How to build a pond? Building a wildlife pond in your garden is one of the very best things you can do for the many creatures who visit your space. Having such a feature will increase biodiversity – increasing the range of plants and animals your garden can support. This, in turn, will make it easier to grow your own food and maintain other growing systems. So creating a wildlife pond is a win-win for you and for the creatures who share your space. It can be a wonderful addition to any organic garden.
Why Build a Pond?
As mentioned above, a wildlife pond is a wonderful way to increase biodiversity in your garden. But how and why exactly will a pond be beneficial for wildlife. Just some of the many ways a pond can be a great addition to your garden include:
- A pond can attract amphibians & reptiles, which can keep down pest populations (such as slugs, for example).
- Having a water source in your garden is great for birds, which can drink and bathe there.
- Ponds also serve as a water source for a range of native mammals where you live.
- Your body of water can also attract and aid a range of beneficial insects, such as pollinators and predatory insects that will prey on pest species and keep their numbers down.
As well as being beneficial for local wildlife, a backyard pond can also be a great thing for local human inhabitants. It can:
- Be a visual delight, and make your garden look great with the water feature.
- Be a relatively low maintenance part of the garden, saving time and effort.
- Help you to conserve water, and store rainwater on your property, thereby making use of this precious natural resource.
- Serve as an emergency water source – for example, in case of wildfire – protecting your residence from harm.
- Be a focal point to help teach children (and others) and to inspire them about the natural world.
Identifying a Site for a Wildlife Pond
The first step in how to build a pond is to identify a suitable site. Autumn is a great time to start thinking about a location for your wildlife pond. Where should you site your backyard pond? It is important to think about the conditions where you live, and to choose the most suitable spot that your garden can provide. As with every garden decision, there are likely to be some compromises, but considering the elements below should help to ensure that you create a thriving pond that can attract and support wildlife in your garden for many years to come.
Some important things to think about when identifying a site for a wildlife pond include:
The first thing to think about when it comes to the location of your wildlife pond is sunlight. Consider how much sunlight will fall on the pond in each location you are considering. If you place your pond in a given spot, will it be in full sun all the time, or in shade for part or all of the day?
It is usually best to choose quite a sunny spot. A pond that gets plenty of sunlight will be less likely to freeze solid in winter in colder regions. It will be warm enough for a wide variety of wildlife to thrive. However, to keep the algae population down, partial shade may be better. Partial shade is tolerated by most pond dwelling wildlife and may also be more beneficial for creatures who like to sneak in and use the water’s edge. A sunny spot with some overhanging foliage that does not obscure too much light is probably best. Think about a location in which you can protect the pond from the sunlight during the hottest part of the day and the year. This will mean that less of the water in the pond will be lost to evaporation in summer. But also one in which the pond will get good light levels and temperatures for as much of the year as possible.
A wildlife pond should generally be placed in a fairly sheltered spot. This will make it easier for insects and creatures who like to sunbathe on the surrounding rocks and stones.
Think about how the prevailing wind direction may bring wildfires, if these are a concern in your area. It may be beneficial to place a body of water between potential blazes and your home or other buildings on your property.
Another thing to think about is how the prevailing wind on your property will blow around autumn leaves and other debris. You want to avoid placing your pond in a place where wind-blown detritus will tend to accumulate. It you do, keeping it clear could become something of a problem.
To prevent too much organic build up, which can cause nutrient overload in your pond, it is a good idea to limit the amount of overhanging foliage. However, the pond should not be placed in too open a location either, as this will make life more difficult for the wildlife visiting it. When you plan the location of your pond, be sure to plan for dense foliage cover up to at least one edge of it. Wildlife using the pond will feel much safer when they have some cover. Think about whether existing planting may be of use, as well as leaving space for new planting.
Safety and Common Sense
Of course it should go without saying that you should always be careful not to leave a child unattended around a pond. The location of your pond may be determined by where young children tend to play. Ponds can be wonderful for childhood development, but safety should always be taken into account.
Whether or not you have children, you should be careful not to place your pond somewhere people may be likely to fall in it – right next to a door or gate, for example, or on a route used routinely in the dark (for example, coming in from a garden shed or polytunnel).
Wildlife will prefer a rather more out of the way location anyway, so it would usually be foolish to place your wildlife pond on a busy thoroughfare. It can be helpful, when identifying a site for your wildlife pond, to spend some time observing the wildlife already in your garden, and thinking about where a pond might be placed to be of most benefit to those creatures.
It might also be sensible to spend some time thinking about common sense issues – such as access, and the relation of your pond to other elements in your garden. For example, the pond’s location might be dictated by practicalities surrounding rainwater harvesting. (Pipes from your home’s guttering, for example, might direct rainwater to fill the pond.) It is also helpful to think about placing your pond close to a polytunnel, greenhouse or vegetable beds, so you can make the most of the pest-controlling benefits of the wildlife it attracts.
Finally, other common sense thoughts might dictate the best location for your new pond. For example, you might create your pond where there is already a natural depression, or in a part of your garden that is already prone to bogginess or waterlogging.
Marking Out a Wildlife Pond
Once you have decided on a location for your wildlife pond, is is time to determine the shape and size of pond you wish to create. A wildlife pond can come in many shapes and sizes – from huge duck ponds to the smallest of pools in the tiniest of gardens.
