- Do you want to add a water feature to your small garden? If yes, then create a pond in a pot. Learn how to make a container water garden full of water lilies and irises blooming, fountains bubbling and fishes swimming.
- Container Water Garden Maintenance
- Why you should consider a container pond.
- DIY Container Pond Ideas
- Pre-Made Container Ponds
- Considerations With A Container Pond
- Build a Pond
- Build a Pond: Safety and Self-Reliance
- New Life for Old Ponds
- Build a Pond Resources
- The Basic Steps of Building a Fishing Pond
- Do Some Research
- Choose a Site
- Cornell Cooperative Extension
- Building a New Pond
- Making a Duck Pond
Do you want to add a water feature to your small garden? If yes, then create a pond in a pot. Learn how to make a container water garden full of water lilies and irises blooming, fountains bubbling and fishes swimming.
Pond in a pot is a combination of potted aquatic plants. It is easy to maintain and needs less care. You can arrange plants whenever and wherever you like.
Choose a container
Take as large as you can, a tub, bowl or container, whichever you can use. Ceramic and Plastic containers of 15-25 gallons are best or use your old wash tub, porcelain container, old wine box or whiskey barrel (check out its leakage).
Choose a Container painted with dark color from inside, this way, your pond will look more spacious and deep. If possible take container more than 16 inches wide and 10 inches deep.
Decide a Place for it
Your container water garden will provide a serene ambiance to garden so place it wisely after deciding, whether the source of water is near to it or not, will it receive sunshine of about six hours but shade in the afternoon or not. Then you will need to check how it is looking from different angles. If placed well, it can become a beautiful focal point of your small garden.
Plants for a Container Water Pond
Choose three to five plants according to the size of your container, take different types of aquatic plants–Erect plants like ‘yellow flag iris’ and cattail, floating plants like water hyacinth, and broadleaf plants like the giant arrowhead, elephant ear or calla lily.
If your container’s size is more than the suggested 16 inches wide and 10 inches deep (ideal size), then you can grow deep-rooted water plants like lotus and water-lily, too. These aquatic plants need at least 10 inches of water over their roots and some space to spread their foliage.
Setting up your Container Water Garden
Once you’re done with choosing a container, placing it in a suitable spot and picking plants, you’re ready to set up your pond in a pot. Just fill up the container with general tap water and dip the potted plants you’ve bought. All you need is to place them up in specific depths of the container, for this use bricks to vary height to make a picturesque arrangement, see the diagram below for better insight. You can also install a water fountain and add fishes in the pond.
Container Water Garden Maintenance
It is easier than planting in grounds: no need to worry about soil, overwatering and weeds. Partial shade and the moderate temperature is optimum for the growth of water plants.
Restore water after every couple of days. Algae is the problem, and to prevent this–paint dark color inside your container and occasionally drain the water when decomposed matter populates on the bottom.
Mosquitoes can be a problem as well, to avoid their larvae to thrive, install bubbler or fountain or add goldfishes.
- To overwinter it in cool climates, keep it indoors.
- Use plants in diversity, but don’t overcrowd your pond in a pot.
- For fishes, you need to de-chlorinate water using chlorine removal tablets.
Container ponds are extraordinarily clever and versatile, and will fit almost anywhere – so if you have a small deck, rooftop garden, balcony, or even less space, you can still enjoy the serenity created by a pond. We hope you enjoy the container pond ideas in this article and find some inspiration to start your own.
Table of Contents
Why you should consider a container pond.
Even if your garden space is limited (or non-existent!), you can still have a garden pond to complement your home.
Container ponds are extraordinarily clever and versatile and will fit almost anywhere – so if you have a small deck, rooftop garden, balcony, or an even smaller space, you can still enjoy the serenity created by a pond.
Just the sound and look of bubbling water has an instant effect on our stress levels. Add some gorgeous aquatic plants and a colorful fish or two and you will be set.
Let’s look at some of our favorite container pond ideas for small spaces – you are certain to find something perfect for you!
DIY Container Pond Ideas
With urban living spaces needing to become more flexible, fitting gardens into all sorts of spaces is a normal part of life. Here are some cool ideas for container ponds that you can throw together yourself – some with a minimum of tools, skills or know-how.
1. Pond in a Pot
Stunning yet so simple: Image Credits Here
Buy a large tub or container and convert this into a container pond. These look wonderful when you blend them with other pots or tubs in your space – putting plants in some and then a miniature pond in another.
For a handy tutorial on how to do this visit Balconygardenweb.
2. Pond in a Wine Barrel
Great for keeping outside all year round.
A DIY garden pond in a half wine or whisky barrel looks gorgeous wherever you pop them and blends well on decks and balconies as well as on grassed areas and between plants.
