D.I.Y. Water Gardens

Bring your home landscaping to eye-catching life with water gardens.

By Mike Cullinan

Jun 2016

D.I.Y Water Gardens
Water gardens like this one elevate a plain pond to a gorgeously green garden.

When Debbie and Jim Cushing moved to 417-land in 1993, the couple’s interest in water gardens also made the trip. They had a water garden at their old residence in Wichita, Kansas, and a new one was installed at their Springfield home shortly after the move. Several more would follow, leading to the eventual construction of a water garden impossible for anyone to miss if they ever dropped by for a visit: 10,000 gallons, 40 feet long and 10 to 15 feet wide in several areas, Debbie says.

Her love of water gardens isn’t a professional pursuit, as both she and Jim are longtime employees at Berry Tractor and Equipment Co. Still, she’s learned a thing or two over the years about what it takes for people to have an aquatic paradise of their own to highlight their landscaping.

1. Grab a shovel
If you don’t want an above-ground water garden, such as those that appear on porches, Debbie says digging is a must that will take some time. “When we dug the first one, I’d say it took us about a couple of months, and that was constantly working on it in the evenings and on the weekends,” she says, adding it was all done by hand with no equipment. Patience is needed to get all the rocks that will inevitably be discovered while digging, but she says they can be utilized for the garden. Debbie says they used the rocks they found while digging to line the outer edge of the ponds and filtering system. 

2. Hole preparations
Dig your hole to a depth of at least 18 to 24 inches so water doesn’t freeze solid during the winter, Cushing says. The size of the liner for the pond also needs to be determined, and she suggests having some kind of padding to place under the liner. The Cushings used cardboard boxes for their padding, but you can also use old carpeting or purchase lining padding. Debbie says the padding puts a necessary layer between the liner and the earth so the liner doesn’t get punctured when you walk on it.

3. Plan for plenty of aeration
If you desire fish (likely either goldfish or koi) in your pond, you’ll need to have your pond properly aerated, and you’ll probably want something like a waterfall to keep water splashing, Debbie says. “During the summer, there’s less oxygen in the water, and the fish need the oxygen,” she adds. “So the more splashing there is, that helps with aeration.” 

4. Focus on filters
Nobody wants a water garden filled with fish waste, so keeping the material moving through a filtering system is a must, Debbie says. Piping that goes into the bottom of the filter and is the right size for the pump and garden is important. Therefore, the proper size and number of pumps to move water through the system and back out is a key to the process, she says. Her 10,000-gallon pond has four pumps.

Debbie also suggests purchasing bacteria, which goes into the filtering system to speed up the breakdown of the fish waste. While the Cushings are frequent shoppers at Wickman’s Garden Village for their supplies, she says any place with water garden supplies can offer materials and maintenance advice. 

5. Populate with plants (and fish)
Most plants are pretty easy to take care of and will come back every year, Debbie says, while keeping them in pots can help contain them. Some plants, such as the yellow flag iris, can really multiply. “You just have to watch and see what kind of nature the plant is to make sure it’s not going to overwhelm and overtake everything,” she says.

Koi and goldfish are the most prevalent option for stocking the pond, but Debbie says to be aware that the latter multiply quickly. Koi, in contrast, only spawn once or twice a year, she adds, and currently number about 55 to 60 in her pond. 

“It’s quite a bit to maintain [a water garden] at first, but once you get it established, it’s not really that hard,” Debbie says. “It can pretty much take care of itself. It just takes a little maintenance.”


Resource Guide

Get started building your own water garden by picking up materials at these local spots.

Wickman’s Garden Village 
1345 S. Fort Ave., Springfield, 417-862-3707 (

Lily’s Garden Corner
3115 W. Battlefield Rd., Springfield, 417-877-0860 ( (Note: closed July through August)

Nature’s Image
1027 US 160, Nixa, 417-724-8792 (

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