Backyard pond ideas come in all shapes and sizes. A succesful pond can transform a garden adding color, light, and movement. From natural, wildlife-attracting spaces to statement pieces, a pond is also a vital part of many planting themes, such as feng shui gardens. In smaller gardens a pond can create a sense of space, making the area feel larger.
In this article we’ll take you through various backyard pond ideas, explaining how to create and maintain your ideal water feature.
Decisions to Make Before you Begin
If you are unsure what type of pond will best suit your space do some research before you begin. You don’t have to commit to just one idea. Taking lots of different backyard pond ideas from a variety of sources can help you to create a unique water feature. Recording any backyard pond ideas, such as plants you like, in a garden journal can help to organise your thoughts.
Whatever type of pond you decide on, before you begin construction, you’ll need to site it.
Siting Your Pond
Getting the position of your pond right at the start is vital. You can’t change it later on. Consider how it will integrate into your planting schemes. Being able to plant along at least one side of the pond will help it blend into the garden. A poorly sited pond also requires more maintenance.
Choose a location that is open and sunny but not too windy. Don’t choose a shady spot, or somewhere close to deciduous trees. There should also be no underground obstacles such as cables or pipes running through your chosen site. If you are planning on installing a fountain or pump remember you will need to plug it in. Make sure you can easily run a cable to your pond.
Use a garden planner to work out how your pond will sit in your garden. Alternatively marking it out with some rope will allow you to check how it looks from various aspects. Keep making adjustments until you’re satisfied.
What Size Pond?
The larger the pond the easier it is to maintain. A pond with a surface area of roughly 5m² (7x8ft) is large enough to be self-sustaining. Smaller ponds will require regular maintenance and won’t be able to hold fish. They can however make great wildlife ponds.
A minimum depth of around 60cm will be sufficient for non-ornamental fish. This depth also helps to prevent rapid water temperature changes that can unduly stress fish. While 60cm may not seem very deep, in colder areas where ponds can freeze over, it’ll provide a safe haven for fish.
A depth of 60cm is ideal for most pond plants. However some plants, such as the white water lily like a deeper planting depth.
Constructing a shallow area or shelving into your pond will create different water levels, allowing you to plant a greater range of plants. Shallow, or sloping, areas are help wildlife to enjoy your backyard pond. Tadpoles in particular spend a lot of time in shallow areas.
Lining Your Pond
There are two types of backyard pond liner; flexible and rigid.
Rigid liners are made from either fibreglass or rigid plastic. Either material is quite durable, lasting around 15 years.
Flexible liners are available in PVC, butyl runner, polythene, and LDPE. Polythene liners are cheap but are easily punctured and only last for a couple of years. PVC and butyl are more durable, butyl lining will last up to 20 years.
How Much Flexible Liner do I need?
The following formulae will help you to work out how much liner you need:
2 x maximum depth of pond + maximum length of pond = length of liner required
2 x maximum depth of pond + maximum width of pond = width of liner required
How to dig a Pond
Before you begin digging mark out the outline of your backyard pond. Then carefully dig up the turf. Don’t dig this initial level too deeply. The turf can be used later on for edging.
Carry on digging out your pond to your chosen depth. If your pond seems to have steep cliffs, try sloping the edges. Alternatively dig steps into the sides, creating shelving for planting.
Once you are happy with the depth and shape of your pond check that it is level. Water can run out of uneven ponds, exposing areas of bare liner. If your pond has different levels each area should be level.
Remove pebbles, stones, and anything else with a sharp end from the pond to prevent puncturing the pond liner. If the ground is particularly rocky your pond may struggle to hold its shape. Cementing the pond before lining it can solve this issue.
If your garden is close to the water table, or just in wet or boggy ground, this can also be a problem. Water building up in the pond before you have placed the liner can cause a pressure build up, forcing the liner to lift.
The easiest way to combat this is to raise the edges of the pond slightly. This means that the liner is sitting just above the water level. You can also construct a channel to funnel water out of the area below the pond.
Lining Your Pond
Whether you’re using a flexible or rigid liner you’ll first need to underlay a level of old carpet or sand, about 5cm. This will protect the liner.
Ideally on a dry, warm day lay the liner loosely in the prepared hole. Weigh the sides down with stones.
Slowly fill the pond with water. As it fills, gently tug the edges of the liner, removing any creases. The liner should lie flat.
Stop filling when the water is about 2 inches from the rim of the pond.
