The Life of a Pond: Sun vs. Shade

Posted by Bill Hoffman on Aug 23rd 2021

The Life of a Pond: Sun vs. Shade

Everyone has their own opinion about whether a pond can be built in the sun or should it be built it the shade. Here are a few facts that may help you determine where exactly to put your pond.


Sun Benefits:

  • Arguably the most common reason to build your water garden in the sun is for the vast choice of water plants that provide a wide array of colorful blooms. For example, most water lilies prefer 5 to 6 hours of sunlight in order to offer up the iconic and timeless beauty of their flowers.
  • With its exotic looks and stately growth habits, a lotus will grace you with its beauty when grown in full sun. These perennial pond plants require a good 3 months of 75° weather or warmer to thrive.
  • Pond fish actually need vitamin D just like we do. Sunlight provides fish and plants with essential nutrients that will enhance colors and keep them healthier.
  • Whereas we prefer to keep the pH of our ponds closer to neutral, there is a range where your pond fish will do well as long as it’s stable (between 6.8 - 8.6). Koi fish will actually grow much faster in warmer water (around 76°F) with a slightly higher pH (around 8.5). **Please be aware that a koi may triple in size in a single year based on its food source and water quality.

Sun Negatives:

  • Everyone’s biggest concern of course is the algae growth. On occasion, sunlight will photosynthesize plants and cause algae blooms (green water); or cause string algae growth on the waterfall and rocks before the pond plants have come out of dormancy. But, having proper filtration and water circulation will help alleviate algae issues.
  • What many people do not realize is the affect that water temperatures have on the quality of the pond. A pond in full sunlight can increase water temperatures which can cause it to hold less dissolved oxygen and cause pH swings, which inadvertently can cause trace amounts of ammonia to become 10x more toxic.
  • You will need more plants and surface area coverage (40-60%) on the pond when it is in full sun. This will help shade the water and may keep it cooler. Although, too much plant coverage (> 75%) can have adverse effects and make the water warmer. We call it a “greenhouse effect.”
  • More aeration will be needed to keep dissolved oxygen levels in the water. The warmer the water, the more demand there is for oxygen. Waste breaks down faster and uses more oxygen. Fish metabolism speeds up and more oxygen is needed for digestion. Just a couple of examples.


Shade Benefits:

  • A pond built in the shade has the added benefit of being hidden from the predators in the sky. Trees cover the reflection of the water that lure in those pesky heron, hawks, and owls.
  • A shaded pond will definitely stay cooler than a pond in full sun. Not to say that the hottest days of summer won’t affect the water temps. It is still important to keep good aeration in the pond throughout the year.
  • Less algae growth is strictly related to less sunlight available for photosynthesis. Algae can still get out of control without adequate filtration, circulation of the water, and the proper additives for good water quality.
  • With less sunlight penetrating the water, less coverage with plant life in needed on the surface. I would still recommend at least 40% as the plants help filter the nutrients out of the water that algae will thrive on. Besides that, your pond fish will feel more secure to swim about freely in the pond.

Shade Negatives:

  • One of the biggest concerns for building a pond in the shade is the sticks and leaves that fall into the pond from trees above. Decaying leaves in a pond can become toxic to fish and change water quality in drastic ways.
  • The matter of roots may make it difficult to dig deep enough to put your water garden in the ground, without damaging trees in the process. But if you are successful at placing your pond there, keep an eye out for roots in search of a water source. They are capable of growing over the liner, through skimmer seals, and even pry open hose fittings if they detect even the slightest possibilities of water presence.
  • There are many water loving plants that will tolerate growing in the shade. However, not many of them will bloom or provide color options for your pond. You may want to turn to texture of leaves for variety instead.
  • Vitamins and nutrients that fish and pond plants get from the sun keep colors vibrant and beautiful. A shaded pond can cause your fish colors to fade and become drab over time.

Being armed with this knowledge should help you decide which location is better for you to set up your water garden. No matter where you put it, be sure that it’s somewhere you will be able to enjoy it to it’s fullest.

Hoffman’s Water X Scapes has everything you will need to build your pond where you choose. Stop in and see us, or order your pond supplies online.