How to Make a Natural Pond in Your Backyard

A backyard pond surrounded with plants.

cjmckendry / Getty Images

Overview
  • Working Time: 12 hours
  • Total Time: 2 days
  • Skill Level: Intermediate
  • Estimated Cost: $400-2,000

A natural pond is an excellent, easy way to create a wildlife habitat in your own backyard while building a peaceful place to hang out. By following these steps, you can create a natural, low-maintenance pond in your backyard without the need for filters or pumps.

What You'll Need

Tools

  • 1 shovel
  • 1 pair of scissors
  • 1 hose

Materials

  • 1 container or liner
  • 1/2 cubic yard of sand
  • 1/2 cubic yard of gravel
  • 50 river rocks
  • 15 large rocks or flagstones
  • 10 to 20 plants of choice
  • 10 to 30 empty plant pots (optional)

Instructions

  1. Create a Place for the Pond

    Anything that can hold water will do for this first step. Try re-using an old barrel, large pot, or another container that's the appropriate size for your project.

    For smaller natural ponds, the container can be placed above ground, like on a backyard deck. For a more natural-looking pond, place the container in the ground. A plastic liner can be used instead of a container, too. If you're using a container, you'll want to dig a hole just deep enough for the top of the container's sides to be in line with the ground's surface.

    Check Before You Dig

    Be sure to contact your local utility provider prior to this step to make sure you are digging in a safe location.

    To prevent algae from taking over the pond, try to avoid placing the pond in a location that receives full sunshine. Instead, aim for a place that receives at least four hours of sunlight, with sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon. To reduce the pond's maintenance needs, avoid placing the pond directly under trees that shed leaves or in places where freshwater runoff collects.

    If using a liner, make sure it is big enough to extend above ground. Wait to trim the liner until later on.

  2. Build Ledges

    Create an underwater ledge within the pond that covers about half of the pond's surface. The ledge should be about 8 inches deep and go around the perimeter of the pond. If opting for the use of a liner, build ledges while digging your pond's hole. If you are using a container in the ground, various pots can be placed within the pond's container, upside-down, to create a ledge.

    If using a liner, stamp it down. Be sure to remove any rocks or stick from beneath it that could cause it to puncture.

  3. Add Sand

    A hole in a backyard lined with a tarp.
    If using a pond liner, ledges can be shaped using your backyard's soil during the digging process.

    Alphotographic / Getty Images

    Beginning at the center of the pond, add a 1-inch layer of sand around the entire pond bottom, including the ledges.

  4. Fill the Pond With Water

    Rainwater is best, but hose water works fine, too. If using a hose, let the water sit in the pond for about 24 hours before continuing to build the pond to allow ample time for chlorine in the water to evaporate.

  5. Place Rocks Around the Pond

    Place more sand or pea gravel (small gravel) around the edge of the pond. Then add large boulders, rocks, or flagstones on top. Leave up to 8 inches of space between the pond's edge and the large stones to allow small critters easy access to the pond's edge. If using a liner, these stones will help hold the liner in place. After the liner is secured, any extra liner remaining can be trimmed away or tucked under rocks.

  6. Add Rocks and Gravel to the Pond

    Use medium-sized river rocks on the interior edge of the pond's ledge. Then fill the ledge gravel. The river rocks will help prevent the smaller gravel from falling deeper into the pond. Additional gravel and river rock can be added the rest of the pond, too, to greater a complex underwater landscape for critters to hide.

  7. Add Plants

    An aerial view of the leaves of the American pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus)
    The American pondweed is a great plant to use in a backyard pond.

    Greenseas / Getty Images

    It's best to let the pond sit for about a week before adding plants. Try to have plants in each of your pond's four habitat zones:

    Completely submerged plants:

    • Slender pondweed (Potamogeton pusillus)
    • Hornwort (Ceratophyllym demersum)

    Submerged plants with floating leaves:

    • White water lily (Nymphaea ororate)
    • American pondweed (Potamogeton nodosus)

    Shallow water plants:

    • Pickerel rush (Pontederia cordata)
    • Cattail (Typha augustifolia and Typha latifolia

    Plants for the pond's edge:

    • Blue flag iris (Iris versicolor)
    • Western skunk cabbage (Lysichiton americanus)
    • Golden-eyed grass (Sisyrinchium californicum)
    • Lemon lily (Lilium parryi)

    Avoid Using Non-Native Species

    Non-native species can spread from backyard ponds to the natural environment, where these plants can outcompete native plants and decrease diversity. Only acquire or grow plants that are native to your region in your garden, including natural ponds.


    Common, non-native plants to avoid using in natural ponds include:

    • Millfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum and Myriophyllum aquaticum)
    • Pond water-starwart (Callitriche stagnalis)
    • Curly pondweed (Potamogeton crispus)
    • Water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes)
    • White water lily (Nymphaea ororate) - invasive specifically in the Western United States
    • Yellow iris (Iris pseudacorus)
    • Water thyme (Hydrilla verticillata)