Garden pond: how to build a pond to attract wildlife

Find out how to build a garden pond as part of creating a wildlife garden

garden pond
(Image credit: Getty)

A garden pond can transform your outdoor space into a luscious wildlife garden in no time. Ponds are very beneficial to a whole host of species from dragonflies to newts, to say nothing of the beautiful and fascinating plants you can grow in them. Building a garden pond is actually quite easy and requires only basic DIY skills. Find out how to build a simple garden pond below.

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How to build a pond

To build your own garden pond, you will need:

Method:

1. Find a large patch of level ground in your garden, preferably in a sheltered, sunny spot. Mark out the desired shape of your pond with chalk, a rope or a hose.

2. Start digging: the ideal depth your pond will be somewhere between 20 inches and three feet in the centre, depending on the size of the pond. It doesn't need to be the same depth everywhere, and you may find it easier to dig in three different level to accommodate different pond plants.

3. Ensure the edges of your pond are level: you can do this by inserting a wooden plank at the edge and placing a spirit level on top of it.

4. Fill the bottom of the pond with sand – about five centimetres should do it. 

5. Now, dig up a slim trench around the edge of your pond. Cut the pond lining to the size and shape of your pond, plus a little extra for tucking in the ends. Place inside the pond hole and tuck the edges into the trench. Trim off any excess.

6. Now, level your trench and secure the pond lining with large rocks, boulders, or flagtones all around the perimeter. 

7. It's time to fill your pond with water. If you rain water collected, use that, but tap water from the garden hose is fine. If using tap water, you'll need to wait a couple of weeks before planting anything, as the chlorine and fluoride will take time to evaporate from the water.

8. Plant pond plants in three tiers: you will need bottom plants that will help filter the water and keep it clean; pondweeds that are mostly submerged in water but have some leaves out, and shallow water or bog plants for the surface and edges of your pond. Learn more about pond plants from the RHS guide.

Expert tips for a DIY garden pond

Decide the depth

Shallower ponds are better for displaying decorative ornaments and rocks, as well as allowing a greater opportunity to view and interact with pet fish and wildlife. Deeper ponds will be less affected by algae than shallower ones because light can only reach a smaller percentage of the water, but they can require more expensive pond liner and fish might hide out of sight at the bottom or under rocks.

Keep it suitable

A pond that covers half the area of your garden is too much, but there’s no point having a tiny puddle either. Think about your backyard’s dimensions, angles and other features before committing to an appropriate size. Location can be crucial too, so consider proximity to the house, flower beds and fences. Instead of starting to shovel blindly, it might be wise to consult with friends, family and neighbours.

Avoid complex shapes

Simple, gentle curves are the best shape for a garden pond – sharp corners, jagged bits sticking out and dramatic inlets will all soften and eventually erode over time. Unless the pond’s sides are going to be sufficiently reinforced, basing your design on a rough circle or oval is the most straightforward option.

Don't use vertical walls

Reinforcing vertical walls in a backyard pond can be more difficult and costly, as it requires larger rocks that are heavier and more expensive. Shallow banks, less than halfway to a right-angle ideally, allow smaller stones to be used as loose reinforcement.

Protect the bottom

To prevent burrowing animals from chewing at pond liner, lay down a protective metal mesh sheet along the floor of the pond and cover it with an even layer of dirt. Then put a strong pond lining in that covers the sides. Buying the highest-quality lining within your budget is essential to stop unwanted dirt getting in and water leaking out. Then layer the bottom of the pond with smooth gravel to weigh it down.

Level the perimeter

The water level for a backyard pond will only be as high as the lowest point around the perimeter. If the edges are uneven in height, water could flow out like it’s being poured from a jug, particularly after heavy rain. To avoid soaking the rest of your garden, keep the perimeter level. While precision is difficult, it’s worth checking there aren’t any significant deviations from your chosen depth at intervals around the edge.

Don’t forget drainage

Even taking the precaution of levelling the perimeter won’t stop your pond from overflowing occasionally, given Britain’s rainy climate. To stop heavy downpours from causing your pond to flood plants or nearby building foundations, identify and implement a predictable overflow area by creating a drainage channel to a safe area of lawn, shrubbery or wasteland.

Fill it carefully

Get your pond started by filling it with a garden hose, but not right to the top – this allows room for initial rain. Pick appropriate plants and fish, but remember to do your research, as invasive plants or fish that compete with one another could quickly ruin your pond.