How to Build a Pond In Your Yard

  • 01 of 13

    Wouldn't You Like a Beautiful Garden Pond In Your Yard? Here's How.

    Building Your Own Garden Pond
    Building Your Own Garden Pond. © Lee Wallender

    Amateur pond-building is, technically, quite easy.  With just a handful of tools and a few building materials, you dig a hole in the ground and fill it with water.

    Done!  Right?

    What is hard is the sheer amount of heavy work:  digging, lifting, prying, cutting.  If you're not hefting big shovels of dirt, you're carrying retaining wall block around.  Then there's all that sod that needs to be chopped out and transplanted.  Roots in the ground?  Saw them off or cut them with a pick axe.

    You'll need to pick a dry time of year for this--spring or summer.  Work at times of the day when you have the most energy.  Wear only the worst of your work clothes--this is very dirty work.

    Estimate that it will take a couple of months from the moment your shovel first contacts earth to the moment you turn on the hose to fill the pond.

    Cost is mainly determined by the most expensive item of all--the pond liner.  But unless you are able to find natural stone to "rock" your pond walls, you will need to purchase this from a quarry or masonry supply yard.

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  • 02 of 13

    Lay Out Pond Boundary

    Lay Out Pond Boundary
    Lay Out Pond Boundary. © Lee Wallender

    The classic way to mark pond boundaries is with a garden hose.  Hose works better than rope because it naturally lays down in wide curves.

    If this is a hose that you value, you can sprinkle flour over the hose.  After removing the hose, the shape will be retained by the flour "shadow."

    If this is an old hose that you don't care about, you can start digging next to the hose, as shown in the next step.

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  • 03 of 13

    Dig Out Pond Border

    Dig Out Pond Border
    Dig Out Pond Border. © Lee Wallender

    Start by digging out the pond border.  Make shovel-width cuts in the grass or dirt. 

    For grass sod, it helps to use a spade.  This tool allows you to make narrower cuts in the grass.  Slide the spade under the segmented turf to remove it.

    With the border established, you can now remove the hose.

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  • 04 of 13

    Dig Out Center of Pond

    Dig Out Center of Pond
    Dig Out Center of Pond. © Lee Wallender

    Now, the truly back-breaking work begins.

    Dig out the center area of the pond.  First, remove all dirt within your border, but dig no deeper than the border.

    Next, dig down to the lowest point in your pond, wherever that may be located laterally.  This helps you establish a base-line for your pond's depth.  You know that no other part of the pond bottom can go lower than this.

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  • 05 of 13

    Shore Up Pond Walls With Retaining Wall Block

    Shore Up Pond Walls With Retaining Wall Block
    Shore Up Pond Walls With Retaining Wall Block. © Lee Wallender

    If your soil is especially sandy or loose, you may have to shore up the walls with retaining wall block.

    These blocks essentially do what the earth cannot do:  retain shape.

    If your soil is firm, you do not have to use retaining wall blocks.

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  • 06 of 13

    Create Graduated Pond Levels

    Create Graduated Pond Levels
    Create Graduated Pond Levels. © Lee Wallender

    As you progress downward, create "stair steps" of graduated levels, each level no more than about 8-10 inches high.

    This is a key part to the process because if you build walls that are too high, you have more work to do later on when you "rock" the walls.  You will have to build massively wide mounds of rock so that you can reach these heights.

    But by keeping your levels short, you can vertically span the distance with one or two rocks.

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  • 07 of 13

    Shoot Pond Level With Laser Level

    Shoot Pond Level With Laser Level
    Shoot Pond Level With Laser Level. © Lee Wallender

    Your laser level is your best friend when building a pond.  You should continually shoot the level, so that all pond walls are the same height.  

    Keep this in mind at all times:

    Your pond is only as high as its lowest point,

    In other words, if your walls are 3' all the way around, except for one spot where it dips down to 2'8", you cannot fill your pond above 2'8".  

    Yes, this sounds obvious, but it's an obvious point that escapes many pond builders.

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  • 08 of 13

    Lay Ground Hardware If You Have Burrowing Pests

    Lay Ground Hardware If You Have Burrowing Pests
    Lay Ground Hardware If You Have Burrowing Pests. © Lee Wallender

    Do you have burrowing animals, such as ground hogs or moles?  You can bet that they will eventually find your pond and burrow upwards, piercing your expensive liner and wreaking havoc on your nice little sanctuary.

    To ward against this, purchase rolls of ground hardware cloth (1/4" screen) and lay it out all the way across the pond bottom.  Then spread about 2" to 3" of dirt over the ground hardware.

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  • 09 of 13

    Use Rope To Estimate Liner Size

    Use Rope To Estimate Liner Size
    Use Rope To Estimate Liner Size. © Lee Wallender

    Does the chicken come before the egg?  And does the pond size come before the liner or liner before size?

    Theoretically, you should be able to first create your pond layout with complete abandon, and next purchase a pond liner to accommodate that size.

    In reality, liners are very expensive, and you may want to size your pond according to how much you are willing to pay for a liner.

    One way to keep yourself in continual check during your dig is to cut off a length of rope as long as your liner's longest size.  Lay this rope through the hole, going down one side, across the pond bottom, and then up the other size.  The rope should extend about 2' beyond the pond edge, as well.

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  • 10 of 13

    Install Pond Underlayment

    Install Pond Underlayment
    Install Pond Underlayment. © Lee Wallender

    Before installing the liner, you will need to lay down an underlayment.  The underlayment will protect the liner from roots, rocks, and other objects that may damage the liner.

    You can use old carpeting or you may purchase a specialty underlayment from a pond supply store.

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  • 11 of 13

    Install Pond Liner

    Install Pond Liner
    Install Pond Liner. © Lee Wallender

    Educate yourself on the best pond liners in this linked article.

    With a friend, roll out the liner across the pond bottom.  Then, unfold it so that it drapes over the sides of the pond.

    Be patient with this step as you slowly and painstakingly press the liner down onto the pond bottom, creating pleats.

    While the bottom may have a few pleats, all of your sides will be pleated.

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  • 12 of 13

    Rock the Pond Walls

    Rock the Pond Walls
    Rock the Pond Walls. © Lee Wallender

    Using natural rocks, begin to "rock" the pond bottom and walls.

    Start with large and medium sized rocks, building up the sides until no pond liner is visible.  During this stage, it will become immediately apparent why you earlier kept your graduated levels low.

    After the walls are entirely covered, use small stones or smooth river pebbles to cover the bottom of the pond bottom.

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  • 13 of 13

    Fill The Pond With Water

    Filling Pond
    Filling Pond. © Lee Wallender

    Fill your pond from a garden hose.  It will take several hours to fill the pond to its maximum level.

    After a few days, the water will become green and cloudy.  This is called algae bloom.  After about two weeks, the water will clear up.