John Tullock is a frequent contributor to State-by-State Gardening and his garden-to-table cookbook, Seed to Supper, is available wherever books are sold.

This article applies to:



Building a Garden Pond
by John Tullock    

For me, it all started with an unwanted pine tree. After the tree was cut down and the stump dug out, I was left with a fair-sized hole in the ground. Solution? Build a garden pond! Constructing your own garden pond is not difficult, but certain aspects of the job must be done precisely. Here are some guidelines that will help you avoid common mistakes and create the garden pond of your dreams.  

First, take stock of the materials already in your landscape design. Do you have mostly natural stonework and gently curving paths? Or do you prefer masonry and straight lines? The final design of your pond should work with the rest of your landscape, or it will look out of place.  

Second, consider the location with great care. Most aquatic and bog plants require full sun. Your pond should receive at least six, and preferably eight, hours of daily sunshine. It should be situated in a low-lying location. A pond at the summit of a hill looks completely out of place.  

Third, decide if you want a water-circulation system, i.e., fountain, waterfall, filtration, etc. If so, the planning and design become far more complex. In my case, the pond has none of these features.  

Most people start a garden pond with too many fish and too few plants, and expect it to remain limpid and unsullied all season long. For an unfiltered pond without water circulation, keep the focus on the plants. They are responsible for taking up nutrients that would otherwise feed algae and bacterial growth. My pond is about 1,500 gallons and is home to two large goldfish, Yin and Yang, year round. In summer, I add a dozen or so small tropical fish from the aquarium shop. The little fish feed on mosquito larvae and help keep the pond insect-free during the heat of summer, then die off with the arrival of winter freezes.  


Following are the steps used for the pond in this example:
Step 1: It is crucial that the top edge of the pond be level around the entire circumference. Any small deviation will show up when the pond is filled. Installing a row of cinder blocks makes leveling easier than if attempted with soil alone.

Step 2: Once the top rim is installed and dead level all around, terraces are constructed to support planting containers later. The pond should be at least 2 feet deep at its deepest point.  

Step 3: Once the terraces are completed, with their supporting walls of dry-laid cinder block, the soil used to backfill is firmly compacted. It may be necessary to add more soil in some areas to completely fill the terraces. Low areas will forever trap debris.

Step 4: Make sure the rubber liner you purchase is large enough, and allow for at least 1-2 feet of overlap at the top edge. Install underlayment fabric first, then the liner, filling with water to ensure a tight fit. This is best done on a warm, sunny day, when the liner will be more flexible.  

Step 5: When the pond is full and has settled for a few days, trim the liner and install copingstones around the upper edge. Complete any contouring of the surrounding area at this point, and the pond and its environs are ready for plants.  

Step 6: Enjoy! By late spring the plants are thriving and the pond reflects a perfect blue sky.


A version of this article appeared in a March 2014 print edition of State-by-State Gardening.
Photos courtesy of John Tullock.   


Posted: 01/07/19   RSS | Print


Share this story on:
Facebook       Twitter            

Other People Are Reading