The wood weathers beautifully and the barrel works very well as either as a pond, water feature or even if you introduce a few fish.
You will need to line the wine barrel with good quality plastic or pond liner as the wood in the wine barrel will leak.
3. Add a Bamboo Fountain
You can buy a bamboo fountain in a range of sizes or styles and add them very simply to any container pond you have in your garden. This takes the flat and serene surface of any pond and makes it into a bubbling fountain.
4. Add a Quirky Water Feature
Click the image for prices on Amazon
Any simple container pond can be elevated with a more unique or involved water feature or fountain effect. These look amazing when surrounded by lush water plants and make your container pond seem even less fabricated and more natural.
5. Repurpose Old Containers
New pots, porcelain or plastic containers work wonderfully for putting together your own pond, but we love it when you repurpose an old container – you could even use an old washtub, wheelbarrow or bath!
Make sure that you don’t use a corrosive metal which may react in combination with any fertilizer you might add to the water, as this will kill the plants. Stay away from containers made of copper, lead or brass. But otherwise, you only need to be limited by your imagination.
6. DIY Terracotta Fountain
Using terracotta pots and plates, you can craft your own DIY fountain. This little piece is stunning and can be made as large or small as you like. Put your own special twist on it, and even add touches to turn it into a miniature world or fairy garden.
7. A Tiny Pond in a Jar
Image credits @lifehacker.com
While we look at small water gardens, we love the idea of turning a large jar into a container pond, either to pop on top of a table or, if you have a very large vase or jar, on the floor. The see-through aspect of glass means that it isn’t just the surface of the pond which is entrancing, you can also see your garden from all sides.
8. Above Ground Paved
Image credits @Pinterest
This is a larger pond which is more involved. You can create an above-ground pond by building a container portion into the corner of your deck, or by building one with pavers leftover from other parts of your home or garden.
9. Convert an unused Hot Tub
Image Credits and more hot tub ponds on Pinterest
If your home has a hot tub that you no longer can be bothered using as a pool you can convert it into a garden pond. You could also buy a second-hand hot tub and create the same effect.
10. Pond with Water Wall
Image credits and tutorial over at Empressofdirt.com
These work best in sheltered areas and on patios or decks. Combine a longer container with a water-wall feature above it for a lovely interactive experience. The constant look and sounds created by flowing water will raise the standard of any outdoor space.
This is probably something you should get custom made, but if you are very handy there is a DIY tutorial here.
11. Upcycled Wooden Stump
Image credits from Pinterest
This effect can look amazing in all sorts of garden sizes, and has an especially natural feel to it.
There are many different ways you can use an old tree stump to make a water feature in your garden. Some people simply like to use it as a table to sit a pre-made water feature on top. Some people actually carve out the tree stump and make it into a feature. There are many options available to you if you have an old tree stump.
12. Convert a Boat
This becomes a bit more involved – but doesn’t it look breathtaking? The waterproof sides of a boat are as perfect for keeping water in as they are for keeping it out. You can choose any size or shape of boat and create a truly unique effect in your space.
Pre-Made Container Ponds
If you have a bit less time on your hands or your DIY skills are lacking, these pond container options involve less work. They either come as all-in-one kits that anyone can manage or are more on the involved side and you should probably call in some professionals.
13. Whisky Barrel Pond and Water Feature
Available on Amazon. Click image for prices
These look lovely and are easy to put together from an all-in-one kit. Simply connect it to a mains outlet and you’re up and running. Not big enough to hold fish but a lovely water feature perfect for any backyard or patio.
14. Galvanised Metal Stock Tub
Stockfeed tubs come in all shapes and sizes (some are massive) and are generally either plastic or galvanized metal. The metal ones are considerably more expensive, but they look stunning, so could be well worth the investment. You shouldn’t need to line or alter the tub, it will be perfect and all ready for use as a pond.
You can then use these on patios or decks, above ground, or partially submerge them into the landscape of your garden.
15. Premade Pond Form
This is one of the easiest ways to create a backyard pond – buy a premade container from a home and garden store, or online. These come on their own and also in kits with pumps, lighting and more.
16. Pond Form converted into a raised garden bed
This takes the convenience of a premade pond form but allows you to use it above ground or on a patio or deck. Build a wooden raised garden bed frame around the pond form to improve the look of the edging.
17. Pond in a Fountain or Birdbath
Available On Amazon.
Click the image
Buy a new or second-hand traditional-look fountain and then turn this into a water garden or fish pond in a tiny space. Fountains and birdbaths of any shape or size will do the trick, and they are obviously already set up to be waterproof. You made need to locate it near a source of power.
