SONORAN WATER GARDENS - Goldfish, Koi & Water Gardens - Phoenix, Tucson Arizona

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All you need is a pond liner and either a hole in the ground or an above ground container which can be lined with the material and contain water.  The location, size, shape and depth of your pond are all important things to consider before you start digging. For example, a pond that is to be primarily enjoyed as a lilypond or water garden has much different requirements than a pond to be used primarily for koi fish.  We recommend you make the pond as large as the chosen area will allow.  Most of our customers wish their ponds were larger... keep this in mind when you start.  Don’t get ridiculous of course, but whatever part of your yard you have decided to devote to the pond, make it as large as the area will allow for. Be sure to leave room for landscaping and ensure there is access around the pond for maintenance. If you do not know where your utility lines are it is a good idea to call your utility companies, or visit their websites and request a “blue stake” of the property you plan to excavate. This service is usually provided free of charge and it can avoid a real nightmare of hitting an electric, gas or data line buried underground.

IN THE GROUND or ABOVE THE GROUND - As a rule, we recommend in-ground ponds. The most important reason for this is the fact that an in-ground pond is insulated by the earth and temperatures are more constant. Above ground ponds in full sun will often get too warm in hot climates and fill freeze solid in the coldest regions. In milder climates temperature fluctuation are not If you choose to go above-ground, you can insulate the walls with Styrofoam or other insulators. The walls of an above-ground pond must be very strong to hold the water in as force will be pushing on all sides once the pond fills. The more water in the pond, and the deeper the water, the more outward force will be directed on the walls of an above ground pond.  Boards, landscaping timbers and railroad ties all work well for above ground ponds.  Concrete or cement block reinforced with rebar is the best choice, especially for large and permanent applications.

WATER GARDEN or KOI POND - A Water Garden as the name would indicate is a garden in the water. This type of pond is usually the primary focus point of the rest of the garden. Aquatic plants abound throughout the garden and the pond displays interest all year long. This type of pond is always beautiful and forever changing beginning again every spring as the waterlilies begin to bloom under dazzling Louisiana irises all surrounded by the other signs of spring in your garden.  Although plants may cover 70% or more of the pond surface in the summertime, a healthy water garden is teaming with goldfish and other animal life like snails and tadpoles. While this environment is not ideal for large koi, goldfish thrive! Many strains of goldfish like the Sarasa Comet and Shubunkin are not only colored very much like koi but they can grow to be quite large (18 inches +) Goldfish do very well in a properly planted water garden without the need for aeration and filtration systems associated with koi ponds. The pond water in properly stocked (plants, fish and scavengers) water gardens will achieve an ecological balance, resulting in crystal clear oxygenated water... naturally without the use of filters, gadgets or chemicals. It must be kept in mind that a healthy pond is not free of algae and this natural balance is usually preceded by a period of green water while this biological and chemical change occurs.

Examples of Water Gardens

WATER  GARDENS - emphasis on foliage and flowers

Examples of Koi Ponds

KOI  PONDS - deeper pond with water circulation

A Koi Pond is designed with large (12” and up) koi in mind. While it’s true that smaller koi usually do just fine in a water garden, once they exceed 8-10” the disadvantages of this environment begin to become obvious. Every year during summer thunderstorms and very warm nights we get calls from customers who wake up to dead koi floating in their pond. This is a result of oxygen depravation in which the warm water cannot dissolve as much oxygen as cooler water. Koi have a much higher oxygen demand than goldfish, and the larger the fish, the more oxygen they need. The more water volume you can provide for large koi, the better. This is why we recommend deep (4-6 feet) ponds. Unlike a pond for displaying waterlilies and aquatic plants, the koi pond have a much larger proportion of water exposed for best viewing of the fish. Therefore koi ponds must rely upon a combination of two or more of the following, biological filtration, mechanical filtration, UV clarifiers and pond additives in order to ensure healthy water chemistry for the fish and clear water in which to enjoy them.

Whichever you choose, the pond should be located away from deciduous trees or trees that can drop excessive foliage or litter into the pond as the decomposition of this organic material can severely interfere with the water chemistry of the pond and prove lethal to the fish population. If a water garden is desired, it should be located where it will receive at least 5-6 hours of direct and uninterrupted sunlight during the growing season of aquatic plants. In most cases, the more sun the better. The overall depth should be at least 18 inches, ideally the bottom of the pond should be flat and slightly sloping from 18 inches to about 30 inches. At least one shallow (12 inches) shelf for marginal plants should be included, or a shelf can be cut out around the entire perimeter of the pond. Sloping sides are to be avoided as plant pots will slide. Sides should be nearly perpendicular.

A koi pond has much different requirements. What is a perfect habitat for waterlilies, lotus, bog plants and goldfish (water garden) is not a perfect habitat for koi. Unlike aquatic plants that enjoy the mud warming up around their roots in the summer, the koi need a cool place to go when summer warms the water. Additionally, koi (especially large ones) require a considerable amount of water volume with excellent oxygenation. Therefore, a koi pond will be considerably deeper than a water garden. We recommend 4-6 feet maximum depth, 3 feet at the minimum. Of course some aquatic plants are still vitally important even in a koi pond and for that reason the pond should include a shallow side or shelves to accommodate aquatic plants.  A biological filtration system and aeration by means of circulation is also necessary to provide the proper water chemistry for these fish. 

