When it comes to transforming a backyard with a water garden or pond, one local expert would say there is a general rule of thumb: go big the first time.
On Saturday afternoon, April 23, at the Westhampton Free Library, Aquatic Habitats founder John Artarian—whose pond and water garden installation company is based in Westhampton Beach—whizzed through the basics for first-time and veteran pond owners alike, while tossing out pointers he’s picked up from his decade of experience in the industry.
“Ponds are basically trial and error,” Mr. Artarian said to the six audience members who had gathered for the intimate lecture on the rainy day before Easter. “You’ll find people who have a pond at their house, and just because their way of doing it works for them in their environment, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work in yours because these gardens are really living, breathing and beautiful things.”
The first step toward building a pond or water garden is deciding what type will gel best with both the landscape and its caretakers, he said.
“Get an idea of what you really want,” Mr. Artarian emphasized,
“or else you’re going to redo it and redo it and redo it.”
Arguably, the most sophisticated—and maintenance-heavy—pond is one that is home to koi, Mr. Artarian said. Build as large a pond as possible, he said, because koi grow at a rapid pace. But no matter the size, the pond must be at least 4 feet deep and adequately filtered to foster a healthy habitat for the fish, which continue to grow as they age. Water chemical levels need to be checked weekly.
“If you have an ammonia spike or your chemicals are off, your koi are very susceptible to disease,” he said. “Basically, swimming in ammonia would kill anything, and it can happen very quickly in a koi pond.”
Planting in a koi pond with large fish is not the best idea, Mr. Artarian pointed out, because they will eat all of the vegetation.
“You really need to stay on top of koi, but the good side of them is that they’re absolutely stunning,” he said. “These fish become your pets, they know you by sight. They come up and look at you, they know when to be fed. They let you pet them after a while, they even eat out of your hand.”
According to Mr. Artarian, the next rung down of maintenance difficulty on the aquatic ladder are fish ponds, which also require filtration and regular chemical checks but they can be a foot shallower than a koi pond. Goldfish will happily intermingle with pond plants, which help neutralize the ammonia levels in the water and filter out fish waste while returning oxygen to the pond.
“The end result, the goldfish become your pets and they don’t become these huge, larger-than-life fish that jump out of the water and eat out of your hand,” Mr. Artarian said. “They kind of hang out, do their thing and look pretty.”
Fish aside, a simple water garden can thrive in extremely shallow water—sometimes just a foot deep—as long as it absorbs four to six hours of direct sunlight a day, he said. Water gardens usually feature a waterfall, Mr. Artarian said, but they don’t need a heavy filtration system like a fish or koi pond.
The plants help shade the water, which cuts back on algae build-up. Hearty plants, such as cattail, winter over when it’s cold. But these plants tend not to flower as tropical plants, such as water lilies, do, which, without greenhouse storage, need to be thrown away at the end of every summer.
“I recommend buying small and minimal because plants grow rapidly,” Mr. Artarian said. “Come July, you’re going to be ripping plants out of your pond and throwing them away because they’ll overtake your pond.”
That rule doesn’t apply to a natural bottom, or “golf course,” pond, he explained. Plants are used on a massive scale to act as a filtration system for these ponds, which are lined with clay to hold in the water and then backfilled with more than a foot of clean sand.
“That idea of natural filtration only applies to a quarter-acre pond and above,” Mr. Artarian said. “And it’s amazing how it does work.”
The most basic of all these installations is a water feature, typically a waterfall, he reported.
“It needs no service,” Mr. Artarian said. “There’s no plants in it, there’s no fish in it. Basically, it is what it is: something to add to your yard. Soften it with some plants.”
An average fish pond can cost anywhere from $3,000 to $8,000 to build. A koi pond will generally cost $10,000, Mr. Artarian said. A 2-acre, natural bottom pond can cost upward of $350,000, Mr. Artarian said. He added that depending on the size of the pond, maintenance usually runs $1,000 to $2,000 every year. The cost of fountains vary, from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands of dollars.