Reconstructing/revamping shelves 17 year old pond + plants? (newbie)


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Long story short, my newbie self has taken apart his pond while searching for location of a leak. Pond is intending to only be plants/no fish. Zone 5a. There were some seemingly aquatic plants in the river bed spillway/stairs, but I think a previous owner was tired of plants and decided to stack rocks on shelves instead? Considering removing skimmer area as very very rarely has debris, old, and still a sore subject for leaks. No other filtration/UV setup. The pond is now open to a bit of a revamp. As you can see, we inherited a pond with large rock shelves. The liner runs to the bottom of the top most rocks area which were eaten by earth. We have tons of snakes/frogs/birds/ducks/etc which come.

There is no rhyme or reason I hear for pond shelves/look, but I am an open newbie book to suggestions. Below are a ton of pictures to glance at, with actual questions at the bottom of post.

Picture of the pond early spring, minus greenage. This is/was a guess at the water line as i wasn't sure until recently how high the liner was.
The skimmer box area I'm considering removing entirely on bottom (concerns about type of skimmer(savio) and not setup for a silicone seal, worried about it leaking and want to not mess with it once done. Plan was to remove skimmer area, extend liner into the area. May need to make it deep enough to prop pump off bottom...?
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Aerial shot from when we purchased the house. Water enters from the pool on the right, follows a river bed under the bridge, down into the main pond.
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A thick rock shelf area before the right turn to bridge/river. Obviously pond empty prior to the spring fill up.
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More current foilage shot - but still don't know what all the plants are! ha.
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Pond came with this pump.
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Early spring before filling it - how rocks were layered.
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After a long battle of taking the pond apart to find a leak thought to be in the skimmer - found it here.
Also shows a bit of the shelves as I just took the water out.
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Another angle for what it looked like drained after bloom / mid leak search.
I started clearing some of the liner area in the right side of the pic.
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Rocks situated largely on/around the liner were 3/4 overcome with soil and the plants on the left/right sides. Purple Iris is on the far side. it was higher than I thought.
IMG_0302.JPG



To the questions!
1. What's a good way to reform the shelves which may have deteriorated (if we do repair)?
Pull up the underlament along w/ the liner? How fragile is the underlament after this time/importance of making it smooth again? We have clayish soil, seems somewhat wet around the pond area since its had a leak. Sand, dirt, or a mixture?​
2. By reading - the "preferred" appearance may be just a single layer or so of rocks around the top, holding the liner in place?
The liner runs the main area to where the green foliage is along the sides. How high should the water level be relative to the liner and/or shelves?​
3. The liner has water under it on the very bottom of the pond. Again, a leak has been present.
Will this water slowly subside or possibly stay w/ water table? (about 4ft down)​
4. The outside back side of the pond (towards fence, left side) appears to have an extra step or so before the top liner/rocks.
Would i likely just leave this open, stack more rocks, or fill with potted plants to fill the area?​
5. Suggestions on plants to try in zone 5a? (and if it matters to drain pond over winter or not)
The different levels of the pond range from 9", 1', 1.5-2' depth depending on the shelf. The front viewing area is probably 1' shelves, the shallower shelves in the back view.​
6. Any suggestions to the stairs/spillway area from the river? I feel like this area may need some type of future redo, but maybe smaller revamps right now...
A lower water level (similar to pictures) would create an additional river/trickle(not strong), but shelves would be weird for plants maybe. A higher water level to the rock liner wall area would give much more shelf room for plants and open pond area...but water coming from under bridge may be squished/lost. Thought about taking a leveling ruler to see approximately where water would rise to for a higher level (have not done yet)​
7. People split on skimmer/no skimmer for ponds in general/my ask about it. I'd like to take the skimmer box out because it's created a negative PITA
thought in my mind. Given the structure of the pond, would it see wise to make the closer area a bit deeper / wider - just thinking of ways to have the pump still in the same spot, but somewhat obscured / off bottom.​
Pictures of things helpful for me, I'm a visual person to get ideas of how things work.​
 

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I'll get to your questions, but my first comment when viewing your photos is HOLY ROCKS BATMAN! Way way way too many small rocks stacked on top of each other - nature would never do that. And that's your goal - make it look natural. You want to switch it up - lots of big, a few medium and a few small.

