Building a Wildlife Pond: Part 1

If you happen to follow me over on Pinterest, you may have noticed that over the past few weeks I have been pinning a lot of natural pond content to my Gardening board. The reason for this is that I have been contemplating different ways in which I could attract frogs and toads to the little ecosystem surrounding my house while also figuring out ways in which I could supply water to the local wildlife. I've set out some shallow plates with rocks and water in the areas I see bees and butterflies the most, but this wasn't feeling like enough. 

Small backyard pond set in the corner of a concrete patio filled with rocks and crystal clear water

Image Via Pinterest

So, I began looking around the house to see where I could potentially place a small pond, fit for wildlife. It took me a long long while to realize that the area I had been dubbing the "Shade" garden for the past two years had ample room to house a little pond, along with a wildflower garden filled with native plants! It seemed like the perfect match!

A segment of garden covered in black mulch sitting right against a red brick home. The garden is outlined in red bricks as well with a eastern rosebud tree and elephant ears prominently on one side with a white pergola on the other.

With the idea coming together in my head (and via Pinterest), I felt myself getting more and more excited to get started on this project. It didn't take much to convince my husband of tackling this idea (once I re-assured him that I would be ultra careful about digging so close to our house, for fear of hitting a wire or pipe or something). 

Now, it is my hope to take you along on my pond making journey! I have only just started and already I am having a blast with this entire project. If all goes well, it is my hope to have the pond completed before the fall. 

Overview

For this pond, I debated a lot between whether to create a 100% natural pond -- lined with clay rather than a man-made liner -- or to opt for a rubber liner. In the end, I chose to do a rubber liner mainly because of how close the pond will be to our house. Thankfully, we don't have a basement or anything like that to worry about, just a concrete foundation. Regardless, a rubber liner seemed to be the best option seeing as the pond is only 6 feet (1,8 metres) from the edge of our home. 

As for everything else, I do want to keep this pond as close to natural as possible, relying on developing a micro-ecosystem to help keep the water clean, mosquitoes at bay, and thriving plant life! That means I will not be adding any sort of pumps to this pond. Instead, I plan to eventually add small fish, loads of water loving plants, and possibly a solar powered floating fountain, as I've read birds find moving water irresistible! 

With all of my ideas in place, I created a brief checklist of what I thought would need to happen in order to make this pond a reality: 

Black background of the notes app with a checklist of things to complete written in white text

 Day 1 : Marking + Leveling

For my first day of pond work, I set about to mark the general shape of the pond in relation to the plants and structures that were already present in the area. To mark the pond, I simply drew an organic shape with the back end of a shovel into the existing mulch. Then I used a rake to clear out the mulch inside the shape. This gave me a better idea of what the pond would look like in the end. 

The same garden as described above showing a cleared walking path alongside an organic circular shape meant to be an eventual pond. While I was clearing, I also went ahead and marked off a winding path to our garden hose. This is the only hose in our backyard and I wanted to ensure we could access it easily even after this space is filled to the brim with wild flowers!

Once I had tweaked the shape of the pond to my liking, I began the process of leveling the edges. We have a pretty dramatic slope to our yard (both front and back!) so I knew the pond side closest to the house would be much higher than the pond side that was closer to our fire pit area. 

The same garden as mentioned above shown from the side. In this image, the slope of the yard is clearly seen by the slope of the white pergola behind the freshly begun pondThe pergola wall in the background gives a good indication of how steep of an angle our backyard has just at the top of the hill nearest our home. It gets steeper as you go further into the yard. 

To find the correct level, I placed a long board across the entire pond space with a level directly on the board. Then I stacked whatever I could find (bricks + cinder blocks mostly) until the level was... level 😅.

The same garden as above with cinder blocks and bricks placed around the intended pond on the side farthest from the house.

Once I had my sides marked with bricks and cinder blocks, I began moving some dirt around to build up the lower side of the pond. I tried my best to create a gentle slope on the side I was building up as I wanted to have a "beach" area for any wildlife that has trouble swimming to be able to access the water without fear of drowning. 

A side angle view of the pond showcasing the freshly dug area with a gentle slope up the side with the cinder blocks and bricks acting as a guide. Side angle image of the gentle slope with the cinder blocks removed to show where the retaining wall will need building.  The branch of a beautyberry bush is  in the foregroundAnother angle of the gentle sloped area where a retaining wall will need to be built to keep the dirt in place. A close up of the gentle dirt slope butting up against the larger cinder blocksThis area will need to have some sort of retaining wall to help not only keep the pond liner in place but also keep the new slope propped up! We have decided to work with a beautiful grey brick to build up our wall, which I will share in a future post. 

  

 Days 2 - 5 : Creating the Pond Shelves 

The next couple of days were filled with lots and lots and lots of digging and moving dirt around the yard. I am very thankful that most of my garden beds needed a top up of soil, otherwise, I am not sure where I would have put all the soil that I dug up! I mean... every post I read about ponds said there would be loads of soil that I would need to do something with, but I honestly hadn't realized just how much those articles were talking about until I was carting wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow away. 

I worked on the pond in layers, making sure that each new shelf I dug was fairly level before moving on to the next. In the end, I wound up with: 

  • A gently sloping beach
  • A shelf 12" (30,5 cm) deep, perfect for some plants
  • A shelf 24" (61 cm) deep, enough for fish to take shelter in case the weather dips below freezing
  • A little cave near the bottom for the fish to hide from predators
The fully dug pond complete with a gentle slope on one side of the pond followed by a shelf roughly a foot down then a second shelf 2 feet down as well as a small "cave" that will become a full cave once a rock has been laced over top of it.
An overhead view of the pond showcasing the various shelves as well as the little caveA close up of the "cave" entrance that will become a full cave once a rock has been set over the top to enclose it's space

This is the little "cave" for our future fish to hide out from predators. Once the rubber liner is in, I will enclose the cave with a large, flat rock (or two!) so that it will become a proper cave. 
 

Now that all the digging is complete, it's time to begin layering the pond with a variety of materials, including the pond liner and rocks! EEEP! It's already coming together so quickly! 

Leave a comment