Water Feature Glossary (Long)

The following glossary is one I helped generate when I was on a board of directors with a now defunct national water feature trade organization.   The glossary is pretty long, maybe 30 pages, yet is by no means includes all phrases.  To a degree it is/was a work in progress.  Minimally, I think it is still a viable tool to give a person some basic verbiage and concepts that will help when working with a water feature.

I had a request for this glossary several days ago as the webpage where it used to reside is no longer active.  So I thought I would post it here until I find a better place to put it!

NOTE: Some of these words/phrases are mainly defined as they might be used with water features. The organization was trying to raise the professionalism of water feature contractors, so having a defined vocabulary was basic to that effort.  Some phrases/words were being used in ambiguous ways so we were promoting adopting these refined definitions to help provide more order.  With that said, some of these definitions may have never made it to a “standard”, so be aware that some people will not agree with all of these definitions. In other words, there is some home cooking going on here.  However, I will still explain and use these definitions when starting a new conversation with a client and others.

A Live water feature:  One which supports life.


A Sterile water feature:  One which does not support life.



Acclimate – basically means getting used to new conditions.  Fish need to be introduced into a different body of water slowly. As an example you can let the bag they are transported in float in the new pond until the temperatures equalize.  You could also say that a pond needs to acclimate to a change of a larger fish population.  The bacteria of the pond would need to ramp up to take care of the new waste.  Rapid changes in Ph, temperature, fish loads, etc. can cause stress to the organisms in a system.


Acidic – having a pH value less than 7, the lower the pH the more “acidic” the water is


Activated carbon – is a carbon material that is used in the purification of water. Activated carbon is very porous with a large surface area for absorbing contaminants. Activated carbon is also used to remove chlorine.


Aeration – is the process of adding of oxygen into the water.  Typically by exposing maximum water surface to air, oxygen can enter the water.  Waterfalls, jets, etc. all mix air with water.  In deeper ponds it can be a good idea to pump air directly into the bottom of pond and have it diffused up through the pond. The prime reason for aeration is that the aerobic or oxygen using bacteria are the most beneficial in keeping water clean.  By having more available oxygen in all areas of the pond, the populations of these oxygen dependent beneficial bacteria can be drastically increased.

An air pump or backup aeration system is good back up for a pond should the pump that powers the waterfall or jets goes out.  It is important to remember that in a pond, fish are more active in the summer than they are in the winter and thus use more oxygen during the summer.  As a reminder we all know that as water is boiled air bubbles escape, illustrating that warm water holds less oxygen that cool water.  So while the fish are using more oxygen in the summer, at the same time the heat the water can provide less available oxygen.  It can be damaging to the fish if a water feature with a large fish population experiences a pump failure in the summer.  If not running all the time an air pump should be part of a fish keeper’s emergency equipment.


Aerobic – means requiring oxygen. In ponds this usually refers to those bacteria that require oxygen – Aerobic Bacteria.  These bacteria are usually the best “pond cleaners.”  Their population is increased by oxygenating the water more, thus the more oxygen in the water the better chances it has of being cleaner.


Aeromonas – A type of fish disease.


Air Pump (aka Air Compressor) – is a device used to push air through a hose or pipe. At the discharge end of the hose is a diffuser.  The diffuser splits the air into a profusion of bubbles.  The advantage of an air pump is that the aeration can happen in deeper parts of the pond.  The principle is that while you can splash water at the top of the pond for aeration using a waterfall or a jet, the oxygen molecules are not driven down in to the deeper parts of the pond.  Bottom aeration allows for oxygen to have a profusion of bubbles that spread upward and outward.  Aeration is also used to supercharge bio filters so that more intense populations of bacteria can be developed. An air pump is a good back up to keeping the pond aerated when the jets or waterfall are turned off.  In many winter situations an air pump can keep ice from forming solid across a pond


Algae – are tiny simple plants that are almost always present in water.  There are two big groups of algae that are found in the pond.  Single cell algae which are floating algae, and filamentous algae which are multi celled organisms.  Algae are not automatically a bad element in a pond.  Algae are typically volunteering to grow in those environments where there is available nutrients to feed them. Floating algae is not popular in ponds and other water features because they turn the pond green and many people do not like the aesthetics of a greenish pond. String algae and blanket weed are two forms of filamentous algae that most pond hobbyist especially, considers as being unsightly and obnoxious.  Balancing and filtering the pond so that these algae are minimized is one of the goals of most filter systems.  When the pH is high (say above 9 or 10) algae usually has an advantage over other life forms and flourishes.  An overabundance of algae in the pond can also be caused by excess nutrients such as organic debris like leaves and mulch from outside the pond, spent flowers and leaves from pond plants, and/or too big a fish load (too many fish, over feeding the fish.) A shortage of other plant types to metabolize the available nutrients can allow for a nutrient excess for the algae. Hair algae or string algae can be unsightly and cause problems with water flow and plant health.  If a large population of algae is chemically killed or dies in the pond suddenly, oxygen can rapidly drop in the pond possibly endangering a fish population.  Like any plant, algae need light to complete photosynthesis.  Shading a pond with water lilies and submerged aquatics can help minimize algae growth. Because of improvements in filtration, it is a fairly recent expectation to have pond water without the green effect of algae.  The colorful fish we enjoy in pond were bred for centuries so that the fish color would be bright enough to be appreciated in greenish water. Vanishing water features (disappearing water features) are popular because they minimize algae growth by covering and masking from sunlight the water features reservoir of water.  Using chemical and ultraviolet lights to kill or manage algae in a water feature will remove the visual problem of the algae, but these methods do not address the removal of the excess nutrients which caused the algae in the first place.


Algae Bloom – at certain times of the year events can occur which can cause a rapid growth of floating algae. This profusion of green algae in the pond is called a bloom. An algae bloom can typically happen in the spring when the spring warmth allows for the algae to grow. The water in ponds in the spring is typically high in nutrients because leaves and other nutrients have been moving into the water since fall, but the cooler temperatures has only allowed a minimum of biologic activity to metabolize these nutrients. This lack of beneficial bio filtration all winter while increasing organic content sets the stage for an explosive growth of algae during a spring warm up.  Typically if left to its own course the algae bloom will starve itself down and as the rest of the biology in the pond catches up the pond often clears.  Any spike in the nutrient load of water can cause an algae bloom.


 Algaecide – most words with the “cide” in it (i.e. pesticide, herbicide, homicide etc.) it has to do with killing and algaecide fits in this same pattern.  Algaecide would be those chemicals used to kill algae. Because they may be harmful to desired organisms, algaecides have to be used very prudently in a pond.  An algaecide would hopefully be the last resort to managing an algae problem.


Alkaline – having a pH value greater than 7.  Testing your pond for its ph level is a basic in pond management.


Ammonia – NH3 is the primary waste product produced by fish. Ammonia is extremely toxic to fish.  The nitrogen cycle is nature’s way of reducing the danger of ammonia. This cycle of nitrification use several steps to break down ammonia into nitrogen compounds that can be metabolized by plants.


Anaerobic – means without oxygen.  In ponds these conditions usually happen where water is not exposed to oxygen for instance in the deeper areas of a pond or in a pond that has no water movement or aeration.  This term also is also applied to those bacteria that can live with less oxygen.  Anaerobic bacteria are usually the bacteria that help digest the sludge that can develop on the bottom of a pond.


Anchor worms – A parasite that attacks fish


Annual – commonly referred to as those plants that cannot survive the winter of an area.  These plants would have to be replaced “annually.”  A plant may be an annual in one zone and a hardy plant in another zone.


Aphids – are insect that are tiny and oval in shape.  These pests attack the leafy portion of plants.


Aquatic plants – refers to those plants that can grow with their roots constantly submerged in water.


Automatic Fill Device – is a term to describe a plumbing component that typically can detect when water is low and add water automatically.  There are several successful designs for an automatic fill device.  They can use mechanical floats or electronic sensors to monitor water levels.  These sensors then open or close a valve that is on a water line.  While automatic fill devices are not necessary and do add another step in water feature construction, they take some maintenance out of the water feature.  Adding water to a pond is not that much work, however these devices help avoid the negative of going into a beautiful garden and seeing what should be an attractive water feature tarnished by water hoses stretched out every where or worse the pond is low because of lack of attention.


Bacteria – bacteria are living things that are neither plants nor animals, but belong to a group all by themselves. They are very small–individually not more than one single cell–however there are normally millions of them together, for they can multiply really fast  Pond keepers refer to “Beneficial Bacteria,” which is a description of those bacteria that help water quality by breaking down waste and toxins. By encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria a pond keeper is encouraging “bio filtration” and is being pro active in helping improve water quality.


