Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Middle South
May, 2005
Regional Report

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That's me, in 1970, posing by our little fish pond.

On Goldfish Pond

When I was growing up, my family's 1/4-acre yard was an oasis in our suburban neighborhood of manicured lawns and predictable foundation plantings. In our yard, there were places to hide, trees to climb, and all sorts of things to look at and play with. In my child's mind, forsythia leaves were traffic tickets issued to my brothers who rode their bikes too fast. And yellow willow leaves were pretend bananas, which for some reason I buried in the fall for my stuffed monkey. The things we remember!

We also had a goldfish pond just a few steps from our back door. My most vivid memory is of how large those goldfish got -- much bigger than the ones we had in a tank indoors -- and how the Rosy the cat would perch on the shore and watch them. If she ever caught one, I didn't witness it. During the winter, my mom would poke a few holes in the ice, and miraculously, the fish usually managed to survive the bitter New England winters. My mom has a way with plants, and fish too, I guess.

I called my mom and told her I was writing a column about building a pond, and asked her what I should tell readers. I was hoping for some insights and secrets to pass along, but her response was simply, "Dig a hole. Line it with plastic. Fill it with water. Plant things around it. Put some fish in." That's my mom! She never was one to research and worry about the right way to do something -- with eight kids, who had the time? And even now, at 85, she just follows her intuition, and if something doesn't work, she tries again.

I was able to draw out a few more details from her. My brother dug the hole in a natural-looking shape, sort of a modified kidney with one end deeper than the other, maybe 6 feet long, 3 feet wide, and 2 feet deep. Then she lined the hole with heavy black plastic, followed by a layer of flat stones that completely hid the plastic. She planted low-growing plants around the perimeter, and nestled a barely dripping hose under some rocks to feed the pond with fresh water. Then she set a bench against the back of the house so we could watch the fish. Maintenance consisted mostly of plucking out leaves that had fallen into the pond.

Here are a few pointers for creating your own in-ground pond:

1. Choose a level spot. Some afternoon shade will help keep the water temperature from fluctuating wildly. If you plan to use an electric pump, take into consideration where you'll plug it in.

2. Decide on a liner. You have two choices: rigid plastic liners and flexible rubber or PVC liners. Rigid plastic liners are relatively easy to install, but may not look as natural as you'd like. Flexible liners offer more options, but you'll need to carefully line the hole with sand to protect the liner from punctures.

3. Choose appropriate plants. You may want a combination of submerged plants right in the pond, plus bog plants for the moist edges.

4. Add a few fish, but don't overdo it. Fish are fun to watch, and they'll eat mosquito larvae. However, too many fish can release so much waste that you'll have algae blooms. Then, the decaying algae will consume oxygen, harming your fish. So be conservative, fish-wise.

If you don't have the room, or the ambition, for an in-ground pond, get your feet wet with a container pond. You can create a miniature pond ecosystem in a lined half-barrel.

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