The ingredients for an attractive, simple and inexpensive pond
The idea behind this project was fairly simple:
I wanted a small pond with running
water in my backyard. I imagined something
pleasant to sit by, something that
would attract birds, frogs and other local critters—but
I didn’t want to spend much money or do much work
to get it.
I accomplished my goal by using an inexpensive preformed
pond shell and a ceramic flower pot. The
materials for this project cost about $125, not including
stone, and it took me only a day to finish. I got a little
carried away with the stonework, but the basic project
is easy—dig a hole, drop in the pond, run a tube
from the pump into the bowl and fill the pond with
Step 1: Set the pond shell
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Photo 1: Set the pond shell
Set the plastic pond in a hole with a few inches of
tamped-down sand underneath. Backfill around the
edges with additional sand.
The pond will take up a roughly circular 5 x 5-ft. area
after flagstones are laid around it and will need a GFCI
outlet nearby for the pump. Plastic circular ponds are
strong enough to be freestanding, so if rocks or tree
roots are a problem, your pond can be partly or entirely
above ground, or set into a hillside, as mine was. Just
hide the exposed sides by building up the rock wall.
Interlocking retaining wall blocks can also be used.
Set the pond upside down on the ground and outline
it with spray paint or flour—or just start cutting
the sod around the rim. Set the pond aside and cut out
the sod (you may need to reuse it later), then start digging
a few inches in from the circular outline. Dig the
hole the depth of the pond plus 2 in., and remove any
protruding roots or stones that might puncture the
pond. Check to make sure the pond fits, then pour in
2 to 3 in. of sand.
Push the pond down into the sand base, then walk in it
to compact the sand. The rim of the pond should be
roughly even with the highest point on the surrounding
ground. Level the pond as you work it down by moving
the sand under it.
Hold the pond in place and backfill around the edges
with sand, tamping and filling up to ground level
Before you do any digging, call 811
to have your electrical, gas, phone and
cable lines marked. Schedule this at
least three working days in advance.
Step 2: Set up the fountain
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Photo 2: Set the fountain base
Partially fill the pond and set blocks in place to hold the
pot. Check them with a level and shim with galvanized
washers if necessary.
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Photo 3: Install the pump
Run black tubing from the pump to the pot. Add a
shutoff valve to keep water in the pot when the
pump is off.
The fountain is made by running a tube from a submersible
pump up through the drainage hole of the ceramic pot. The pot
can sit below or above the water surface, but it will be heavy
when it’s full of water and needs a level, stable base. Start with a
6 x 8 x 12-in. block or two 3-in.-thick x 12-in.-diameter concrete
pads, then set an 8-in. deck pier (which has a slot for the tubing)
Fill the pond partway with water so that it fully settles into the
sand, then level the pier (Photo 2).
Cut a 3-ft. length of tubing and push 1 ft. of it through the
hole in the bottom of the pot. Seal the hole with silicone caulk or
plumber’s epoxy and set it aside until it cures. Use black tubing
to cut down on algae growth.
Install a shutoff between the pump and the pot to stop water
in the pot from siphoning back into the pond and overflowing it
when the pump is turned off (Photo 3). (You can also install a
coupling instead of a shutoff, then just add more water when the
pot drains.) To pump water out of the pond for cleaning, just
pull off the tubing from the shutoff and hang it over the side of
Set the pot on the pier and put the pump in the water, then
turn it on and make sure everything works and that the water
flows evenly over the pot rim. Leave enough tubing from the
pump to the shutoff to pump out the pond, but be careful not to
twist or kink it.
Step 3: Finish with stone and plants
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Photo 4: Landscape the pond
Lay flagstones around the pond to cover the edge. Place
plants in the water, using bricks to elevate them as
I surrounded my pond with flagstones, laying them on a bed of
sand and lapping them over the black plastic rim (Photo 4).
Fitting the stone is like working on a jigsaw puzzle, so buy a few
extra pieces. Cut the stone to fit with a circular saw or grinder
equipped with a dry-cutting diamond blade (or inexpensive
but short-lived masonry blade), or score and break it with a
cold chisel. Wear eye protection when you work with stone.
Use stone chips or a few hidden squirts of urethane foam to
keep flagstones steady and in position if you build up the wall.
Use conventional mortar if the wall is larger than shown here or
if kids will be walking on it.
Cut the tube inside the pot to half the depth of the pot, then
prop it up with rocks so it points straight toward the center.
Leave the tube long if you want the water to spout higher.
Lay a few large rocks in the bottom of the pond for decoration
and to hide the pump. Use bricks as needed to elevate
Most garden supply stores carry a large selection of accessories,
chemical additives and aquatic plants, and small fish can
be added if you install a special filter. Other creatures will discover
the pond on their own.
Keep the pool clean by pumping out half the water once or
twice a month and refilling it with clean water. Remove the
pump and clean off leaves when you change the water or anytime
the water flow seems slow. Empty the pond and pot
completely in the fall, and keep the plants in buckets in the
house until the weather warms up again.
Note: You can download the materials list in “Additional Information” below.