Posted on 17 May 2008 by

How To Build a Water Garden and Wildlife Pond

By Cindy Naas

Water features are popular with many homeowners.

A pond makes an attractive addition to your garden. Creating a pond to attract wildlife is easy and also is lower maintenance than the traditional fish pond. Following a few simple rules will attract wildlife and will also give your urban garden a place of calm beauty.

Getting Started

A wildlife pond should never be more than 3 feet deep. This is deep enough to allow frogs to thrive but is still a safe depth for the home garden. My own pond is 3′ deep by 5′ wide, and is home to frogs, dragonflies and is visited by many birds and other animals. Planting the pond with various species of native plants will ensure that your pond attracts a variety of wildlife.


When building a pond, a fiberglass preformed liner can be used. However, it is cheaper and will look more natural to dig a pond and line it yourself with plastic pond liner available at most landscaping supply stores. When digging your own shape bear in mind that rounded ovals are most like natural ponds. Add in various places to plant by digging a series of ‘steps’ into the side of your pond.

After digging out the hole, check to make sure each step and the bottom of the pond is perfectly level. Ignoring this step will be very noticeable after the pond is filled with water, and much harder to correct later on. Leveling the pond is probably the only difficult step in building a small pond, and it is very important from an aesthetic standpoint.

Lining The Pond

To calculate the amount of rubber pond liner you’ll need, just double the depth and add to the length and the width and then add in a 1-foot overlap. For example, a pond which is 3 feet deep, 4 feet wide and 6 feet long will need liner which is 11 feet wide and 13 feet long. An underlay is also necessary cut in the same dimensions.

After checking one last time to make sure the pond is level, place the soft underlay into the hole, adjusting and straightening as much as possible. It will look wrinkled, but it doesn’t matter since it will eventually be covered in water. Next, lay the rubber liner. This is definitely a two-person job! I did it once on my own, and a neighbour who was watching over his fence got to see me fall backward into my hole clutching a pond liner. After I found a volunteer and lined up the liner with the hole, all went fairly smoothly. Make sure the liner lays loosely in the hole and that it overlaps the hole all around the edge.

Next, line the edge of your pond with rocks. This will hold the liner in place and will hide it as well. The rocks will also give frogs and insects a place to sit near the water. When working with stones, make sure to lay them firmly against each other and work until there is very little wiggle, this will ensure that your pond is safe for children and pets. When your liner is laid and the rocks are in place, it’s finally time to fill the pond.

Planting The Pond

Now that you’ve seen how wonderful your wildlife pond looks filled with water, the next step is to choose a variety of aquatic plants which are native to your area. I live in the Carolinian zone, also called the Eastern Deciduous zone. In my pond I have a native water lily which is winter hardy for a deep water plant, some arrowheads for a shallow water plant, and a variety of reeds and some sweet grass for the marginal area. My pond is small but I still managed to have a total of 20 species of native plants in or near the pond, and that variety attracts various species of birds, butterflies, dragonflies, frogs, toads and gives squirrels a place to drink, too. My pond was even visited by a stray heron who had to be chased out of the pond with a dish towel- I didn’t want that liner to be pierced by a heron’s sharp beak.

My house is in the middle of a small city yet I had dragonflies within 15 minutes of filling the pond. It took the frogs two days to arrive, I have no idea where frogs came from but they are now residents of the pond. In the hot summer evenings, I like to sit next to my pond and listen to the gentle trickle of a small waterfall I built at pond’s edge.

The bats come out at dusk and swoop over the pond eating mosquitoes and gnats. During mating season the frogs sing, and the dragonflies hover near the pond all day. It’s a very peaceful place to spend a few minutes- or a few hours- daydreaming in the middle of hectic city life.

I highly recommend wildlife ponds for people as well as for the wildlife who enjoy them.

4 Responses to “How To Build a Water Garden and Wildlife Pond”

  1. Carrie Says:

    Ever heard of someone doing a water garden on their roof? I mean, that’s doable, right? We really want one, but only have roof space… Nice post by the way.

  2. Cindy Says:

    Yes, I have seen a roof water garden. I built a small ‘pond’ for friends using three half-barrels. One barrel was slightly raised on cinder blocks and contained a small pump to make a waterfall. Next to that we placed a half-full barrel containing a clump of reeds and another of sweetgrass. The barrel in front was filled with water, making it deep enough to grow a water lily. We threw in some water hyacinths to decorate them all, and she had butterflies, dragonflies and birds visiting her ‘pond’ for the entire summer.

    Note: most plants we used were not winter-hardy at such shallow water levels. However, the water feature still attracted wildlife and was really beautiful. The sound of the small waterfall added serenity to a rooftop garden in the middle of the city, and even her neighbours accross the street enjoyed looking at it from their balcony.

    If you have more specific questions, feel free to comment or send an email, I’d love to help you with creating one.


  3. Mandatory Local Food Sources | How To Fix America! Says:

    […] Less fuel used to ship 3.) Less preservatives 4.) Beautification of Urban landscapes 5.) Wildlife Preservation 6.) More choices in heirloom varieties 7.) Increase in flavor of foods 8.) Rain Water run off […]

  4. Ivan Johnson Says:

    Hi … I came across your website and I was very impressed with your Water garden and wildlife pond … You gave a very good discription of how to create the pond …. But you didnt say how you installed the water feature … Is the Stand and pump inside the hole you dug out … or is it placed on a ledge at the side of the pond. As I’m trying to create something simular .. I’m unsure where to put the water feature … any assistance on your water feature installation would be helpful … thank you

Leave a Reply

Recent Comments