Make a Garden Pond

A backyard or garden pond is a great addition to your yard.  It is soothing and inviting, attracts wildlife like birds and butterflies, and adds beauty to your landscape.  A garden pond is also a project in which you can integrate solar energy. Your pond will need a pump to circulate and aerate the water.  This will discourage mosquito breeding and keep the water cleaner.  Solar pond pumps are ideal because they cut down on the wires needed, give more freedom of location for your pond, and cost nothing to operate. 

Because it only runs when the sun is out, a solar pond pump will be off at night.  This is good because it will be less attractive to wildlife at night. If you use your pond pump to power a waterfall or fountain, you may want the option of turning it on after dusk for a party or an evening cup of tea with your spouse.  This is possible as well; you will just need to add a battery to the solar collector. Some models allow the battery to be fixed to the underside of the panel for convenience and protection.

Here are the steps for building your own D-I-Y pond with a solar powered pump (not to be confused with a solar pond which is actually a way to generate renewable heat and electricity) 


1. Find out what is underneath

Before you decide on a location, it is a good idea to locate your gas, water, and electric lines that may be buried below the ground in your yard.  Call your utility company to find out how to do this.


2. Sketch out your ideas on paper.

Make some drawings showing the shape and location of your pond in your yard.  Draw in the location of the solar collector and indicate where plants will be.  You may want to include other landscaping ideas such as a seating area with a small table and a bench or chairs.  Think about whether you want a waterfall or stream as part of your pond and how it might be configured.

As you make your drawing and design your pond there are several things to consider:

  • You will need a relatively level spot free of trees that may shed leaves into the finished pond.  Leaves are a nuisance to clean and can cause pollution problems if they decompose in the water.
  • Consider proximity to your home. You will want it to be close enough that you will actually enjoy and appreciate it. A far off corner of your garden is probably not a good place for your pond because it will get forgotten there. You may want to be able to see your pond from a kitchen window or porch. 
  • Safety is a concern, especially if you have small children. The pond should be away from their play area and fenced off for safety.
  • The solar panel that will power your pump needs to be in full sun, and should be in close proximity to the pond to cut down on wire length.  If your wires are too long between the pump and the pv panel, you will have too much voltage loss and may not have enough power to operate your pump. 
  • Consider where you want to have plants, both in the pond and out.  It is a good idea to have a shallow ledge or terrace for plants. If you want to have water plants in your pond, then you will also want it to be mostly in sun.  Fish do not need to have sun, but it is a good idea, especially if you are in a colder climate as the sun will help prevent the pond from freezing over  completely.
  • The depth of your pond will depend on what plants and animals you want it to sustain.  Garden ponds are usually 2 or 3 feet deep.  18 inches is the absolute minimum.  If you live in a cold climate and want to have fish, your pond should be deeper than the frost line to prevent total freezing in the water. 


3. Mark the perimeter of your pond

Outline the shape of your pond with a piece of string and stakes.  If you prefer, a trick is to use a garden hose to mark the perimeter.  Next, remove any sod from the interior of your outline.  Remember that the hole you dig out will be filled in some with lining, plants, and rocks, and will look smaller than you imagined when it is finished.  Err on the side of too big rather than too small.  Bigger ponds are easier to maintain because they sustain themselves better.


4. Excavate the collar and plant terrace for your pond

Now, dig out the perimeter of your pond about 3 inches deep and 12 inches wide.  This will be the collar of your pond.  It will be above water and lined with stone. The stone will hide and hold the waterproof liner in place.  Inside the collar, dig out a plant terrace about 12 inches deep and 12 inches wide.  It doesn’t have to be present around the whole pond -- only where you want to have plants.  Where there is no terrace, the edge should still be sloped.  A sloped edge will look more natural and be more stable than a vertical edge.