Let the pond settle for 24 hours before trimming the liner. Leave a 6in overlap of liner all around the pond.
Installing a Rigid Liner
Stand the rigid liner on the sand and check that it is level. When you are happy, wedge pieces of wood around the sides to hold the liner firmly in place.
As you slowly fill the pond, fill in the holes around the sides of the pond. Stamp the infil down, or use a piece of wood to ram it in. Make sure there are no air-pockets beneath the pond. Keep checking that the pond is still level.
Once you are happy with the level of the pond and it is full, allow the water to settle for 24 hours before edging.
Edging Your Pond
You’ll have seen when researching backyard pond ideas that edging improves the appearance of your pond. It also helps to hold the liner in place. .
A formal pond will require formal, uniform edging such as paving slabs bedded on mortar. These will trapp the edge of the liner underneath. Letting the slabs slightly overhang the pond creates a really effective look.
Informal ponds can be edged with turf, different sized bricks, pebbles or cobbles. You can use one or a mix of materials. Using different sized materials also allows you to follow the curve of the pond better.
For a natural look, edge the pond with the turf. You can also edge with pebbles and rocks. This allows you to create natural flower beds around the pond and is ideal for a wildlife pond. If you’re edging with turf, you won’t be able to treat your grass with chemicals in case clippings fall into the water.
Many backyard pond ideas don’t involve digging. Raised ponds can be just as effective in gardens, particularly formal spaces and soft planting schemes. You can also use them to form the front wall of a rockery or raised bed. Raised backyard ponds are safer if young children are around. They are also easier for disabled gardeners to access.
The easiest way to construct a raised pond is to build a solid frame to support a pre-formed or rigid liner. Old farm troughs and stock tubs, especially rusted galvanized metal ones can look great in a garden. You can even go wild and upcycle an old bath.
Brick, stonework or old railway sleepers can all make sturdy frames. Choose a material that will blend into your garden. Once your frame is constructed simply place the liner or water-tight container inside. You can then fill it with water and, after the water has settled for 24 hours, plants it up. Help wildlife enter and exit the pond by creating a ladder with bricks or well positioned planters.
Most backyard pond ideas involve planting. The majority of pond plants are low maintenance and easy to grow. Choosing a range of plants not only enhances your summer planting scheme but provides interest throughout the year.
For a vibrant, self sustaining pond you’ll need a mix of floating, submerged, and marginal plants.
Floating plants, such as water lilies will provide shade and hiding places for young fish. They also prevent algae.
Submerged plants such as water hawthorn and arrowgrass, help to oxygenate the water and absorb excess nutrients. This keeps your pond healthy. You’ll need about 10 submerged plants per square meter of surface area.
Growing in shallow waters around the edge of your pond, marginals such as golden club like to spread. Most will cover up to 20 inches so you’ll need to spread them out.
Planting your pond in the spring allows plants time to establish themselves. However you can also plant in the summer.
Use aquatic baskets with lattice-worked sides and aquatic compost. Don’t use normal compost. This will flood nutrients into your pond turning it green.
After planting the baskets, cover the surface with an inch of washed gravel. This deters the fish from disturbing the compost. Plunge each basket into a bucket of pond water. When air bubbles stop appearing the pot is ready to be placed in the pond.
Fish and Wildlife
Wait a month after planting before adding fish. This gives your plants time to settle.
The best time to place the fish in the pond is in the early evening. To release them, carefully float the bag on the water. Allowing the bag to float for about an hour allows the water temperature in the bag to slowly cool to that of the pond.
When the water has cooled, open the bag and allow in a little pond water. After about 10 minutes fully open the bag releasing the fish.
How Many Fish?
To prevent overcrowding allow no more than 10 inches of fish for each square meter of surface area. For example in a pond with a surface area of 5m², add no more than 10 12cm long fish.
Many backyard pond ideas involve attracting wildlife. This happens naturally. Within a few weeks you will find pond skaters, dragonflies, water boat men, and maybe even frogs and toads. This is particularly useful is you want a natural way of keeping slugs away from your plants.
To speed things up, scoop a bucket of sediment out of an established pond and pour it in. In the spring many wildlife centers and conservation organizations also make frogspawn available.
A backyard pond is a great way to introduce wildlife to your garden. They can also be used as statement pieces, enhancing and complementing planting schemes or creating a stunning focal point.
With a little imagination and hard work you’ll find that even the most complicated backyard pond ideas are achievable and transferable to your space.