How to Plan for a Small Backyard Pond

Updated on August 1, 2017
Dolores Monet profile image

An avid gardener for over 40 years, Dolores has landscaped for private clients and maintained one client's small orchid collection.

It Took Several Years for the Plants Around the Pond to Mature

(photo by Dolores Monet)
(photo by Dolores Monet)

A Water Feature for the Garden

A pond provides an exciting addition to any garden, even a small one. The popularity of such a water feature means that the materials and equipment needed to build and maintain a pond are readily available in a wide variety of price ranges.

Water adds a soothing, relaxing element to a garden, attracting birds, and offering the wonderful sound of splashing water. Even the smallest pond can be fascinating for adults and children alike; and the environmental and biological benefits can be interesting and educational.

Before you decide to create a pond in your garden, you need to do a little research and planning. A pond is not something that is easy to move if, in a year or two, you do not like its location.

Following are some of the things you need to think about, and the materials that you will need to plan and build a beautiful small pond.

An Attractive Pond

A variety of plants creates a natural setting for a pond.
A variety of plants creates a natural setting for a pond. | Source

Where to Put the Pond

  • Ponds need partial sun and partial shade. A good rule of thumb is to create shade for half the pond. Too much sun encourages the growth of unsightly algae.
  • Do not dig a pond directly under a tree where you may damage the roots.
  • Most people advise against planting trees or shrubs near ponds because falling leaves can foul the water. But some shade allows for cleaner water. If you plant a small tree or shrub nearby for shade, make sure that its roots will not disturb the liner. In fall, cover the pond with some screening to catch falling leaves. Then, in spring, empty the pond to clean and clear debris.
  • Many residential areas require a permit to build a pond. Your local government may require that the yard be fenced. Check out local building codes and rules before you even begin to plan the pond. You don't want to be fined and you don't want the toddler next door to fall in.
  • In areas with cold winters, the pond should be dug to a depth of over 3 feet to overwinter fish and plants.

Pond Liners

Both hard and flexible pond liners are available for your pond. Decide which will work best for you.

  • A preformed, hard pond liner provides a shelf for plants and when you buy a preformed pond, you know exactly how the pond will look.
  • A flexible pond liner offers you the opportunity to be creative. There is less exact measuring and leveling and, in my mind, make it a lot easier to use. You can dig out the hole in a way that creates a shelf for plants, and you can create a more natural look.Many experts suggest that you use an underlying material.
  • After you've dug the hole, remove all stones and protrusions to protect the liner.
  • When you sunk the preformed pond, back-fill along the outside edges for support. Make sure to level the preformed pond and the area around it.
  • A flexible pond liner can be secured by wrapping the edges around flat rocks. Make sure you leave plenty of overlap when you cut the liner so that it does not slip down.


How to Install a Flexible Pond Liner

Tips to Keep a Pond Clean

  • To avoid algae build up, add plants for oxygenation. A few floating plants, like water lilies will also shade the water.
  • Add a block of barley straw to the pond. It is an inexpensive, natural way to fight algae. As the barely straw decays, it produces a chemical that inhibits the growth of algae. Most pond equipment dealers stock it - just make sure that you obtain the right amount or bale size for your pond. The dealer can tell you what you will need.
  • Do not overcrowd fish. The general rule is 1 linear foot of fish per 25 square feet of pond surface. The tail does not count. Too many fish will foul the water.
  • Prevent leaves from falling into the water. The decay of leaves produces harmful ammonia. You can just pick or skim them out.
  • Use a few buckets of pond water to water your garden or container plants. The plants will love it. Then add a few buckets of fresh water to the pond.
  • Clean the pond out in the spring. Syphon out the water. Use a net to capture the fish or tadpoles and store them in a large tub filled with the water you have taken out of your pond.
  • Clear the bottom of the pond of any plant debris and other gunk. Squirt and scrub down the liner. Do not use soap, detergent, or bleach as the chemicals will kill the fish upon their return.
  • Refill the pond and wait a day or two to replace the fish. Tap water contains chemicals that dissipate with time. (And we drink that stuff!)


