How to build a pond – a step by step expert guide

No matter how big or small, learning how to build a pond and adding one to your garden will prove invaluable for wildlife

how to build a pond images of ponds in gardens
(Image credit: Getty Image/Future)

Learning how to build a pond can have a transformative effect on your garden. It is capable of evoking serenity, movement and a relaxing soundtrack to your plot as well as creating a thriving environment for a limitless array of wildlife. 

Every animal, from tiny insects to larger mammals need a source of water in order to thrive. Finding out how to build a pond in your garden can dramatically increase the bio-diversity of your backyard ideas and as a result will help your garden to flourish.

‘Insects are the base of the food chain and though they are less iconic than some of our familiar mammals, a water source will increase the number and the variety of insects in your garden very significantly’, says Barry Chambers founder of Garden Design Guru (opens in new tab). Insects are vital to the wellbeing of our garden and ‘more diversity brings greater stability and less chance of a proliferation of any pest or even disease on your patch.’

garden pond with plants surrounded by wooden decking

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

How to build a pond

When researching how to build a pond and investigating water feature ideas and garden pond ideas, it is important to figure out what you want from your pond. Do you want something that is a haven for wildlife or perhaps something that is just a reflective space? This will influence the style and size of your pond.

There are lots of different ways to build a pond, however the three most popular methods are using a pond liner; using a preformed base or creating a container pond.

  • Lined pond - the traditional method of pond construction, a lined pond starts life as a large hole, dug into the ground. Ensure there are no stones in the hole as these could pierce the liner, then coat the hole with sand. Next build a trench around the outside of the pond to accommodate the edges of the lining. Then lay your pond liner in the hole and tuck the edges into the trench, use large rocks to weight it down. The Wildlife Trust recommends using a pond liner that is made of butyl rubber. From here the liner is then smoothed flat and the pond is filled with rain water. Backfill the trench with soil to secure the liner.
  • Preformed - this method utilizes a plastic base, which is buried in the ground and is much easier and more convenient than lining your own. However, you are limited to the size and shape of your pond. To install, dig your hole, coat with a layer of sand and then install and backfill around your preformed pond.
  • Container pond - the easiest to create, any watertight container can be transformed into a pond. Simply fill with rainwater and add your plants, immersed in pond baskets. You can then create slopes in your pond by sinking rocks and old bricks.

After you've built your pond, the next step is incorporating it into your garden ideas and adding pond plants Container ponds are the easiest to integrate as their appearance is predominantly provided by the container. This means that so long as the container you choose fits into your garden style, then your pond should fit perfectly into your scheme. 

On the other hand, you have a lot more freedom to design the space around a sunken pond. Once built, the way you decorate is pretty much the same regardless of whether you used a liner or a preformed mould. Consider edging your pond with rocks and alpine plants to create a rockery feel that is befitting of cottage garden ideas or try surrounding  your pond with a more formal deck or paving which draws on patio ideas

pond set into patio surrounded by plants

(Image credit: Charlie Hopkinson)

How to build a container pond

Finding out how to build a pond in a container is one of the quickest and easiest ways to build a pond in your garden. In fact, you can turn almost any watertight container into a miniature wildlife pond. From troughs and buckets to barrels and urns, there is no size of shape that can’t be transformed into a haven. 

The steps for how to build a pond in a container are really straightforward. Simply select your container, then sink stones and bricks to create slopes. Then fill with rainwater and immerse your chosen pond plants in pond baskets. Once you've figured out how to build a pond in a container, you can then incorporate it into your other container gardening ideas for a beautiful display.

wildlife pond built in tin container and filled with plants

(Image credit: Future)

How deep should I dig a pond?

How deep you should dig a pond depends on what you want to achieve with it. If you are hoping to have fish in your pond then a depth of at least 20 inches and a minimum capacity of 2000 litres is recommended. However, if you are hoping to create a wildlife pond then shallower is better.

'A wildlife pond should have lots of shallow water – roughly 50% shallows, and the deep area is not more than 30 cm,' says Dr Jeremy Biggs, CEO at FreshWater Habitats Trusts (opens in new tab) 'Most garden ponds are too deep for their area: if you want a half metre deep pond, or deeper, it needs to be much bigger or you end up with very steep sides.'

The size of your pond will largely depend on the size of your garden, even a small pond is a beneficial addition both to wildlife and to your garden's aesthetics.

