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Fountain in garden pool surrounded by flowers

Equipment and Costs is part two of six in the Ornamental Garden Pools series.

Ornamental garden pools can be relatively expensive to build and maintain, although many beginners start with little expense by using an old wash tub or a child’s wading pool. Construction costs for most pools can range from several hundred to several thousand dollars depending on size, depth, materials used, and labor. Labor costs can be reduced by doing the work yourself or acting as back-up labor for the professionals you hire.

Possible Pool Equipment and Materials

  • Pipes, drain structures, nets, buckets.
  • Spare tanks for acclimating and isolating fish, feed, chemicals, brushes, and test kits to measure oxygen, pH, etc.
  • Electrical hookups, lights, pumps.
  • Filters: biological or mechanical, filter media such as zeolite or charcoal.
  • Sand or stone overlays or borders.
  • Fountain, waterfall, aerator.
  • Plants, plant enclosures.

Consult ornamental fish specialists or dealers of ornamental pool materials for assistance. Draw up a detailed plan so that a specialist can suggest specific improvements or spot potential pitfalls. A word of advice: Most pool owners regret not building their pools larger.


Constructions plans should be reviewed by local governmental departments (for example, Building and Zoning) to ensure that the proposed system complies with all building codes: water, drainage, and electrical requirements. Permits may be required.

Pool Construction

Construction of a backyard pool can be simple or complex. Pools built on site of fiberglass or concrete take considerable construction skills. Earthen and plastic-lined pools require less construction skill or experience.

Pools may be irregular or geometric in shape. Irregularly shaped pools have a natural look, while the geometric shapes appear more formal. Try designing different pool shapes by using a garden hose or rope to outline the pool edges prior to excavation.

Before you start to dig, plan how pipes, filters, fountains, or water heaters will be concealed. Decide where electrical and water lines should be placed for night lighting, pumps, fountains, or waterfalls. This is also the time to set foundations for such structures as stepping stones, a walking bridge, or the base of a fountain.

Pools without drains are common, particularly those with liners, but a drain allows for easier management. Draining facilitates cleaning and fish removal in cases of maintenance or disease problems. Of course, pools can be drained by pumping or, in some cases, siphoning. Before building the pool, plan how the pool will be drained. Draining into city sewer lines or a storm drain is probably legal, but draining onto a neighbor’s property is not. When in doubt consult local government agencies.

An important consideration when constructing a pool is to make sure the bottom slopes at least 1 percent (1 foot decline per 100-foot distance) so the water will drain. A catch basin, usually 6 to 12 inches deep, in the deepest part of the pool will help concentrate the fish during draw-down. Remember, the drain, pump, or siphon intake should be covered with mesh so no fish will escape during draw-down.

Pools that are at least two-thirds below ground level retain heat in cold weather and keep the pool cooler in hot weather. Pools that are built totally aboveground may have to be drained during the winter, requiring that fish and plants be moved indoors.

Excavated pools can have problems from water run-off. First, care should be taken during construction so that run-off water does not flow into the pool. If the surrounding terrain is higher than the pool, a berm may be required to control run-off. Run-off water can introduce chemical contaminants or cause muddiness or oxygen problems. Secondly, rain water saturation of the soil under the pool may cause the pool to overflow or float out of the ground. To prevent this problem, you will need a special under-pool drainage or water-pressure relief system. Consult the USDA Soil Conservation Service on soil characteristics in your area.

Liners are very popular because of their versatility. Liners allow for relatively quick and less expensive construction and allow future changes in size or shape of the pool.

Vertical pool sides can erode rapidly and let detritus (dirt, leaves, etc.) build up along the edge of the pool bottom. Tiered or sloping sides encourage movement of detritus toward the deepest part of the pool where the material can be drained or siphoned out. The pool sides should be cut in two or three tiers, each about 12 inches wide. Tiers help to hold liners in place as well as to provide ledges for plants and other decorative items. To protect a liner from puncture by roots and rocks, the dirt along the pool sides and bottom should be covered with sand prior to installing the liner. Firmly pack the pool sides and bottom, especially if liners are used. Smooth the pool corners so they will not become detritus traps.

Borders that overhang the water by 1 to 2 inches are visually pleasing and help conceal liner edges and hide openings to equipment. The pool’s exterior borders may be decorated with washed sand or rocks. Aquatic plants such as lilies, lotus, hyacinths, reeds, and submerged plants add to the aesthetic beauty of the pool and function as biological filters and shade for fish in the pool.

In building the pool, remember that water will be level but your construction may not be. Unless leveling is accurate during construction, you may end up with an exposed area at one end of the pool and water about to overflow the other end. Make sure the shoreline of your pool is level!

For advice on construction, consult a professional pool builder or plumbing contractor. For advice on filters, consult an ornamental fish dealer, pool builder, or Extension fisheries specialist.

Pool Decorations

Part of the fun of owning an ornamental pool is designing the overall look of the pool and its surroundings. The materials used can be as varied as your imagination. Consider rocks of varying colors and shapes, railroad ties, fountains, waterfalls, windmills, underwater lighting, islands, bridges, aquatic plants, and surrounding flower gardens. Some garden designers create spaces using arches, gates, fences, and even gazebos. One type of traditional Japanese garden is made by raking sand of various shades of one color into a variety of designs.

Ornamental Garden Pools Series

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