Keep profits FLOWING

The design and quality of your ponds build your reputation and get you referrals and additional jobs. Typically 80 percent of our work has come from the referrals of our customers, which is the best way to get new jobs. You will find that you develop a style in the way you construct your ponds. Combining your style with close attention to your customers' desires should result in the type of work that will build your referral business. Here's an example of a job we recently completed.

Bidding and estimating

In a recent installation, which was a referral from another client, the customer was building a new home and wanted to install a water feature that would give them the feel of Colorado. I arrived at the home while it was still under construction. It was a beautiful log home with a walk-out basement on the side, set in the middle of about 300 acres. After visiting with the client for a little while, I found that they wanted to make sure the water garden was visible from all levels of the home (basement, main level with deck, and loft seating area). I took a few minutes and checked the view from the basement and lookout, and then climbed up a staircase under construction to look out from the loft. I then went outside and marked out where the water garden would be constructed.

From my questioning of the customer, I discovered that they wanted the feature to extend along the whole area between the wing walls of the walkout basement. They also wanted a lot of sound from the waterfall. To accomplish this, I decided on a two-pond set up with a stream connecting them and, of course, a waterfall. It would be necessary to construct a boulder wall at one end where the water feature would start with the falls twisting through it. I explained all of this and painted it out on the ground. We went back inside and viewed the water garden from all the different areas they wanted to see it. After I got the customer's approval, I sat down, priced the job, presented it to them and walked away with the contract and a deposit check.

Day 1: Starting from scratch

The next time I went to the home was the day we started construction. The rock had already been delivered and the utilities located. We had about half a day of dirt work to do (seeing that the house had not been finished graded yet). After we completed grading the area and excavating for our boulder wall, we re-marked the water garden layout and constructed the wall to the point where the falls were going to go through it. The design of the pond consisted of a waterfall winding through the boulder walls into an 11-foot by 16-foot upper pond, which runs into a 40-foot-long meandering stream that flows into a 16-foot by 21-foot lower pond. The two-level boulder walls were 16 to 18 inches tall and about 12 feet long, and end with a huge boulder that came from the customer's property.

The materials we used were a 16-foot by 21-foot standard pond kit with pump upgrade from a 4250 GPH pump to a 5750 GPH pump (because of distance and elevation), an additional 50 feet of 2-inch flexible PVC pipe, 10-foot by 50-foot stream liner, 15-foot by 20-foot liner for upper pool, 10-foot by 15-foot liner for waterfall, 20 feet of seam and cover tape, three additional lights and 24 tons of Colorado river rock ranging from ¾ inch to 24 inches in size. (Note: The measurements of the materials used came from an Aquascape Designs pond kit. Other pond kits may differ in size.)

Due to the size of the project, we decided to machine dig the pond using a local trenching company with a small trencher-mounted backhoe. The pond was excavated in three levels: 8, 16 and 24 inches deep. The 8- and 16-inch-deep shelves were each about 12 to 16 inches wide on the upper pond and 16 to 24 inches wide on the lower pond. Once the upper pond was excavated, we double-checked that we had a downhill grade from the upper pond to the water level of the lower pond (a transit works best) and that the edge of the pond was level. A stream can be built with as little grade change as a half-inch per 10 feet of stream, but 1 inch per 10 feet is better. While the lower pond was being dug, we added the lily pockets (holes 6-inches deep by 16-inches wide for the water lilies to be planted) and removed any dirt clods and debris from the upper pond. We also put in our underlayment and liner. By this time, the lower pond and stream had been completely excavated. While the trencher was digging the water line, we set the skimmer, dug lily pockets, cleaned up debris and placed the underlayment and liner in the lower pond. It is important that the skimmer be installed level with the desired water level ¾ inch below the top of the weir opening.

At this point, the backhoe dug the rough hole for the biological filter, because it was being completely submerged at the top of the hill slope. Two crewmen finished setting the biological filter, making sure it was level from side to side and exhibited a tilt forward of about a ¼ bubble on the level. One crewman coupled the two 50-foot rolls of 2-inch flexible PVC pipe together and placed the pipe in the trench from the skimmer to the biological filter. We also placed a ½-inch poly line in the trench for the auto-fill installation in the skimmer. By the time the pipe was laid in the trench, the biological filter was ready for the pipe to be connected and back filled. The last two crewmembers rolled out the liner for the stream and seamed it to the lower and upper pond liners.

Use 4-inch double-sided tape and 6-inch cover tape when seaming. Make sure the liners are thoroughly cleaned and overlapping in the direction the water will be flowing by 8 or 9 inches. The 4-inch tape is used in between the liners and the cover tape goes over the top of the seam. Take your time and do it right the first time. We use the sideboard of a truck so we have a flat surface to work on.

Day 2: Water work

The second day of the project started off with one crewman connecting the liner to the skimmer, plumbing the pump and installing the auto fill. The rest of the crew started rocking the lower pool using 6- to 12-inch rocks along the edge of each level starting at the bottom and working their way up. (Remember to place your accent boulders and lights as you rock the pond.) Once the large rock was in place, we graveled the flat areas of the pond and filled in any holes in the larger rockwork. One crewmember started washing down the rocks in the pond while the rest of us started rocking in the upper pond. By rocking in both the ponds first, they could fill with water while we rocked the stream and constructed the waterfall. By the time we called it a day, we had completed all the rock in the stream and about half of the waterfall.

Building a waterfall is like building a staircase — a series of drops are roughly excavated and then fine-tuned as you decide what rocks are to be used. Try to keep falls between 8 to 14 inches in height. Remember when building a waterfall, you want it to look natural and to have a pleasant sound. Building a waterfall too tall is a common mistake. It does not look natural to have a 4-foot waterfall in the middle of a flat yard. Tall falls also generate other problems. Water containment is more difficult and taller falls produce a lot more noise, which can be overpowering and not relaxing. Always remember that the sides need to be higher than the flowing water. Also use black waterfall foam to help control the water flow and fill in large gaps behind the waterfall rock.

Day 3: Finishing touches

We turned on the garden hoses first thing to finish filling the ponds and stream. Two members of the crew finished constructing the waterfall while the others finished building the edge rock around the pond and grading out the dirt work around the ponds and stream. Once the waterfall was completed, we cleaned the area and loaded up the leftover materials. We plugged in the waterfall around noon, walked the customer through how everything worked and collected the check.

This job could have easily been completed in two days instead of three if we had not had the additional dirt work to do. Even though we finished by noon, the customer still paid for a full day. This is important for maintaining revenues, because you are still paying your crew and overhead for the rest of the day.

Ponds can be a great way to generate revenues for an established business or a way for a new business to find its niche.

Eric Wood is owner and founder of Lilypads in Landscapes, Inc. He has been in the nursery and landscape industry for more than 17 years. Lilypads in Landscapes, Inc. was founded in 1995 as a wholesale growing operation of aquatic plants and the installation of water gardens. The company branched into a retail water garden center (Puddles-N-Pads) and added the selling of hard goods to the wholesale line in 1996. Lilypads in Landscapes is a Pro Pond Dealer with Aquascape Designs, Inc. Eric's company now delivers plants and pond supplies in Kansas, northwest Missouri and southern Nebraska. Lilypads in Landscapes, Inc. is one of the top 10 Pro Pond Dealers in the United States.

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