Balancing a Pond- (aka Balancing Nature, Water Balance) – This is fairly soft term that can point to a couple of things.  One it can mean making sure that the KH of the pond is in check and that pH does not swing up or down radically.  The term usually means that the pond has enough desirable plants and beneficial bacteria that can absorb the nutrients as fast as the organic load comes in on average.  If you think of water quality as a see saw in a playground, we have the good guys –(beneficial bacteria, oxygen, filtering plants and neutral ph) – on one side of the see saw and we have the bad guys – ( debris, organic load, extreme ph, low oxygen) – on the other side of the see saw.  In the event that the good guys are stronger, or at least at equilibrium, we have good water quality.  When nutrients rise faster than the good guys can keep up we have ammonia, nitrites, nitrates, and phosphates for algae.  Algae will be the first opportunistic plant to take advantage of this buffet.  (Nature loves a free meal!)  In balancing a pond we try to make sure that conditions are always in favor of the good guys thus the good water quality.  That can mean more filtration, increasing the plant population, increasing bacteria, fixing ph, etc.  But it can equally mean decreasing the fish population, using less fish food or better fish food, and removing other elements that may be adding to biologic waste in the water.  Frequent testing of your water for KH, pH, oxygen, ammonia, nitrites and nitrates will give you the best picture of your water quality and how your pond is balancing.


Ball Valve – Is a valve used to regulate water flow through a pipe. It is has a ball like center piece that rotates inside the valve. It allows for complete flow when fully open. Ball valves are typically stronger than Knife Valves and can handle the stress of being partially open.


Barb – Refers to a plumbing fitting that is inserted inside a pipe and has a shape that anchors itself.  Barb fittings are used with flexible pipe, hoses, or tubing.


Bare root – Refers to plants that have the soil removed from their roots.  Plant nurseries often use this as a technique to allow for easier shipping and handling of the plants.  Plants that are bare rooted are in a delicate state and extra care needs to given to them.  Typically the larger the plant the harder it is to successfully bare root it.


Barley straw – is used as a natural method to control the growth of string algae. The theory explaining the success of barley straw includes thoughts that the straw releases hydrogen peroxide and possibly enzymes as it decomposes.  The use of barley straw was originally started by farmers who used the straw in water tanks to help keep the water clear for their livestock.  The TVA has used barley straw in their nuclear power plant cooling ponds. Barley straw is usually sold by the bale, bag, or extract.


Bead filter – is typically a pressurized filter that has plastic beads or other shaped plastic particle as the filtration media.  Bead filters often look like the sand filters used on swimming pools. They are a water tight “can” with a media that the water is forced though by the pump.  Because the bead media is larger than sand it is more porous and does not clog as quickly with organic build up.  Bead filters primarily provide good mechanical filtration but minimal biological filtration.  Bead filters are washed typically by turning a valve and backwashing or flushing out the filter. Some use air compressors to help this back wash.  This backwashing can be a convenience over cleaning the mats in other types of “open” filters.  As “open” filters depend upon the water using gravity to flow past the media, the filter has to be located so that gravity can get the filtered water back into the pond.  Since bead filters can have water moving under the pressure generated by the pump drive the water through the media, the pressurized bead filter can be located above or below pond water level (typically outside of the pond.)


Beneficial bacteria – pond keepers refer to “beneficial bacteria,” which is a description of those bacteria that help water quality by breaking down waste and toxins. By encouraging the growth of beneficial bacteria a pond keeper is encouraging “bio filtration” and is being pro active in helping improve water quality.



Biological Filter  (Biological Filtration) – 1.a biological filter is defined as a living organisms that have the advantageous ability is to metabolize or remove unwanted compounds, such as excess nutrients,  toxins, ammonia [NH3,]  nitrite [NO2,] nitrates, phosphates, etc. from the pond water.  They can be plants or bacteria. They can live in the pond or stream, or in a container outside of the pond-proper which is part of that pond’s system filter system.  Biological filtering organisms such as beneficial bacteria (aerobic and anaerobic) are often added to the pond for enhanced filtration.  Biological filtration to some degree often takes place on all surfaces in the pond.  The sides of the pond provide surface area for biological filtration to take place.

  1. a biological filter can also be defined as the bed or chamber within the pond’s system, which provides an environment with aerobic conditions and ample media for beneficial bacteria, whose advantageous function is to remove unwanted compounds, such as excess nutrients and toxins (ammonia NH3 and nitrites NO2) from the pond. When the organic materials in our pond are reduced to microscopic size by pumps or by dissolving, we almost always have to rely on biological filtration to remove them.

Some devices such as floating strand mats (Aquamats) specialize in intricate surfaces which can hold large populations of bacteria. The more surface area for the beneficial bacteria to do their job, the larger the biological load the bio-filter can support.  The more oxygen there is in the water the larger the population aerobic bacteria the pond can support.  Some biological filter pads also provide some mechanical filtration as they not only give a surface for bacteria to colonize on but they also capture chunks of debris.


Blanket weed– filamentous algae ‘string algae’ spirogyra, ‘pond scum’


Bog – (Bogs) -this term covers a type of water garden or an area of a water garden that has soil or gravel pretty much at water level.   The soil can dip down to expose some water and it can rise up to benefit those plants that prefer “less wet feet.”  Rather than have the water stay still in the bog, often with a little design and plumbing the bog can be developed as an Up Flow Bog Filter, which is a great way to filter a pond. If you build a bog as a standalone feature, unless you add some water movement to the feature you could definitely be in for a “wild natural ride.”  One other comment is that a lot of the plants that thrive in bog conditions are pretty aggressive.  Unless you raise and lower the gravel or soil in the root zone in relation to water, you might end up with one species that wins the “battle for the bog.”  However, selective plant removal could balance the bog plantings.  As a design tip if you are using a bog around your pond it might be interesting to break up the bog in smaller independent bogs so that each bog can display one or two species with out competition.


Bog – wetland ecosystem


Bog garden– See Bog


Bog plant– prefers roots constantly moist but not saturated soil conditions


Bottom Drain –The term bottom drain could also refer to a component or closable opening in the bottom of a pond that can drain the pond for various reasons like cleaning the pond. Most home owner ponds do not have a gravity type drainage system for their ponds.  However “bottom drain” is commonly a term used for the water suction point in the bottom of a pond and is part of the filtration system. In koi ponds and other deeper ponds it is desirable to pull water from the bottom so that the water is mixed and all water is filtered.  Sometimes the bottom drain is used to pull debris from the bottom of a pond for removal as well.  “Bottom intake” would be a less confusing term for this component.  It is very important to realize that when you are installing or managing a pond with a bottom drain or a bottom intake, that you are dealing with a component that could drain the pond completely if it somehow fails.  Unless provisions are made to prevent this or unless this event is caught in time, this can be fatal to the entire fish population.


Breaker unit– See GFCI


Buffer – substance dissolved in the water that helps stabilize pH


Bulkhead – refers to a special plastic fitting that provides a watertight seal through a plastic container or a flexible pond liner. A bulkhead fitting is one way to penetrate a liner, skimmer, or other flat surface and still maintain a water tight system.


Bushing – a part that is glued or threaded into a fitting such as a coupling or elbow to adapt to a different pipe size.



Check valve – (Foot Valve) – used to provide flow through a pipe in one direction only. When installed between an external filter and the pond, it keeps the dirty water in the filter from flowing back into the pond if power is lost. They are also used to keep an external pump primed if power is lost.


Chemical Filtration – while typically not thought of for a living water feature, there are some additives that relatively benign and chemically bind up compounds and debris.  Some additives are called flocculants.  Flocculants simply bind small particles of debris together forming larger particles.  When the aggregated particle is large enough it can settle out of the pond or be caught in a mechanical filter. (Accuclear)  Another safe chemical filtration scenario would be those compounds that bind up other compounds chemically.  Phos-x is a successful material that absorbs phosphates from the water.  As phosphate is a key nutrient that algae need to grow, this chemical process helps clear the water.


Chloramines– are a fairly new additive some public water works are adding to the city or counties water. Obviously while it is deemed as an asset to public health, it is dangerous to fish. Unless you are sure about your municipalities drinking water make sure the de-chlorinator or de-chlor you are using remove both chloramines and chorine.


