When you first start off on your journey to build a backyard water garden it can be a bit intimidating.  Don’t be overwhelmed, just take it one step at a time, and before you know it you will be enjoying your own waterfall with the soothing sounds of rushing water right in your own back yard.

I did some prep work while I was still in the dreaming phase. I already had a rough idea as to where I wanted my pond, and when I was doing a previous project, I had an outlet installed nearby to power my pond pump, lights or aerators. The waterfall pump I used came with a 25’ cord on it, so as long as there is power within that distance, you will be all set. Just be sure the outlet is GFCI protected and you follow the electric codes for your area.

When you set out to bring your vision to life, change the dimensions to whatever suits you. I am just stating what I used, and that may differ from what you may be trying to accomplish. You can follow this exactly, or put your own spin on it. Either way, something amazing will come out of it! Now, lets get started

Location & Layout

So these first few steps aren’t just about how to build a backyard water garden, but also WHERE to build one. This is an important step. Remember that choosing a location so your garden can be viewed in all four seasons is important to maximize your enjoyment. Your chosen location will allow you to enjoy it during the winter months or on a rainy day.

A view from your dining room, kitchen or living room is ideal. I see many people opt to put their ponds in their front yard. If that’s where it needs to go so you have maximum viewing time throughout the year, so be it. One word of advice, before you even get out your shovel, be sure there are no underground utilities on your site.

Now that you’ve chosen your location and are completely satisfied with it, it’s time to lay out the shape you envision. Location and layout go hand in hand. Sometimes the location will dictate the shape, where some locations are a blank slate, like in my case.

Either way, use a garden hose or extension cord and place it in the shape that you want your pond. Take your time with this step. After you have done this, step back and look at it from various locations, inside and outside of your home. You may even want to leave it for a day or so and see if it suits you.

Never Too Big

Don’t be afraid of going too big. 10′ x 15′ seems like a good size, but when you measure it out in your space outside it may not feel as large.

Once you’ve decided “this is it” take a can of spray paint and go around the perimeter moving the hose or cord out of the way as you go. This will give you an even clearer picture if what you are about to do. The next step is to get your flat edged shovel, and chop around the entire perimeter. This will create an edge for removing the grass if you have any. Then scrape off all the grass, about an inch deep. The sod you take out does not make for good back fill, because it will settle quite a bit as the grass decomposes.Pond outline

Another thing to consider is the placement of your water feature and skimmer box. These should be located at opposite ends of the pond to ensure proper water circulation. Again, use a garbage can or something to represent the water feature and step back to see if it fits your vision.

Order Supplies

The reason you want to order your supplies now before you start digging is so you can put your waterfall and skimmer box in place. It helps to have things where they will go. Also, as you dig the pond, you will use the dirt to back fill around the waterfall. I’m not going to go into too much detail about supplies here, just a short list.

I found that the best option was to use a pond kit.  Find the right size kit for your project and it takes out a lot of the guess work.  This way you can be certain all the components are sized right for each other and they will work together in harmony.  Check out the kits in our pond shop when you are ready to begin your project.  That’s what I used to build this project.  Any way, here is a list of the common pond supplies you will need.

Time To Go To Work

Now that’s out of the way we can begin. In my case I ordered my materials, and while I was waiting for them to ship I waterfall basebegan to dig. Like I said, I am on a tight budget, so that means no heavy equipment rental. All I have is a vision, a shovel, and a will! I wanted a 36-inch drop from where my waterfall spilled out to the surface of my pond. In order to achieve that I had to build up the ground and make sure it wouldn’t settle.

I used 8 inch cinder blocks directly under where my waterfall was going to be placed. One key is to not disturb the ground beneath the blocks.  This will minimize settling. I filled the hollow cores of the blocks with dirt and compacted it down. This gave me a level surface, with minimal settling to rest my waterfall unit.

Begin The Descent

Now, with all my items ordered, My outline set, and my cinder blocks in place I began to dig down to my first layer.  It’s vital to know that there is nothing in the way when you start digging.  A simple phone call to 811, or visit http://call811.com/before-you-dig to give you piece of mind

When you begin to dig a pond you want to go down in steps or levels. First dig the whole outline down about 12 inches. All the while dumping the dirt around where you want your waterfall to go. Compact the dirt as you go. It’s amazing how much settling can occur in a season, so packing it down is very important.

A Lesson Learned

This is where I ran into trouble.  I should have taken my own advice above.  I did not call before I started digging. At about 12 inches down, my shovel hit something. Wouldn’t you know it, there was conduit (plastic tube that protects an electric line) running right through the middle of my pond location! I didn’t let this stop me. I had to dig around it, and then reroute it. It took some time, and it was a minor setback. Remember, “nothing worthwhile is easy”! Another of my “dad sayings”. OK enough with this tangent, now back to the task at hand.

