Ask the Pond Guru
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Frequently Asked Questions
Q: What is an Earth Pond?
Earth ponds are exactly that: a natural earthen reservoir. With a sufficient percentage of native clay in the pond bed soil, sometimes supplemented with an additional clay liner, the pond holds water. Earth ponds could be ponds for swimming, lovely garden ponds, or ponds for raising trout.
Size will vary according to design, budget, and availability of water, but these ponds commonly range from about 50 ft in diameter to several surface acres. Smaller decorative pools often require artificial liners and water circulation systems, and are not considered "natural ponds." If you can swim and catch fish in it, it's an Earth Pond.
Earth ponds can be used for both recreational and practical ends. Swimming, fishing, and skating are just a few of the common recreational uses. Functional uses include garden ponds, aquaculture, irrigation, drought relief, mosquito control and west nile virus management, hydro power, geothermal heating and cooling, wetland construction, wildlife and waterfowl refuge, and more. Often recreational and practical functions can be combined. For example, swimming ponds are frequently used to raise fish, and may also include a fire protection hydrant, and garden irrigation features.
Q: I recently had a pond constructed in front of our home, but it looks barren and artificial. Any landscaping suggestions?
A: Getting a good growth of grass around a new pond is usually the first step, but it can be a real challenge because the soil is heavily compacted by construction equipment, and usually high in clay content. Contractors often save rich topsoil during site clearing, and reapply around the finished pond to make a good medium for new grass, without the need for fertilizer. Otherwise, try a combination of quick growing annual grass with a slower perennial, and keep the seed mulched so it doesn't dry out. The stripped shore around a new pond can also provide a good seedbed for wildflowers. If all else fails, sod is sometimes imported. If the pond is dammed, you don't want to be planting trees in the embankment because of potential root damage to the structure. Stonework, wood fencing, and shallow rooted shrubs or fruit trees make attractive substitutes for larger trees.
Q: We were told not to use grass fertilizer on the pond shore because it might lead to algae problems.
A: Right, stay off the fertilizer because it can lead to alga and nuisance weed growth in the water due to nutrient runoff.
Q: I have a location on my land that looks like it might make a good place for a pond. What's the best way to find out?
A: You'll need the right kind of soil and adequate clean water for a decent pond. Soil quality is best determined by sampling manually with an auger or hiring a backhoe. Good pond soil should have a clay content of 10 to 20 percent; stay away from ledge if you can, to avoid leaks. Sufficient water will depend on the size of the pond. Pond water can come from several sources: ground water, a stream or brook, watershed runoff, or well water. Often a pond will be fed by a combination of water sources. Poor soil quality and/or inadequate water can be remedied by using a clay or sheet liner, but this gets you into more complicated construction and maintenance techniques, and greater expenses.
Q: My wife and I are looking at purchasing a country home with an old pond on the property. Is there a way to tell what kind of shape the pond is in?
A: A good way to begin evaluating an existing pond is to learn as much as you can about its history. Try to find out when it was built, who did the work, and if there are any original plans or surveys. This can give you an idea of what sort of spillway or drainage piping might have been installed. If the pond has a dam, was a core trench used? If you can talk to the builder or original owner, you can find out a lot about how well the pond can be expected to perform (especially during droughts or flood conditions), what problems to anticipate, and whether the pond might be ready for a sediment cleanout to remove unwanted vegetation and sediment. Find out if any fish were stocked, and what species, and in general get a census on the aquatic life (crayfish? beavers? etc.). Check for leaks in a dam, and for indications of erosion in either the inflows or spillway channels. Older ponds can often be expected to need cleanouts, repairs or replacement of piping, and landscaping improvements.
Q: We have a farm in northern Arizona, and I'd like to build a pond for stocking trout, for fly-fishing. The only water we have comes in spring flooding. Any suggestions?
A: Trout like cool if not cold water with high oxygen content, depending on the species. You'd probably need a pond liner, and have to add well water to the pond, and run an aeration system during hot weather, and even then I'd say the odds are against you. If you've got any trout farms nearby, pay a visit and learn how they do it. Good luck.
Q: My pond is leaking. Are butyl liners reliable? How do they hold up?
A: There are several types of membrane liners, including pvc, epdm, and butyl rubber. Rubber is considered quite durable, but you should ask the manufacturer about longevity. As with all types of liners, thickness will affect longevity, and UV resistance is also important to lifespan. All types must be installed properly and protected to avoid puncturing.
Q: Can the addition of a pond for wildlife habitat affect my property taxes?
A: Any kind of pond has the potential to increase property value and thus increase taxes. Pond valuation varies depending on municipality, so the answer will have to come from your town. In some towns, if a pond provides fire protection it may actually lower your taxes.