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How to Build a Pond or Water Garden

These simple steps make building a pond or water garden to enhance your landscape easy.

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plants bring color and texture to the water garden Watch Video

Step 1: Before You Start

Call your local utilities and find out where power cables, gas and water lines are buried. Look at the contours of the landscape. Use spray paint to mark the outline.

Step 2: Locate and Dig Out the Pond Area

With a rigid, pre-formed pond liner like, you can see how it's going to look in place before digging. Move the liner around and figure out the best position (Image 1).

The liner has a plant shelf. The shelf needs to be supported by solid ground, so you can't dig out a big hole and back-fill under the shelf. First measure from the rim to the shelf.

Add 2" to that and dig out the entire pond area to that depth. The extra 2" leaves room for a layer of sand between the earth and the liner. The sand helps protect the liner from wear and tear as it settles into the ground (Image 2).

Since the ground here is pretty barren, we're not concerned with saving the sod, but that might be a consideration in another lawn. To begin the excavation, use a spade to mark a clean, cut line around the perimeter. Then switch to a round-tipped shovel and dig in.

Step 3: Check Depth and Level then Outline Next Section

As you excavate, periodically check your progress. When you reach the depth of the first shelf, check to make sure the surface is level. If the depth and level are right, you're ready to dig out the next section.

Again, you need to mark the outline of the dig area. Measure the width and length of the shelf and mark the ground, based on those measurements. Remember to measure the depth of the shelf and add 2 inches for sand.

time to dig out for next section of pond liner

Step 4: Add Sand and Insert Liner

Spread a 2" layer of damp sand over the bottom of the liner, then move up to the shelves. Rake the sand until it's level and smooth and drop the liner in the hole. You may need to put the liner in and take it out a few times for adjustments. To cover the liner, dry stack medium sized river rocks up the sides; it's similar to fitting together pieces of a puzzle.

damp sand layered on bottom and sides of liner

Step 5: Pick Tube Location

Continue stacking the rock walls until you come to the place where you want the feeder tube from the pump to come out of the pond. When you attach this tubing to a recirculating pump, it will carry water from the reservoir pond to the head of the creek. With plenty of tubing still on the floor, run it up the side and leave the extra tubing coiled on the ground. Carefully stack rocks to conceal the tube, but don't seal it in. You need access to the tube for maintenance later.

Step 6: Set Creek Course and Excavate

After that, lay out the course of the creek bed with lengths of rope or a garden hose frame the edges of the creek. Use something flexible so it's easy to change the shape and make adjustments. When you're satisfied with the design, mark it with landscaper's spray paint and extend the tubing along the edge of the creek bed to the head of the creek.

As you dig out the creek, use some of the soil to cover the tubing. This will protect the tube from foot traffic and still leave it accessible.

When you finish the excavation, smooth the bottom and sides, and remove rocks or sticks that might puncture the liner. Spread a 2" layer of damp sand and tamp it down.

Step 7: Install Liner

To install the liner, start in the center and unfold toward the sides. If necessary, make folds to fit it into curves, but try to avoid them if possible. Lap the liner over the top edge by 6 or 8 inches. It should stay in place, but if not just weight it down in a few places with smooth stones. At the bottom end, leave enough material to overlap the edge of the pond liner.

Step 8: Lay the Rocks

Fill in the creek and pond bed with river rocks, working from the bottom toward the top. On the sides, stack rocks just like you did in the pond. Vary the size and shape to make it appear natural. Use the expanding foam only where you have trouble keeping the rocks in place. One layer of rocks pretty well covers the liner but you can fill in gaps with smaller stones and pebbles. Don't use gravel as a filler because it tends to collect algae.

Step 9: Place Tube

At the head of the creek, place the water supply tube on a layer of rocks. To hide it from view, stack more rocks around and on top of it. Be careful so you don’t damage the tube. Now let's hook up the other end to the pump.

Safety Note: Water and electricity can be a dangerous combination. Carefully lift this end of the water tubing out of the pond and attach it to the pump.

Step 10: Adjust the Rocks

Place larger stones at random spots in the bed. They'll change the water flow and create interesting patterns on the surface. Plus, it just looks more natural. After you start the pump and get the water flowing, you can adjust the rocks to alter the way it looks and sounds (Image 1).

Edging rocks serve at least three purposes: 1) They hold the liner in place. 2) They hide the liner. 3) They make an attractive transition from a water feature to the surrounding landscape.

Leave spaces between rocks for plants that will be added later and occasionally let the rocks extend out over the water, so there isn't a precise border around the perimeter (Image 2).

Step 11: Add Suitable Plants

With the water features in place and beautifully set off with a variety of rocks and stones, the only step left is to add the landscaping and accent plants. Plants bring color and texture to the water garden, and help connect it with the surrounding landscape. When selecting plants for water features, choose shapes and colors that complement their scale and form — as well as the climate in which they'll be planted.

plants bring color and texture to the water garden

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