How to Build a Pond in Your Yard in a Few Simple Steps

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After you’ve leveled your yard, building a small pond in your backyard is a great way to create a beautiful focal point on your property. But how to build a pond correctly? A small body of water will attract and support all kinds of interesting wildlife, in addition to being an ecological compliment to the rest of your yard and garden. This classic DIY project is not as difficult as it might appear, providing you don’t get too carried away!

1. Plan Ahead

The first step in how to build a pond is to sketch out a basic design on paper (see some cool examples at the bottom of this article). This should include all the features you desire, such as accommodations for certain types of fish or plants. Any fish you keep will make things a little more complicated, as the water will need good circulation and filtration. With this in mind, be sure your location will have convenient access to electricity to run any pumps or filters.

The pond should be partially shaded by trees to discourage the growth of algae, but these trees should not be so close that their leaves, limbs, and roots are a problem. Once you have decided on the ideal spot, be sure to get the proper digging permits if needed, and especially call your state’s utility location hotline before you ever stick a shovel in the ground.

2. Determine Size

Once you’ve found the perfect spot for your pond, take a long length of rope or garden hose and lay out the approximate shape on the ground. Keep in mind if you are hand digging, that if you keep large fish such as Koi, you need to go down to a depth of at least three feet. This depth should also keep the pond from freezing solid in the winter.

Since pool liners are priced by the square foot, it pays to do an accurate size calculation before you buy. Liners generally come in either EPDM rubber or PVC. The more costly rubber liners are usually recommended, as they are more durable than PVC, and not so susceptible to frost damage.

The standard way to determine liner size is to take the maximum length, width, and depth, with an extra added foot for anchoring, and then plug these numbers into the following formula:

Liner Size = [length+(2*depth+1)] * [(width+(2*depth+1)]

This will give you the exact size, but it’s a good idea to get one slightly larger than this to allow for expansion.

3. Dig This!

When you are ready to actually start building, mark the area to be excavated. Take your newly purchased liner, turn it upside down in the location. Then, mark around the edge with spray paint or chalk. If the overall size of your pond is fairly large (15’+) and/or the ground is rock-hard, you might need to enlist the services of a small Bobcat-type power excavator to at least rough it in. Regardless of what method you use, any future plantings around the perimeter will need a shelf of at least one foot wide and deep. If you’re going to use pond filters and/or skimmers, hand dig their appropriate accommodations at this time.

4. Liner Placement

After the excavation is complete, line the bottom of your pond with a good quality underlayment, to prevent future punctures to the lining. Now place the liner inside the pond, making sure there is at least 6″ of overlap at the edges. Begin to slowly fill the liner with water, smoothing out any large wrinkles or folds. Any large gaps between the liner and the ground should be filled in with sand at this time. There shouldn’t be any large gaps at the sides either, as this can shorten its lifespan. Given that the liner is quite flexible, allow about a week for the water to settle in and find it’s own level.

5. Finishing Touches

If you desire a pond waterfall or stream, find a good spot “upstream” for the tank and create the spillway into the pond. Be certain there is a proper outlet at the opposite end of the pond to handle this extra water. Any fish you keep will greatly benefit from the oxygenated water these features will provide.

You can simultaneously decorate and hide the pond liner edges by using a brick or stone border with the liner pulled up behind them so it’s slightly above the pond water level. You can hide this pulled-up liner by backfilling with dirt and small stones.

Pond Design Examples


Pro tip!

Safety Considerations

  • Backyard garden ponds may outwardly look peaceful and benign, but they can pose several safety risks. If you, or any neighbors have children, consider installing a gated fence around the pond, with the added feature of a safety net in the water to catch any wayward toddler that might fall in. Accidental drownings are a real concern, and can happen is less than 18″ of water.
  • Make certain all the border and edging stones around the pond are solid and secure. The best method to ensure this is to dig a trench all around the pond, and with the liner edge as a base, fill it in with concrete, followed by heavy finish stones on top. You can then rest assured that your pool liner and border isn’t going anywhere!
  • Water and electricity most definitely do not mix, so if you run any electric lines to power pumps, filters, lights, etc., make sure you or your contractor follow all the codes to the letter. The electrical sources near your pond should all use GFI (Ground Fault Interrupt) circuits for shock protection.
  • Often times, homeowners insurance policies will have specific terms regarding this type of construction. Check to see if there are any areas of concern you didn’t think of, to avoid any future liabilities.

Routine Maintenance

Check the water quality of your pond once a month, with a particular focus on chlorine levels if you intend to keep any fish. With proper filtration and the use of aquatic plants, most excess chemicals will go away naturally. Removing all dead growth from your border plants will keep the water from getting too brackish. With the right combination of rocks, fish, and plants, you can achieve a water garden that practically takes care of itself!

Enjoy Your Pond!

By being careful in the construction and follow-up maintenance, your backyard pond should give years of relaxing enjoyment, while also adding a beautiful enhancement to your property!


Jonathan E. Bass

Graduated from Middle Tennessee State University. I am currently a gardener. I have a small garden behind my house. I love it.

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