18. Orb Feature
These orb features are lovely and again can come in all sorts of sizes and styles. They create a very unique and striking effect.
19. Rock fountain waterfall
Available on Amazon
Click the image
These come in a range of sizes and styles as well as a range of materials. While they may look like rock or stone, they can be reasonably lightweight (at least until you add the water) and made of fiberglass.
Buy one to place on a tabletop, on your patio or out in a garden space.
20. Miniature Koi Pond
A lovely blend of garden pond and serene fish tank – these koi ponds contain everything you need to have the perfect patio water feature. They only require a minimum of upkeep as well.
21. Garden Pop Up Aquarium
Pop Up Aquariums are becoming very popular
This is an incredibly unique pond or water feature – which separates the plants from the fish. This is less of a pond but more of a backyard aquarium or fish tank. Simply stunning – right?
Considerations With A Container Pond
When popping plants into the water, you do need to do a little bit of background research to make sure that you are using the right kinds of plants and planting them the right way.
Some plants are free-floating in water, while others you see will need to be planted in contained soil (such as in baskets) below the water. Deep-rooted plants like lotus and water-lily need at least 10 inches of water depth to grow while floating plants can be placed in much shallower ponds.
Ponds with darker painted interiors create the illusion of depth making them seem much more expensive than they are.
You will probably need to fill around three-quarters of the container with the substrate or base – this could be from sand, gravel, pebbles, marbles, beads or florist foam.
You should use a mix of water and water-soluble fertilizer that is perfect for plants.
You will need to decide where to put your container pond, taking into consideration the amount of light and shade it will get as well as where your water will come from. If you have a pump or fountain you may also need a source of power.
You will need to replace a portion of the water every week to keep it clean and clear – around 10% should be enough.
Considerations if you want to add Fish
Fish will help to maintain bugs and algae in your pond, as well as generally just swimming around looking wonderful. If you wish to add fish to your pond, make sure that the water is filtered and also dechlorinated. Your pond needs to be big enough and deep enough for the breeds of fish you are adding.
Don’t overcrowd your pond – make sure that you give your fish plenty of personal space to be happy and live safely.
If you have seen any gorgeous patio container pond ideas that we haven’t included, be sure to comment and let us know.
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I have been working in the tropical fish industry for over 30 years now and I’m still learning. Everyday is a school day in this hobby. In my spare time I play golf very badly!
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Frequently Asked Questions
1 How much does it cost to build a pond in your backyard?
This will depend on the size and depth of the pond, if you need to buy materials like rocks to line the pond, and the cost of any landscaping and plants both for the pond and surrounding it.
You could build an inground 4×6-foot pond using a pond form and a submersible pump for a few hundred dollars. You can do it even cheaper if you’re willing to search for a used pond form at yard sales or in online classified ads.
An 8×10-foot inground pond, made with a pond liner kit, complete with a waterfall and 2000 gph (gallons per hour) pump, lined with rocks from a landscaping business, and stocked with aquatic plants and goldfish could cost between $2,000 and $5,000 US.
A larger in-ground pond installed by professionals could cost $10 to $20,000 US or more. I’ve seen magnificent 20×50-foot garden ponds that cost $100k or more. I’ve also seen others that size and budget that were …not good!
That’s why it’s good to have an idea of what you want first, and, if hiring help, be certain the builders share your vision and your budget will cover it.
You could also build a little patio container pond in an old barrel with a liner and small fountain pump for $50 US.
2 How deep does a fish pond need to be?
Two feet is considered a good minimum depth for the health and safety of pond fish. There are formulas for calculating how much water space each fish should have. I like to allow at least 2 cubic feet of water per fish.
Pond Deicer | Amazon
If you are in a cold climate like I am, you have to also plan for overwintering the fish. I use both pond heaters (de-icers that float on the surface and stay heated all winter long) and I keep the recirculating pumps running. Cold water fish like goldfish go dormant in the cold weather, staying deep down in the pond. They are safe from predators the deeper they can go, and they will not freeze so long as the water is never allowed to ice up or freeze over.
3 How deep does a frog pond need to be?
Frogs and fish have similar needs in backyard ponds. It’s best if there are deep areas (at least several feet deep) along with shallower areas at least two feet in depth. Greater depths also keep raccoons and other hungry creatures from being able to reach into the water and grab a snack.
Just like fish, frogs will survive the winter if the water continues circulating and is never allowed to ice up or freeze over.
It is also good to let the bottom of your pond naturalize with some mud and dead matter, providing frogs with places to hide and rest.