Garden Pond with Solar Pond Pump

5. Finish excavation

The deep part of your pond should be at least 18 inches deep. If you want to have water lilies or goldfish, 24 inches is probably better.  If you want to have koi, you will need a minimum of 3 feet depth but 4 feet is better.  Keep in mind that koi are large fish and require a lot of maintenance.  Your pond will need to have a good filter system and be very well constructed.  Because goldfish are smaller, they are easier to care for.  With only small fish and a few plants, you can probably get away without installing a filter; a pump to circulate and aerate the water will probably be sufficient to keep your pond healthy.


6. Level the edges of your pond and add channels

After digging out the rest of your pond, level the edges. Place a 2x4 or other straight board across the pond and place a level on it.  You may need to add soil to one edge or take some away from another.  At this time you may want to dig a small overflow channel 3 inches deep and 6 inches wide and line it with gravel.  Also make a channel for your wiring between the solar panel and pump.  These will be covered and hidden from view with rocks later. 


7. Prepare the pond for lining

First remove any roots, rocks, or sticks from the interior that could poke through the waterproof liner.  Spread a layer of sand on the bottom of the pond and on the terraces about 1 inch thick to help pad it.  Next layer newspaper, about ½ inch thick, along the entire pond floor.  An alternative to sand and newspaper is a commercial foam pad specifically made for ponds to protect the liner from rips.  Sand and newspaper is cheaper though, and it works well. 


8. Size and cut the pond liner

Cut the liner to size with heavy scissors or a utility knife.  To size the pond liner, take the width and add the depth times 2 plus another 24 inches. 

Pond liner width = pond width + (pond depth) x 2 + 2ft

The length of the liner is calculated the same way:

Pond liner length = pond length + (pond depth) x 2 + 2ft. 


9. Install the liner and begin filling your pond

Center the liner on the pond and let it drupe in the center.  Begin filling your pond with your garden hose.  As it fills, smooth out the liner and make wrinkles into neat folds.  Turn off the water before the pond is completely full, but after the liner is pretty much in place. Trim the liner so that it overlaps the edge of the pond by about a foot all around.


10. Set up the solar pump for your pond

Place your solar pond pump in the pond at the lowest point.  You can secure it in place with rocks. Snake the wire up the side of the pond and through the channel you dug for it. A short section of pvc pipe may be helpful here at the collar. Lay out the wire so that it will connect to the solar panels.  Although you will have wires connecting your pump to the pv panels, you will not need to run wires to the house or other electric source.


11. Edge your pond with rock

With the solar panel wires in place but not connected, you can now lay rock around the pond collar. Larger flat rocks work well because they are stable, easy to stack and they hide the liner edge well.  The first layer can overlap the pond a few inches, but make sure that it is stable; no rock should project more than a third of its width. Carefully lay large flat rocks over both the overflow and wire channels. 

After the first course, add another layer of rocks, staggering them like bricks.  You are essentially building a stone wall.  It doesn’t need to be tall or look like a stone wall though.  Vary it by using different sized stones.  The plants you add later - both in the water and outside the pond - will help to obscure the rock ring and make it blend in better. If the rocks are stable you may not need to use mortar, but if they seem loose or wobbly or if they will be walked on, use mortar to hold them in place.  Let the mortar dry before filling the pond the rest of the way. 

When you are done with this step, connect up the solar pump wires to the solar panel.  You now have a functioning garden pond!


12. Finishing touches

The final step is to add life to your pond.  First, dechlorinate the water.  Then add plants.  It will take some time to stabilize and establish good bacteria.  You can reduce the growth of algae by introducing plants that you do want.  Your plants will use up the nutrients in the water that algae need to grow.  If you plan to add fish, add them slowly, a few at a time.  Let them acclimate, and give the pond some time to develop balance.  Also, check with a garden pond store or fish store to find out how many fish your pond can support.  Small ponds can only accommodate a few fish, so don’t overdo it.

Your pond is now complete!  Your solar pond pump will continue to work keeping your pond clean and healthy with very little maintenance.  It may require cleaning from time to time with a soft cloth, but requires little else.

Now enjoy the fruits of your labor.  Make a point of spending time sitting by your garden pond, or just watching it out your window from time to time.  Your solar garden pond will enrich your backyard and create a peaceful, rejuvenating environment to help you to slow down and relax.