Make a garden pond

Step one: find the Right Location

  • pond05The area should get plenty of sunlight.
  • The area should have some shade during part of the day.
  • Avoid the 'shaded' north side of hedges.
  • Vegetation and bushes can overhang the area but avoid overhanging trees (too much leaf fall).
  • For safety a pond at the rear of a garden can be fenced off.

For the garden in the picture above the pond was dug out towards the rear of the garden beyond the tree. South is to the right in this picture so the area gets plenty of sunlight during the day with shade in the early morning and late afternoon. Too close to the house and the pond would only be sunlit in the late morning.

Step 2: Digging out

  • Create an irregular shape.
  • Make sure the liner you have will cover the pond.
  • Use (X + 2Z) by (Y + 2Z). X = maximum length, Y = maximum width, Z = maximum depth.
  • Store the grass turfs to one side.
  • The soil from the dig can be built up in suitable margins (the two corners by the hedge in this picture). This also saves on costs of getting rid of the soil dug from the pond area.
  • With logs and stones this will make an ideal wildlife refuge/ 'rockery' next to the pond for emerging frogs and newts.
  • Also put some of the soil onto a sheet of plastic.
  • Have a deep centre over 50 cm and ideally close to a metre in depth (or more).
  • Create various depths, levels and slopes - including shallows that can even dry out in the summer.
  • Have steeper sides on the 'far' side (so children don't fall in).
  • A shallow 'bay' (far end in picture) will be important for spawning frogs.
  • Use pegs, string and a spirit level to get the right levels.
  • Some of the soil from the dig can be used to raise up the banks.
  • Also dig a trench for the liner to go into.
  • To create a large pond consider hiring a mini excavator or 'digger' to do the work. Hire operators can also hire out digger drivers as well to operate the excavator.

Step 3: Lining

  • Modern pond liners are very flexible and strong and are recommended over cast plastic or fibreglass liners.
  • Initially put in the liner - with some soil to ’pull down’ the liner - to make sure the whole pond can be covered.
  • If the base is on stony ground consider putting in sand and/or a protective lining under the waterproof liner, or carpet sections.
  • If you have calculated this correctly you should have some liner spare around the edges.
  • Carefully pull back part of the liner and widen, extend and deepen as appropriate to use the full extent of the liner.
  • Make sure there is enough liner to go over the bank and into the ditch around the whole edge of the pond.
  • Weigh down the liner in the ditch and the main pond.
  • You can also put in protective liner on top (the white material in this picture) or old carpet (extra protection if the shallows will be heavily netted/disturbed by children!) or sand.
  • Old carpet with the under side up protects and provides a base for plants to grow. But avoid showing too much above the bank since it can suck up water out of the pond in hot conditions. Avoid carpets with a rubber underside.
  • Carefully weigh down the liner with some soil and flatten out any creases and then put in some water to settle the liner.
  • When the pond is still low put some soil (from pile on the sheeting) back into the pond in the various hollows and banks.
  • You can then fill the pond. If you have a supply of rainwater in a tub you can use this. But tap water will be OK if the pond is filled in the winter. Or you may wish to let it fill naturally.
  • Once nearly full you may need to make some adjustments to the bank levels by adding or removing soil from the banks.
  • Decide on the low point where water will drain out when full.
  • You can also create shallows and headlands with sand (see the near right of the pond).
  • The carpet sections can go in at this stage, weighed down with stones and bricks.
  • Also put soil into the ditch to bury the liner around the edges.
  • Put soil/clay on any exposed liner close/just above the surface.
  • Put the turfs (along path in picture) around the pond margins.

Step 4: planting up

  • pond06The turfs around the edge came from the original lawn.
  • There are submerged ’carpet squares’ along the far bank
  • Avoid taking plants from village ponds and nature reserve or plants/sediments from ponds with ’exotic’ problem plants like Water Fern, Parrot’s Feather and New Zealand Stonecrop.
  • Take plants from a friend’s pond that needs some clearance.
  • You can also go to a good garden or water centre for natural plants - your local wildlife trust can be a good initial contact.
  • Choose a range of plants - submergents (underwater pond weeds), floating plants (e.g. water lilies) and emergents. Some species are combination of these. Also have bank side plants.
  • Plants like the Water Forget-me-not and Water Mint are very good egg laying plants for newts.
  • Choose a range of plants that flower at different times of the spring and summer. The light violet Cuckoo Flower and yellow Marsh Marigold flower early (both in the picture above).
  • Submergents can be put in onion sacks with soil and stones and thrown in so they sink to the bottom and take hold.
  • Bricks with holes (filled with clay) are great for planting aquatic plants - these can be seen in the picture.
  • Some plants that can spread quickly - such as the Yellow Iris - can be kept in pots (also in the above picture).
  • Also inoculate your pond with some sediment from a pond to get bacteria, water daphnia and insects in your pond.

Step 5: looking after your pond


  • Frog spawn was placed in the shallow bay at one end that gets plenty of sunlight for the spawn to develop.
  • A good wildlife pond with a range of plants and depths and levels that is in the right location will need less maintenance.
  • A lot of wildlife will come naturally to a pond.
  • If you want a good wildlife pond, avoid fish. If you have to, stock it with a few fish, or have a fish pond and a wildlife pond.
  • If a local contact has lots of spawn you can take a few clumps - more from a pond that is going to be filled in (but do try to persuade then to keep the pond. Avoid bringing spawn from further way - you may introduce a disease like ’red leg disease’ that affects frogs.
  • Plants species like duckweed provide important shade and cover but can quickly dominate a pond.
  • A good diverse pond should look after itself but blanket weed can take hold. Use a stick to carefully pull/drag it out of a pond.
  • Carefully skim off some of the duck weed and any other fast growing plants every couple of weeks to keep some areas of the pond clear.
  • Leave this ’weed’ on the side to let animals crawl back into the pond (also a good time to check the wildlife in your pond) before putting it on the compost heap.

Step 6: enjoying your pond

Enjoy your pond

  • pond4This picture was taken in May 2004 with abundant aquatic life and lush margins - just over two months after it was installed!
  • Clear/maintain a small viewing space.
  • Major pond work shouldn’t occur in the spring (it encourages algae to grow) but in the autumn when you can haul weed out of a pond and leave the weed by the side for a while.
  • The pond can then settle down over the winter.
  • Net the pond carefully when you are looking for wildlife.
  • Also look at the activity in your pond after dark with a torch.
  • Look out for other wildlife that comes to your pond.

Safety With Young Children

  • The deep part of this pond is on the far/inaccessible side.
  • Shallower areas are by the accessible path and near end.
  • If necessary a fence could be installed at the near end across the garden - or a ’grid’ put over the pond.
  • Ponds provide plenty of enjoyment, education and wildlife encounters for children - like watching tadpoles grow!

...And Enjoy Your Pond for Years to Come!