Cultivate Your Garden Pond Liner

Garden pond liners have been a staple supplementary product for anyone purchasing a garden pond since residential ponds first gained widespread popularity in the 1970s.

You may think that a pond liner is an unnecessary purchase; one of those products designed to get you to spend more money on something that you don’t really need so as to maximize the profits of garden centers and pond retailers, but you’d be very wrong. In fact, garden pond liners are actually designed to help you fully protect your pond and save you money in the long run.


Why Do I Even Need A Garden Pond Liner?

This is a good question and luckily for you, I have a good answer. Garden pond lining is essentially underlay for your garden pond. When you buy a carpet for your home it makes sense to also buy some underlay for your carpet as it helps to prevent wearing over time, adds insulation and makes the carpet feel more comfortable to walk on, but what do your fishes care about having garden pond lining underneath them?

It doesn’t make the pond more comfortable for fish to swim in (and just a side note, it’s good to keep your water cold for your fish). The answer is protection for you and your fish. Be careful of how hot your pond gets, too, like in places like Las Vegas.

digging-a-holeWhen a hole for a pond is dug, as you dig deeper into the ground you gradually unearth rougher and larger pieces of soil, often with stones and rocks hidden within the mix. Many places in the Southwest like Nevada and Arizona have tough soils which are okay for plants like an Italian cypress, but tough to dig in.

In addition to these stones and rocks you may also come across plant roots. When you initially install your pond it’s important that these stones and roots are removed and that the surface that you create around the base of your pond and its circumference is as flat and as smooth as possible so that the pond itself is not at risk from scratching, penetration or even full blown leakage.

That wouldn’t be good.

This is essentially the foundation of your fish’s home and you need to make sure that the foundation that you lay for your fish is as safe and strong as possible.

Using Liners To Stop Roots From Breaking Your Pond

Once you have smoothed out the areas that surround the pond it is essential that you then guard against the threat of any further stones and plant roots rising up and causing potential damage to your pond in the long term.

Some plants like the Xylosma, look great next to a Koi Pond, but the roots can be troublesome for liners unless you prepare.

The best way to go about doing this is to install a garden pond liners (this is a site based out of the U.K. and a place I’ve bought from before). A good garden pond liner will help to protect your pond from scratches from stones and prevent penetration from plant roots.

This will allow you to leave your fish to relax and swim and you know that they are safe because you have essentially wrapped them and their pond up in a magic cloak that wards off stones, plants and evil spirits LOL.

The Types of Garden Pond Liners/Magic Cloaks Available For Fish

There are three main types of pond liners:

  • PVC
  • Epalyn
  • Butyl
  • PVC – Also known as plastic pond liner, this is a watertight material that is also highly durable. PVC pond liners are the most widely used type of pond liners due to their cost, flexibility and ease of installation. Average thickness of a PVC pond liner is 0.5mm and they are the most cost effective kind of pond liner on the market; favored by the casual pond enthusiast.

    The downside of PVC pond lining is that it lacks UV stability, meaning that the liner has to be completely buried underneath the pond and that any exposure to direct sunlight will cause the PVC lining to start breaking down.

    Epalyn – Epalyn pond liners are made from top quality material with a thickness of approximately 0.75mm. In addition to this benefit, Epalyn also offers high UV stability and protection against exposure to sunlight. Epalyn pond liners are also considered fully stable when they come into contact with chemicals and other materials carried in soil.

    Epalyn is an extremely durable liner that is not affected by temperature or ageing.

    Butyl – A slightly more expensive option to epalyn but the differences are only slight. In order to be called butyl the pond liner must contain more than 50% butyl polymer. This is a polymer that makes the pond liner more elastic and therefore slightly more flexible than epalyn but with the same type of durability, thickness and UV protection.

    So before you go installing that pond in your yard, make sure you study up on best practices and what to watch out for down the road so that you don’t end up unearthing that beautiful pond on day. Because that… would not be good.

    Image Credit: sally_monster and Andrew Michaels via Flickr.