Aeration and Filters for Clean Water

A pond should be its own mini environment. Create a balanced system for a clean pond and, after the plants are established,  you won't even have to feed the fish. The pond will provide nutrition.

Purchase a filter and pump in order to move the water. Aeration provides oxygen for fish and helps keep the water clean. This is done by moving the surface of the water. A very large pond is aerated by breezes. Ever notice the ripples that seems to constantly move along a natural pond? That is what you need to duplicate in your own small pond with by building a waterfall or installing a fountain.

A filtration system keep the water clean and moving. Check the package information on the filter. You need a specific size of filter depending on the volume of water in the pond. Biological filters are also available.

Large Pond Needs No Aeration - Natural Breeze Will Do It

(photo by Dolores Monet)
(photo by Dolores Monet)

Duckweed

(photo by Dolores Monet)
(photo by Dolores Monet)

Plants for the Pond

Plants will be part of your pond's mini ecosystem. Some plants float freely (like duckweed). Others can be sunk in pots to the bottom, while others prefer shallow water and can be set in pots on the shelves that you built in while digging the pond.

  • For balanced visual harmony, plant for both horizontal and vertical interest. Vary the textures of leaves and forms to create an attractive, natural look.
  • Plants provide nutrition and shelter for fish and frogs.
  • Shop around. Some pond plants can be quite expensive while others are more affordable. Prices vary too, depending on where you shop.
  • Check the plant tags carefully. Some plants can be overwintered or sunk down into the water during the cold months. Tropical plants can be treated as annuals or can be brought inside and treated like houseplants. Of course, if the plant needs to be in water, you will have to provide a basin or something to keep it wet. 
  • Make sure that the plant you buy is not an invasive species.

Royal Blue Pickeralweed

Source

Pond Plant - Umbrella Palm

Source

Pond Plants - Papyrus

Source

Fish and Frogs in the Pond

Not only are frogs and fish wonderful creatures to watch, but they are a valuable addition to your pond. Frogs and fish eat insects including mosquitoes and mosquito larvae.

Remember that the pond must be 3 - 31/2 feet deep to overwinter fish and frogs in areas with cold winters.

After your pond is filled and plants have been added, allow several days before you add fish or frogs.

There are many types of fish suitable for small ponds. Koi, while being gorgeous creatures, need a vary large pond. They are expensive too. Grown koi can cost up to $300.00! Imagine your $300.00 koi being scarfed up by a visiting heron!

Food -early on, you should feed your fish commercial fish food for outdoor pond fish. After the pond is established, fish will find their own food in the mini ecosystem.

Comets are bright orange, inexpensive fish. Their brilliant color add a lovely element to the pond.

Shubunkin are multicolored, beautiful, fish that can stand in as koi but are much cheaper and smaller.

Frogs eat insects and are fun to watch. Listen for the sound of frogs at twilight for a lovely, natural sound. I love the song of bullfrogs, that deep melodious sound, like a string being drawn across a bass fiddle - but bull frogs are large, so need lots of room.

In many areas, you don't need to run out and buy frogs or tadpoles for your pond. If you build it, they will come!

Shubunkin - An Inexpensive Alternative for Koi

(wikimedia commons)
(wikimedia commons)

Ponds Attract Wildlife

Be aware that your pond may attract other wildlife. Many people have become frustrated when herons decide to use your pond as a fast food lunch spot. Herons have learned to cruise suburban yards in search of easy pickin's. I'd love to see a heron in my yard and may be willing to sacrifice a comet or two.

Make sure that you have some rock protrusions or sink a wide pipe so that the fish can find shelter from predators like raccoons and cats.


Questions & Answers

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      • Dolores Monet profile imageAUTHOR

        Dolores Monet 

        8 years ago from East Coast, United States

        bd- there is nothing like sharing a bit of nature with your children - a great memory maker. Thanks!

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