Chlorine – This is the old standby chemical used to sanitize public water by destroying harmful bacteria and organisms in the drinking water. In minute quantities chorine is deemed not harmful to humans, however the same amount of chlorine can damage your fish.  One of these reasons why the fish are more sensitive to chlorine is that they breathe it in through their gills.  Chlorine is very dangerous to humans when we breathe it in as well. (On a dark note, chlorine gas was the first choice of the Germans in WW1 to kill the enemy in trenches – thus making it the first choice in chemical warfare and the Geneva Convention was started in response to its use.)  We point this out because we want to make sure our customers are doubly aware of the danger their county or city drinking water can have on their fish.  While a small amount in a pond is probably negligible, danger occurs when some one is topping off the pond with the hose and lets it run too long. Or when some one does not season or break in a new pond. It is best to be safe and to use a de-chlorinator or a carbon filter.

On a good note while chorine also literally oxidizes or burns organic matter (similar to the way Chlorox get you shirt white) the good news that organic matter uses up chlorine by making it react.  Also chlorine dissipates quicker when exposed to air.  So if you are in an emergency and need to use municipal drinking water, it would be wise to spray it as mist and to have it land on something loaded up with organic material.



Chlorophyll – (not to be at all confused with chlorine or chloramines) is the green pigmented substance in plant cells that is integral to photosynthesis.  And as we know from our 5th grade science class the food chain start with photosynthesis- plants combining sunlight with nutrients to produce living cells, which are eaten by other things, and on and on.  One of the most primitive and effective plant that use photosynthesis is algae.  By combining the nutrients in the water with sunlight algae is often the first plant to volunteer for the free meal.  So when we see our pond is green, it is just little one cell plants filled with chlorophyll having a buffet.  In order to minimize this algae feeding frenzy we typically need to focus on our biological filtration. (On a side note, out of all the colors in the light spectrum, the one color that plants do not use is the color green.


Cubic foot– equals 6.428 gallons (imp), 28.137 liters, 62.32 lbs weight


Cultivar– a result of cross breeding, or a named natural hybrid


Cutting (clone) – root or stem section encouraged to form new plant


Deadhead – removing faded flowers before they form seed


De-chlor – see De-chlorinator


De-chlorinator (De-chlorinate) – is the supplies or equipment that removes chlorine from water.  Many municipalities add chlorine to the public’s supply of water for safety reasons – the chlorine acts to minimize or kill bacteria and minor plant growth.  However if added in sufficient quantity to a pond this water can be dangerous to fish and other desired organisms. Because we are supporting life in these various kinds of ponds, it is important to first de-chlorinate the water before introducing life.  Fish’s exposure to chlorine and chloramines damages their gills and the effect can be a slow decline in health to death.  It is impossible to see the damage to fish gills with the native eye from outside the pond.  Any time we change out or add tap water to the system, it is important to de-chlorinate.


Decomposition – breakdown of matter by bacteria and fungi


De-Icer – unit placed in the pond to maintain a hole in the ice that forms on the pond surface


Detrimental Release – When a pond has a direct discharge to a lake or stream, avoid stocking the following:  Koi, goldfish, hybrid water lilies, or lotus.  Likewise, do not release fish or non-native plants into the wild, nor into your local farm and town ponds! Be respectful of the environment


Diffuser – A device that is used at the end of an airline to break up air into smaller bubbles.  Diffusers can be mats, air stones, or porous hose.  The theory is that the more you break up air into smaller particles, the more oxygen is available to be absorbed into the water.


Direct Drive Pump – pump whose impeller is connected directly to the motor


Disappearing Fountain – See Vanishing Water Feature


Diurnal– occurring during daylight


Division– Separating plants so each has roots and shoots in good growing condition


Dormant – inactive phase through cold, heat or drought, e.g. seed, tuber, corm, rhizomes, hibernation


Emergent plants – have their roots anchored in the pond substrate, and their leaves flowers emerge above the water’s surface.  In the pond industry, they are also known as ‘marginal’ or ‘bog’ plants.  They can be found in nature growing along the margins of lakes, ponds, and streams.  Water Iris, Reeds, Rushes and Cattails are good examples of emergent plants.


Enzyme – protein that helps speed up a chemical reaction such as the breakdown of organic debris


EPDM – ethylene propylene diene monomer; the material from which most flexible pond liner is made


External Pumps – External pumps are pumps that are located outside of the water feature and require a dry operating condition. External pumps can be self priming but typically the pump will work best if it is set a level such that there is always water “flooding” into the intake side of the pump.  So as a rule of thumb you do not want to set the external pump in a situation where it has to pull or suck water.  Remember, pumps are design to push water.  They literally cram water into pipe until the water moves forward.  But they do not pull very well because in vacuum or suction they make is merely a by product of there pushing action and because the water at some will start “shredding apart.”  That is also why it is best not to run an intake line or suction line to an intake pump a long distance.  If an external pump has plumbing problem it is usually on the intake or suction line side. After you have found a suitable location for the external pump, some owners want to enclose the pump with a house, a “dog house,” or some cover to somewhat protect the pump, but to also keep it out of sight and to sometimes decrease the sound.  For industrial or agricultural pumping application seeing the pump is not a big deal but hiding the pump can be critical for a water feature.  Owners buy water features to have magic in the landscape and seeing a pump is a real negative.  In larger projects the site can be so full of sidewalks, window looking out, etc., that there may be no decent place to hide the pumps.  This is when an underground vault is the best selection.  However be aware that if you go underground with an external pump you have to provide a way service the pump, a way to ventilate the pump, and way to drain the pump from water build up.



Female Pipe Thread (FPT) – female pipe thread; connection type using female (inside) threads


Filamentous– thread, strand, hair like


Filter – (see Filtration)


Filter Media – the material in a filter that either traps debris in a mechanical filter or provides surface for beneficial bacteria in a biological filter. Most media can function as either, at least to a certain degree


Filtration – Basically filtration is the simple process of removing, restricting or changing stuff that you don’t want. The range of items, particles, and chemicals that filters work on is so wide that “stuff” is really a pretty good word.

(This definition is going to get a little philosophical but it may give you a good foundation if you stick through it.)

Anybody reading this on the web has probably already learned about “spam filters.”  Spam filters are hopefully removing all that information people are sending you in your email that you don’t want (spam.) Some of it may not be bad, but the fact is you don’t want it.

Water Feature Filtration is basically the same thing.  Not every thing that gets into your water is bad, but there is some stuff we just don’t want. And in different scenarios we want or will allow different stuff in our water.  In our drinking water we are really restrictive about what we want in our water.  We maintain a little more flexible high standard in our swimming pools, our koi ponds we will allow more stuff in the pond, in our water gardens perhaps a little more on down the line to our habitat pond, etc.  So when we talk about filtration and filter systems, we need to talk about appropriate filtration.

In our opinion there are some basic thoughts on filtration that everyone needs grasp.


1:  Anything that removes stuff, collects it for later removal or changes it in a acceptable direction is part of a filtering system.  When you pick a leaf off the pond with your hand, you are part of the filtering system.  Once we had a friend who said he did not filter his pond.  He was asked what he did instead of filtering and he said all you have to do is use a dip net every day.  He barely smiled when he was called a human filtration system.


2:  There is no perfect filtration system.  Even when you buy a swimming pool with the most elaborate state of the art automatic cleaning system, the last thing the pool builder is going to give you when he leaves is a dip net.


  1. If you don’t want to filter it out of the water- don’t put it in the water or at least try to keep it out. Don’t allow ground run off to enter the pond.  Don’t plant unusually messy trees around the pond.  Don’t throw excessive fish food into the pond.  (You may want to even only use fish food and koi food that are higher grade, i.e. more food and less filler -the more filler the more fish poop – the more you have to filter.) You may even want to net your pond during heavy leaf drop periods.


  1. Everything blows across the surface of the earth stops when it lands on a body of water. And it is surprising how much stuff is moving around out there.  Sometimes a small wall, and some well placed boulders and plants can snag debris before it enters the water.