Retaining Walls

Retaining wall landscapeWhen designing the landscape for our home garden, we are sometimes faced with the problem of how to manage and exploit sloping yards. Leveling the ground in order to make it functional and inviting can prove rather onerous, both in labor and in money.

Slopes offer us a chance to create different ground levels connected with beautiful stairways or other landscaping features, thus lending our garden its own special character.

These levels may serve a dual purpose, functioning both as retaining walls, containing the soil and preventing erosion, and as exterior architecture features, helping us separate the garden into themed areas and create distinct focal points. We can also build raised beds for perennials and flowers alike.

The materials and building techniques are varied. The most common materials used in building a retaining wall are:

  • stone: preferred for its rustic feel, although it may prove rather expensive. Fitting the stones requires accuracy, while making mortar joints look natural is a job for experienced builders.
  • brick: it somehow gives a formal and dignified impression; prices tend also to be elevated. It needs a certain skill to achieve that regular, elegant look

Retaining wall_brick

  • timber: this material is relatively cheap and way more manageable than stone and brick, but it can’t be raised very high, unless an engineer helps you with designing it and locating crucial structural elements (e.g. deadmen). Another disadvantage is that timber walls are much more short-lived than other types of retaining walls.
  • concrete: it is strong and, generally, holds well without failing if the preparatory work (design, backfilling, drainage) is done correctly. However, if a concrete wall gets damaged, patching may not be feasible, and removing it will definitely cost you. Its greatest disadvantage, though, is its visual aspect: few things are less attractive than a plain concrete wall; one way of mitigating the effect is to embed decorative designs.
  • interlocking concrete blocks: similarly to interlocking concrete pavers, these blocks are mortar-free and easy to assemble. The industry has made great progress during the last decades: their appearance is quite natural, and you can easily find a wide variety of sizes, shapes and colors to fit your special landscaping project. Walls erected with ICBs can be raised up to 20 feet, depending on the type of blocks used.

Important warning

A retaining wall is not a simple fence wall: its construction is more complicated, as there are several factors involved in its design – especially (but not restricted to) if it’s going to be more than three feet high.

Have a structural engineer design your wall: the criteria he will use and the calculations he will make are a science taught in universities for good reason. A careful professional study of the locale, an analysis of the various factors (soil, weather, materials, regulations, desires, etc) will provide all the necessary insight into the actions to be taken.

Retaining walls must be well-designed and well-built according to the rules of the craft, or they risk failing. Failure of the wall will most certainly cost you a bundle, and this is the best scenario. Damages to property or lives are also a probability.

Risks, Considerations, and Coconut Oil?

In the U.S. we have hard water, especially in the Southwestern part of the United States. There’s a solution called 100SS cleaner which is a liquid concentrate with coconut oil that helps maintain polished concrete’s sheen.

Also to consider is the soil contained by a retaining wall exerts very strong horizontal pressure. If the wall is not well-constructed, it may:

  • Crack
  • Bulge
  • Sag
  • Seep
  • Lean
  • Collapse

In fact, a retaining wall does not have to collapse to fail; not performing as expected is enough of a definition for failure. Tearing the wall and rebuilding it may be the only solution in a substantial number of cases.

Some times, the ground itself tends to slide. This risk becomes more serious in the following cases:

  • After hard and repeated rains
  • In seismic zones
  • With clay soils (they swell)
  • With very high walls

Being aware of the type of soil surrounding the wall, in order to make correct static calculations, is extremely important.