4 How do I keep my pond water clear?
It can be a challenge to keep pond water clear. The location of your pond is one big factor. Tree leaves can cause lots of trouble and so can hot sun, which makes algae spread like crazy.
Keeping your pond clear of debris, with the right strength of recirculating pump is good preventative care.
Barley straw is shown to do a good job slowing down or preventing the growth of algae as well.
If you have too many fish for the volume of water, their waste can also dirty a pond. More is not more with fish!
If your water is getting murky, often from algae dispersed throughout the pond, you can try my water filtering trick.
The Garden Pond Tips and Ideas section has lots more detailed advice.
~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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Build a Pond
The ideal site for a dammed pond is a wet hollow located between two steep adjacent banks, Matson says. “On flat terrain, where the water table is close to the surface, or where a nearby stream or well can be directed to fill it, a dugout pond works best,” he says. Deeply excavated ponds with a smaller surface area are recommended in arid areas where evaporation losses are high and rain is scarce. But often the answer is a combination of methods, a dug-and-dammed pond. Matson says this strategy is “most favored in rolling terrain, where excavation of the pond basin will yield enough earth for the embankment.”
Soil Types. Deep, well-drained soil with lots of sand and gravel may be great for farming, but it is lousy for ponds because it doesn’t hold water well. Heavier clay soil, on the other hand, holds water much better and is perfect for ponds.
You can learn about your soil with free help from your county Extension office or district office of the Natural Resources Conservation Service. (Look in the government section of your phone book.) Experts there can recommend excavation contractors; explain laws governing pond-building; and give advice on siting, building, managing and stocking your pond. Also, be sure to ask if they can help you get a free copy of an excellent resource, Ponds — Planning, Design, Construction, handbook No. 590 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). The water-holding capacity of less-than-perfect soil can easily be increased by compacting the soil with heavy equipment, adding clay blankets, using sealers such as bentonite (a fine-textured colloidal clay) or using chemical dispersing agents that include sodium chloride (table salt) and soda ash. Some small ponds can be lined with heavy plastic or rubber sheets.
Water Sources. Your geographic location, the source of your water (surface runoff, a spring, a stream or a well and pump) and its reliability will largely determine the size and depth of your pond. For example, ponds in wet and humid Eastern, Southern and Pacific Northwestern states can be relatively shallow — 5 to 7 feet deep — according to the USDA. In the dry to arid regions of the West and Southwest, the minimum recommended depth is 8 to 14 feet.
For ponds that depend solely on surface runoff, the size of the watershed drainage area surrounding the pond is a critical factor. To fill a one-acre pond in Ohio to a depth of 5 feet, you may only need a watershed of 15 acres, according to the USDA. In western Kansas, though, it may take 175 acres to provide enough water; in arid Western states it may take 300 to 500 acres.
Costs. Unless you pull a Nearing and dig your pond by hand, hiring a bulldozer to build even a modest pond will cost $3,000 to $5,000. Sometimes government agencies will share the cost through watershed restoration and conservation projects — ask about local programs. Just be aware of any strings attached, such as a requirement that your pond be kept open to the public.
Legal Issues. In the past, property owners could dig a pond anywhere on their land, and many people constructed ponds in wetland areas — low-lying spots that already collected water. But more recently, the public has realized the value of wetlands for wildlife habitat and maintaining water quality, so there now are regulations that limit where you can put a farm pond.
If you construct a pond without acquiring the proper permits, you could find yourself in court, faced with heavy fines and huge wetland-restoration bills — and worse yet, no pond. You can avoid this issue by choosing a pond site with care and following local regulations.
Matson says the ideal pond is one that already exists and is “maybe 20 to 30 years old and just needs to be cleaned out.” If you have an old pond site on your property, it’s well worth taking the trouble to clean it up, rather than negotiating permits and incurring the expense for a new one. (See “New Life for Old Ponds” later in this article for more on resurrecting an old pond.)
Maintenance. Keep your pond surrounded by large grassy areas to prevent soil from washing into the pond from nearby fields. Also keep in mind that the ponds own water can cause soil erosion. Wind-whipped waves can eat away at a ponds banks, dam and spillway. Common solutions include breaking up waves with an obstacle such as a floating log boom, or building rock-lined banks — called riprap — which work well where the water level fluctuates widely. Keep livestock out of your pond as much as possible, both to prevent erosion and to maintain water quality.
Safety Concerns. It’s important to exercise caution while enjoying a pond. Anyone — especially young children — can drown in a pond or get caught in a whirlpool, which can form at the ponds drainpipe. Diving into shallow water can lead to serious injury. Exercise additional caution if you want to use the pond in winter — people can break through if the ice is too thin. Make sure all family members and visitors know, and follow, proper safety procedures. Keep basic lifesaving devices handy, including ring buoys, ropes and poles, or long planks and ladders for ice rescues. If your pond will be open to the public, make sure you have adequate liability insurance. To keep the public out, some pond owners opt to fence their ponds and/or post No Trespassing signs.