  1. The bigger the chunk the easier it is to get out of the water. Unless you live in an area that has blowing sand, the main stuff that gets into a water feature is organic. Leaves, twigs, bugs, grass clipping, etc. and most of this stuff will float for a little while. If this debris can be netted or skimmed off the surface before it sinks it is easier to handle. Skimmers help in pulling this floating debris out before it sinks.  Once the debris sinks, if not removed, it will ultimately decay into a solution in the water.  Once this organic material deteriorates into microscopic size particle or molecules we have a harder time collecting them for removal.  The degeneration of organic stuff in the water basically turns the water into a nutrient soup or broth.  This is where the real challenge happens in a filtration system in a water feature that is bio-active.  Another way to complicate filtration is have bigger chunks of stuff go through the pump and turn into tiny chunks.  Remember most pumps are very close to blenders in there design.  Over they course of a day they can really turn some stuff into a “nutrient daiquiri.”  This is why filter pots and pump baskets can be important can be important as pre filters.  That is they filter stuff out before it goes into the pump.  Not only do they protect the pump they slow down the blending of the organic stew.  A lot of skimmers designed for ponds not only provide skimming, but also serve as a pre filter for the pump and may house it as well.
  2. The selection of a filtering system depends upon several factors:


  1. What is you desired standard or quality of water (this translates in how clear or what size particle you want to remove.)
  2. What is the size of your pond (how many gallons?)
  3. How much debris or stuff is going is likely to go into to it.
  4. How often do you want to clean the filter.


To discuss this, the first two points (a, b) are pretty straight forward. You might have already determined the quality you want in your water feature and the size of your pond (gallons in the pond) is basically a math function. The third point is a little more subjective, but if you anticipate feeding a lot fish so they grow as really fast, or if there is a lot trees around the pond, or if you live in a warm area that has a really long growing season and a short or no winter, then you could say you anticipate a higher than average debris potential.

The forth point considering how often you want to clean you filter is probably equally hard to answer.  Most people do not want to clean anything, ever.  But with that said if you don’t mind cleaning a filter every week you might choose a more economical filter.  If you desire cleaning a filter as little as possible you might oversize you filter, choose a filter that is easy to clean, or in a pond even choose an up flow bog filter.


If you have a larger pond, and you want the water to be very clear, and you want to put a robust koi population in to it, and you want to seldom clean the filter, then you should shop for a very optimum filter system.


By the same token if you want a smaller pond and you don’t need very clear water then you can take advantage of a less stringent system.

Hopefully this helps you make decisions and it is not more confusing than it should be.  Thankfully our product lines include kits and recommendations that are already sized and rated for typical performances at specified size features.  When you have questions, we want you to ask.  Send us an email or give us a call.


  1. You can think of your filter system like you would a vacuum cleaner. The larger the bag on the vacuum cleaner, the longer you can go without dumping out the bag.  You could vacuum a whole house with a hand held mini vacuum if you wanted to but  ultimately you might find it aggravating to change the bag every ten minutes and quit.  Whenever possible it is better to upsize your filter system.  In the worse case scenario it would only mean less cleaning of the filtering component.


  1. It takes less consideration to have a sterile water feature (bio-inactive) than it takes to have a live water feature (bio-active.) When a water feature is sterile all we have to do is have a plan to kill almost every organism in the water.  Typically in swimming pools this is often done with chlorine, in some fountains it might also be done with copper based additives. In a swimming pool we add enough chlorine to kill all minor organisms but we lighten up enough on the dosage such the family dog  or swimmers do not have health problems.  This is relatively simple to do.  In fact chlorine not only kills organisms it actually oxidizes or burns their remains away. With a chlorinated system there is not much of a worry about the filter system clogging with algae growth.  The algae should be dead and dissolved.  On the other hand in a live water feature (sometimes called living water feature or living pond) we are trying encourage one type of life to flourish while trying to minimize or exclude other types of life.  We are trying to balance the life forms in the pond into a direction we find favorable.  Some people say, “I am not going to do anything to the pond, I am going to let Mother Nature balance the pond.”  No doubt Mother Nature will balance the pond, but to her discretion and definition of balance.  Not in every does this balance meet the owners aesthetical desire!  So when we talk of a live water feature, we are talking about a selective filtration system where we have to consider how to stack the cards such that Mother Nature leans in our favor.



Fin rot – bacterial disease; fins become cloudy then turn white, followed by filaments separating, becoming frayed, and then starts to disintegrate; progresses from tip toward the body; blood streaks may appear throughout the fins


Fish lice – free swimming circular parasite; semi-transparent or brownish in color; wounds are spherical and often inflamed and swollen


Fish Pond– is a live water feature that is a pond whose primary focus is enjoy and display fish. Fish are easily the most popular animal to culture in a pond.  A fish pond may or may not include plants, fountains or waterfalls & streams in its design.

A fish pond can contain different types of fish, most often the common goldfish, comets and fancy goldfish, shubunkins and koi.  Some ponds are a successful combination of a fish pond and a water garden.  However in general koi ponds do not have prized plant collections.  As exterior fish keeping grows as a hobby, undoubtedly different types of fish will be incorporated in to hobby.  For instance some owners may try trout, etc.  For success it is important to understand that each fish species has its own

Goldfish grow to an average length of 12” or less and typically live to 5 to 7 years.  They do not aggressively eat plants, but rather live harmoniously with plants in the pond.


Fitting – Describes those items that are used to join pipes together.


Flex PVC – flexible version of PVC (polyvinyl chloride); this pipe uses the same fittings as standard schedule 40 rigid PVC.


Floater– plant that lives and grows free floating on the surface of water, foliage may rise above, roots counter balance the foliage


Floating Islands – also call Island Planters.  These are components that are added to the pond to display plants.  Their values is that they can extend the planting palette to those plants that might like to have access to water but do not like having their roots submerged.  With floating islands you can not only add unique plants to the pond but you might also be able to stretch the plant display season with plant that are more cold hardy or have more cool weather interest.  Plant used in the floating islands can be annual, perennial or woody limited chiefly by the plants horticultural requirements and the owner’s creativity.  Floating Islands offer the advantage of providing additional predator shielding in fish ponds.  Equally Floating Islands can add more biological filtration to the pond.


Floating plants – are those plants which grow in water, but are not rooted in the substrate.  Many floating plants are banned as noxious weeds in some states.  Water Hyacinth and Water Lettuce are good examples of floating plants.”


Flocculent – treatment that causes suspended organics to clump, which then will sink to the pond bottom


Fountain – a water feature using water movement as its primary focus.  It may or may not support life.  It may be formal or informal in style.  Fountains can be interactive for play.  The term Fountain is used to describe jets in ponds as well as tiered statuary that is plumbed for water movement.


Friction Head – the pressure (in feet) required to overcome resistance caused by liquids traveling through pipes, fittings and other restrictive elements of a hydraulic system.  Pipes that are ribbed on the inside would have more friction head than a smooth pipe the same size.   A 90 degree (elbow) fitting would add more friction to water movement than two 45 degree fittings.  Friction head is calculated with the use of charts.


Fungus – organism that feeds by absorbing nutrient through its outer cells; some types will grow on fish, commonly appearing as cotton-like growth


Gallon– Unit measurement of volume, equal to 231 cubic inches, four quarts, 3.785 liters (US) 8.3 lbs weight (British 277.274 cubic inches, 4.546 liters)


Gallons of Water in a Pond – this term is used to properly design a pond and to maintain a pond. This number is needed to help determine how much water the filter system needs to push in order to turn the pond over.  This figure determines dosage of water treatment products which help to maintain good water quality.  Because many water features are irregular shapes and have irregular bottoms, it wise to do a complete fill up with water using a metering device to count the gallons.  A less accurate way to calculate gallons of water in a pond is to calculate the surface area of the pond in square feet and multiply that square footage by the average depth of the pond.  This will give you cubic feet.  Multiply the cubic footage by 7.5 to get total gallons (there is 7.48 gallon of water in 1 cubic feet of water.


Gallons (US) in a Cubic Foot -There are 7.48 gallons of water in a cubic foot.


Gate Valve – used for fully opened or closed operation. They are not used for regulating flow. (a.k.a.: Knife Valve)


GFCI -National electric code dictates that the GFCI protected electric receptacle for water features be between 5 and 20 feet from the water’s edge, and one foot above the existing grade.  Note:  All electric sources for water features should be GFCI protected!

Other regulations, codes and ordinances regarding water features differ from municipality to municipality.  It is important to be aware of the laws in your city and state.



Gills – fleshy, highly vascular organs comparable to lungs used in aquatic respiration


GPH – (Gallons per Hour) – is another measurement for how much water is being moved. GPH is typically used to describe the flow of smaller pumps.  One good thing about talking in terms of gallons per hour is that if your pond is 5000 gallons and you want to turn the pond over 1 time an hour for filtration, your will need a 5000 GPH pump.


GPM – (Gallons per Minute) – is one way to measure how much volume of water (in US gallons) is being moved every MINUTE. GPM is typically used on larger size pumps.  It is important to not get GPM confused with GPH (Gallons per HOUR) or you will have a systems that is 60 times faster or 1/60th as fast as you wanted!


