How to Build a Reflecting Pond
HOW TO DESIGN AND BUILD A POND
Most people will agree that water has a calming effect on the senses. Whether it's a reflecting pool or has a trickling waterfall, there is something very soothing and meditative about relaxing by a pond--especially when it's yours! Kick back after a long day and let your cares drift away. But before that, there's some hard work ahead!
The focus here will be on a simple reflecting pond, meaning a pond without waterfalls, pumps, or electricity. This is the easiest pond for beginners, and adds a beautiful feature that you can enjoy year round and build on later when you've mastered the basics.
(You can add a waterfall and pump system later). Did I mention that building a pond increases your property value as well? Win-win!
There are a few steps to building a reflecting pond:
- Developing a plan
- Preparing the site
- Measuring to find liner area
- Buying supplies
- Installing underlayment
- Installing a flexible liner
- Filling the pond
- Finishing the edges
- Adding finishing touches
Though it may seem complicated or overwhelming at first, each step is easy to accomplish. I'll outline each step below.
Have you ever made a pond before?
STEP 1: DEVELOPING A PLAN
This is perhaps the most important step of all. Here you decide where you want your pond, what shape it should be, and how large.
Don't aim too large or have delusions of grandeur here. It's important that you remain realistic, because once you start digging, a small pond can feel much larger. And yes, I happen to know this from personal experience!
So how do you choose where to put your reflecting pond?
- One way is to see where water pools naturally in your yard. This method creates a more "natural" shape that's defined by your landscape
- Another way is just to pick a nice area where a pond would look good and make it whatever shape you want
- Keep in mind that trees overhead are lovely, but when autumn hits, the maintenance is a daily chore
- I have tucked them away in the forest, and also put them out in the open. Each has its own unique attraction, and I can't say that I enjoy one over the other (but you might be different!)
STEP 2: PREPARING THE SITE
Once you've chosen your site, it's time to prepare it for your pond.
If you've chosen to go for the more "natural" look, you can wait until it rains and outline a naturally-pooled area of the yard with stakes or sticks (this is the method I used above). Then before the next step, make sure to let the water recede and that the ground is dry.
The other route is to make whatever shape you want; again, I recommend using stakes of some kind. Some people recommend using a garden hose for this outlining process, but I've found that these can be easily moved and neighborhood dogs can sometimes wreak a little havoc with your plans!
Even if it's a small pond, once you start digging you may want to stop midway through digging the outline, and stakes will be there the next day guaranteed.
Once you've outlined the pond area with stakes, start digging around the perimeter. This will allow you to better envision the pond and remove the stakes for easier access.
STEP 3: DIGGING THE POND
This is by far the most difficult part physically and mentally.
Depending on the type of soil in your yard, this may take a couple hours to a full day. In my case, this was pure red clay, and very, very heavy. It took most of the day; here's hoping you have sand!
I used a straight shovel (as seen in the 'preparing the site' photo above), but you should use whatever works for your situation.
Basically, you want to dig as far down as you want the pond to be deep. The underlayment and liner will not add much thickness, but they will potentially add 1/4".
For this reflecting pond, I chose multiple depths to add some interest. One problem I came across was that I found lots of thick tree roots and rocks. If there are rocks, definitely remove them; I used a sturdy metal rake.
But if you find any large tree roots, leave them! You can dig out a space under the roots so that they're level with the bottom, and then stake them down with metal garden stakes. Ponds are great, but don't kill your trees in the process.
STEP 4: LEVELING THE POND
Oh, yes, it's important!
I found this out with the pond I built in these example photos. I leveled out the bottom, but not the sides. This created some havoc later on when I filled the pond with water! I'd say it added another few hours of work.
So here I just recommend that you make sure all the water will stay in and not run out a low spot in the wall once you fill it. Plan to fill the water up to the very top, or edge.
If it's a large pond, you can use a long dowel rod or other straight implement to determine the angle. Put the rod across, place your level on it, and adjust. Make sure you check the level in multiple directions: as in longways and short ways and every way you can think of.
There is something very deflating when you fill your beautiful dream pond up with water, and it turns into the source of a river instead!
STEP 5: MEASURING TO FIND LINER AREA
Okay, so now we get to the fun stuff!
You will need to measure your pond somewhat accurately and find its area. This will allow you to determine the size of underlayment and liner needed.
Too big is better than too small, so round your numbers up once you've calculated your liner's area. Yes, more personal experience talking here! It's a terrible feeling to be so close, but have half a foot missing from one side. Just round up to be on the safe side and save yourself a headache later on.
Follow this simple calculation to find your liner area:
- Liner Length = pond length + (2x pond depth) + 2 feet
- Liner Width = pond width + (2x pond depth) + 2 feet
- Liner Area = liner length x liner width
STEP 6: BUYING SUPPLIES
Now that you've figured out the area of your pond, you know what size liners to buy (10x20; 20x30, etc). Remember to buy larger than your estimate just to be on the safe side.
The first thing you'll need to purchase is underlayment (also called underliner). There is a good web site (the Pondliners link above) where you can start to explore and see what's out there. Any underlayment is going to be fine.
The next step involves some decision-making, though. You have to pick one of two main types of flexible liner. I will briefly go into the pluses and minuses here:
- EPDM Liner: made of synthetic rubber; little or no maintenance; does not crack or get brittle over time; does not contain toxic plastics that leach into the water, ground, or groundwater; very flexible and resilient; non-toxic to fish and wildlife. More expensive than PVC liners.
- PVC Liner: made of PVC plastic (vinyl); requires more maintenance; very flexible, but easily punctured; contains toxic plastics that leach into the water, ground, and ground water; not safe for fish or wildlife. Cheaper than EPDM liners.
