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Create Your Own Backyard Fishpond

Fishponds, or garden ponds, were once rare to see but now they are popular and considered by some as an essential part of a backyard landscape; here's how to build your own.

Liner Lessons

Flat rocks and gravel dress up the border of this backyard garden pond. (Keith Sutton photo)

Just a few years ago, it was rare to see garden ponds in people’s backyards. Today, however, these water features are much more common. Many folks consider them an essential part of any backyard landscape.

My sons and I built our first backyard pond about 20 years ago. It wasn’t what you would call “grand” by any means—just a little preformed PVC pond, about 250 gallons, that we placed in a properly-sized hole we dug. But after we added a waterfall, fountain, some water lilies and a few fish, it quickly became the centerpiece that brought our entire backyard to life.

The sounds of the waterfall and fountain were mesmerizing. Dragonflies hovered overhead, glistening like shards of precious metal. Raccoons and opossums dropped by at night for drinks and occasional meals, followed by daytime visitors such as squirrels and cottontails. Frogs and toads came to lay their eggs each spring, then serenaded us with their music throughout summer. Goldfish and minnows helped control insects and provided a source of bait when I’d leave home to chase crappie or catfish.

Create Your Own Backyard Fishpond
A garden pool attracts wildlife and becomes a focal point for your backyard activities. (Keith Sutton photo)

The way the pond transformed that space was unexpected. Suddenly our little yard was a hub for all things living in the area, including deer, songbirds and salamanders. When friends and family came to visit, they gravitated instantly to the tables and chairs placed nearby so everyone could enjoy the flowers we had planted and the steady parade of wildlife.

Like indoor aquariums, garden ponds are not for the faint of heart. They require lots of love and care, which can be time consuming and, at times, expensive. But as with most difficult things in life, the payoff makes it all worthwhile. If you have the time—even just one free weekend—you can build your own garden pond for just a few hundred dollars.

This might be a do-it-yourself project or one you need to hire a professional to do. Either way, be sure to check local ordinances and neighborhood covenants before starting. Some areas don’t allow ponds. Others require fencing around even small bodies of water. It’s also smart to determine how the addition of a pond will affect the cost of your liability insurance.

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Liner Lessons

Liner Lessons
Rigid liners are somewhat easier than flexible ones to install, but most are actually less durable. (Keith Sutton photo)

Garden ponds can be made with either flexible or rigid liners.

Flexible liners form to whatever shape and size you prefer, and most are very affordable. A 7-by-10-foot PVC liner of this type (14.5-mil thickness) will cost about $35 and is big enough for a 90-gallon pond. Step up to a 12-by-17-foot size with the same material and you’ll have enough for a 945-gallon pond costing about $120.

For increased durability and a decreased likelihood of punctures and UV damage, a 45-mil-thick flexible liner made from heavy EPDM rubber might be a better choice if you don’t mind the increased cost. An 8-by-10-footer, ideal for ponds up to 200 gallons, runs about $100. Move up to 15 by 20 feet (2,500 gallons) and you’re looking at $320.

Puncture-resistant rigid liners are made from molded fiberglass or rigid PVC and come in a variety of preformed shapes. Despite many peoples’ misconceptions, these tend to have shorter life spans than most flexible liners, but fewer steps are necessary to get one in the ground and filled with water, making this a good choice for those not as good at do-it-yourself work. You can have one of these finished in just an afternoon, but be sure you spend some time fully considering the proper shape and size to buy, so when your pond is finished, it has the look you envisioned and truly enhances the beauty of your backyard garden.

If you really need to save money on your water feature, you could also consider buying a small, inexpensive children’s swimming pool to use as a liner for your garden pond. These aren’t as sturdy and durable as regular rigid liners, but many people use them successfully for a season or two. A six-footer is big enough for a pond that will hold a few potted plants and a dozen or so goldfish.

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