Pond pointers

Greg Wittstock
Greg Wittstock

As the CEO of Chicago-based Aquascape and the face of Nat Geo Wild’s “Pond Stars,” Greg Wittstock offers his expertise on pond installations and maintenance.

Q:  Winter is here. Any tips for maintaining a pond in the frigid temperatures?
A: Have a hole open in the ice for carbon dioxide to be released and have a supplemental aeration system. If there’s a big fish in there, they’re going to need extra air. With bottom aeration or a waterfall, you add oxygen in and allow carbon dioxide to be released.

Q:  Should every pond have wildlife in it?
A: The No. 1 thing, and this is such a critical element, is to design ecosystems. A pond should be self-balancing. This is something that’s very rarely achieved because the vast majority of water features are improperly constructed. There are five elements that need to be in proper order, in proper balance for an ecosystem: 1). rocks and gravel, 2). plants, 3). fish, 4). mechanical and biological filtration, and 5). pump/plumbing.
If you have those five parts in the proper balance, you will have a low-maintenance ecosystem pond (see Web Extra). That’s how I built the world’s largest company in my space.

Q:  What are some of the most common mistakes you see in pond installations?
A: Think assembly line cookie-cutter when you think water features. They all should be built the same way. You should not deviate from your set methodology. Just follow the plan, Stan. When you do that you can have success. The way to make money is to do every pond with exactly the same construction methodology. Every setting is unique and every design is different, but the process to build it should never change.

Q:  Can you expand on that process?
A: Aquascape has a set methodology for construction of water features. This is polar opposite of the way most water features are built. Most water features are built differently every time. A landscape contractor wouldn’t dream of putting a patio down, planting a tree or putting in an irrigation system differently. But when it comes to ponds, they do all sorts of ways—whatever suits their fancy. Subsequently, they never get good at it. When I think ponds, when I think water features, I think cookie-cutter assembly line. It allows you to spend all of your time on the creative elements instead of trying to figure out how to do the install. That’s what we do. We teach a set methodology. For shooting “Pond Stars,” I travel all over the country to film an episode and I show up with the cameras in tow and we start building. I’ve built that pond thousands of times before because it’s the same pond with just different dimensions.

Think ‘cookie-cutter assembly line’ during pond installs, Wittstock says. Use a set methodology each time that adapts to different dimensions.
Think ‘cookie-cutter assembly line’ during pond installs, Wittstock says. Use a set methodology each time that adapts to different dimensions.

Q:  How do you determine the best location for a pond?
A: The No. 1 thing about designing a water feature is you want it up close and personal to the living space. Most consumers will ask you for the back corner of the yard. That’s not where you put it. Even outdoor-loving people spend 95 percent of their time in their houses. From the kitchen window, the view from your living room, the sound from your master bedroom, these are things to consider when you’re designing a pond.

Q:  What’s the most trying part of being in the pond industry?
A: People don’t know what they want. People think they know. The No. 1 rule is to not give a customer what they ask for, give them what they want. That comes through education. Not just educating the consumer, but for me to educate the contractor on how to do that. Fifty percent of the time somebody tells me how high their waterfall is, I tell them I have to make it half that size to make it look natural. What they really want is a natural waterfall. They don’t want a volcano, but they don’t know that. Follow the rule of not giving the customer what they ask for but give them what they want. That customer, what they really wanted was a 2-foot high waterfall in their flat backyard to be to scale with their property. When a customer asks you for something, what they’re really asking you for is your opinion. Do not give customers what they ask for. Give them what they want.

Q:  It sounds like you’ve bestowed that advice before.
A: About a gazillion times. This is my 34th year as a hobbyist and my 23rd year as a business owner.

Behind the scenes

Wittstock opens up about his professional image as The Pond Guy and landing a reality show on Nat Geo Wild.

Keep water features as close to the living space as possible.
Keep water features
as close to the living
space as possible.

Q: Is it true you trademarked your name The Pond Guy?
A: Yes, I did a long time ago. In 1996, I think.

Q: Was it always a goal of yours to have a reality show?
A: Everybody always would go, “Wow, you build ponds.” They would say, “You need a reality show.” We have our YouTube channel, Aquascape4. A producer out in Los Angeles was looking for aquatic plants for her pond. She stumbled across one of our plant videos and thought we were kind of interesting. That was three years ago. Today, here we are.

Q: You’ve been on YouTube for quite some time now. What’s the importance of videography to your business?
A: I started filming in 2008. The No. 1 thing that made it successful for us was we were consistent with it. Every Friday, I created a video and posted it on YouTube. We still do, to this day, our Friday videos. Now we have over 5 million views.

Q: What led to your interest in ponds?
A: I’ve got a lot of turtles. My wife calls me a turtle hoarder. That’s how I got into this business. I needed a home for my pet turtles when I was a 12-year-old kid. I took my hobby and turned it into the largest business in the world of its kind. My main business right now is to train, educate, teach and inspire. Most contractors don’t want to touch water features because they build them a hundred different ways. But water is the most critical element in any landscape. Water is the only form of landscaping that sells future work. People can sell a patio and be done. Do plants and be done. Do lighting and irrigation and be done. When you do a water feature, you need those other elements to support it. If a contractor masters what we teach them, the art of water features, then they create the need for future work.

Photos: National Geographic Channels

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Sarah Pfledderer

Former Associate Editor Sarah Pfledderer is a West Coast-based contributing editor for Landscape Management.

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