Build for the Future. Given the increasing trend of severe weather, Matson says ponds need to be built better than ever. The construction of pond dams must take into consideration potential flood damage should the dam or overflow-spillway channel fail. “It is even more important to build ponds with spillways that can handle what they used to call 50- or 100-year floods,” Matson says. With continuing climate changes, you really want to make the dams sturdy and make spillways function properly with large water loads.
Build a Pond: Safety and Self-Reliance
Rural fire departments count on ponds in the same way urban firefighters depend on fire hydrants. Getting a pumper truck close enough to a pond is often a problem, especially in bad weather, so many pond owners install a dry hydrant, a 4- to 6-inch-diameter plastic sewer pipe, to provide a quick and reliable hose connection. “Have a conversation with your local fire department,” Matson says. “There may be some financial support from the state, or a tax or insurance break .”
Ponds have long been considered an essential tool for country living, enhancing a self-reliant lifestyle. “A pond is a wonderful combination of things, incorporating many aspects of self-sufficiency, starting with your own food and water,” Matson says.
Ponds also can be useful resources during blackouts or other emergencies: Buckets of water from the pond can be used to flush toilets; and if the ponds water is clear and clean, it can be used for bathing. If you decide to build a pond, the resources listed at the end of this article will give you a better understanding of the siting, planning and building factors necessary to create your own special spot.
New Life for Old Ponds
“Earth ponds flow naturally toward oblivion,” says pond expert Tim Matson. “Vegetation decays, sediment accumulates and the basin erodes. Eventually, without help, the pond disappears.”
Nevertheless, it is possible to revitalize an old pond. Take, for example, the experience of Keith Crotz, a now proactive pond-keeper in central Illinois. The pond on his farm was 24 feet deep when his late grandfather, William, built it for fishing in 1962. Thirty-five years later, the one-acre pond was practically dead. “The pond had pretty much filled in because of poor farming practices,” Keith says. “The silt came off of our land, which was plowed, disked and harrowed, regardless of the weather. In 1997, we dredged out about 20 feet of silt, rebuilt the dike and put in a new drain and overflow.”
Crotz still raises corn, soybeans and wheat on the farm that has been in his family since the 1860s, but he no longer worries about soil erosion filling his pond. “Now that we’re no-till and organic, we don’t have those problems.” A 100-foot-wide grass buffer also encircles his pond. The U.S. Department of Agriculture picked up most of the cost for reviving the pond as part of a watershed-protection program; Crotz had to pay for only 20 percent of the project’s total cost.
Now the reborn pond is full of bass, bluegill and bullfrogs, and attracts a variety of other wildlife. With an electric pump, the pond keeps a livestock water tank filled and provides plenty of irrigation water for a one-acre market garden.
Build a Pond Resources
Ponds – Planning, Design, Construction
Agriculture Handbook No. 590, available free from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Earth Ponds: The Country Pond Maker’s Guide to Building, Maintenance and Restoration
By Tim Matson
Earth Ponds Sourcebook: The Pond Owner’s Manual and Resource Guide
By Tim Matson
Ohio Department of Natural Resources
Virginia Cooperative Extension
Tim Matson’s Web site.
Tim Matson’s Earth Ponds Video
An introduction to pond design and construction.
George DeVault grew up beside a half-acre farm pond in Ohio. There he enjoyed fishing, boating, ice skating, hunting frogs and, when his parents weren’t looking, skinny dipping.
The Basic Steps of Building a Fishing Pond
I learned to fish on a family pond like I’m sure like many of you did. I caught my first bream, crappie, catfish and bass from the banks of a rectangular body of water dotted with bald cypress, the banks lined with black willows. I knew the location of every submerged stump and old Christmas tree, which ensured I always landed at least a fish or two during my outings.
As I got older and bought a boat, the trips to the pond grew less frequent. However, even today when I reel in a bass or tie on a lure, I’ll think back to where I learned those fundamentals. Nowhere can a youngster learn how to fish better than from the bank of a stocked pond.
Building a fishing pond of your own will offer years of recreation – and a supply of fresh fish. While the process takes some upfront investment and can be time consuming, the rewards are plenty. Aside from recreation, a pond increases the value of your land. Greg Lutz, an aquaculture scientist with the Louisiana State University AgCenter, noted that studies have shown that rural properties with a well-managed pond see property values increase by five to 15 percent. That’s pretty significant, especially if you’re considering constructing a home, fences, or any other structures, which will only work to your benefit.
