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How to Create a Small Backyard Pond

Learn how to build and maintain a small backyard pond. It took several years for the plants around the pond in this photo to mature.

Learn how to build and maintain a small backyard pond. It took several years for the plants around the pond in this photo to mature.

How to Plan a DIY Water Feature for Your 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.

Plan Ahead to Avoid Hassle Later

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

Following is a step-by-step guide to some of the things you need to think about and the materials that you will need to plan and build a beautiful small pond.

  1. Decide where to put the pond.
  2. Purchase pond liners.
  3. Dig the pond and install the pond liner.
  4. Consider aeration and filters for clean water.
  5. Choose and install the right plants for the pond.
  6. Consider fish and frogs in the pond.
  7. Keep the pond clean.
A variety of plants creates a natural setting for a pond.

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

1. Decide 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, ensure 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.

2. Purchase 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. 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 that, in my mind, makes 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.

3. Dig the Pond and Install the Pond Liner

  1. After you've dug the hole, remove all stones and protrusions to protect the liner.
  2. When you sunk the preformed pond, back-fill along the outside edges for support.
  3. Make sure to level the preformed pond and the area around it.
  4. 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.

4. Consider 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 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. Breezes aerate a very large pond. Ever notice the ripples that seem to move along a natural pond constantly? That is what you need to duplicate in your small pond by building a waterfall or installing a fountain.
  • A filtration system keeps the water clean and moving. Check the package information on the filter. You need a specific filter size depending on the volume of water in the pond. Biological filters are also available.
Large Pond Needs No Aeration - Natural Breeze Will Do It

Large Pond Needs No Aeration - Natural Breeze Will Do It



5. Choose and Install the Right 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 you built 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 into the water during the cold months. Tropical plants can be treated as annuals or brought inside and treated as 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.
Pond Plant - Umbrella Palm

Pond Plant - Umbrella Palm

Pond Plants - Papyrus

Pond Plants - Papyrus

6. Consider 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 3–3 1/2 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.

What Kinds of Fish?

There are many types of fish suitable for ponds, though some are better for small ponds than others.

  • Koi, while being gorgeous creatures, need a very 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!
  • Comets are bright orange, inexpensive fish. Their brilliant color adds a lovely element to the pond.
  • Shubunkin are multicolored, beautiful fish that can stand in as koi but are much cheaper and smaller.

Do I Need to Feed the Fish?

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

What About Frogs and Tadpoles?

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 bullfrogs are large, so they need lots of room.

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

7. Keep the Pond Clean

  • To avoid algae buildup, 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. Siphon 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!)

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.


Dolores Monet (author) from East Coast, United States on July 24, 2010:

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