Q. My main interest is in putting a 1,500-gallon pond in our backyard. I have been wondering what types of plants would thrive in my area — northeastern Arkansas. Also, what would be the best way to dig the pond and what type of liner should I use?
I would like to put some white gravel at the bottom of the pond to complement the fish and plants. Would this be appropriate? How often would I need to clean it? Finally, do I need to test the water? What products are best to rid the water of chlorine?
A. The best way to determine which plants would thrive in your area is to visit a few natural ponds and take notes on the aquatic vegetation. Many splendid ornamental pond plants are indigenous to your locality. These include Iris virginica (Virginia blueflag), Nelumbo lutea (American lotus), Nuphar lutea (yellow pond lily), Sagittaria latifolia (arrowhead) and Typha latifolia (broad leaf cattail).
There are many other native wetlands plants that will present beautiful flower shows throughout the spring, summer and fall. I suggest you contact your local wildflower society or state Wildlife Department for further information.
You can use a wide variety of exotic tropical water plants. This is a very common practice among ornamental pondkeepers — and one that I try to discourage. Introducing alien plants into a landscape can have devastating effects on local ecology by driving out native plants and wildlife. Of course, in your area, most tropicals would survive only as annuals and would have to be replaced each year. Some, however, might survive and propagate outside your pond, and any hardier aliens might surely pose a risk.
I would forget the white gravel. It will not stay white for long as algae and bacteria coat the outer surfaces. Even weekly cleanings will not help. If you put down any gravel be prepared to watch it become greenish-gray. Therefore, you might as well use natural gravels, which are much cheaper.
Last you raise the question of testing the water. Yes, I would definitely test the water weekly for ammonia, nitrite, pH and oxygen. This is especially important for new ponds — and even more so for new pondkeepers! How else will you know what is going on in your pond? These four test kits should be available for an investment of $25 or less, which should last you the entire summer.
If you have chlorine in your water then you should get a chlorine test kit, too. Ask your local aquarium store for their recommended brand and buy a pond-size quantity. NovAqua, for example, comes in gallon bottles. Do not get talked into buying a dozen little aquarium-size bottles. You will be wasting money.