1. Underlayment is tough. And really no reason to worry about things being ultra smooth once installed. The weight of the water will help keep it all in place. Take a look at what's under there and then you'll know how big of a job you're looking at. If you do have mostly clay soil, that's a good thing. It can be a bear to dig, but it holds up well. Knowing what you're dealing with is step 1.

2.Your topmost shelf should be just wide enough to hold a big boulder and just deep enough that you can set rocks on the shelf and they will be partially under water, partially above water. Most people shoot for 1/3 above, 2/3 below, but that's just an estimate. A lot will depend on the size of the rocks. You then bring the liner back up behind the rock and fold down any excess and tamp dirt behind it to hold it in place.

3. Whether or not that water will drain depends on the soil underneath. If it won't drain on it's own, you can pump it out. There's no real need to make sure it's absolutely dry underneath, but you do want to make sure that you aren't getting more water under the liner, or that the water isn't coming up from underneath. If it just got wet from your leak, it should dry out and all will be well.

4. Open, rocks, or plants - or a combination of all three. Some people like to rock the entire interior of the pond - other prefer just the top shelf with rocks. Your choice really.

5. SO MANY PLANTS. There's a list here on the forum somewhere, but suffice it to say there are TONS. Most marginals prefer 4-6 inch depth, but there are ways to build up a deeper shelf for planting by creating plant pockets with rocks or gravel. Naturalize your plants in the pond and they'll come back year after year. You do want to make sure that, if you turn the pond off, the plants will still remain underwater all winter - or even under the ice. Learned that the hard way!

6. I'll leave that one to the engineering minds here...

7. You can go with no skimmer, but it's far more common for people to ADD one later than to take one out. Installed correctly they aren't a leaking issue. Time can take it's toll on any pond equipment but proper maintenance can avoid big headaches. I know you said you have little debris that falls in the pond, but that skimming action helps so much with keeping the pond surface free of dust and particulant matter. Sounds silly, but I can see the difference within a day when our pond is off for any reason.

Your photos are EXTREMELY helpful as are your well thought out questions! You'll get lots of good advice here!
 
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I'll get to your questions, but my first comment when viewing your photos is HOLY ROCKS BATMAN! Way way way too many small rocks stacked on top of each other - nature would never do that. And that's your goal - make it look natural. You want to switch it up - lots of big, a few medium and a few small.

1. Underlayment is tough. And really no reason to worry about things being ultra smooth once installed. The weight of the water will help keep it all in place. Take a look at what's under there and then you'll know how big of a job you're looking at. If you do have mostly clay soil, that's a good thing. It can be a bear to dig, but it holds up well. Knowing what you're dealing with is step 1.

2.Your topmost shelf should be just wide enough to hold a big boulder and just deep enough that you can set rocks on the shelf and they will be partially under water, partially above water. Most people shoot for 1/3 above, 2/3 below, but that's just an estimate. A lot will depend on the size of the rocks. You then bring the liner back up behind the rock and fold down any excess and tamp dirt behind it to hold it in place.

3. Whether or not that water will drain depends on the soil underneath. If it won't drain on it's own, you can pump it out. There's no real need to make sure it's absolutely dry underneath, but you do want to make sure that you aren't getting more water under the liner, or that the water isn't coming up from underneath. If it just got wet from your leak, it should dry out and all will be well.

4. Open, rocks, or plants - or a combination of all three. Some people like to rock the entire interior of the pond - other prefer just the top shelf with rocks. Your choice really.

5. SO MANY PLANTS. There's a list here on the forum somewhere, but suffice it to say there are TONS. Most marginals prefer 4-6 inch depth, but there are ways to build up a deeper shelf for planting by creating plant pockets with rocks or gravel. Naturalize your plants in the pond and they'll come back year after year. You do want to make sure that, if you turn the pond off, the plants will still remain underwater all winter - or even under the ice. Learned that the hard way!

