Weekend Project: Build Your Own Backyard Pond

A backyard pond and waterfall is something many of us dream about but will never have. We’ve all seen pictures of the beautiful ponds in others’ backyards but most of us think it’s very expensive and complicated. It is a bit of work but can be done in a weekend or a few days. Get a couple of friends to pitch in and you’ll be done in no time.

A ten foot by fifteen foot pond with liner, pump, gravel and so forth, will cost under $1,000 but for little more you can build it even bigger. That’s because once you’ve purchased the pump and other hardware it’s not much more to get a larger liner. The pump is really a must to prevent having to spend hours upon hours cleaning the pond yourself.

Make the shape you want with chalk or string. Use a shovel to outline the shape. Choose an area in your backyard where it’s level and chairs can be placed around it or where you can simply see it out of your patio window. Wherever you choose to place the pond be sure that water won’t run into it after rainfall, particularly if you use chemicals on your lawn. Another thing to consider is the trees in your yard. You don’t want to spend hours every week trying to scoop leaves out of your new water garden.

Make sure the local Planning Office doesn’t require your pond to be fenced in before proceeding. Also check with utility companies to make sure there are no buried lines. Attain any permits needed before building the pond.

Begin digging the hole to the measurements on which you’ve decided. The pond shouldn’t be very deep but should be at least two feet deep. As you dig the hole tamp the dirt down around the perimeter of the water garden to prevent rainwater from running into your pond. If you intend to have water plants shape the “shelves” on which the plants will sit, half-way submerged.

Place the pump as far away as possible from the water inlet if you’ll be putting in a waterfall or fountain. The pump will require an outdoor electrical outlet, installed by a professional, which is a GFCI-protected outlet. Lay the water circulation pipe on the ground. It goes from the pump to the waterfall. Dump the soil, after dug, on top of the pipe to prevent having to later dig a trench to bury it.

The liner should be an EPDM liner, made of synthetic rubber. The liner will adapt to most shapes and areas. Plastic liners are also acceptable but aren’t as flexible as rubber liners. The prefabricated liners are also an option but are difficult to work with and can break if not handled properly.

The liner should be about 45-mil, stamped “fish safe” (if you’ll have fish in your pond), and should be all one sheet. To get a general idea of how big you need the liner to be measure the largest width and the largest length of the hole. Now measure the depth of the pond, multiply it by three, and add this measurement onto the length as well as the width measurements.

It’s very important that you remove any rocks, sticks, tree roots and other things that could puncture the liner. It’s also important that the pond sit level. A board that stretches across the hole, with a level attached to it, makes it easier to level the pond correctly.

Line the entire hole with newspaper which will help prevent punctures while you’re laying out the liner, and will make it easier to scoot the liner around. Your other choice is to purchase under-liner materials that cost more.

Stretch the liner out in the hole but don’t worry immediately about wrinkles and such. Place rocks on one side of the liner to hold it in place. Go to the opposite side and begin pulling and straightening the liner. Now place rocks to hold that side in place. Continue going around the pond, adjusting the liner, and leaving rocks to hold it in place. When finished the entire perimeter of the pond should be covered in rocks. Set the pump container.

After filling the pond wait at least a week before placing plants and fish in it. Chemicals in tap water can kill fish and harm plants. Fill plant pots with rocks to keep them on the shelves. Or use wire to tie them to each other and anchor them down, into the soil. Use garden soil to fill the pots rather than potting soil.

If you live in a cold area and intend to leave fish in year-round it’s important to purchase a floating heater to keep the pond from freezing. Hardy, year-round plants can stay out all winter but tropical selections will have to be stored indoors until spring. Choose fish that can survive without much attention such as goldfish.

Get a mesh net, on a pole, to help scoop falling debris out of the pond, as regular maintenance. Fish leaves and such out daily to keep from having them sink to the bottom and decompose. You may also need a skimmer which is an automatic cleaning system that does the work for you. It simply requires you to empty the debris every week or so. The skimmer should be added when you first build the pond since adding it later means draining, digging and even readjusting the liner.

Adding lilies to the surface of your pond will help cut down on the amount of algae produced. Limit the amount of fish you put in the pond as well. Too many fish will cause more nutrients to be let into the water than what plants can consume, meaning more algae.

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