Ground Water Runoff – this term is significant to water features as it describes the pattern of water that moves across the ground due to rain or irrigation.  This ground water run-off can carry fertilizers, pesticides; soil or other debris that can contaminate the pond and affect water chemistry (water quality.) For optimum water quality the water feature should be sited so that ground water does not get into the feature.  Those water features that require runoff as a means of make up water will require more careful filtration or a more forgiving standard of water quality.


Habitat– environment in which an organism exists (or not if you overload it)


Habitat Pond – is a live water feature.  It is a pond whose primary focus is the animal and plant species that visit it or live in it.  This style of pond can be created to further accommodate already existing wildlife or to attract species the owner might wish to bring to an area.  Again many ponds may fit into several categories.  A fish pond may add to the habitat of frogs and birds.  However, it is good to know that you can build a pond for the simple purpose of enjoy seeing and hearing wildlife.  For many people this is a very positive notion as opposed to being “owned by a pet.”  It has often been said that water is the number one attractant of birds into the landscape. The benefits of an appropriate habitat pond can be immediate.  For instance the mosquito is very adept at living in mans constructed environment.  The mosquito can reproduce and proliferate in water left 24 hours in a gutter, a toy, or just a rain puddle. Meanwhile, those mosquito predators we need to control the mosquito need a more permanent and dependable water habitat.  The dragonfly and the frog both can require two years in water to mature.  Equally adding more birds decreases the mosquito population.  So to a degree by having a proper habitat pond we can help rid ourselves of those pests that benefit from the decline of an ecosystem. As populations and developments continue to decrease our natural habitats and environments, helping fulfill the needs of wildlife is a worthy justification for a pond.


Hair algae– Moss algae note on the sides of the pond.  These type of algae are quick growing and is commonly seen growing along the sides of your pond and around the waterfall of your pond.


Hardiness -See Hardy


Hardy – Typically, refers to the ability of a plant to withstand winter cold, but it can refer to an organism’s ability to withstand other environmental extremes.


Hardness – quality of water mostly caused by amounts of Calcium and Magnesium


Head– The amount of pressure (in feet) a pump must work against during operation in a given hydraulic system.


Hose Clamps– Hose clamps are used to keep tubing attached firmly to the barbed side of a male insert.


Hybrid– plant derived from cross breeding two different species


Hydrogen Sulfide – Hydrogen sulfide is toxic to fish, especially in warmer water temperatures.  It forms when bacteria feed off decayed organic matter and is trapped under the sludge layer. Hydrogen sulfide emits a rotten egg odor, and gas bubbles may escape when the sludge is disturbed. These gas bubbles may also release carbon dioxide, methane, and other noxious gasses, lowering the level of oxygen present in the water.


KH (or the Carbonate Hardness, alkalinity) – is the measurement of carbonate and bi-carbonate ions in the pond water.  One way to think of KH is the ability to resist pH swings.  This is sometimes “buffering” the water. The ideal range for KH in a pond is between 7 and 13 ppm (parts per million).


Knife Valve – Is a valve use for opening or shutting flow through a pipe.  It has a blade like center piece that slides up and down sort of like a window.  It is weaker than a ball valve and may have trouble with the stress of being partially open. (a.k.a.: Gate Valve)


Koi – The original Japanese word koi simply means “carp,” including both the dull grey fish and the brightly colored varieties.  The average Koi can grow to 24 – 36 inches. It is not unusual for a small Koi to grow 2 – 4 inches a year in a backyard pond.  Certain factors will affect the growth of the fish, such as the size of the pond, the amount of aeration, and feeding methods.


Koi Pond – is a live water feature.  It is a fish pond, whose primary focus is koi.

Koi (Cyprinus carpio) are members of the Carp family.  They can grow to several feet in length, and typically live 50 to 60 years or longer.  They can be distinguished from goldfish by their barbels which look like whiskers.

It is commonly known that koi have hearty appetites for plants, and by their very size and rooting nature they can play havoc amongst the plant material in a pond.  For this reason, koi ponds typically have few or no plants in the pond-proper, although plants can be incorporated into the waterscape in many different ways.  When installing plants in the koi pond, it is important to protect the plants from the fish.

Koi ponds are typically deeper than water gardens.  The best depth for a koi pond is greater than 3’.  This allows for the koi to exercise freely both horizontally and vertically and for them to over winter in the pond.  Most serious koi keepers prefer bare liner or concrete or gunite ponds, as these fish can hurt themselves on in-pond rocks.

Predators are of great concern to koi keepers.  The same breeding that makes the koi so colorful and beautiful to people makes the fish bright targets for predators. Sheer walls reduce predator feeding, and are often preferred by koi keepers.  Also predator shields like submerged covers, floating island planters, nets, and koi habitats can foil predators.

Koi ponds are typically ‘all abut the koi’.  Part of the enjoyment of keeping koi is watching them respond to food, so koi are usually well fed.  By heavy feeding koi, more waste is released in the water, so more filtration is need to keep the water quality appropriate.  The pH, ammonia, nitrites, and to a lesser degree nitrates all need to be tested for regularly when having koi.   In addition to aerating the water through water movement it is also practical to have an aerator or air pump included in koi ponds equipment. Most people have a hard time “restricting” the number of koi they have in their pond and find large koi in robust numbers very attractive.  This tendency for koi to have a denser population translates into the thoughtfulness of incorporating a thorough filtering system. For these reasons koi ponds typically use more filtration than water gardens.    Since koi are bottom-feeders, they tend to root up settled materials (plant and fish waste, and other organic matter which has fallen into the pond) into suspension as well as dislodging rooted plants.

Koi do not have to be expensive nor do they have to be much trouble.  Because the fish can live reportedly up to 200 years of age and can grow to greater than 3 feet in length, koi often become very much “a part of the family.”  It is as easy for some people to become attached to a koi as it is for other people to become attached to a dog or cat.  For this reason koi keepers will often be very enthusiastic about their fish’s well being.

Koi are truly “jewels in the garden.”  Unlike a flower that may be in bloom for one week or season, the koi add color, movement and interest year round to the garden.  Anyone getting into pond keeping as a hobby should be aware that there is a trend for the hobbyist to start out just wanting to enjoy the effects of the water, then to grow their hobby into an eventual desire to add koi to their pond.  Many koi fanciers started out with their pond hobby declaring that they would never have any interest in fish only change their pond or build another pond later on.



Lacustrine– It means “of lakes”.


Lily-like aquatics – are plants that grow like water lilies but do not belong to the species ‘Nymphaea’.


Live Water Feature – a water feature which supports life (bio-active.)

“Lotus – are aquatic plants that belongs to the species ‘Nelumbo’.  It is an emergent plant.  It has submerged running rooted tubers, and leaves and flowers which stand above the pond’s surface.  Although it has a shorter bloom season than the water lily, lotus is a very popular and revered pond plant!

Lotus requires 6-8 hours of direct sun and regular fertilization for optimum bloom.

The lotus will benefit from pruning older leaves and annual or bi-annual repotting.  But be careful as the lotus tuber is famous for being fragile.  While appearing at the edge of a pond the lotus may look like it could be a terrestrial landscape plant, the magnificence of this plant keeps it unique in the landscape.  Make sure to drop some water on the lotus leaf to watch the droplets “dance.”  In ancient Egyptian culture the lotus was the symbol for rebirth.


Magnetic Drive Pump – pumps whose impeller is not connected directly to the motor. Instead the motor and impeller are each connected to magnets. As the motor spins its magnet, the other magnet spins which causes the impeller to turn.


Make Up Water – this is a term used to describe that water that has to be added to a water feature to keep the water feature full.  Every water feature is going to have water loss evaporation.  Even during the winter water is going to be absorbed by the air.  If you have a waterfall or jet you are going to accelerate this mixture of water into the air.  To keep the water feature at its best operating level, you add some “make up water.”  You can add the water manually or use an Automatic Fill Devices or those components that can detect when water is low and add water automatically.


Male Pipe Thread (MPT) – male pipe thread; connection type using male (outside) threads


Manifold Box – This is a box that helps distribute the water so it can spread out before it falls down a wall (water wall) or waterfall.


Marginal Plants– these are plants with roots fully immersed in water, and foliage at or above the surface. They do best in the shallow area of a pond.