However, regardless of the size, 'it is important that you ensure that almost all pond slopes are shallow, less than 1:5 (12°) and preferably less than 1:20 (3°),’ continues Dr Jeremy Biggs. By ensuring that the sides are at gentle angles will ensure that any animals that accidentally find themselves in the pond are able to escape.

garden pond with plants and fountains

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

How to fill a pond?

For all ponds, filling with the correct water is vital. The best option is rainwater as it has a pH level that will support the largest range of plants and wildlife. Start collecting rainwater in waterbuts before you begin to build your pond. You can then use this to fill your pond quickly and efficiently. 

‘When topping up your pond it’s a good idea to use collected rainwater or tap water that has stood in a watering can for a few days to allow some of the chemicals to evaporate,’ recommends Period Living's gardening expert Leigh Clapp.

A garden pond surrounded with new Spring growth and a patio with a seating area.

(Image credit: Getty Images)

How to build a pond that is safe

With any sunken pond, safety is key, especially if you have children or pets.

The most traditional method is to surround your pond with a fence, however this does come with aesthetic costs. Pond covers are also popular but they also come with aesthetic compromises and will restrict the amount of wildlife that can benefit from the addition to your garden ideas

A pond grate, on the other hand, offers invisible protection. A simple plastic grid, it is installed a few millimetres below the surface of the water meaning that if someone or something should fall in, they cannot sink. However, since the grate also has holes it doesn't have a detrimental effect on any wildlife that wants to enter the pond. Once the pond is full of water and plants have been added the grate becomes nearly invisible. You can find all types of pond grates at Amazon (opens in new tab).

wildlife pond in a garden surrounded by marginal plants

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

How do I attract wildlife to my pond?

If you are looking to incorporate wildlife garden ideas into your plot, then knowing how to build a pond is essential. Whether you build a small pond in a container or a large pond in your lawn, they will quickly become a safe haven for all sorts of wildlife.

‘Generally wildlife can 'sniff out' water when it's there! Animals and insects will turn up, as if by magic and you could argue that those which come are those to support,’ says Barry. However, there are a few things you can do to make your pond more appealing to wildlife.

Plants are a great way to encourage wildlife to your pond. ‘If you aim to cover around 50 per cent of your pond, they can do a great job at keeping the water cool and algae growth down,’ says experts from the RSPB (opens in new tab). However, when selecting plants be sure to opt for a mix that offers food for pollinators as well as protective habitats or food for insects, amphibians and mammals. ‘It is important to avoid invasive species like Canadian Pond Weed (Elodea canadensis) and those like Rushes (Typha species) which can puncture the liner,’ recommends Barry.

Also when thinking about how to build a pond, you must also consider whether you want to incorporate water feature ideas. Additions such as a fountain will not only provide a bubbling soundtrack to your garden but it will also add visual interest and help to attract birds and wildlife towards your pond.

There are many different options for fountains, from those with pumps that help to aerate the water to solar options that simply float on the surface and recirculate the water below. 

lily pond with stone surround

(Image credit: Getty Images)

Can a pond be built anywhere?

Yes, a pond can be built anywhere. Though if you want to figure out how to build a pond as part of your small garden ideas, it might be better to opt for a container pond over a permanent structure.

You also need to consider the site of your pond. The optimum location would be one that receives between four and six hours of sunlight. However, it is better to have a pond in a less optimal location than to not have one at all. 

The other key factor that will influence the site is how the pond is going to be fed water. ‘Although you may be able to pipe water from a roof to reach the pond this ideally does not want to be an afterthought - rainwater is best and of course the sustainable way to go,’ says Barry. 

'Increasingly we need to consider what wildlife is already using the garden so as not to destroy existing habitats but ensure we add without subtracting. You could set up a wildlife trail camera to see if there are visitors which you don't know about, like hedgehogs for instance,' continues Barry.

water feature ideas natural wildlife pond in a country garden

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)
Holly Reaney
Holly Reaney

Having graduated with a first class degree in English Literature four years ago, Holly started her career as a features writer and sub-editor at Period Living magazine, Homes & Gardens' sister title. Working on Period Living brought with it insight into the complexities of owning and caring for period homes, from interior decorating through to choosing the right windows and the challenges of extending. This has led to a passion for traditional interiors, particularly the country-look. Writing for the Homes & Gardens website as a content editor, alongside regular features for Period Living and Country Homes & Interiors magazines, has enabled her to broaden her writing to incorporate her interests in gardening, wildlife and nature.