6. I'll leave that one to the engineering minds here...

7. You can go with no skimmer, but it's far more common for people to ADD one later than to take one out. Installed correctly they aren't a leaking issue. Time can take it's toll on any pond equipment but proper maintenance can avoid big headaches. I know you said you have little debris that falls in the pond, but that skimming action helps so much with keeping the pond surface free of dust and particulant matter. Sounds silly, but I can see the difference within a day when our pond is off for any reason.

Your photos are EXTREMELY helpful as are your well thought out questions! You'll get lots of good advice here!

thanks for all the info, greatly appreciated and thinking of how I can (hopefully) rework the shelves for a more natural appearance. Other than the huge pile of rocks, I don’t think the original owner intended, they seemed to have a small shelf for bigger rocks and other on sides/between which would probably look good without the vegetation but it’s otherwise been taken over by stuff, shrouding the original look. I still feel the back left corner was meant to have multiple shelves from the looks of it. I don’t think the prior owner knew squat and just bandaided things.
 
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I’m starting to better envision the border of the pond.
I’m still nagging about the flow from the river area into the main part. While it’s on higher ground a bit, as you can (hopefully) see in the photos it’s just a small gap of flattened liner (probably a leak spot to correct sooner than later).

here are some shots of the steps area. I don’t think there can be a waterfall or trickle here unless the ground by the bridge was raised significantly as appears the top shelf of the pond is pretty high so feeling a) trickle with less water and seemingly huge sunken in pond, b) more full water but trickle effect.

is the lack of effect “fine” for this area, and just having the few steps under the water for poo and giggles?
The level and blue line are thoughts of about where water may be if top shelf is 2/3 covered. Seems like may be no leakage but depends on the “intent” of the rocks and steps in the area?
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Here are some shots of the algae-filled first pool, the water goes over the flagstone, into the rock river, into the big pond
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While i can agree with part of your statement that there's no set rules to the shelves there are set guide lines tot he shelves in the photo below i did not make the shelves stay at one level and circle around the pond. i made them only cover a small portion of the level and they are different widths heights and even on slight angles. this is what i see as a more natural look . and that is important to me over a formal strand of pearls. per say. And the rocks DO set the shelves more then an idea should You don't want to build a 6 inch wide shelf if you have 12" wide rocks. and you should always keep in mind what is going to hold this rock in place often digging a small trench or angling a shelf back is the best route as when the pond is lined the rocks can be held in place by a depression. so if you place rocks on a shelf are the rocks large enough to poke up higher then the shelf above to as the rocks are placed will they act like a stop a border to keep the gravel in place. this is a video of the final product to help give an idea what the rock on shelves can look like and not a level circle around the pond. the vertical walls i always had pitched back toward the higher side to any boulders could lean back and not want to roll over onto someone in the water. The vide and the photo are taken from the same spot for reference
20180304_172524[17363].jpg
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While i can agree with part of your statement that there's no set rules to the shelves there are set guide lines tot he shelves in the photo below i did not make the shelves stay at one level and circle around the pond. i made them only cover a small portion of the level and they are different widths heights and even on slight angles. this is what i see as a more natural look . and that is important to me over a formal strand of pearls. per say. And the rocks DO set the shelves more then an idea should You don't want to build a 6 inch wide shelf if you have 12" wide rocks. and you should always keep in mind what is going to hold this rock in place often digging a small trench or angling a shelf back is the best route as when the pond is lined the rocks can be held in place by a depression. so if you place rocks on a shelf are the rocks large enough to poke up higher then the shelf above to as the rocks are placed will they act like a stop a border to keep the gravel in place. this is a video of the final product to help give an idea what the rock on shelves can look like and not a level circle around the pond. the vertical walls i always had pitched back toward the higher side to any boulders could lean back and not want to roll over onto someone in the water. The vide and the photo are taken from the same spot for reference View attachment 142069 .
Beautiful pond and can see the differences in levels. Just having a poor imagination without totally redoing the pond lol.
 
