Imagine a backyard pond. The water ripples and irises sway in the wind. Sunshine sparkles on the surface and warms your shoulder. A frog leaps and takes refuge in a fully bloomed lily.
If the serenity of a backyard pond is calling you, then you’ve landed in the right place to make it a reality! In this article we cover all of the basic steps you’ll need to take to build your very own backyard pond. Plus you can get a free copy of our supply checklist here. You don’t have to be an expert water gardener to get started (although we know you can get there!). Follow the steps outlined below, and you’ll be well on your way to enjoying an outdoor oasis. And if you need any help along the way reach out to us. We're here to make this journey easier for you!
Small ponds have less physical space to care for, but they can actually be more work in terms of keeping the water healthy. Ecosystems in medium and large ponds can be more self-sustaining over time. Of course, the size you pursue could be dependent upon the amount of yard space you want to dedicate to the project, too.
There are two very distinct styles of ponds to choose between: contemporary or natural. Contemporary ponds are referred to as formal ponds and are usually geometric in shape (square or rectangle). They also tend to have a more man-made look and feel and are often lined with concrete or rubber liner. On the other hand, natural style ponds are made to look more like nature. The pond shapes are organic, lined with a rubber liner and perimeters are outlined with stone and rock.
A beautiful example of a natural pond built by our customer Nancy H.
Fish add a lot of fun and life to a pond. Understandably though they add more time and commitment. If you do decide you’d like to add fish the most common for backyard ponds are koi and goldfish, and if you want to take the path least taken add some golden orfe. (Of course larger ponds used for recreational fishing stock different types of fish, but we’ll write a separate post on stocking ponds and lakes in the future. Right now we’re talking backyard beauty.)
While we encourage owners of natural style ponds to have at least a few plants to keep the water healthy, some decide to take on aquatic plants as more of a hobby and passion. Decide if you want to stick with plants from more of a utilitarian standpoint to keep your water healthy or if you want to add a variety of plants for aesthetics and gardening enjoyment. Of course the more plants you have the more time you will need for caretaking. The great thing here is you can always start out basic and transition into adding more plants over time. At a minimum you will want to add basic submerged oxygenating plants and a few plants that will provide some shade. We recommend starting with anacharis, cabomba and/or foxtail varieties, and add lilies or floating hyacinths to shade the pond and protect fish from predators.
Pro Note: If you do have fish, plants also help with the nitrogen cycle in your pond. Fish waste is toxic ammonia, which later converts to nitrates which plants absorb as nutrients.
Now that you know what kind of pond you want to build, it’s time to choose your location. Think about areas of your yard that you can see from your house. It’s always lovely to see your pond from inside your home if that’s an option. Also, if you’d like to have a seating area around your pond, choose a location with room for extras like this and possibly additional landscaping, too. Most importantly don’t pick a low spot. It’s one of the top 3 mistakes to avoid when building a pond. Low spots in yards are where natural runoff water will collect and the introduction of this water can make it difficult to maintain healthy pond water.
Let’s start designing. We know our pond will be organic in shape, but you can have as many or few curves and dips as you like.
It’s also a good idea to plan for placement of your filter, pump, (skimmer and waterfall if you plan to add these), plants and any exterior decor like additional landscaping or seating. A simple sketch can be useful for this.
Once you have an idea of your shape (sketched out or in your head), grab a garden hose and head to your future pond’s location. You can use the garden hose to layout the perimeter of your pond and to play more with the shape and curves of the outline. Once you’ve created a look you like, use spray paint to paint your pond’s footprint or outline on the ground, spraying alongside the hose and perimeter you created. (Be mindful that you may get some paint on your garden hose. Be careful with your application, or choose a garden hose that you don’t mind getting paint on.)
Before digging call your local utility companies to locate any underground wires. It’s important to dig safely, and of course it’s the law to call before you dig. We also suggest calling your local city or county to inquire about any additional ordinances required in your area (often for requirements like fencing, etc.).
Create a checklist of materials needed to build a pond, and determine how you’ll get them. We would love to be your supplier. You can shop for many of your pond needs here on our website. Our professional pond techs are also available for any questions you have along the way. You can use our online chat, give us a call at (866) 819-7663 or send us a message here.
You’ve got your plan, you’ve made your calls, and you've gathered your materials. It’s time to put the shovel to the ground (or hire a contractor with a backhoe to make this job tenfolds easier). Dig at an angle to create gradual slopes and better wall stability in your pond. In the center you’ll want your pond depth to be at least 3 feet if you plan to have koi fish. Make sure to dig multiple levels to create plant and rock shelves—different plants require different depths. Make certain these shelves are leveled back slightly so plants and rocks aren’t prone to falling into the pond bottom. Some people choose to do shelves around the entire perimeter of the pond while others opt for notches. As you dig tamp in the dirt to pack it in. Save your dirt for later construction if you plan to build a waterfall.
Pro Tip: When you finish digging add a couple of inches of sand at the bottom of your pond for more cushion between the ground and your underlayment and liner.