Mechanical Filter (Mechanical Filtration) – is any object or machine whose function helps to collect debris usually for later removal. Mechanical filters are most commonly mats or pads, brushes, baskets, screens, and nets. In an up flow bog filter and in a vanishing water feature gravel can provide mechanical filtration.  Some people expect a mechanical filter to mean a man made machine but if a well placed bunch of limbs can catch a chunk of debris in the water for later removal then those limbs are providing mechanical filtration and are mechanical filters.  Mechanical filter devices can also serve to protect pumps from that debris which can cause clogging, overheating and pump failure. Pond skimmers are a kind of mechanical filter.  Bead filters are a type of mechanical filters.  Waterfall filter boxes provide mechanical filtration. Dip nets are mechanical filters!  Using maximum flow rates through filters will cause an increase in cleaning frequency.  Removing the debris at the proper mechanical filter also reduces the cleaning frequency of some bio-filters.  Pond skimmers are a kind of mechanical filter.  Some mechanical filters also provide biological filtration.



Nitrate – NO3 -form of nitrogen; product of nitrification by beneficial bacteria, less toxic than other forms of nitrogen, used by plants


Nitrification – the process by which ammonia is changed to nitrite, and nitrite to nitrate


Nitrite – NO2 – a form of nitrogen that is produced from ammonia during the nitrification process. Nitrite is extremely poisonous to fish.


Nitrogen Cycle – is the natural cycle that converts ammonia to nitrite to nitrate. This cycle plays a vital role in every live water feature.

Ammonia (NH3) is a waste product excreted by fish and also resulting from the breakdown of decaying material (Nutrients.)  It is toxic to many life forms and injurious to fish.  Beneficial bacteria break down solid waste from ammonia, and convert it to Nitrite (NO2), which is also toxic.  Other specialized bacteria convert nitrites to relatively harmless Nitrates (NO3), which are then used by the plants in the pond as food.

To put the nitrogen cycle into a landscape scenario we may be more familiar with check this out: We know that manure is sometimes used as fertilizer to stimulate plant growth, yet we also know that when a dog uses the bathroom on our grass it creates a dead spot rather than a flush of green.  What’s the difference?  The difference is that the manure we use for fertilizer has been aged or composted and has had the benefit of the Nitrogen Cycle: the beneficial bacteria have modified the ammonias and nitrites from forms of nitrogen that can burn plants into nitrates.  Nitrates are a form of nitrogen that plants can intake.  In a pond we want to use the Nitrogen Cycle in our filtering plans to help keep ammonia and nitrite from burning our fish.



Nocturnal– night time activity


Nutrients (Nutrients in the Pond, Pond Nutrients) – is usually referring to those compounds that develop from dead bugs, rotting leaves, fish waste, dead algae, pollen and anything organic that decays in the water.  These compounds basically form a food broth or Nutrient level that encourages algae growth.  Successful pond keepers encourage beneficial bacteria growth and favorable plant growth to out compete the algae for these nutrients.


Organic matter – is an overall term to refer to that matter in the pond that is a waste of a living organism, or a dead living organism or some dead part of an organism. Fish food is a source of organic matter, frog eggs can become organic matter, leaves can become organic matter etc.  As this matter begins to decay and becomes sludge like or dissolved or suspended in the water it is termed organic matter.


Oxygen – is the element that is essential to life. In the pond it is important because it allow for a larger population of aerobic bacteria, and because aquatic animals depend upon there being enough free oxygen in the water to survive. While oxygen is fount in almost all the molecules in a pond (H20, C02)


Parasite – an organism that lives by feeding off of other host organisms.  A relationship between species where the parasite benefits from the other species ‘host’


Pathogen – any organism that causes disease.  It is broad descriptive label for organisms that can cause disease including fungus, virus, protozoan, and bacteria.



pH – is the measurement of acidity in the pond.  It is also the measure of the hydrogen ion concentration of the water.

On the pH scale 7 is absolutely neutral.

A number that is higher than 7 indicate that the pH is more basic or alkaline.

A number that is lower than 7 indicate that the pH is more acidic.

The ideal range for pH in a pond is between 6.8 and 8.2.  High pH can stress fish, inhibit plant growth and curb the beneficial functions of bacteria and other microscopic organisms in the pond.  Algae have a much greater tolerance for high pH, and thus do well while others struggle.  The general biology of the water will typically add acidity to the water.  The use of cement in construction can affect pH if only temporarily.  Some water sources may originate with a higher or lower pH, so it is wise to know what the pH of your source water is.

The KH and pH values are very important water quality factors.  They are interdependent and greatly influence the performance and health of plants, fish, and other inhabitants in a pond.  When treating water chemistry in a pond, first address the KH (buffering capacity).  Carbonates will buffer or moderate pH so that it does not get too low or too high.  Adjusting pH is much more effective when carbonate hardness is optimal.

When there are excess nutrients and/or the pH is high, algae thrive.


Phosphate– a major plant nutrient readily absorbed. Can burn roots, promote algae if over done.


Phytofilter – is a type of biological filter composed of those plants which help remove excess nutrients – nitrates, phosphates and carbon from the pond through the activity of photosynthesis.

A phytofilter can also be defined as the bed or chamber designed to house filter plants for the pond. An up flow bog filter is a type of phytofilter.  It is natural filtration using plants; plants have a natural ability of removing nutrient and toxins.


Plant Origins – In order to protect native ecosystem it is important to understand the origins of the plants we use. The Federal Government has provided us with definitions as they relate to plants.  Here are three we as pond hobbyist we should know.  When enjoying alien species and invasive species we need to be most careful in there placement and removal.

  1. Native Species: With respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem.
  2. Alien Species: Any species that is not native to a particular ecosystem (non-native.)
  3. Invasive Species: With respect to a particular ecosystem, a species not native or alien to that ecosystem, and whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm, and/or does or is likely to cause harm to human health.

(In the pond industry, the word ‘invasive’ also is colloquially used to describe aggressive plants- those which tend to take over or take-off in the pond or its surrounds.)



Planting Shelves– are constructed levels beneath the water surface that afford different levels for aquatic plants to dwell, since different plants have different depth requirements.   Another advantage of the planting shelf is to give easy access into the pond for maintenance.  One problem with the shallow planting shelves is that they give raccoons and other critters easy access to the inhabitants in the pond. Planting shelves can be sculpted in the excavations dirt form prior to liner application.  Equally they can be constructed carefully above the water proofing.


Plants as Filters – The number one filters in the water garden are the plants- they are the most natural way to compete with algae in the water garden.

The best plants to compete with algae are:  Submerged aquatics and floating plants, because they take in the available nutrients directly into their leaves, and water lilies, because they shade the pond and reduce algae photosynthesis.  An overabundance of algae in the pond is a symptom of excess nutrients.


Pond Filtration System – the systems that work together to establish a desired water quality. Pond filtration systems typically use a combination of mechanical filtration, biological filtration and sometimes chemical filtration.


Pond Liner – typically refers to the flexible membrane that is the waterproofing basis for most ponds.  The introduction of these durable products was the great catalyst that enabled making a pond affordable to the greatest number of people.  Today’s popular pond liners are tough and are Ultra Violet resistant (meaning they do not have to have any kind of cover.  Make sure that the pond liner you use is rated “fish safe” as some dealer will pass off lower grade roofing material to unsuspecting owners).  The two pond liner types that are the most popular in today’s market are:  EPDM (a rubber like product) and Reinforced Multi Layered HDPE (a more plastic like fabric product.)  The nice thing about pond liners is that they take the shape of water shape you want your pond to be.  Basically dig a hole, add an underlayment, and lay the liner into the excavation.  It is sort of like making a bed but inverted. Some people like to walk across the bottom of the pond in their bare feet before they put the liner down.  That way if they feel something sharp they can address it before the put the liner down.   There are numerous creative ways to cover and decorate the liner once it is installed.


Pond less waterfall – See Vanishing Water Feature



Pot bound- See Root Bound


ppm – abbreviation, parts per million


Pre-filter – mechanical filter placed before the pump inlet; helps to minimize clogging of the pump


Pressurized filter – a filter that is completely enclosed; this allows the filter to act as an extension of the plumbing and so does not have to be placed at water level or at the head of the waterfall, can be located at any elevation


Pump – a pump is a mechanism or machine that is used to push a material through pipe, hose, or other channel.  In water features we are primarily referring to a water pumps, but air pumps are also used.  In fact during construction, some water feature contractors may even use a concrete pump. We bring this up because it illustrates the wide range of pump used in the world and the importance of understanding every pump is designed for a specific use.   As you read through this glossary, you will have more confidence in making a qualified decision from our quality pump selection.


Rhizome – (rhisome) – It is an in-ground plant stem from which roots and shoots form.  They are tree like stems that form under water or along the bottom of the pond, from which roots go down and leaves and buds float up as it develops.