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So here's today's daily score, with the bottom being the questions. Mainly in a "ROBOT NOT CREATIVE, NEED INPUT" sense.

Pulled liner up a bit before dark, few inches of water on the bottom I tried to scoop out best I could, hasn't seemed to have receded in the past 4-5 days. Underlament seems pretty hardy but also yanked down. Since I'll probably dealing with shelves and having to pull the underlament up, maybe good to lay it flatter in some areas.
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Now to the questions!

I tried to color coat pictures as 'tiers' or areas I could write about. My problem is vision, I can't see it being as crazy as some of ya'lls ponds, with fish, or purchasing tons of flagstone, or giant boulders (right now). I "can" see it with a more submerged large rock as the top tier, not stacked like before, but the "tier" setup in this older pond is messing with me. They're just not clear/crisp like a new build and trying to figure out what sagged or didnt has been hell.
Anyway, on to the question!


First picture:
From the green tier to the red tier is about 12" The bottom of the red shelf is actually the top of the liner, so obv these rocks are unable to be underwater if this is used as a "shelf" of some type. The green tier is a foot down, too deep for rocks (not going bouldering) to be partially submerged and I'd have to stack two layer in this area to reach the possible surface. Then comes the white area which I think was a shelf maybe at one point but it's just a jutting mess right now. It has to be reformed, higher / lower, or taken out. Purple is another tier, like a spillway into the skimmer box, tiering up to the green, then the box. didn't plan to do anything with purple at the moment, didn't seem of immediate issue. Blue is the water at the bottom. Its about 2 feet wide, if that, by maybe 4 feet. Thought about trying to expand it somehow when redoing shelves, but already seem long/steep for integrity sake.

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Second picture:
This shelf is only about 7.5" deep which seems "better" for the whole partial submerged type of base. Rock for reference. Only thing here is shelf is roughly 18" wide which seems excessive - but again - I really lack vision. Narrow the shelf down? Leave as is with some type of plants behind the rocks on the end? Flagstone? Other? Picture also contains purple/blue areas for reference from the last picture.
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Third picture:
This feels like a fun area for a lot of plants or some kind of nice setup. the water comes in from the river area from the upper right corner of picture. Red is from the first picture, the really high shelf sitting on TOP of the liner. Green is about the same height - 12", but yellow is introduced as a ~6" shelf, up to the liner. Feel like the yellow/red shelves have to meet in some way just for the sake of awkward red rocks as stated, and yellow seeming to be more fitting, albeit maybe just a bit wider than should be.
The back corner into the tiers used to have just river rocks cascasing down, with a few 6-12" rocks inbetween. Had some random water plants sprouting up in the area. Part of me thought to do it again, the other thought spreading plants vs. just having them in pots on the shelf.
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So shelf help and need creative juices injected into me. I think I feel overwhelmed with the possibilities and paralyzed.
 
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Excellent photos! Did you decide you're pulling the liner out completely?

Since you are a visual person, I'm going to recommend this YouTube series. The PondDigger breaks the entire process down from beginning to end for the DIY builder. Take the time to watch and you'll get the inspiration you're looking for!

 
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I'm not sure I missed something, but thought I'd mention...

All this talk about shelves.
Some of us have two types of shelves that serve two different purposes.

There are the deeper shelves for growing plants on and there's the shallow shelf that helps hide the would be exposed excess liner all around the pond edge.
The latter I think was mentioned by @Lisak1, but I want to make sure you understand what she was saying.
It should be just deep enough to partially submerge large stones. Then you can stack more stones on top of them and stepped back. This allows you to hide the liner both between the surface of the water and the ground and also excess liner that would have been just laying on the ground.

We've all seen ponds that have a black wall of liner eyesore between the water surface and the ground and it looks terrible.
By forming the shallow stone covered shelf, you make the pond look more natural.
 
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I'm not sure I missed something, but thought I'd mention...

All this talk about shelves.
Some of us have two types of shelves that serve two different purposes.

