I’ve always wanted a water feature in my yard. I imagine restful days, sitting on my deck, listening to the sound of water spilling from a small waterfall into a koi pond. Do you share my dream? Have you always wanted a water garden or pond? There’s no better time than now to add one to your garden. With some good planning and a little work, you could be enjoying that new water feature for years to come. Just follow these simple steps:

Small pond

Small or large, water features add beauty and interest to any landscape.

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

Fountain in pond

Adding a water fountain to your pond is a great way to bring “sound” into the garden.

Photo Credit: Donna W. Moramarco

St Louis Botanic Garden water garden

Public gardens are a great place to find design ideas for your own water features.

Photo Credit: Mark A. Miller

  1. Plan first! The style and size of the pond should fit your landscape. Don’t make a water feature too large or too small for your space. And don’t forget to write up a budget for your water garden. You can spend a lot – or a lot less. (Ask the aquatic specialist at your local garden center for help.)

    Consider what type of pond you want. Water gardens need sun for most aquatic plants to grow well. They’re generally shallow – only about 18-24 inches deep – and they can include goldfish. Fish/koi ponds, on the other hand, are usually larger in size and can be placed in shady locations. These are generally deeper, too, reaching 3 feet deep or more, to protect the fish during winter. (These ponds usually don’t have plants for the fish to eat.)

  2. Select a good spot. This goes back to the type of water feature you want to build – keep in mind those sun or shade requirements! (Remember, aquatic plants need sun to grow.) If you’re thinking of a shady spot, also keep in mind that trees add leaf litter and other debris to a pond, which means more cleaning.

    Don’t put your pond in a low-lying location, because it’ll flood more easily. Don’t dig out a pond in areas with underground utility lines either, but do make sure that your pond’s got access to water and electricity. And of course, if you’ve got kids around, be sure to plan for their safety. Children can drown in just a few inches of water! Finally, do put your pond where you can see it, hear it and – most of all – enjoy it!

  3. Choose your materials. Ponds generally fall into two categories: prefabricated or liner ponds.

    Prefabricated ponds are made of injection-molded plastic and can be formal (round or oval) or informal (kidney or free-form). Don’t forget that your pond’s depth becomes important when overwintering fish, especially koi. Some prefabs don’t offer the needed depth, so be sure to take this into consideration. Generally, prefabricated ponds are used in smaller areas where you want to add a water feature.

    Liners are sold by the square foot. If you want versatility, creativity and greater size, this is the way to go. Liner ponds can be as deep as you need to make them – 3 feet or more. Select a liner that’s a 45-mil rubber and specifically intended for ponds. When choosing your liner, remember that black liners make a pond look deeper and more natural. Your local aquatic specialist can help you determine how much liner you’ll need.

    When it comes to accessories that help keep your pond healthy, there’s one big rule: Buy the best you can. Fish ponds need a combination pump and filter to keep water clean and your fish healthy. (The pump and filter are so important, it’s good to buy a larger filter than needed.)

  4. Get ready to dig! The type of pond you choose determines how deep and level you need to excavate.

    For prefabricated ponds, place the plastic unit upside down on the ground where you want it and trace an outline of the shape. Then move the unit and begin digging. After the hole’s ready and even (use a level to make sure), set the prefabricated form in it. Then backfill around the edges with soil. (Check for levelness again – any areas that aren’t even need to be fixed before you add any water.)

    For prefabricated ponds, place the plastic unit upside down on the ground where you want it and trace an outline of the shape. Then move the unit and begin digging. After the hole’s ready and even (use a level to make sure), set the prefabricated form in it. Then backfill around the edges with soil. (Check for levelness again – any areas that aren’t even need to be fixed before you add any water.)

Before you put your liner in the ground, make sure you remove any rocks, sticks or other debris that might cause damage to it. Padding the hole with carpeting, newspapers or landscape fabric before installing the liner offers extra protection from tears and punctures. When you’re ready to install, place the liner in the center of the hole and unfold. (If necessary, fold or pleat the liner to make it fit.) Use bricks or rocks to hold the corners in place. Place the submersible pump in the deepest area of the pond, then start filling with water. Stand in the pond and smooth out any major creases or wrinkles as you go.

Let your pond settle for a day or two. Then trim off any excess liner, leaving at least a 12-inch flap. Dig a trench to bury the flap and backfill it with topsoil as you go. Create a slight lip (1-2 inches high) around the edge of the pond. Camouflage it with grass, rocks or boulders to create a natural edge for the pond. You’ll obviously need to do some work to maintain your pond’s health, but that’s pretty much it. A little planning, a little digging, a little water, and you’re set to enjoy all the wonders a water garden or fish pond can bring!