to know that having a larger pond has brought me more satisfaction than the smaller one that I have. It allows me to be more intimately involved. To hear the water fall and watch the fish and birds so closely has brought peace to my backyard and life.”
| This woman opted for a larger pond size
A small stream flows into the pond on the left
A larger pond has a greater impact. It is more ‘there’ and the experience of all of its elements more magnified.
Another reason for going larger, and one that surprises many people, is that a larger pond can require less, not more, maintenance. To understand why this would be we need to understand how a pond works.
Fish, through their waste, and decaying organic matter such as leaves, produce ammonia, which is toxic to fish and other fauna. As the levels of ammonia build, it can become fatal. Naturally occurring Nitrosomonas bacteria convert ammonia into nitrites, which is also harmful to fish but not as much. The activity of the Nitrosomonas bacteria also gives rise to yet another bacteria, Nitrobacter. This converts the nitrites into nitrates. Nitrates are not harmful to fish and are beneficial to plants. They feed on it, which is why it is used in fertilizers. It also contributes to algae growth. Plants and algae grow from the nitrates, fish eat the plants and algae, excrete waste and the cycle starts all over.
So what does this have to do with a large or small pond? There will always be fluctuations in ammonia levels as plants and algae and fish grow and die and other external and internal elements impact on the pond. In a large pond, these fluctuations are less severe. If you add a couple of fish to a large pond, for example, there will be a temporary increase in ammonia levels but it will level out across the volume of the pond and go un-noticed. In a small pond the inclusion of a couple of fish can cause a more dramatic spike in ammonia and temporarily stress the environment.
The same is true of temperature, ph, salinity and other variables. Changes, which fish to not thrive under, are more dramatic in a small pond, more balanced and evened out in a larger pond. In this sense a small pond can be more like an aquarium and require more micro-management.
Well then, why do some people chose a small pond? Again, there are many reasons. To begin with, a proper pump and filtration system can reduce the maintenance time to very little. Yes, more vigilance is required to ensure that the many variables, from water run-off into the pond, which can be carrying fertilizers or toxins, to the natural life cycles within the pond itself, don’t give rise to dangerous concentrations of harmful elements, but a well designed filtration system can take ninety some percent of both the worry and bother of this out of the equation.
Also important in this entire consideration is, what do you want your pond to do for you? My client, Mort, in Brooklyn, New York had a pretty good sized back yard for an urban property and he had a slightly raised deck looking into it so he didn’t need a patio. There was plenty of room for a fifteen by fifteen foot pond with plantings all around but he chose to have a pond about six feet by four feet. Why? “I wanted the pond to break up the foliage but not dominate the space.” From a design point of view, that is a very good reason, so he now has a woodsy garden with a ‘natural’ pool in it and he enjoys his landscape enormously.
A pond to break up the foliage and serve as a focal point
Suzanne, of Saratoga Springs, New York, thought about filling her entire twenty one hundred square foot back yard with a water feature. But she loves gardening and perennials and she didn’t want to lose her patio area so she ended up with a medium sized pond with a lot of gardens and some great patios from which to enjoy the gardens, and the water garden. Is she happy with it? “Yes.” Will she ever enlarge it? “Maybe.”
I asked Suzanne about maintenance and she told me she cleans out her pre-filter about once a week. She has a 4000 gallon per hour pump, which is about five times bigger than she needs, and a bio-filter and has never had a water quality problem nor lost a fish to poor health. (A raccoon got one once.)
A medium sized pond
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