Do Some Research
We wish the process was as easy as find a spot and get to digging. But today, with bureaucratic oversight at nearly every level – county, state and federal – you’ll need to do some research on laws pertaining to digging on your property as well as obtaining water to fill the pond. If your wallet allows, it’s best to hire a contractor with experience.
If there’s a creek meandering across your land, you may be surprised to know that you don’t own the water flowing through it. Due to the Clean Water Act, the water in many rivers, streams, wetlands and lakes are property of the United States, and thus require permission from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for any access to fill your pond (as of press time, the Trump administration is seeking to rescind or revise the act.) Those waterways that aren’t under federal oversight are normally under state control. Access to water on a state level can be rather lax, or highly regulated, such as the case in California.
While agricultural ponds are exempt from many EPA permits, a fishing pond will likely require some before you can begin, especially if it’s near a waterway. Contact the local Natural Resource Conservation Service, and the folks there will be able to go over the regulations with you and decipher what, if any, permits you’ll need. Another good resource is your local Ag Extension Agency in your area. This agency can help with assessing your soil and determining if it’s suitable for a pond, or would benefit from clay to prevent leaking. They can also put you in touch with a certified pond consultant.
Consider the surrounding terrain, as well as any structures you’ll want to erect, when choosing a site for your pond.
Choose a Site
A productive pond can be anywhere from a quarter of an acre to a full acre, depending on the size of your property. Sure, you can build it larger, but keep in mind this will require more money due to construction and maintenance time. Also, the bigger you build, the more water you’ll need.
How you’ll keep the pond full of water is an important part to finding a suitable location. Surface runoff, meaning rainwater that flows into it from the surrounding land, is the easiest method to secure a permit for. You need at least three acres of land that will drain into the pond for each acre-foot of pond volume. An acre-foot is the volume of water contained in an acre of water that’s one-foot deep. Springs, groundwater and wells are also viable options. Streams, on the other hand, are typically difficult to get a permit for. So, don’t bank on keeping your pond fed via a flowing water source on your property.
Use the terrain to your advantage and search for a natural drainage basin surrounded by subtle slopes. This will funnel rainwater straight to your pond. You’ll want to inspect the soil to ensure it’s made up of at least 20 percent clay, which aids in retaining water. While you can import clay to line the top of rockier and sandy soil, those costs can quickly add up. Covering the bottom in overlapping sheets of plastic works as well.
Every pond is different, which means the process of building it will vary for every individual. That said, there are a few basic principles many landowners will have to incorporate no matter the shape or size. The first step is to outline the area to have a clear picture of the pond’s shape. Start by removing topsoil and save it to use in the final stages of building a dam if one is needed. According to the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, the minimum depth for sustaining warm water species like bass and panfish is 10 feet. While the entire pond doesn’t need to be this deep, at least 25 to 50 percent of it should provide enough dissolved oxygen in the winter and cooler temperatures in the summer for fish to thrive. Constructing shallow sections will encourage wading birds and amphibians to make a home there.
Plant native grasses and trees near the edges to prevent soil erosion. This will only make the pond habitat more attractive to wildlife. Sink logs or old Christmas trees to provide fish with suitable submerged habitat.
Building a fishing pond with shallow sections can help to attract wildlife like amphibians and migrating birds.
Many farm ponds are stocked with bluegills, which are not only fun to catch but serve as a food source for bass. The number of fish depends on the size of the pond. Typically, you want 100 bass per 400 bluegill per surface acre. Reach out to your state wildlife and fisheries agency for information on ordering hatchlings. It’s important not to fish for the first year of development. The fingerlings need time to develop, reach sexual maturity and spawn.
Providing inorganic fertilizers can ramp up phytoplankton and zooplankton levels in your new pond, which are excellent food for young and small fish. Adding lime can increase the alkalinity of the water and promote fish health. Consult your local ag agency before adding any. For a simpler approach, try tossing out fish pellets while the hatchlings grow.
While this may seem like a daunting process, the rewards far outweigh any headaches with permits or construction. With the right equipment or contractor, you can have a pond in a few weeks to as little as a month. Then, in the years ahead you’ll reap the many benefits of a farm pond – your kids will thank you for it.
Cornell Cooperative Extension
Image by Sandy Repp
Ponds need careful maintenance to flourish
Image by Rob Boudon
Ponds can adapt themselves to a yard and give it character
Building a New Pond
This web article by Jim Ochterski outlines proper pond construction and is directed to rural landowners in Upstate New York who are building a pond for the first time. It contains many suggestions regarding planning, design, and construction of a new pond. The information below also is available as a pdf: Building A New Pond (PDF, 81kb)
Consider how you will be using your new pond. If you have not given this question careful thought, you will have a hard time creating a farm pond that is right for you. In the past, farm ponds were presumed to have a strictly agricultural purpose. With fewer farms and more interest in wildlife, fishing, and rural scenery, pond design now involves many additional considerations.