Now with the entire shape of your pond dug out to a 12-inch depth its time to grab your spray paint once again. Create another shape, about 12 to 18 inches in from the edge. You can either follow the existing shape of the pond, or create a different shape all together. You are creating a perfect shelf for plants to thrive at various depths. This will also help during the rocking process and when it’s time for seasonal maintenance. It will allow you to get in and out of your pond easier.

At this point you may want to wait for all of your supplies to arrive. I recommend, waiting to place your waterfall piece before digging anymore. You want to be sure you have enough dirt to cover up and gently slope your waterfall mound.

The Supplies Have Arrived

Now that you have all your supplies, Attach all the necessary fittings and your water line to your waterfall and place it in its location. Be sure that it is level from side to side. You don’t want the water to rush out of one side and not the other. You also want to make sure it is slightly pitched forward to ensure the water flows properly.

Another side note, as you dig you want to make sure the ground around the pond is level. Use a level on top of a board that spans the width and length of the pond to check for level. In my case the ground had a slight pitch to it, so I had do build up one side as I dug.

Going Down One Step at a Time

With your next shelf outlined, and your waterfall in place its time to start digging again. Dig this layer down another 12 inches, all the while placing the dirt around your waterfall, compacting it as you go.

At this time it is a good idea to dig a trench as seen below, from your waterfall to your skimmer box. This trench does not have to excessively deep. 12 inches or so will suffice. After you have done this, lay your water line in the trench and make sure its long enough. In my case it was 4 feet short, but a quick trip to the store fixed that. I added an extension using a rubber boot and pipe clamps.

Now would be a good time to place your skimmer box where it will go. Trace around it and then dig out it’s shape. Your water line will be about a quarter of the way down from the top of your skimmer box opening. Keep this in mind when digging out for your skimmer box. Again, try not to disturb the ground below the depth of the box to reduce the amount of settling. It’s important to your skimmer is placed level front to back and side to side. Don’t back fill around the skimmer box at this time in case you need to fine tune it later.

The Final Step Down

Now for the last of the digging. Again, grab your spray paint and trace another outline for your final depth of your pond. Dig this shape out another 12 inches or so, again placing the dirt around your waterfall, and compacting as you go. Look for any sharp stones or roots wherever the liner will be placed.  Doing this will help you avoid problems in the future.

In Conclusion: There’s No Where To Go But Up

I hope this has been helpful, and you are off to a great start.  These first few steps are some of the most important.  Just like constructing a building, the planning and foundation are vital to the success of the project.  This is no different to building a water garden. Now that you have a giant hole in your space it’s time to fill it back in. The fun begins in the next part. This is where you will truly see your water garden come to life.  If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to leave them below and I will get back to you asap.



Maurice Jackson · January 23, 2018 at 2:43 pm

Backyard water gardens are the bomb! They offer relaxation and tranquility. My sister has one and I love going over there to enjoy the atmosphere.

    Jeff Klinger · January 24, 2018 at 11:08 am

    Thanks for stopping by

    Jeff Klinger · January 28, 2018 at 2:54 pm

    Thanks for commenting. Yes they are “the bomb”! The atmosphere they create is priceless. Best of luck to you on all your future projects!

Chuck · February 3, 2018 at 9:26 pm

The detail in the planning is amazing. I really enjoy the sound of a backyard pond. How do you keep it from getting green in the hot weather?

    Jeff Klinger · February 4, 2018 at 3:59 pm

    Last summer the algae was tough to stop. Using barley straw, about one pound per 2000 gallons helps to prevent the initial growth of the algae. However it does not kill it, it only prevents it from growing initially. If there is already algae in the water then the use of a UV light will be necessary to kill it.

    Thanks for commenting, best of luck on all your future projects!

brad · February 22, 2018 at 1:07 am

An amazing article that inspires many I’m sure. Backyard water gardens are the best, and love looking at them when I get the chance. Being in a northern climate, is there any worry about the freeze of winter and affecting your liner and equipment?

    Jeff Klinger · February 22, 2018 at 1:18 am

    I’m in a northern climate myself, and as far as the liner goes there is no worry of damage. I did remove the pump for the winter, but my main concern was keeping my fish alive. It’s not the temperature that would harm them it’s if the water freezes over. This causes gases to build up, and could harm the fish. To solve that I installed an aerator to keep the water moving. If you have any more questions please feel free to ask. Thanks for visiting.

anthony · February 22, 2018 at 8:47 pm

Hi Jeff,
really interesting article. It would be great if I could create something half as good as your photos! looking at my own garden something similar could be achieved following your helpful guidelines. I am wondering if there is any way of checking for utilities before I start.

    Jeff Klinger · February 23, 2018 at 2:26 am

    The most difficult part is getting started. Once you start you will look back and say, well I can’t stop now, I’ve come this far. Before you know it you will create something amazing. Where I live there is a phone number I can call and they will come out and mark all the utilities. I failed to do that, and caused myself a headache. If you do start your project and have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask. Thanks for reading.

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