See: Retaining Wall – Types, Planning, Stability, Failures & Recommendations

Retaining wall, stone & stairs

Causes of Retaining Wall Failure

As it turns out, there are numerous causes for inadequate designing and/or construction of a retaining wall. The presence of even one of the causes listed below is enough to turn a handsome landscaping feature into a death trap (the list is not exhaustive):

  • Inexisting or ineffective drainage: the most common reason for retaining wall failure, as it makes soil pressure exerted on the wall build up;
  • Lack of soil analysis / skipping calculations: hazardous design, poor estimate of the wall’s and foundation’s required dimensions;
  • Lack of rigid foundations;
  • Poor load bearing capacity of the ground;
  • Poor compaction: the ground needs to be compacted several times (at the point of excavation, after the gravel base has been added, each time backfill is added);
  • Insufficient anchoring;
  • Use of inappropriate materials;
  • Defective verticality of the wall
  • Inexisting or insufficient reinforcement (steel reinforcements for concrete walls, geogrid for modular block and stone retaining walls)

Other Considerations

  • Check your local building codes: approved design may be needed to get a building permit for walls above a certain height.
  • Call the local utility companies before you dig to have them mark the location of the utility lines: buried lines may not only be dangerous, but they may also prevent you to build the wall where you want.
  • It is also a good idea to verify the lot lines and inform the neighbors that they will be construction going on.

As with everything, careful planning is the key to a successful landscaping retaining wall construction. Before making any final decisions, before ordering materials, before getting set to work, consult with your local engineer or construction company and ask for a meticulous study of the terrain and environment, in order to avoid ulterior trouble, inflated costs, or an occasional lawsuit.

Image sources: Stone steps to the beach, Brick steps & pavement, Fieldstone stairs

Components of Well Done Water Features

koi-pondWater features have been popular for over a decade now. They can be as simple as bubbler column and as complex as a Koi Pond.

Many local landscapers offer to build quality water features, and it’s easy to tell if it’s attractive–just look at it.

More difficult is knowing if a feature is well designed and properly installed.

Let’s look “under the hood” at some of components of a well done water feature.

Pond Pumps

submersible-pumpA water feature will usually have one of two types of pumps. The most common is a submersible pump (pictured).

This pump simply sits in the water, pumping to create the flow of water that makes a water feature so enjoyable. Submersible pumps used in water features should be “continuous duty” pumps. To cut costs some will install a sump or “garbage” pump. These are not designed to run for days on end and should never be in your pond!

The second type of pond pump is a centrifugal or in-line pump. These sit out of the pond and provide several advantages. They are extremely durable, many times lasting a decade or more. A centrifugal pump is also efficient, requiring about half the electricity of a comparable submersible pump. In line pumps are more expensive, but pay for themselves many times over.

Auto-Fill Devices

There is some debate about the merit of auto-fill devices. These valves add water to the pond when it loses water.

All water gardens will lose water to splash and evaporation. However, if you have a leak, it may be hidden from you by the auto-fill device. Most homeowners, though, would take that risk over running a pond dry and ruining a pump.

Most auto-fill devices are a simple valve triggered by a float- similar to the valve in your toilet. They should be installed in a protected, but easily accessible part of the pond. Make sure your pump is protected by an auto-fill device.

Water Feature Filtration

Filtration is an often overlooked part of a quality water garden. Pondless or formal fountains may be kept clear with chemicals and periodic cleaning. Most other types of water features should have some filtration built in.

Any pond that will house fish must have robust filtration if the fish are going to be healthy and happy.

Here is what to look for:

  • Skimmer. This removes leaves and other floating debris from the pond.
  • Bio-fall. This box at the start of your stream houses good bacteria.
  • Plants. Plants help keep your water oxygenated and full of good bacteria.
  • UV Clarifier. For ponds with a lot of fish, these kill algae and disease causing bacteria.

So, as you can see, a well built water feature is about much more than just the sound of running water. Water gardens can be a source of joy for many years- as long as they are built properly. Now you have the tools to make sure your backyard pond is a successful project!

Koi Pond image credit

Concrete Pavers

If you need a cost-effective, yet beautifully-looking solution for your walkway, driveway or patio, then you should definitely consider laying a concrete paver.

Don’t let images of neglected urban sidewalks, monotonous concrete slabs and all those things of the past interfere with your decision – concrete pavers have gone a long way from their early, awkward days. The variety of sizes, shapes and colors is tremendous, and you can easily find products offering an old-time, hand-chiseled, natural stone feel that fits in many architectural styles and landscaping needs while adding greatly to the value and character of your residence.