No matter the use of the pond, several requirements for pond construction are always in effect. New ponds must be located in the best spot possible, supplied by a consistent water source, and constructed with an adequate spillway.
Failure to meet these basic requirements will cause your pond to have a low water level, fall apart during a storm, or provide you with years of dissatisfaction due to weeds and poor fishing. Think of these points as the fundamental rules of pond construction.
Representatives from your county Soil and Water Conservation District or Natural Resource Conservation Service can help you make decisions about pond construction. Qualified contractors and engineers can also provide you with sound professional advice. It is worthwhile to ask questions and meet these professionals on your property to discuss your plans.
Locate the Pond in the Best Site Possible
Ponds function only as well as their setting allows. Three factors are used to site a pond properly: proper soils, avoided hazards, and slope. Of these, the slope of the land offers the most flexibility and will determine whether your pond is dug as a hole or impounded behind a dike.
Soil composition is one of the most significant factors in siting a pond. The soil should have low permeability and good compaction. Typically, this includes a high clay content and relatively low organic content. Soils described as gravelly or loamy are usually unsuitable for pond construction without special provisions.
- Technicians and contractors should refer to a soil survey to determine what kind of soil is present on your proposed pond site. Although many people are not aware of it, almost all of New York’s soils have been classified with a particular name. For ponds, there are certain soil types that are ideal and others that are very improper. Learn what soil types exist around your property. If the property is large, there may be several different kinds of soil present from sandy to more clay-like. You cannot change your soil type; you must work with its limitations.
- You should plan on digging test pits to analyze the soil before extensive pond work is started. Test pits are holes (4 – 6 feet deep), excavated by a backhoe in the area where the pond is tentatively planned. They will reveal the soil profile and give you a good sense of what lies in the area of the proposed pond.
Once you understand your soils, check for hazards in the vicinity of the proposed pond. Ponds should not be located near power lines, above roadways, next to off-road vehicle trails, or immediately upslope from homes or barns. If a pond embankment fails, everything down slope is at risk of flooding.
Consistent Water Source
Your pond will need a regular supply of water to stay full. During dry weather, ponds can lose an inch or more of water per day to evaporation and seepage. Without water flowing in, your pond can slowly dry down to a muddy pit.
The only way to know for sure whether a site has a good water supply is to dig test pits. If you already created test pits to observe soil conditions, they will serve this important additional function. Although test pits are an added expense, they will confirm how adequate the pond water supply will be. Think of them as “test ponds.”
Underground springs provide the most dependable source of water. It can be difficult to determine whether a spring is in the area of your proposed pond. Check for wet areas in the summertime or brushy patches in farm fields where it was too wet to till. These on-site observations can provide valuable clues. Some county NRCS or Soil and Water Conservation District offices provide information about underground water. If you cannot find evidence of an underground spring, the test pits will be even more important. You will want to be absolutely certain that a pond constructed on your property will hold water.
In the absence of a spring, you will have to rely on overland flow to your pond. Ponds with overland flow as their primary source of water usually have significantly fluctuating water levels – full in spring and low in mid-summer. The drainage area should encompass more than 20 acres. Runoff from land can bring excess silt and nutrients with the water, creating difficult water quality problems in the future. Additionally, water flowing from land or surface ditches is warmer than spring water, seriously limiting the ability of the pond to host diverse wildlife.
Do not plan on diverting a stream or swamp to fill a pond. This creates several problems, including violations of state and federal laws, floods, siltation, compromised groundwater recharge, unwanted fish species, destruction of wildlife habitat, and bacterial contamination of the pond. Even if the stream is only intermittent, diversion is not recommended.
Getting water out of your pond is just as important as getting water into your pond. A pond spillway is a physical feature that controls the maximum depth of the pond. Dug ponds usually have a grassy or rock-lined outlet as a spillway. Dike ponds are built with grassy spillways, culverts, pipes, or inline water control devices. Regardless of the type of pond, it must include a spillway for excess water to exit the pond without undermining the structure of the pond.
Emergency spillways are highly recommended if the spillway is some type of pipe system. Pipes and culverts are subject to occasional clogging or wildlife damage, often during heavy storms. The emergency spillway serves as an escape way for water in flooded ponds. It is usually built as a shallow swale off one side of the pond, above the normal water line and below the top if the dike. It is a very important feature of dike ponds.