Root bound – growing a plant in the same container too long forcing the roots to become tangled and grow in circles; roots must be carefully loosened when repotted.


Runoff – (See Ground Water) – water that flows over the ground and reaches a stream or pond as a result of rainfall; best to divert runoff so it does not go into the pond.


Salinity – amount of salt dissolved in a given volume of water.


Season the Pond – (a.k.a. Breaking in the Pond) this is termed used to prepare the new pond (and even the drained and scrubbed existing pond) pond before introducing life to the pond. With a new pond it is important to clean the pond and condition pond water before adding plants and fish.

These steps should be followed after cleaning: Fill pond, de-chlorinate the water, test and adjust the KH and pH, add plants and beneficial bacteria, and lastly add fish.  This process may take several days of testing and patience.  When adding fish to a newly cleaned pond or a new pond it is important to remember that there is probably minimal bacteria growth on the wall of the pond and in the filter.  These populations grow in response to nutrients available.  So if you start out with a large population of fish all at once in a pond, the beneficial bacteria may not be able to grow their population fast enough to do their job in the Nitrogen Cycle.  This will mean that your sudden increase in fish waste could result in a spike of ammonia and nitrites that could be harmful to the fish.  When possible it is always advised to more slowly ramp up your fish population so that the organism that help process there waste can respond with their own population increase.  Also until you are sure any system is working correctly it is prudent to give it a slower test drive.  It is not uncommon that the first fish placed in a pond succumb to being sucked up by pump that had a screen misplaced, or a pipe that came loose and drained the pond or any number of events that appear on a new system.  Because new water will be added to keep the water level constant in the pond, and because beneficial bacteria action uses up carbonates, test the KH and pH regularly.


Siphon– it is a tube between two different levels, drawing water from the higher level.


Skimmer – unit that skims debris off of the pond surface; functions as a mechanical pre-filter. These are usually installed outside the pond and house the pump.


Slime coat – is the mucus-like covering over fish that helps protect the fish from harmful organisms.  This coating can be enhance by the used of slime coat enhancing products.


Sludge – muck settling in the pond bottom or trapped in filters; made up of many organic debris including fish waste, partially decomposing plant material, etc.


Spawning – the reproductive process of female egg laying and male fertilization in fish


Specific Animal Ponds – this is a live water feature or pond established for a specific animal.  While most people quickly think of goldfish or koi has the cultured inhabitants of a living water feature, some people desire ponds for different animals.  In our experience we have worked with clients on trout ponds, duck ponds, catfish ponds, beaver pond, swan ponds,  turtle ponds,  and even a prawn pond just to name a few.  Just like a dog pen is not typically appropriate for housing a horse, every pond inhabitant has unique biological needs to keep it healthy, to keep it from being damaged and to keep the animal from damaging other stuff.  This translates into making sure the animal is thoroughly researched and the pond, surroundings and filter system are especially designed to accommodate that animal.  Remember that the biology desired determines the water feature design.


Static Head– it is the vertical distance (in feet) from the source of the supply (e.g. surface of the lower pond) and the high point in the system (e.g. the waterfall).


Sterile Water Feature– it is a water feature that does not support animal or plant life.  A Sterile Water Feature would be bio-inactive.

A swimming pool is almost always a sterile water feature (note that there is a small crossover called a “swimming pond.”  It is a water feature used for the purpose of human immersion and which restricts all forms of life except for human life. Often Fountains are Sterile Water Features when the owner uses chlorine or other agents to eradicate life forms.  Some owners will strive to convert a Live Water Feature into Sterile Water Feature by killing all bioactivity.  This motivation for this is typically a water feature experience aggravated by:  using inferior products, lack of information, inappropriate design, improper maintenance, and/or faulty construction.  Some owner will miss the benefits of having a Live Water Feature when there expectations were too rigid and there patience too low.  A Sterile Water Feature can be the ideal solution for some owners.  A Sterile Water Feature can have a naturalistic look.


Pond – a live water feature.  The dictionary defines a pond as a body of water smaller than a lake. A pond is a bio-active water feature



Stream – a horizontal flow of water often with the intent of having a natural aesthetic. Streams can have an assortment of rocks to run over and series of dropping shoals.  In construction great care needs to given to building streams with liner as there is lot of edges for the moving water to escape over.  Streams have to be positioned carefully to be scene in the landscape as they naturally are imbedded in the surrounding grade and it is easy for plants and banks to hide them from a distance.  Streams are a good source for oxygenating the ponds water and in a live water feature can be a good source for biological filtration.


Submerged aquatics – are plants that grow primarily below the water’s surface.  Most prefer to be rooted in the substrate, although not all.  A good example of a rooting submerged aquatic is Anacharis or Elodea.  A good example of a submerged aquatic which needs not to be rooted is Hornwort


Submersible Pump (or Submersible Water Pump) – is a term used to describe a water pump designed to be placed under water.  They have been called “submergible pumps.”  The submersible pump offers advantages and disadvantages.  The advantages of using a submersible pump is that by placing the pump in water you can easily hide the pump.  Plus, if the water feature basin is filled with water then the pump is primed.  Many of the skimmers used for water gardens are designed to provide a convenient place for the pump.  Submersible pumps may need some housing, grating, or mesh to pre-filter debris from getting into the pump.  While the submersible pump is convenient to install, it becomes a little more trouble to service. You cannot easily hear or see what is going on with a submersible pump while it is the water.  With large pump applications, the pump may have to be hoisted up and/or the pond may have to be drained just to check for clogs.  In most residential situations the owner will have to put his hands in the water to pull the pump up.  They may not be a problem for some homeowners but others will not like getting their hands wet. Submersible pumps can often be more expensive than external pumps because they have to be manufactured to be water tight.  While it is a good idea to use a GFCI for any electrical connection, a GFCI should always be used with always be used with submersible pump.



Total Head:  The sum of Static Head and Friction Head.


Transformer – device that converts electrical current. Typically these convert household 115volt electricity to 12volt for pond lighting


Tropical– frost free climate with high temperature and humidity typically 75°f to 90°f daily


Turn the Pond Over– (a.k.a. Turn the Water Over, Turn Over) – this is a term used to describe how often the total amount of water in the water feature is passed through the filter system.  A perfectly sized filter system will be of no benefit if the water does not pass through it often enough.  An example would be if a pond had 1000 gallons in the pond and the filter system pumped 1000 GPH (gallons per hour) then it “turns the pond over” once per hour.  If the pond’s filter system pumps 500 GPH then a pond with 1000 total gallons in it would “turnover” once every two hours.  For all filtering systems the more you turn the water over the more frequently you are cleaning the water.  The larger the pond more you have to pump to turn the water over quickly.  But thankfully a larger body of water maintains a steady quality easier than a small body of water.  So it is fair to say that the larger the pond the less you may need to turn it over.  If you can turn it over once an hour that is optimum for a small pond, as you approach a 10,000 pond once every two hours may be sufficient.  Most swimming pool codes require that the pools water is turned over once every four hours.  These are rules of thumbs.  Obviously the turn over of the pond depends on how intense the fish load is or how much waste is going into the pond.  If you have high ammonia level or high nitrite levels, the problem is usually that your filter size is inadequate or you are not turning the water over fast enough.

In nature turn over can also describe a natural occurrence that happens when the water temperature of the bottom of the pond becomes equal to the water temperature at the top of the pond.  When this occurs there is a natural lifting of bottom water and the water body “has turned over.”  This typically occurs while the weather is warming in the spring and when the weather is cooling in fall.


U.V. Lights (a.k.a. Ultraviolet lights, Ultraviolet lamps, UV lights, UV sterilizers) – are lights that can reduce green water algae (pea soup algae) in the pond and improve the water clarity.  U.V. lights could barely be considered filters, as they help resolve any of the nutrient overloads which caused the algae in the first place.  U.V. lights may be thought of a primarily a cosmetic fix on a ponds water condition.  U.V. lights do not help reduce hair or string algae only the algae that streams passed the bulb.

It is critical to follow the manufacturer’s specifications when choosing a U.V.  Know the number of gallons in the pond, and where you wish to place the U.V. The water must pass by the U.V. at the proper speed.  If the water streams too fast past the bulb, the Ultra Violet light will not sufficiently damage the algae. If the U.V. is not clearing the water the flow may need to be decreased or increased.  Unless the U.V. is carefully sized or provided in a kit with a pump it may be necessary to regulate the water going through the U.V. with a by pass pipe and valve. The quartz sleeve housing the bulb should be clean.