A multicolored paver blends better with its surroundings.
It also allows potential stains to be “lost”
in the multitude of hues and tones.


Benefits of Concrete Pavers

The use of concrete pavers is expanding rapidly, and this is owed to the benefits presented by the material itself:

  • durability
  • slip resistant
  • no need for regular maintenance
  • can be spot replaced, if necessary, or seamlessly added to at a later time
  • conserves resources by saving lumber
  • minimal maintenance

While their initial purchase and installation costs may seem higher than pouring slab concrete (a few dollars or less per square foot), the long-term benefits presented by the reduced repair and replacement needs will be evident in a few years’ time. When properly installed, concrete pavers will embellish your garden for decades without need for additional attention.

Some types of concrete pavers can be further chiseled by hand to create an even more antique, artistic look. You can also mix and match different shapes and colors of pavers, creating smart designs and lively effects, or focusing the view on your preferred spots.

Maintenance needs

Standard maintenance needs are limited to adding sand to the joins every two to three years, or even more for moderate climates.

If damage occurs, then concrete pavers can be individually removed and replaced.

A stable sub-base is absolutely critical for laying your pavers and forgetting all about them. If, however, the installation was not properly made, concrete pavers may settle in spots over time. This can be easily fixed without any noticeable patches: just remove the damaged pavers, re-grade and re-compact the sub-base, and install the new pavers.


Interlocking Concrete Pavers

Interlocking concrete pavers, or segmental pavers, are becoming an increasingly popular alternative to brick, clay, or concrete during the last couple of decades.

What makes interlocking concrete pavers (ICPs) so stable is the fact that each paver can not move independently from the adjacent ones. ICPs are flexible pavements, designed to spread loads imposed on a small area of the pavement surface through a base layer (most usually complemented by a sub-base or even a series of sub-bases, depending on the type and the water-holding capacity of the soil on which the pavement is going to be laid) to a larger area of the soil sub-grade.

This is achieved through the following media:

  • joint or polymeric sand: this sharp-angled locks together and creates friction that impedes pavers from moving by transferring loads to surrounding units;
  • perimeter edge restraint: keeps the pavers firmly in place and inhibits them from spreading apart;
  • proper paver thickness: this should be estimated in relation to load and use;
  • laying patterns: choosing a pattern that minimizes the length of uninterrupted joint lines will provide extra strength by dispersing forces, especially from moving vehicles.


David R. Smith, director of the Interlocking Concrete Pavement Institute (Sterling, Va.), insists that, when installing an ICP system, 90 per cent of the work involves preparation of the sub-surface: How to Install Concrete Pavers

Permeable Interlocking Concrete Pavers

Water is a basic ingredient for all life on Earth. Rain is a blessing for the plants and for the well-being of entire populations. When considering the way human societies tend to develop exponentially, the need for sustainable water management systems that will prevent flooding and water pollution without weighing too much on a homeowner’s budget.

The concrete industry provides a revolutionary product that leads rain waters to be absorbed on-the-spot by replicating the natural environment.

Permeable interlocking concrete pavers (PICPs) are installed on top of an open-graded base and sub-base, an aggregate base that allows water to pass through and be introduced back into the soil.

PICPs are an important low-impact development technique that

  • allows developers to reduce or eliminate water retention areas
  • creates more green space
  • maintains initial hydrologic conditions (runoff flows)
  • helps reduce demand for additional drainage capacity*
  • encourages natural groundwater recharge

* which can result in 10-15 per cent savings in construction costs (pipes, reservoirs)

Permeable pavers with storage bed systems provide rainwater quality control through the infiltration process, as well as pretreatment of the runoff — practices that are sometimes imposed by relevant laws and regulations (see: Federal Stormwater Management Requirements)

They are relatively easy to install, but require regular and effective maintenance in order to continue performing.

A usually employed technique is to alternate areas with permeable and conventional paving, the latter being reserved for heavily trafficked corridors. The wide variety of permeable paving systems, combined with the virtually endless array of conventional concrete pavers, is guaranteed to achieve both functional and pleasing designs.