- Money-Saving Option: use pieces of old rug instead of buying a more expensive underlayment. The purpose of the underlayment is to prevent sharp objects from penetrating the liner. Used rug scraps are usually free and are easy to find at any Materials Recovery Center in your area.
Liners can be purchased at stores like Home Depot or Menard's, but they generally only stock PVC liners. Quality EPDM liners can easily be purchased online.
STEP 7: INSTALLING THE UNDERLAYMENT
This step is pretty easy. All you need to do is unroll the underlayment and lay it in strips across the pond. Longways is easiest.
Make sure there is some overlap of the different strips, and that there is excess (2-3 feet) around the edges of the pond. This will be trimmed-back later after the water has been added.
Make sure to get rid of any bumps as best you can, as these will translate into bumps at the bottom of your pond.
Sometimes, depending on the type of underlayment you're using, moistening it with some water will allow it to lie down flatter. That's all there is to it!
STEP 8: INSTALLING THE FLEXIBLE LINER
This is as easy as installing the underlayment.
Follow the same steps, making sure to leave 2-3 feet of excess around the edges.
Since this is thicker, it will be harder to conform to the shape of the pond.
In the next step this will be sorted out, so don't worry too much about getting it perfect. I spent a lot of time trying to get it perfect until I realized that it was really a pointless venture!
STEP 9: FILLING THE POND
Wow! You've now made it to the fun part!
Though it still looks tattered and kind of frumpy, this is exciting! Your pond is becoming real, and soon you can start enjoying your new water feature.
Here are some tips that I learned the hard way the first time I made a pond: Trickle the water slowly out of a hose into the pond.
As it fills, walk around inside the pond making sure that the liner conforms evenly and smoothly to the bottom and sides. If done incorrectly, you will end up with a bumpy pond, which through my experience can look a little odd!
- Water is amazingly heavy, so go slowly and take your time. Get this right the first time and you will be able to enjoy your new water feature as soon as it's filled up
Grab a chair, take a seat, and relax--there is a new pond in your garden!
STEP 10: FINISHING THE EDGES
You can do lots of things with the edges of your new pond.
For a more natural look, go with natural rocks and stones, as in the picture at the very top of the page ("my first pond").
For a more "clean" look, you can buy paving stones and all manner of flat stones from your local shop. I bought these at Home Depot, but I suggest you definitely shop around before throwing your money down. These rocks can be expensive, and prices can vary dramatically from store to store.
The cheapest solution is of course to find your own rocks, as I did with my first pond, and haul them yourself. You can contact construction companies and ask them if you can have all the rocks they dig up. If that's a dead end, try contacting a local quarry.
Before placing the stones, make sure you thoroughly clean each one, top and bottom. Otherwise, the next time it rains, you will end up with a mud pit, which of course is a hassle to clean up.
So, how do you lay the stones once you've got them? Place a stone near the edge of the pond, or slightly overlapping the edge if that's possible. Remember, you will want to stand on these stones for maintenance, so make sure they won't fall in when you step on them!
When you have a stone in place, lift the outside edge and trim the excess liner material underneath. Make sure not to cut all of the excess liner, or the liner will slide into the pond! Leave at least 3 inches of liner under each stone. Replace the stone.
Do this for each stone until you've edged the entire pond. With natural stones, corners are easy--you can just pile rocks up until it forms a perfect "round."
With flat stones like those pictured above, put the main stones in place first. Then you can go back and break a few pieces to fill in the choppy corners. Wear eye and hand protection when breaking rocks! This is pretty much trial and error, so if you have the ability to actually "cut" rock, do that. However, I did it by hand, and found that after a few tries I got to "know" how to break the rock to get what I wanted.
STEP 11: FINISHING TOUCHES
To make your pond fit in with its surroundings, consider adding moss between and/or on the stones.
An easy way to spread moss over large areas is to grind some moss up and "spray" it all over the stones. This will eventually begin spreading.
You can also add floating lotuses and other floating ornaments if you like. I've found that the floating ornaments drift with the wind, adding to the soothing effect of the water. These can be found at your local garden store or online, and are fairly inexpensive.
Add plants around the edge to give cohesion to your garden space. You can also put plants directly into the pond. Make sure they are in pond containers, like the containers you see for fish tank plants. This will keep the soil inside and give the roots access to the water.
STEP 12: MAINTAINING YOUR POND
After a while, maybe even a couple days, you'll notice that leaves, grass, pollen, or cottonwood tree fluff have entered your beautiful pond and scuzzed-up the surface of the water. The ideal tool is to buy a long-handled (preferably one that can extend and be retracted) pond net. These can generally be bought at your local do-it-yourself store. Pretty much anyone who sells pond stuff should have them. Skim the water when it starts getting bad.
Mosquitoes can be a huge problem during the summer months. There is a very cheap and easy solution to this. You can purchase "mosquito dunks" online or at the local do-it-yourself store. How do they work? They change the pH level of the water, are natural, and are safe for pets and wildlife. There are also safe, natural products for getting rid of algae, usually found in the pond area of your local stores. Look them up online!
In addition to as-you-go maintenance, each spring you will need to thoroughly clean the bottom of the pond of leaves and gunk. You can use the pond skimmer, or alternatively, empty the entire pond using a siphon, or a wet-vac if you have one.
Never use soap, as animals may become ill after drinking the water. You will find that birds, cats, and dogs love drinking from your pond, so remember to keep this in mind.
CONGRATULATIONS! ENJOY YOUR NEW POND!