An inadequate spillway can create many problems for pond owners. If the water level rises above the spillway and crests over the top of a dike or embankment, fast-moving water will erode the dike into a gully. In fact, an inadequate spillway is the top reason why pond dikes fail. Depending on the site, water can be diverted before reaching the pond with a planned system of shallow ditches and pools.
Stages of Pond Construction
Though each pond is constructed differently, they usually follow several common steps. You should anticipate these steps to help pond construction personnel plan and create your pond.
- All vegetation (trees, brush, and small plants) is removed from the pond site and an area around the site to prevent rooting problems in the pond structure. Then, the topsoil is cleared down to the lighter-colored subsoil. This creates a stable working area for pond construction equipment.
- Many hours of bulldozer work are usually necessary to shape the pond bottom and compact the soils. A clay liner or soil amendments may be added if necessary. When completed, the pond bottom should include the features that meet your intentions for the pond.
- If the pond is being constructed with a tall dike, a backhoe digs a core trench along the center of where the dike will sit. The trench is filled in and compacted with highly compressed soil, continuing until the dike core mound is created. This ridge of soil will anchor the dike on a hillside and prevent slumping and dike movement. Dug ponds do not require this feature, but they do need firmly compacted soils and some type of swale as a spillway.
- At this stage in dike pond construction, a spillway pipe is laid into the mound. It should be surrounded with large metal or polymer plates, called anti-seep collars, placed perpendicular to the horizontal spillway pipe. The anti-seep collar prevents water leaking along the outside of the pipe.
- When the core mound and anti-seep collar are in place, dike construction continues until the maximum height, width, and proper slope are built. The dike should be constructed entirely out of soil, avoiding the use of fill or debris. Some ponds begin filling even before the dike is completed. This is the sign of a pond that will likely be successful.
- After the dike is completed, the original topsoil should be replaced to form a base for grass. Seed and fertilizer are broadcast across the dike to form a stable mat of turf covering the entire dike and any disturbed soils around the pond construction site.
- Within a few weeks, the pond should contain substantial amounts of water, but it may take a long time to become completely full. Cloudy water will often settle if the weather is calm, but some contractors prefer to amend the water with substances that will cause faster clearing. Insects and other wildlife tend to enter the pond almost immediately and will start a procession of biological growth and activity in the pond. It is a good idea to wait a full season before adding fish.
Choosing a Contractor
Hiring a company to dig or construct a pond can be challenging, so it is important to know what to look for. Take time to research who is good and who is just trying to make some side cash with their equipment. This might take several months of effort. Your local Soil and Water Conservation District office may have a list of contractors, and you should evaluate each one carefully.
A good pond construction contractor will have many satisfied clients, whom they would be happy to have you contact. They will have access to an engineer and can provide you with surveyed plans describing the shape, depth, and composition of the proposed pond. Make sure they have adequate insurance, and a written indication of how responsible they are for repairs if something goes wrong. They will explain why permits may or may not be needed and who will get the permits. Due to these services, a good pond construction contractor may cost more than other contractors. It is often money well spent if someone with experience recommends them.
Making a Duck Pond
My husband finally had a chance to make our ducks a permanent pond. It has an awesome gravel ramp and a faucet drain to make water changes super easy!
- stock tank
- faucet drain
- retaining wall blocks
- river pebbles
- flat paver
- various larger rocks
- hole saw (for drain)
- Use flat pavers to create a solid foundation for the stock tank to sit on. Set the stock tank onto the pavers and make sure it is level. This will ensure that it fills all the way up to the edge.
- Use stacking wall blocks to create the inner and outer curved walls of the ramp. Make sure to get the bottom row level, then start stacking the next layers. Use a flat paver turned on its edge to block the end that will meet up with the stock tank. This paver will hold back the river pebbles.
- Put the stock tank in place. Then begin adding dirt to the ramp to create a gradual slope up towards the pond. Tamp the dirt until it is firm.
For the drain: We talked to someone at our local feed store to select the proper hardware to create our drain. You only need a few simple parts and a hole saw to add it to the stock tank. You may even be able to find one that already has a drain.
- Add rocks below the faucet drain, if desired. Then begin filling the pond with water.
- Add the river pebbles and tamp them firmly to hold them in place. We had to add a few large rocks towards the bottom of the ramp to help keep the pebbles from falling into the grass.
- It took awhile to convince all three ducks that the pond was awesome. But now that they have gotten the hang of it, they rarely leave the water. 🙂
Our pond was designed to be easily drained using the faucet. Then you can remove it to hose it out and clean it. If you find that debris and feathers block the drain you may want to add a screen over the drain opening.