We recommend dropping in a layer of underlayment before installing your liner. Cut it into manageable strips, as the underlayment is often purchased in large sheets. Layer edges generously over each other to make sure that no gaps are left. Then add your liner. When purchasing a liner, it’s important to take your pond depth into consideration and to plan for overhang around the pond itself. Our calculations for sizing a pond liner already take these considerations into effect, so it’s a great resource to use or reach out to us and we’ll be happy to walk you through it so you can get the size you need for your pond.
Let’s rock! You can approach rocking in many ways–there’s no exact science to it, so have fun and choose a style that you like. One approach you can take is to create rock walls from the bottom of your pond all the way to the top (going halfway up works, too). Choose rocks that look natural and try avoiding any with sharp edges. Stability and strength in your walls is key. Next, add your perimeter rock. Keep in mind this will be the most visible rock as most if it will not be submerged, so layout a look that you like.
Here’s a video from contractor Pete Gallo of Philadelphia Waterscapes that shows both lining a pond and one approach to rocking:
⚠️ It’s important to note that if you do plan to use a skimmer it will need to be installed during step 7 or 8 as it gets mounted to your liner before you add water. Skimmers are some of the most effective methods of removing leaves and surface debris from a pond. Also, since the pump is generally installed inside the skimmer, it provides a protected location for the pump—making removing and cleaning the pump that much easier. Pete Gallo reviews how to install a skimmer in the video below:
After you have your liner and any rock walls you plan to build in place you can begin to add water, but how much water will you need? Every cubic foot will need roughly 7.5 gallons of water. To calculate the cubic feet in your pond take [length x width x depth (must be taken in feet)] of your pond. So if you have a pond that’s 10’ x 10’ x 3’ you have 300 cubic feet to fill and if we multiply that by 7.5 (gallons needed per cubic foot) then we know we’ll need about 2,250 gallons of water to fill our pond.
Depending on how much water you need you can use your garden hose or you can arrange to have water trucked in. Just note that if you are on a well and plan to use your own water do so in increments so you don’t drain your well; that way you can avoid that dreaded orange water.
As you fill the pond with water keep an eye on your perimeter rocks, if they start to move as the weight of the water stretches your liner adjust them accordingly.
If you want to line the bottom of your pond with gravel you can do that now. Our pond tech, Joe, prefers to keep the bottom gravel-free, but he says there’s no right or wrong here–both approaches have pros and cons. If you’d like to see some dialogue on pros and cons check out this Facebook Post.
Once you’ve stacked your perimeter rock, you’ll have excess liner and underlayment left. You can cut some of the extra off but leave at least a foot around the top of the perimeter to bury and trench.
At a minimum you’ll need a pump to keep your water moving—you do not want it stagnant. If you’re adding fish, you’ll want to add a filter, too. You would have decided on the sizing and type of filter needed while considering the materials needed to build a pond. Now it’s time to set them up. If you need help with sizing or setup reach out to us anytime. You'll need tubing (kink-free/flex pvc) to act as a conduit from your pump to any filters or waterfalls you decide to setup. To finalize getting your pond fish ready add a conditioner/dechlorinator, and treat the pond with beneficial bacteria (for at least a week before adding your fish).
If you buy live koi online, use our suggestions for acclimating shipped koi to your pond. Never add them straight to your pond without taking acclimation steps. Most of the information provided will work for other fish types as well. When purchasing your fish make sure you are purchasing from a reputable vendor online or locally. We would recommend starting with a small number of ‘canary’ fish to see how well they do in your new pond before adding a lot.
Add your fish to your pond and continue to monitor your water and their health. You can use test kits to monitor KH, PH, Ammonia and Nitrate levels.
You can do so much with plants. Start with a few lilies and marginals for pond health and beauty. Marginals have the most aesthetic touch as they can border the pond, have the potential to grow tall, and often have colors & blooms. Our lead pond tech, Joe’s favorite marginal plants are Lizards Tail, Clover, Iris, and Horsetail. We’ll be developing a full guide to selecting and planting aquatic plants soon, so stay tuned for that.
Your pond is up and running, so now you can add flourishes. Spitters and sculptures are fun accessory additions. If you’d like to add seating you can keep it simple and pull out some lawn chairs or go all out and add a full patio, a pergola, canvas canopies, additional premier landscaping, you name it. Bridges are another nice addition. The options for decorating and making this a space you love are limitless.
The most important part of the entire journey is to enjoy your pond. You have arrived at that step—congratulations! Whether your ideal pond experience involves tranquil reading sessions by the pond, inviting friends over for a dinner party, continuous water gardening, all of the above or more; make sure you take the time to soak it all in. Ponding is a lifestyle, and it’s one you’ll be so happy you’ve adopted.
Throughout the life span of your pond you’ll need to work to maintain its health and beauty. If at any time along your journey you need help (building or maintaining) know we are just a phone call, web chat or email away. We would be honored to help you with any of your pond needs.
Article Posted: 02/01/2022 09:00:00 AM