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 water.
Step 1: Set the pond shell
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 (Photo 1).
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
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.
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) on top.
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 the pond.
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
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 needed.
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 water plants.
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.
Required Tools for this Project
Have the necessary tools for this DIY project lined up before you start—you’ll save time and frustration.
- Circular saw
- Cold chisel
- Safety glasses
- Utility knife
Required Materials for this Project
Avoid last-minute shopping trips by having all your materials ready ahead of time. Here’s a list.
- Aquatic plants
- See Materials List in Additional Information at the end of the Step-by-Step section.
- Silicone caulk
- Urethane foam