The most diverse and abundant part of any ecosystem is the edge. For this reason, in an organic garden, it is best to maximise edge zones wherever possible. A pond with a curving, irregular sides will have more edge than a square or other straight sided structure. It will also, of course, look more natural and fit better with the natural surroundings. While a pond with a more formal shape can still attract plenty of wildlife, keeping things more natural, flowing and organic is often the best choice for a wildlife pond.
Once you have decided on the location, size and shape of your pond, it is time to mark it out. The easiest way to do this is to sprinkle sand, flour or another similar substance around the edges. You can also simply mark the edges of the pond with garden canes.
Work begins on digging out the new wildlife pond.
Digging Out a Pond
Once you have marked out your pond, the most labor intensive part of the job can begin. If you are creating a very large pond, you may have to bring in machinery to undertake this task. However, most garden ponds can be dug by hand. You will need a spade and, ideally, some willing volunteers to help you.
The centre of the pond should generally be where the bottom of the pond is the deepest. The best wildlife ponds will be at least 60cm deep at the centre. Do not dig a large deep hole with straight sides. Try to keep the shape natural and vary the depth, with a deeper section in the middle, shallower sides and one end that slopes gently upwards to a sort of beach area. If there is not a gently sloping side, you will have to incorporate an ‘escape route’ for any wildlife that might fall into the pond and otherwise not be able to get out.
It is important to take the time at this stage to make sure that your pond’s edges are level and water will not escape from one edge or the other pond linerf, leaving a lip at the other side. Use a level to make sure that the sides of the pond are right.
Lining a Wildlife Pond
Plastic pond lining, pond being filled with rainwater from our rainwater harvesting system.
There are a range of pond liners on the market. If going for a plastic one, make sure you do all you can to ensure it has a long life and will last. Plastic waste is a problem. It is also worth remembering that plastic degrades in sunlight – it is important to make sure that no plastic is visible around the top of your pond. (Getting the pond level at the last stage will help ensure water can come up to the brim and no plastic will be exposed to sunlight around any of the top edge.)
However, for a more eco-friendly and sustainable solution, you could consider using natural materials to make your pond retain water. A simple and natural clay lining inside your pond could be ideal. It could even keep costs down dramatically, especially if you can source the clay for this purpose from your own property.
Around the edges of the pond you have dug and lined, you can now place rocks, stones and gravel to give it a more natural look, and provide more habitat spaces for wildlife to enjoy.
Filling a Wildlife Pond
Once you have lined and edged your pond, you may be tempted to simply grab a hose and fill it up using water from your tap. But generally speaking, mains water is not the best thing to use for filling your pond. Unless you have pure water from a natural water source or spring piped directly into your property, your water will likely be treated. It will, therefore, not be as good for filling your pond as rainwater.
The best solution for filling your pond is to use rainwater harvested from your roof, or channelled from elsewhere in your garden. The addition of a bucket of water from a nearby watercourse or another garden pond in the area will give your pond a helping hand in establishing a viable ecosystem.
Planting Up a Wildlife Pond
The pond – newly planted up in spring.
While autumn and winter are the best seasons to build your pond, the best time for planting up is the spring. The plants you should choose for your pond will largely depend on where you live and what the local conditions are like. The staff of a local garden centre or aquatic plant nursery will often be able to give you some pointers.
Wherever you live, however, there are four categories of water plant that you should place in your pond in order to create a perfectly harmonious and balanced environment. Those are:
- Rooted floating plants
- Marginal plants
- Submerged (oxygenating) plants and
- Floating plants.
Your goal should be to incorporate as many different aquatic and marginal plants as possible. Consider all the layers of vegetation in your pond as you would consider the layers in a forest garden, or polyculture planting scheme elsewhere on your property.
It is also worthwhile mentioning that it is a good idea to avoid invasive plant species – some aquatic plants can be problematic and can take over your pond if you let them! They can also sometimes become a problem if they get ‘loose’ into the surrounding environment. Again, getting advice for where you live from a local plant nursery or garden centre is a good idea.
Waiting for Wildlife to Arrive
The fruition of our how to build a pond guide – the pond, beginning to become established.
Once the planting around and in your pond is beginning to become established, it becomes a waiting game. You should not have to wait too long. It is truly amazing. You will be surprised by how quickly, when you build an effective wildlife pond, the wildlife begins to arrive. Build it and they will come.
A wildlife pond can be a wonderful addition to almost any garden. So why not improve your outside space and do your bit for the environment by creating one of these attractive features? You and your family could enjoy watching the wildlife and enjoying the tranquil scene for many years to come.
The same wildlife pond as pictured above, around three years on. Hope our guide on how to build a pond was helpful.
A fish pond can also be a great idea. We have a detailed guide with beautiful koi pond ideas here.
Elizabeth Waddington is a smallholder, permaculture designer and environmental consultant. When not designing food producing systems or advising growers around the world, she is to be found in her own garden. On her 1/3 of an acre patch of land she has a walled forest garden orchard (home to rescue chickens), a polyculture vegetable plot, a polytunnel, wildlife pond, wild woodland garden and more and is working every day towards greater self-sufficiency. She is passionate about sustainability and loves to inspire others about the wonderful things home gardeners can do for people and planet.