U.V. light should be regularly serviced.  Bulbs need to be replaced at regular intervals- follow the manufacturer’s specs


Underlayment – this a term used to describe a geo-textile or fabric that is specifically selected to protect the liner. Where ever the liner goes down, the underlayment goes down first. A good underlayment is thick enough to give the liner a little cushion but is strong enough to minimize the risk of sharp rocks puncturing the underside of the liner.  Some people also use the underlayment on top of the liner before that set rocks, or pour concrete.  An added advantage to a good underlayment is that it provides extra support for the liner for times when weight is placed on top of the liner.


Union – plumbing fitting used for disconnecting purposes, the fitting couples 2 sections of PVC together and then can be unthreaded to disconnect.  It is often used on external pond equipment to have the ability to remove without cutting the pipe.


Up Flow Bog Filter (aka up-flow bog filter) – This filter system is a very natural way to filter a pond. In a short description, an up flow bog filter is basically building a bog that is plumbed with a perforated network of pipes on the bottom.  This network is connected to a water pump.   Golf ball size gravel is added over this pipe.  The total depth of the gravel needs to be at least 1′. This larger size of gravel is used to keep the gravel bed porous. A decorative layer of smaller gravel can be added over the first gravel.  The bog is then planted with select emergent and marginal plants.  The size of this filter is large. Typically 15% (25% if you have a fish load) of the ponds surface.  The principle is that as the water flow from the pipe network in the bottom of the bog, the water is exposed to much surface area of gravel for biological and some mechanical filtration.  The plants planted in the top of the bog provide added filtration.  These plants metabolize the nutrients in the water into leaf surface. As your thin your plants, you are cleaning your pond!  We are typically cautious about recommending gravel in the pond as the voids can fill with debris and an anaerobic condition can develop.  But this difference with this system is that we are moving water and debris upward rather than letting it settle. As people are have success with the up flow bog filter, some people are using this type filtration in building swimming ponds.


Up Flow Filter – is a long use filter system where the water is pumped under a media that is in a box or chamber and as the water rises up through the media mechanical and/or biological filtration takes place.  Up flow filters are cleaned by removing the media and cleaning it.  Up flow filters are open filter system, so the water requires gravity to flow back into the pond.  The boxes used as water fall box filter are up flow filters.  Up flow bog filters is another popular form of this filter.


Vanishing Water Feature – it is a water feature that does not have an exposed basin of water.  It is often called “disappearing water feature” or “pond less water feature.”  The vanishing water feature can have a waterfall that flows in to a water proof basin that has a top cover of rocks.  Almost any desired element can be used to display water in a vanishing water feature.  Urns, statuary, spitters, jets, and spray nozzles are a few of the ways water is displayed with a vanishing water feature.  The vanishing water feature is good choice for people that want to enjoy the sound, sparkle and movement of water but do not want to maintain a pool or pond. Some of the advantages of a vanishing water feature are:

  1. Because the water basin is “underground” the water is shaded against sun light thus reducing unwanted floating algae growth.
  2. The rocks on top of the basin can act as a filter for the system, catching leaves and debris and separating them from the pump system. This can keep help minimizing the nutrient build which affects water quality.
  3. While the vanishing water is low maintenance it does not have to be sterile. The water display can still be a healthy benefit to attracting birds, butterflies, etc. Some aquatic plant material can be designed in with a vanishing water feature.
  4. Vanishing water features do not have to be small in scale. Some designers use the vanishing water feature concept for features that pump thousands of gallons per minute.

There are kits available that make installing a vanishing water feature very homeowner friendly.  When choosing a vanishing water feature the owner will separate out the opportunity for fish, many aquatic plants, and the aesthetics of a pool or pond of water.



Variegated – blotched, edged, or striped with yellow, white, or a cream color; as in Variegated Sweet flag


Velocity– it is the speed at which a liquid is moving.  Usually referred to in feet per second (FPS.)  Every pipe has a maximum velocity.


Venturi – type of valve used for aerating ponds; draws air into quickly flowing water, adding bubbles to pond.  It is a short tube with a constricted throat used for oxygenation.


Viviparous– plant reproduction, new plant forms attached to the parent plant


Volume– calculated by measuring length x width x depth =cubic feet x 7.5 US gallons. Circular pond: depth x square of the diameter x 5.88 gal (US)


Water Feature – a garden or landscape element with water.  It may or may not support life.


Water Garden – it is a live water feature that is a pond whose primary focus is the plants.  It may or may not include fish, fountains or waterfalls & streams in its design.  Planting shelves afford different levels for aquatic plants to dwell, since different plants have different depth requirements.   Water Gardens are often desired so owner can enjoy the remarkable beauty of water lilies, the lotus plant, papyrus, and iris just to name a few.

The best fish for the water garden are goldfish, golden orfs and smaller fish like gambusia and minnows, all of which are ‘top feeders’ and do not interfere with plant growth.  Koi and turtles can be damaging to a prized plant display.  Water Gardens typically are more shallow than a fish pond, so that the plants can be easily maintained and so that planters on the bottom have a better chance for sunlight.  Because the beauty of the plants are typically those parts that appear above water level, some water gardeners do not mind if there water is not perfectly clear.  This is different from many fish enthusiast who want aquarium clear water so they can see every fish.  Because the water garden typically has a minor fish population, and has a more robust plant population, the filter equipment required can be less than that of equal size koi pond.


Water Pressure – Water pressure is the force of the water available in a water supply system.


Water Quality – is a term that refers the state of impurities in water.  With pure or distilled water being the highest standard of removing impurities from water, this is a level that is not realistically sustainable in a water feature.  Thus appropriate water quality is determined by the owner’s desires and the water features biological and safety needs.  What might be appropriate water quality for one water feature would be a failure for another and visa versa.  Typically water quality would be the judged by its pH, KH, ammonia, nitrites, floating algae, clarity, chemical additive content (like chlorine), etc.  Even the odor of the water may be a factor in acceptable water quality.  Water quality is good if it is acceptable for that water’s use.  The most typical water quality scenario in a pond would be to be able to say: “The pond has excellent water quality because its ph is near 7, the KH is on track, there is 000parts per million oxygen in the water, the ammonia/nitrites/nitrates or in line, the water has good visibility and the fish are healthy.”


Watercourse – a horizontal flow of water.  It could be a stream, but may more often be used to describe a more formal or architectural looking aesthetic.


Waterfall – a steep descent of water, usually over rocks and naturalistic in style.  Waterfalls can be designed in conjunction with swimming pools, all types of ponds, fountains, sterile water features, and vanishing water features. Waterfalls can be a replication of a natural water fall or than can be an idealization of water.  By having different water patterns in a water fall, different sounds can be produced. In a live water feature waterfalls can enhance filtration by adding oxygen to the water.  In a sterile water feature waterfalls can tax the water feature because the aerating of the water encourages chlorine to escape as gas. Waterfalls are typically appreciated as icons for fresh, moving water.


Waterfall Box – is typically a box that is used to collect the water discharged from a pipe before the water is released over a waterfall.  A waterfall box may not have filtration, rather its value to release the water in wider discharge. See Manifold Box.


Waterfall Filter Box – is typically a combination manifold box and up flow filter.  This popular components  not only provides a way to “organize” the water from a pump before releasing it down a waterfall or a stream, but it also helps clean the water with filtration mats or some other filter media.


Waterfall Tank- see waterfall manifold


Water lily (a.k.a. Water Lily) – Water lilies belong to the species ‘Nymphaea’.  They are plants which have rooted rhizomes, typically 6 – 30” below the water’s surface (although water lilies can adapt to varying depths, a good average depth is 12” from the top of the pot or crown to the water surface).  They prefer quiet waters, and do NOT do well near waterfalls, fountain sprays or jets.  Their leaves and flowers grow from ‘tips’ or ‘crowns’ on the rhizome to float on the water, and in some cases the flowers rise slightly above the water.  The lily leaves or lily pads help to shade the water.  These plants have a long bloom season.

Most water lilies require 4-6 hours of direct sun and regular fertilization for optimum bloom.  Water lilies benefit from pruning of older leaves and annual or bi-annual repotting.  Water lilies can be hardy or annual. Like the lotus many gardeners justify a pond solely for enjoying these beautiful plants.  The French painter Monet was one of the first progenitors of this plant and his water lily collection and his water garden in general was the inspiration for many of his paintings.


Weir – technically a dam; the term is used to refer to the spillway of a waterfall or the opening on a pond skimmer.


Zone– distinctive habitat, part of water garden- deep water, water margin, bog

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