How to build a small pond or water feature

Build a Simple Pond or Water Feature

In my garden I have what I not so gracefully call a pond-in-a-bucket. It is more elegantly referred to as a water feature. I installed it primarily for the sound; so that I could enjoy the sound of water and so that it would drown out the sounds of close neighbours enjoying their back yards. Mine is pretty loud when you consider the size of it. Were my budget unlimited I would have a cascading wall of water like I saw on a garden tour in Toronto a few years ago. It was about 20 feet across and the water dropped about 6 feet down.

The roar was awesome.

But, since that’s beyond my current budget, and really, beyond what would fit in a garden the size of mine, I am quite happy with my little pond.


I had to take it apart this summer in order to fix a hidden leak in the pond liner so I shot some photos so I could write this post on how to build your own small pond.

The first thing to do is to find a bucket or other container that will hold water. I was gifted a black plastic tub created specifically for small ponds like mine.

It’s not exactly like mine, which is more of a standard bucket shape, but I see that these types of hard pond liners are still available online, and now come in a variety of shapes:

You could use the flexible pond liner that comes in a roll, but that’s a little more involved than what I did.

Once you have your hard pond liner, the next thing to do is to dig a hole the same shape but slightly bigger than the pond liner.


The bottom of the hole should be level, and you will want to take care to ensure that there aren’t any sharp rocks or other debris sticking up that could damage the pond liner over time. When I originally dug my hole I put a layer of sand on the bottom to level it and provide a smooth surface.


Once the hole has been dug place the pond liner in the hole.


The top of the liner should sit level just slightly above the surrounding ground. If it is lower, soil and other debris will wash into the pond over time.


The next step is to place a water pump* in the bottom of the pond. I highly recommend testing your water pump before you put it in your pond, as it’s a real pain in the neck to get the pond all set up, filled with water, and then find out the pump is dead. I learned this the hard way.



The pond pump has a controller on the side that lets you determine how fast you want it to cycle.


You will need likely need to play with it a bit to find the setting that pleases you. Personally, I just put it on full blast as I’m going for maximum splash and volume. My original pump came with some fancy spigots to change the water pattern and there were even lights for a funky effect if it was run at night. I found that the spigots shot the water up and over the edge of my small pond, which would have drained the pond in short order, so I didn’t use them. If you have a wider pond, or a less powerful pump and you like this effect, then you will want to investigate those gadgets.


Setting up a water pump is very straightforward. Put the pump in the bottom of the pond, fill the pond with water, and plug the pump in.


Water pumps should only be run when they’re submerged. If you run them out of the water the motor will burn out. I’ll explain my first hand experience with that in a minute.


At this stage the pond is functional but doesn’t exactly live up to the name of nice water feature. To make it look it belongs I cover the edge of the pond with an assortment of rocks I’ve collected. Where needed, I place smaller rocks underneath larger ones to prop them up so that they’re all roughly level.


While laying the rocks down I position the pump power cord so it runs between some smaller rocks which then support a larger flat rock on top. This hides the exit of the cord without pinching it. The cord then runs under some shrubs to an extension cord that I plug in in my potting shed.



If you don’t have a power supply nearby there are solar powered water pumps* available.


At this stage, you could fill the pond with water, turn on the pump, and enjoy. But there’s one more step I do that makes the pond look more natural, be safer, and extends the life of my pond pumps. I need to explain how I learned to do this step.


I live in Toronto and we have a lot of raccoons, epecially in areas like ours that are next to ravines. Every night the raccoons come up out of the ravine and into the neighbourhood to find out who hasn’t properly secured their garbage. They party in the bins, eat their fill, and then return to the ravines by morning. If you have a pond, raccoons will visit it to wash their food and splash around.


Shortly after I first installed my pond I left the pump running overnight. The racoons did not like this, or were curious about it. Whatever the reason, they pulled the pump out of the water and I woke up the next morning to a water pump that had run dry.


I bought a new pond pump the next year and religiously turned it off at night before I went to bed. Except for the night I forgot. And woke up to another dead water pump.


I bought another new water pump and wedged pump to the bottom of the pond with a bunch of rocks. That was several years ago and I haven’t had another burnt out pump since. Success! I still try to remember to turn it off every night after I’ve used it, but if I don’t it’s difficult (I will never say impossible as raccoons are incredibly smart) for the raccoons to get the pump out.


The system I’ve come up with is to place a brick on either side of the pump, and then cover the pump with an old grate from a gas stove.


The spigot of the pump sits up through the middle of the grate. I then pile rocks around the top of the grate, ensuring that the spigot stays clear. This hides the grate from view, and also helps make the pond look more natural.


I also place a long narrow rock (the offcut from someone’s landscaping job) upright in the pond, running from the bottom up to one of the rocks along the edge. This is so that any small animals or insects that get in the water have a way to climb out.


Even if you don’t have raccoons and need to secure your pump, I highly recommend building a ladder like this with rocks, or at least putting a sturdy stick or small log along the edge of the pond, so you don’t find a dead and bloated critter floating in your pond one morning. Ponds should be a benefit to the wildlife in your garden, not a death trap.


Speaking of which, if you have a pond make sure that small children are always supervised around it. Any amount of water bigger than a puddle is a potential drowning hazard for little people.


So, hole dug, liner in, pump in, rocks in and edging complete. The final step is to fill the pond with water and plug the water pump in.



Tah-dah, the pond is complete!




Winterizing a Small Pond

If you live in a climate where the temperature goes below freezing, please read my article on how to get your pond ready for winter.

If you live in a warmer climate where the ground doesn’t freeze you do not need to empty the pond. I would recommend cleaning the filter every so often, according to manufacturer’s directions.


*Disclosure: some of the links on this page are affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.


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