Watch how I built a pond in my backyard without any help. I’ve shared tips for moving heavy rocks and how to get everything set up so the pond works beautifully.
For ideas on pond designs, also see 17+ Beautiful Backyard Pond Ideas for All Budgets which also includes all of my top garden pond tips.
I’ve owned several ponds over the years but this is the first larger in-ground pond I have built. I’ll show you how I built it by myself and some tricks I learned along the way.
The pond shown is approximately 8×10-feet with depths ranging from 2 to 4-feet.
The pond was built using a kit from Aquascape, which came with everything I needed other than the rocks which were ordered separately from a landscaping company.
I really didn’t know if this was something I could do (one average middle-aged woman) but I just followed the instructions that came with the kit and sure enough, it all worked out.
The most challenging part was getting the rocks in place, because some of them were very heavy—hundreds of pounds, I’m guessing—but I came up with a good way to make my tools do the heavy lifting (as you’ll see below) and it ended up being fine. No back strain here!
I’ll walk you through the entire building process so you can see what you’re in for if you choose to build your own backyard fish pond.
Choose the Right Size & Location
One of the most common regrets after building a pond is wishing it was bigger and/or in different location.
If you can, build the largest size you can manage that suits your space and ability to maintain it.
And put the pond where you will enjoy it. I’m not sure why but so many gardeners decide to put their ponds way at the back of the yard where it is neglected and rarely enjoyed.
A location close to your patio or deck or within view of a house window is a much better choice.
In the right place, it will become a much-loved focal point of your garden.
Building a Pond Step-by-Step
I was forewarned ahead of time that it could take up to 50 hours to build a pond this size (8′ x 11′ with a minimum depth of 2 feet). It actually ended up taking just 25 hours including a lot of breaks, for bird watching and daydreaming, as I am prone to do. And I assure you, I am a happy worker but definitely not fast nor am I exceptionally strong.
A good pond kit comes with detailed instructions to walk you through the entire process.
I learned how to make this style of pond using the video here at Aquascape. The overview I’m providing here is just that—a brief overview. If you’re building a pond, be sure to consult your kit instructions for specific guidelines.
In addition to the pond kit, the only materials needed were rocks (large, medium, and gravel), and aquatic plants.
This video walks through the process of building my pond.
1Plan the Pond Shape and Flow
In the photo (below) you can see the white outline—done with baking flour—marking an 8 x 11-foot area. I next used a long electrical cord to plan the actual shape of the pond within these boundaries.
Pond kits come with instructions that will help you plan the water flow. I decided to place the waterfall at the far end, and the skimmer with the submersible pump (that returns the water to the waterfall) at the near side where there is access to an outdoor electrical outlet.
2Dig the Pond
This step took about 4 hours. Our soil is very sandy which makes digging as easy as it could be, but, it was a really hot day so I took a lot of breaks to avoid overheating. If you have clay soil, be prepared for it to take a lot longer or hire help for this step.
It’s helpful to have the big picture planned out ahead of time so you don’t end up having to move that soil more than necessary. I used some of the excavated soil to create a berm around the waterfall. The rest of the soil was used to fill some tall raised beds.
Placing the Equipment
The most important task is to position the waterfall, skimmer, and pipe connecting them where they will be most effective.
Keep It Level
The long brown thing (photo, above) is actually a piece of downspout that I used as a surface to place my level on, ensuring that the sides of the pond and inside ledges were level and the desired depths.
This pond is two feet deep at it’s deepest point which sounded too shallow to me until I saw it in place and it’s actually a nice depth. Make sure you don’t exceed the measurements your pond kit permits or you’ll run out of liner.
I opted to have one shelf around 3/4 of the pond and leave the rest open at full depth. You’ll see this in the next photos.
3Add the Liners
Pond kits (like the one I used from Aquascape) come with two liners: a cloth one, which goes down first, and the waterproof one.
This is when you start seeing what the pond will actually look like.
The first thing people ask is, how did you lift all of those rocks? It’s a good question. I’m told they weighed a whopping 5 tons—that’s 10,000 lbs—which sounds crazy but I had a secret weapon and figured out a way to make it even easier.
First of all, don’t lift them! I used a good hand trolley (also called a hand cart). Mine is designed to hold up to 600 lbs (much more than these rocks weigh), and it totally did the grunt work.
Be sure to wear protective gear including steel-toed boots and gloves with good grip and let gravity do the work.
The pond rocks were delivered on pallets at the front of our house so I did have to move them some distance to the backyard. I just pushed each rock off the pile onto the driveway. Some gritty sand on the driveway made it easy to spin and roll them onto the hand cart.
From there, I’d push the hand cart to the pond and dump them in. Once in the pond, it was easy to move them where I wanted them.
Honestly, I thought I might have to hire someone for this step, but, once I tried the hand cart and the gritty sand trick, it was way easier than I expected.
The walls of the pond and waterfall area are lined with the bigger rocks. The bottom, shelf, and gaps between the rocks are filled with gravel.
Moving the rocks took a couple of 2-3 hour sessions.
In the photo, you can see I placed a board over the waterfall bin (at the far end) to avoid getting dirt and stones in there. The buckets were used to move and pour the gravel.
5Ensure Everything is Level and Add Water
I mentioned previously that you need things to be level for the pond to look right. Water will always level itself, of course, so you want the surroundings to also appear level.
Before I secured the waterfall and skimmer bins in place, I made sure they were on solid ground and matched the measurements in the kit instructions.
I was eager (and ridiculously nervous) to add the water and turn the pump on for the first time. That would be the moment of truth.
I called my husband to witness the big moment (turning on the pump) and it was rather anticlimactic because the water flowed beautifully. You can see this historic moment in the video (above) if you’re interested.
I was also pleasantly surprised to discover that the pump itself is very quiet: the only sound you hear is water falling. Perfect!
6Plants and Landscaping
You’ll notice in the photos that there is pond liner visible around the perimeter of the pond—this is not the intended long-term look. For now, I’m adding plants I have on hand and covering all of the bare soil with mulch. Over time, I’ll add many more plants, some stones, and ground covers to fill everything in. Just like any new addition to the garden, only time can make it look like it has been there all along.
I also have a fun idea planned for the waterfall cover—which needs to remain accessible—stay tuned for that.
Here’s the pond with some aquatic plants added.
Aquatic Plants in This Pond
When choosing pond plants, find a local seller and decide whether you want hardy and/or tropical plants. I chose hardy plants, with the exception of some of the floating plants, that will survive in the pond year-round. Tropical plants will need to be stored elsewhere for the winter.
These are deemed non-invasive in my area (southern Ontario):
- Marsh Marigold Caltha palustris
- Fragrant Water Lily Nymphaea odorata
- Pickerelweed Pontederia cordata
As expected, the birds immediately started using the pond. I’m waiting to see if the frogs and toads from the other little pond decide to move over here. And I also intend to get fish.
The pond is obviously new and it will take some time for it to look more ‘naturalized’, but even now I completely love it.
It’s become everyone’s favorite spot to sit and relax as the waterfall spills down.
If you are considering building your own pond, I hope you found this encouraging.
The digging and moving rocks is hard work, but it didn’t take nearly as long as I thought, and every step was manageable with the instructions, my hand trolley, and few helpful tips.
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Wondering what to do in winter? See these winter pond care tips.
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~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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