Three years ago, I tested my abilities by building a pond after my husband hinted, he wanted a pond for the backyard with a flowing waterfall. So, I created one measuring 10 by 16 by 4 feet. Today, water plants thrive on a ledge that covers about half the pond, and water lilies cover most of the remaining surface area. There’s a pump which bring the water into a UV filter and then spills out over a shale basin back into the pond.

Goldfish jump out on occasion in a playful manner catching flies while bull frogs float on the surface of the water upon lily pads. I clean out the bottom of the pond only once a season, and I’ve never changed the water (although I do top it off once a year to compensate for a lack of rain).

As my plants were getting established, I did have algae blooms, but it declined as the water plants filled in. For the past two years, my pond has been virtually algae-free. In fact, the water is so clear that I can see 4 feet deep, to the bottom of the deepest section.

Dragonflies and all kinds of insects love the pond. Which brings in addition hundreds of birds and a few stray cats. Two types of reeds have seeded themselves on the planting ledge. Plants and microorganisms provide all the maintenance and filtering. My natural pond is living proof that you can build a low-maintenance, less expensive, wildlife-friendly water feature on your property.

Because we don’t like to use chemical, we only use a UV filter and the plants to control the pond ecosystem. Our pond construction was all by hand, which took one day of digging, another to pound down the earth and the third day to lay down the liner protection. Now, because we are very much believers in using what’s around the house and keeping expenses tight. We used multiple layers of discarded indoor carpet (nails and staples removed) for the padding for the bottom and sides of the pond. Then we used tarps as the next layer (building up and outwards) for protection between the carpet and the new pond liner (Purchased at local Home Depot).

A pond’s sides can collapse if the soil around the edge and under the liner gets too wet. Such cases can occur if a heavy rain over-fills the pond, or if you forget to turn off the garden hose while filling it. So design the pond with a specific low spot to allow for overflow, and add some extra liner in that area to direct the water where you want it to go. We had our excess water go into our garden beds. Waste not, want not!

The size of your pond won’t be critical to its success, but you’ll probably wish you’d made it bigger. A depth of at least 3 feet will help fish overwinter in cold climates (Zones 4 to 6), while 2 feet will be sufficient in warmer areas. Consider including a shallow beach-like area with a sand or pebble bottom along the pond’s edge. This will make it easier for wildlife to take a drink and provide a way for an animal to escape if it falls into the water. Plus, a beach will make the pond even more visually appealing.

Secrets to a Successful Pond

Keep nutrient levels low in your natural backyard pond by placing lots of small stones and pebbles on the ledge to provide surfaces to support microbes, which will break down organic matter.

Include plenty of water plants on the ledge to feed on decaying organic matter. Grow water lilies to shade the surface and inhibit algae.

Keep the fish population low and don’t add fish food.

Don’t clean the rocks or the liner.

Let Mother Nature do the work.