Flexible Pond Liner




Preformed (rigid) PondLiner

For most applications Sonoran Water Gardens recommends flexible liners over preformed ponds. There are numerous reasons for this and most apply to beginners as well as experienced water gardeners, but primary among these is:

POND DESIGN - Shape, size and depth.  With a flexible pond liner, the size, shape and scope of your pond is limited only by your imagination (and possibly your budget.) A preformed pond is obviously a given shape and size and although many shapes and sizes are available to choose from, the majority are rather small (6-8 feet in greatest dimension or smaller) and even the largest preformed ponds are less than 15 feet in greatest dimension.  What is even more important, most of the  preformed models are quite shallow (18 inches or less) and none of them are more than two feet in depth. This makes them unsuitable for large koi and may be too shallow for your climate zone without protection. (i.e. small shallow ponds can get too hot in full sun exposures during summer in hot climates and they will freeze solid in the winter in cold climates.)

There is not a lot of difference when it comes to installing either type in the ground; both require digging a hole. For some reason, a lot of people seem to think the digging will be easier for a preformed pond, but bear in mind that the hole must be dug larger and deeper than the pond and then carefully backfilled with soil, whereas the flexible liner will instantly take the shape of the excavation you have prepared for it.  Some preformed ponds can be filled up with water above ground while others must be in the ground. Like flexible liners, there are several materials (plastic, fiberglass, etc.) used to make preformed ponds. Another common misconception is that a rigid pond will last longer than a flexible liner. And again, this depends on what kind of material it’s made out of.  While it is true that a fiberglass or polycarbonate resin preformed pond (very expensive) will outlast many flexible plastic liners, today’s EPDM and Coextruded Polyethylene liners will last a lifetime if installed as recommended. Most of the preformed ponds sold in home improvement centers are made of cheap plastic, which must be properly protected from UV (sunlight) just like a plastic flexible liner (PVC, HDPE, etc.) or it will develop cracks.



Digging your pond


Mark out the shape of the pond with a rope or garden hose. Begin digging; first go all around the pond to establish the outer edges, then remove the hose and continue digging toward the center. Sides should be nearly perpendicular, not sloping and the bottom should be either flat or a very slowly sloping grade to a deepest point, which will make draining and cleaning the pond easier.

The edge of the pond should be level all the way around.  Use a straight board and carpenter’s level to establish level before placing the liner.

Remove sharp rocks, roots, or other debris that could puncture the liner. The use of underlayment is highly recommended, especially for rocky soil. (Old carpet padding, carpet scraps or a 1” layer of sand makes excellent protection for your liner as well.)


Installing Pond Liner


PLEASE NOTE: the ambient temperature has a direct effect on pond liner installation.

COLD WEATHER (Below 60 F) Unfold liner in sunlight. It will warm and become pliable.

HOT WEATHER (Above 90 F) Liner can quickly absorb heat and burn you! Install in morning.

Drape the liner evenly over the excavation ensuring sufficient overlap all around. Begin filling with water. Immediately smooth out any large creases on the bottom and sides as the pond fills. Some creasing is inevitable and will not be detectable when the pond is finished. It may take several hours or more to fill the pond, depending upon its size.

Continue to fill until overflow point then turn off the water.


Installing Edging, Waterfall  & Plumbing


When the pond has reached its overflow point you can determine if the pond edges are level from Step One. If the water is overflowing on one side of the pond and the liner is still exposed on another side, it is not level. Now is the time to use the water’s edge to get it perfect by either carefully removing or adding soil from just below the liner around the perimeter.  Gently fold the liner up and back and be careful not to damage it with shovels or other tools as you work,

Once the edge is level, the edge must be secured. Most water gardeners choose to use rocks, boulders or pavers. If the pond is surrounded by lawn, the edges of the liner can be buried and covered with sod. Rocks or pavers should be secured with mortar (Step Four) especially if there will be foot traffic around the pond.

 If the pond is to have a waterfall, now is also the time to install the necessary plumbing.


Securing edge with mortar, trim and clean-up.


The rocks or paving stones that will encircle the pond are mortared into place. If paving is to be walked upon the stones should be laid over a small footing dug about 8 inches deep and filled with mortar or concrete mix. If there is not going to be foot traffic around the pond the amount of mortar needed is minimal, and if the rocks or stones are large enough may be secure without any mortar at all.

Formal shaped ponds (Circle, semi-circle, rectangular, triangle, hexagon, etc.) can be edged with pavers, decking, wood, bricks, tiles and many other possibilities. Just like the rocks in a more natural looking odd shaped pond, the edging serves two vital functions: (1) providing a secure foundation for the edge of your pond, and (2) hiding the pond liner from sight visually while protecting it from UV sunlight

Mortar and concrete are highly toxic to fish. If ANY mortar or concrete fall into the pond during construction, it should be drained and refilled before adding plants and fish.


Add aquatic plants and fish...



Tap water containing chlorine and chlorine compounds are extremely toxic to fish and aquatic life. Water should be aged at least 48 hours before adding fish, or treat water with dechlorinator preparation if fish are to be added right away.

Add plants, fish and scavengers as recommended. Enjoy your new pond!

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Liners are sold by length and width.  To determine the length and width you need:  example: pond is 12 ft. long, 6 ft. wide, 2 ft. deep

MAXIMUM LENGTH of POND + (2 x MAXIMUM DEPTH) + 2 feet = POND LINER LENGTH        12 +( 2 x 2 )+ 2 = 18 ft. length

MAXIMUM WIDTH of POND + (2 x MAXIMUM DEPTH) + 2 feet = POND LINER WIDTH              6 +( 2 x 2 )+ 2 = 12 ft. width

Eco-Liner 10mil HDPE Pond Liners