There are the deeper shelves for growing plants on and there's the shallow shelf that helps hide the would be exposed excess liner all around the pond edge.
The latter I think was mentioned by @Lisak1, but I want to make sure you understand what she was saying.
It should be just deep enough to partially submerge large stones. Then you can stack more stones on top of them and stepped back. This allows you to hide the liner both between the surface of the water and the ground and also excess liner that would have been just laying on the ground.

We've all seen ponds that have a black wall of liner eyesore between the water surface and the ground and it looks terrible.
By forming the shallow stone covered shelf, you make the pond look more natural.
So some suggestion of “yea, those top shelves need a bit of work on depth” since they’re basically just shelves with the base being the last piece of liner
 
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Yes and no. The right side(green) is more doable. Shelf is about 7-8” deep and the liner ends vertically, and is closer to diagram. Red shelf is the issue (by the vegetation on top) as liner runs horizontally to the ground and the rocks were set on top. The next shelf down is 2-3 rocks worth (12”)
 

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were it mine, I'd get the liner completely out, then start digging in/out shelves as I see them (lower for plants, shallow to hide the liner ALL THE WAY AROUND), and then, IF the old liner still fit, use it. This means you NEED 12" that will lay on the ground AFTER your rocks are on the shallow shelf and the liner laid underneath and behind. If the old liner didn't fit, I'd order a new one to get exactly what I described above. You can see from GB's pic, how easy it is to visualize without the liner. Designing with the liner in place just seems more confusing.

And of course, as you dig in/out your shelves, look to make shallow areas for plants, deep areas for larger boulders (if you want any, like GB did). I found after the fact, that I wished I'd included some shallow area for small fish, turtles, plants (like clover, which the fish like to eat until it's gone!), etc. I filled my 'shallower' end with rocks and laid some pea gravel on top to get such a shallow area, but it's not as large as I'd like. Maybe when LPS hits, I'll include it in the re-design.

Good Luck!
 
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So I watched the pond digger series and had some ideas but also was confused with all the rocks as “felt” like we were talking less rocks.

the shelf idea I guess made a bit more sense with a wider shelf than tall to line rocks on the outer edge, inner edge, and gravel between to put plants (?)

like I went from “oh, no big rocks should be on/up from the deep bottom,” to “oh, I should be making a rock wall to the next shelf” after watching. Intended? Lol

also here are no liner/under fabric pictures. Feel the edge closer to the house needs less work for rocks/plants but the far edge needs a whole revamp as the shelf is just poorly placed it seems.
the far back corner still seems good for lots of plants like I thought.

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I found these two edging examples - probably based on preference but thoughts on all the various options? Any favorites?
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So you can choose to rock the walls in your pond OR You can leave them bare - mostly personal preference. You have a narrow pond to work with - I think I'd go with no rocks on the side to allow for more water volume.

You do NOT want large rocks in the bottom of the pond - they can trap debris and cause problems down the road. But a shallow gravel bottom will give bacteria more surface area to colonize. It's another one of those "love it or hate it" concepts in pond building - your choice really.

As for the edging - all of those are fine. The ONLY thing you need to worry about is keeping the liner above water level. They don't do the best job of illustrating that - you want several inches of liner above the water level - too close to level and you're risking wicking or plants breeching the edge and pushing down the liner. (Keep reading to find out how I know that!) I'm not a fan of cementing anything in place. First because I have no idea how to do it, but secondly because you'll find you want to move things around or make a few changes here and there. Once you've cemented rocks in place you're kind of stuck. (haha!) Now if you're looking for a formal pond then the capping and cement makes sense.

The one thing they don't illustrate is that you want to fold the excess liner (and you DO want excess) down behind the rocks on the land side. Keeping that excess liner available could be a life saver later. Ponds settle, rocks settle, dirt settles... and then you find yourself with a liner that's too short. We just had 2/3 of our ten year old pond re-edged to get the liner back up where it needed to be. No additional liner needed - they just unfolded what we had concealed behind the rocks. You then push and pack soil up behind the liner to hold it in place, plant or mulch up to the rock and you'll never know the liner is there. The Ponddigger illustrates that concept very well in his video on various edging approaches.
 
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