So, You Want to… Build a Pond

To turn your yard into a tranquil wonderland, learn this essential info. Then, just add water!

By Bob Vila | Updated Sep 7, 2018 12:04 PM

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How to Build a Pond in the Backyard


Water brings a touch of enchantment, transforming an ordinary landscape into something magical. Whether you yearn to gaze at a pool alive with colorful fish or long for the soothing gurgle of a fountain, you’ll find the addition of a garden pond to be an unparalleled pleasure. But putting one in involves more than digging a hole and filling it from the hose. Read on for a primer on everything from the process for how to build a pond and its maintenance musts to the finer points of pond décor. You’ll be all set to begin creating a relaxing retreat in your yard that you’re sure to enjoy for years to come.

Know the Rules
Contact your local building authority to see if you’ll need a permit to put in a pond. Some communities have put their local codes online, but if you need a permit, you’ll probably have to visit the local offices in person to obtain it. Garden ponds less than two feet deep may be exempt from local codes, but if you want to go deeper, swimming pools codes might apply. Also keep in mind that small children could easily drown in even a shallow pond, so you may be required to install additional fencing to keep inquisitive neighbor kids out.

Ordinances vary from community to community and, depending on the size of your pond, you may be subject to additional regulations. And if you have a homeowner’s association (HOA), you’ll probably have to apply to the council for permission.

You’ll also have to contact local utility companies to ensure that you won’t hit buried lines. Call Dig Safe (811) to request that utility representatives come out and mark the location of their lines so you don’t run into any problems when you dig. This is a free service and utility companies are happy to come out and mark their lines to avoid accidents.


How to Build a Pond


Learn About Liners
Garden ponds feature either flexible or rigid liners. Flexible liners form to whatever shape you like, and they’re relatively affordable, starting under $50 for an inexpensive 7’ x 10’ supple polyvinyl chloride (PVC) liner and running as much as $300 for a 15’ x 20’ heavy rubber liner.

Price increases with the thickness as well as the size of the liner—and thicker versions are desirable as they’re less likely to puncture. Thickness is measured in millimeters (mils) and will appear on the liner’s label. Standard flexible liners are anywhere from 12mils to 45mils thick. When assembling your materials, keep in mind that water garden companies typically carry thicker liners than DIY stores.

Puncture-resistant rigid liners made from molded fiberglass or rigid PVC come in preformed shapes, with prices ranging from under $50 for to a few hundred dollars for a larger model. Custom designed concrete ponds are also available for areas with little to no soil movement but are not recommended for high clay areas that cause soil movement, which can crack concrete. Concrete ponds are pretty pricey: A 5’ x 5’ model can run more than $650 for the basic shell construction alone and, since concrete ponds must be professionally installed, the cost will rise considerably.

How to Build a Pond


Consider Style and Landscape
Spend some time thinking about the vibe of your pond, and how you’ll incorporate it into your yard as a welcoming focal point. After all, the feel of a minimalist Zen water garden is quite different from that of a formal Italian pond with a lion’s head fountain in its center. Consider proportion as well: A too-small pond can get lost in a large landscape but one that’s too big is bound to overwhelm your yard. Beyond the pond itself, you’ll want to plan for a viewing/sitting area from which to best admire it.

Another factor in your plans for how to build a pond is the way in which you aim to bring your pond alive. Certain aquatic plants, such as lily pads, require sunshine, while fish need a little shade to ensure that the water doesn’t get too warm. If your yard doesn’t offer shade, you can provide it by adding a trellis along the pond, tall plants around the perimeter, and/or aquatic plants on the surface.

Factor in Pumps and Filters
You’ll probably want to install a water pump to circulate water and prevent stagnation. By keeping the water moving, you’ll discourage mosquitos from turning your pond into a breeding ground. Pumps can be worked into pond design and incorporated in fountains and waterfalls. And if you’ll be adding fish, you’ll want a filter to help keep water clean and control algae (see the maintenance section for more on dealing with the green stuff!). Filters and pumps can be added after the pond is in place and camouflaged with plants or rocks.

Understand the Construction Process
Having your pond professionally installed can add a few hundred to a few thousand dollars to the final cost, depending on the size and complexity of the project. But, you can save some money and add your own personal touch following these guidelines for how to build a pond.

Excavation is the first step, and while you can certainly dig the hole for a small pond with a standard shovel, consider renting a small excavation machine known as a skid steer from a construction rental store for around $100 to $150 per day. You’ll then cover the bottom of the hole with sand to smooth the surface and position the liner on top. Rigid liners require backfilling with sand around the outside edges to remove air voids. The next step is the placement of pumps, filters, or aquatic lighting, and then the addition of decorative edging around the top of the pond. Most pond equipment plugs into an exterior power outlet, and then the cords are camouflaged by landscaping. If an exterior outlet is not available, an electrician can install one for you.

A concrete pond is not a DIY job. It requires a contractor to excavate the hole, line it with steel reinforcing mesh and then, via a pressurized hose, applies gunite or “shotcrete,” which is blown onto the mesh to form a solid, uniform pond surface.


How to Build a Pond in Your Backyard—and Maintain It


Make Sure to Maintain
With garden ponds come algae, which can turn the water green, especially in spring when it “blooms.” Algae is a vital part of a balanced pond system but too much can lead to a murky, dank water. A good filter will go a long way toward keeping algae under control; it can also be removed by hand. (Grabbing and pulling the slimy strands and clumps is an icky chore—quality rubber gloves are advised!) Algaecide can be added as well, if desired, but if you have fish, be sure to choose a fish-safe variety and use only as directed.

Clean pond filters once a month, or more frequently if your pond is prone to heavy algae growth or if you have fish. A clogged filter can cause a pump motor to burn out.

If water doesn’t freeze where you live, you may be able to overwinter some types of fish and aquatic plants (check with an aquarium expert to make sure). Alternately, you can bring both fish and plants indoors and care for them in an aquarium during the cold season.

A thorough spring cleaning of the pond is usually sufficient for the entire year. Drain the pond and spray the sides and bottom with a water hose, scrubbing with a nylon brush if necessary to remove heavy algae deposits. Then check, clean, and service pumps and filters, according to manufacturer specifications, to make sure everything is in order for the coming season.