More people are using their backyards as an outdoor living space today. This area is considered as an extension of the house and is often viewed as an outdoor room.

One of the best ways to enhance your outdoor environment is to add a water feature.

Water is essential for life and people are naturally attracted to it. Water can transform an ordinary backyard into a serene oasis. Look beyond the visual aspects and you will find intangible benefits. The sound of gently flowing water brings about peace and tranquility. It reduces anxiety and refreshes your spirit.

A water feature does not have to be large to be interesting. The least expensive way to begin water gardening is to install a container or tub garden. This is actually a miniature pond containing fish and plants. It consists of a container, small submersible pump with nozzle, aquatic plants and fish. You will also need chlorine/chloramines remover. Depending on the type of container you use, a container garden can be made for as little as $25. A ceramic pot, lined whiskey half-barrel, cast iron kettle and watering trough make great containers and can easily be placed on a deck or patio.

Be sure to add chlorine/chloramines remover to the filled container before adding the fish and plants. Mosquito fish and goldfish are the best types of fish for containers and they are only 12 cents each at pet stores. A container garden does not breed mosquitoes because the fish eat mosquito larvae. Frog-bit, umbrella plant and lizardís tail are good aquatic plants for a container garden. Some colorful terrestrial plants such as Texas Star Hibiscus, Mexican petunias and cannas, can also be adapted to an aquatic environment.

Many people who enjoy a container water garden soon realize that bigger is better.

Although a container garden is a nice addition, the real gem of the backyard is a pond. A pond is much more than a great water feature; it is a complete ecosystem.

If done correctly, a pond will look very natural and will bring hours of pleasure and relaxation. Some ponds are very small and simple with a 100-gallon capacity; others are very large and have a several thousand-gallon capacity. They often consist of multiple waterfalls, streams, and bogs. The possibilities are almost endless.

Many people start out with a small beginner pond kit that costs about $100 and eventually progress to a larger and more sophisticated pond. A complete 6-feet by 8-feet by 2-feet pond with waterfall, stream, filters, plants and fish can be professionally installed for about $3,900. Installation is very labor-intensive. If you donít mind digging and moving stone, you can do it yourself and save big dollars.

Whether you hire a professional or do it yourself, there are many options you will need to consider that will affect the outcome. Do a little research and make an informed choice. Here are a few things you should consider:

Siting

Site your pond near a patio or deck where it is easily accessible and receives the maximum amount of sunlight. Avoid placement near trees that can drop their leaves into the water and foul the water. Many people think that a low spot in the yard is a good place for a pond; avoid this area because heavy rains will wash lawn chemicals and dirt into your pond.

Equipment

You will need a liner and an underlayment. The underlayment protects the liner from rocks and roots that may puncture the liner. Old carpet from your living room may be used as an underlayment or a geotextile fabric can be purchased. Although there are different types of liners such as concrete and plastic, the 45 mil EPDM liner is tough, flexible and very reliable. More advanced equipment may include a skimmer, bottom drain, ultra violet clarifier and an auto fill valve.

There are many choices of pumps available from external to submersible. Each has its own advantages and disadvantages. Select a pump that will circulate the entire volume of the pond in about an hour.

A mechanical and biological filter will keep your water sparkling clean. A mechanical filter strains the water and catches large debris while a biological filter cleans the water by converting ammonia into nitrates.

Maintenance

A balance of fish and plants will minimize maintenance. The most time-consuming task will be in the spring when the plants should be divided and fertilized. Routine maintenance generally consists of keeping the water at the correct level and checking the filters about once a month. Other than the removal of dead debris, the plants require little maintenance. If you are required to spend an excessive amount of time maintaining your pond, you probably have a design/construction problem or you have overstocked your pond with fish.

Miscellaneous

The most common regret is building a pond too small. You may think you are building a large pond, but once fish and plants are added, your pond will shrink considerably. Water lilies also prefer a larger area to grow.

Add a waterfall. It not only looks and sounds great, it aerates the water.

Donít install plant shelves. These make it easy for predators such as raccoons and great blue herons to catch a tasty meal consisting of your fish. Plant stands or cinder blocks can be used to raise marginal plants to the proper depth.

Talk to someone who has a successful pond before you start digging. Or better yet, join a pond society and you will have access to a wealth of information.

A pond is continually changing and evolving throughout the year. It is nature at work. This lends the opportunity to learn about the horticultural and zoological aspects of a pond. Aquatic plants are very easy to grow and there is a wide variety to choose from. Some are very unusual and exotic, but the most sought after aquatic plant is the water lily. There is a wide variety of colors to choose from.

If you build it, they will come. Creatures are also attracted to water. Your pond may be home to dragonfly larvae, amphibians, snails and other creatures. Koi and goldfish are the most popular fish and they will spawn in your pond.

Most people canít imagine the possibilities of a backyard pond. They need to see a pond in all its glory. The best place to see a wide variety of ponds, streams, waterfalls, and bogs is to attend the 16th annual Tour of Ponds by the North Texas Water Garden Society June 9-10. It consists of 42 ponds all across the Metroplex. Tour as many ponds as you want. You will get many great ideas and learn much about ponds. The pond owners are more than happy to answer any of your questions. Get details for the pond tour at www.ntwgs.org.

A water feature is a terrific addition to any backyard. Donít be discouraged from all the choices that are available. Do a little research and choose the options that are best for you. Your own backyard oasis is only a splash away.

Joe Copeland is president of the North Texas Water Garden Society.