A feature with running water, floating plants, and darting fish adds color and wildlife to your home's landscape.

By Alexa Erickson
July 15, 2020
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small pond backyard patio area
Credit: Eirasophie / Getty Images

A home holds so much value. From its foundation to its outdoor landscaping, your house and garden is the sum of every attribute that enhances and enriches how you feel in it. And as summertime approaches, you may be thinking of ways to improve your outdoor spaces.

Whether you're planning to host barbecues, alfresco dinners, or kick back with a book in the hammock, transforming your yard into an indulgent oasis will have you staying outside long after the sun sets. One feature we can't get enough of right now is a backyard pond. We tapped Hunter MacFarlane, project expert at Lowe's Home Improvement, for advice on building and designing a backyard pond.

Choose the location.

Before you let your imagination run wild, be pragmatic about two things: "Wherever you choose to install your backyard pond, make sure the ground is level and the soil underneath is well-drained," says MacFarlane. "It's also important to try and keep the pond close to an outdoor ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI) outlet and plan the most direct line possible between the house and the pond for the pump power cord. Plus, the closer it is to an outdoor faucet the better, so you can add water to the pond as needed."

If you're considering adding water plants to your pond, be sure to pick a sunny spot for installation. "Small ponds will benefit from partial shade," explains MacFarlane, "as high water temperatures promote algae growth and water evaporation." MacFarlane advises calling 811, the federally designated call-before-you-dig number to protect yourself from unintentionally hitting underground utility lines. He also recommends checking with homeowner association guidelines and local building codes.

Build the foundation.

Once you decide where to dig, the next step is to install a shell liner into the ground. These liners come in various shapes and sizes; pick one based on the desired size of your pond. If you're indecisive, consider a Smartpond Black PVC Pond Liner ($36.48, lowes.com) to customize the pond's shape. Then, follow these step-by-step instructions from MacFarlane on how to dig the hole, install the liner, and fill it with water. First, outline the area of placement for your liner using a can of marker paint like this fluorescent Rust-Oleum Professional Marking Spray Paint ($6, homedepot.com). Next, begin digging out the area using a pointed shovel like this Kobalt Steel Digging Shovel ($29, lowes.com). A mattock is also a useful tool for getting rid of roots like this Kobalt Fiberglass-Handle Steel Pick ($33, lowes.com). As you work, dig a few inches wider and deeper than the actual shape of your pond; this extra space will come in handy as you add a layer of sand to act as a base for the shell.

When placed into the ground, the top edge of the liner needs to be even and level with the ground. If one side is lower than the other, use sand to build it up. Remove the liner and add roughly three inches of sand to the bottom of the hole to raise the edge of the pond above the ground. This will keep runoff from getting into the pool, and making the water cloudy and dirty. "Sand is a perfect solution for achieving a smooth, solid base," says MacFarlane.

Place a 2-by-4 of lumber all the way across the top of the liner to make sure you have a 2- to 3-inch gap between the liner and the ground. This gap will help keep runoff out of the pond and allow space for landscaping and stones around the pond. Place a level on the 2-by-4 lumber and pour sand into the hole to begin backfilling around the shell. The sand should fill in all the gaps and support the sides of the pond shell. Once you're finished, simply fill the pool with water from your hose. After this project, you'll be left with a significant amount of dirt. "Consider using it around the yard for a new garden bed or even outdoor potting projects," suggests MacFarlane.

Get creative with the landscaping.

Now that you have the foundation of your backyard pond, it's time to beautify it. MacFarlane suggests incorporating items that make for a natural look, such as pieces of flagstone or stepping stones to line the outside, as well as beach pebbles and pea gravel. "These materials will help in gaps, hide the liner and dress up the area," he says. Add a level of lushness by growing water plants and other greens in the pond and its surrounding area.

Add a waterfall feature.

To create a zen-like experience, consider adding a waterfall feature to your backyard pond. Follow these step-by-step instructions from MacFarlane: Use some of the soil you excavated for the pond to build the base of the waterfall, about 15 to 20 inches tall; add a thin layer of sand. "Make sure it's level left to right," he says, "but tilted down a bit from the back to the front so water can flow down into the pond." Get a flexible pond liner that can be cut and shaped to fit your waterfall; place it across the area you built up for the waterfall, and make sure the edge drapes down into the pond. Excess will be covered with decorative rocks. Use a utility knife to cut and shape the liner to fit, but leave it larger than the area you need to cover. If you trim away too much, you won't have as many options to shape it. Build up the waterfall and fill in the area with rocks to make it look natural and hide the liners.

Keep it clean.

A job well done is only as good as the maintenance you put in, so be sure to consider treatment products to keep your pond clean, while providing a safe environment for plants and animals. MacFarlane suggests Smartpond Naturals Barley Pond Cleaner ($12, lowes.com) or Smartpond Naturals Pond Tint Pond Cleaner ($7, lowes.com).


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