There is a lot of debate in the pond world about the use of rock and gravel when constructing ponds. I am a huge fan of all types of ponds; big or small, rocks or no rocks, plants or no plants, formal, freeform or natural, waterfalls or calm reflecting pools; they all have a certain appeal to me. I am always amazed at how many different types of aesthetic appeal modern pond builders can come up with. Even the most basic simple presentation of a water feature, to me, has an appeal…if it’s done well (I’ve been equally amazed at some of the pond atrocities I see!). As a personal preference, I love the look of ponds and water features that bear the aesthetics of natural rocks and gravels; mix that with some aquatic plants and it is just so nice to my eyes.
It seems that some of the debate that happens around this design preference with ponds is based upon some misinterpretation or misunderstanding of how rock and gravel is used when integrated into a water feature. Over the years I have heard many arguments for and against the use of rockwork. I would like to address some of the more popular arguments against the use of rocks and gravel that I have heard; and I will give my response to these arguments.
“Rocks and gravel will make my pond dirty.”
– Rocks and gravel do not make a pond dirty, the pond owner and how they manage the pond make a pond dirty. If you place rocks and gravel into a body of water and just leave it alone, the rocks and gravel will not start to make the pond dirty. However, if a pond owner overfeeds, overstocks, mismanages, or neglects that pond with rocks and gravel it will indeed get dirty, as will a pond without rocks and gravel if treated the same way. Apart from a nice aesthetic appeal gravel can, in fact, enhance filtration and water quality in a pond if used correctly and maintained like any other form of filtration.
“Rocks and gravel will kill your fish.”
– Most rocks I’ve met are pretty passive and would not hurt a hair on the head of any fish the rock should encounter. If you drop a rock on your fish…yes, you can kill it; but is that the rocks fault? If you are using the right type of rocks, i.e. varieties that will not fluctuate pH levels, or degrade in water; then there is little worry about rocks killing fish beyond a human’s involvement.
“Rocks and gravel create toxic gases that foul the water.”
– On occasion I hear the claims of rocks and gravel creating conditions in a pond that allow the build up of noxious gases that can wipe out fish populations. The question is not if this is possible or not, because YES, it is possible. The question is more “why” would this happen? Is it actually that the rocks and gravel create these gases? No, they do not. This condition occurs usually on very neglected, mismanaged ponds and it is usually a direct cause of the actions of whoever is in charge of the pond. Most ponds can take a fair amount of abuse, but it can only go on so long before conditions become toxic, (just like in real life) and this condition must be traced back to how the pond is being managed, it should not be blamed upon the rocks and gravel. The smelly build up may emanate from the gravel but that is simply because the gravel has done its job of capturing the material that is fouling the water, the pond owner is to blame for not taking care of the maintenance responsibilities that come with being a pond keeper.
“Rocks and gravel cut up fish and give them wounds.”
-Another argument that has to be asked: is it possible that rocks and gravel cut and wound fish? Yes, it’s possible, but highly unlikely unless the pond owner has made the poor choice of using razor sharp, jagged, broken, abrasive, or otherwise dangerous types of rocks in their pond. Let’s just simply chalk this up to bad judgment on the pond keepers part, don’t blame the rocks and gravel, and don’t use materials in your pond that will harm your fish!
“Rocks and gravel will damage the pond liner.”
– Sure this is possible, but let me say as someone who has been building ponds with rocks and gravel (and without!) for 16+ years that the damage that rocks and gravel can do to liners is from human error or poor material choices. Don’t just use any old rock, think about what you’re doing and you will see that damage to pond liners from rocks and gravel pretty much does not happen. Today’s liners are pretty tough!
These are probably the most popular arguments against the use of rock and gravel as an aesthetic and design choice in your pond. Maybe you’ve heard or maybe you have a good argument against the use of rocks and gravel in ponds, let’s hear those too!
The design choice of using rock and gravel in ponds has been in practice for many years; I certainly did not come up with it. Without a doubt ponds that use rock and gravel will always have a more natural appearance than ponds that are presented more formally, or perhaps more of a “Deco-design” type of pond. Whatever your choice or style of pond aesthetic, simply choose to do it well and remember that the beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. Don’t blame the rocks.
All copyrights to this material belong to Mike Gannon.
Well said Gannon, well said…
gracias Sr. PondDigger, thanks for checking out the blog. Looking forward to seeing you!
But how do you clean the accumulated debris in a gravel bottomed pond?
Hello Vicki. The debris that has been filtered out by the gravel filtration should be cleaned once a year typically and is done by stirring up the gravel when the pond is drained and then the debris that gets freed can easily be pumped out.
Thank you Mike for re sharing this I totally agreed with all of it!
I would love to share this on my website, to help the Uk understand this. I am very much on my own at the momment.
Hey Mark, share this wherever you’d like! Spread the word with me!! Cheers, Mike
Hello Mike. I’m fine tuning my new pond right now. It’s 30″ deep and roughly 10 ft diameter with a waterfall. I’m a somewhat disabled woman and I want some stairs down into my pond for the maintenance.
What kind of rocks can I use for this that won’t deteriorate, be chemically unstable or injure fish?
Thanks for you sharing your knowledge,
Hello Alison! Thanks for reaching out. I am happy to hear you are still intending on getting into and enjoying your pond! I’d recommend using blue stone steppers/treads to use for entry and exit from pond. If you pond has the room for them they will not react with the water and they will provide a stable step to use. Good luck! -Mike
When building a pond, should one put gravel in between the flagstone edging to help hold them in place?
Hi Virginia. If using the gravel is offering additional stability to the structure then I would definitely use some gravel! -Mike