How to install a small pond – encourage wildlife into your garden

There are many benefits to having a pond in your garden, especially for the local wildlife. You will benefit from having a tranquil place to take in nature and in turn will provide a home for fish, amphibians and insects alike.

A pond can be a truly amazing place where life can flourish on it’s own with very little input from you. We installed our pond, simply added a few plants and within a couple of months we had newts, frogs, water snails and a whole range of insects. It quickly became it’s own little ecosystem. Now a year on, the plants have matured to provide shelter for the wildlife and help clear algae from the water. The pond itself needs very little intervention and is self maintained.

Pond life

You’ll want to think about the kinds of wildlife or pets you want in your pond. If you want a natural pond that requires little maintenance then having fish probably isn’t the best idea. They will need feeding daily, will require oxygenated water (via a pump) and will likely eat frog spawn and newt eggs.

We now have a resident frog, 4 or more newts, water snails and a host of insects living in our pond.

If fish are a must for your pond then you’ll probably need to oxygenate the water. I don’t have this in my pond so wont go into detail in this post, but take a look at some of these for consideration. The solar powered option is a good choice for easy installations.

If like me you want a pond that looks after itself with a natural eco system then a pond like mine is a good idea. You won’t need to worry about feeding anything and local wildlife will be drawn to your pond on their own. All you need to do is create the pond and place a few plants to get things started. I’ll go into a little more detail on the plants we purchased below.

Newts are a protected species by law so please remember to take great care around your pond not to disturb them. You can read more about newts on the government website here.

Can

Here’s a lovely Damselfly

Even hedgehogs like the surroundings of the pond as it provides small insects and slugs for meals.

Pond safety

If you have younger children you will want to consider some kind of fence around the pond to prevent them accidentally falling in. Our children are now 6 and 9 so don’t require supervision but if you have children under the age of 4 it’s a must.

Consider separating your pond off with a picket fence or something similar.

If you have fish in your pond they will probably need protection from predators such as larger birds (heron), cats, foxes and even possibly snakes. To protect your fish you might need to cover the pond with mesh or netting. Whilst this protects your fish it can make the pond quite unsightly and will prevent frogs from accessing the pond easily. So think about this before buying fish for your pond.

Pond liner or preformed pond?

Installing a pond in your garden can be achieved in two different ways. You can use a pond liner or you can buy a preformed plastic container.

Selecting a pond liner will normally be the cheaper option and will allow you to be a little creative with your pond design. You’ll either need to dig into the ground to form the shape of your pond or you could also build a raised pond with bricks or another type of raised wall barrier. If you are looking to fill your pond with wildlife then I’d suggest sticking with a lower, dug out pond that allows small creatures to easily access the water.

We purchased something like these which are perfect for a small garden pond. They generally come in sizes up to about 6m x 6m.

Buying a preformed pond is a great idea to make things a little easier when installing. Simply dig a hole wide enough and deep enough for the cast to fit and then back fill the gaps around the pond liner. They are available is a variety of shapes and sizes but tend to be a little smaller than a pond you could make with a liner.

Here a re few different types available on Amazon.

It’s worth noting that with a preformed pond liner cast you can’t easily install a sloping entrance to your pond. This will prevent frogs and other amphibious animals easily entering and exiting your pond. It may also prevent other land animals like hedgehogs easily climbing out if they accidentally fall in. This can lead to drowning.

Step One – Select the ideal location

When it comes to finding the best spot for your new pond then a lot of the decision making will be up to you depending on your current or future garden layout design. However, it’s worth thinking about the following aspects which may influence your decision.

  • Your pond may collect leaves and other debris if placed near trees and shrubs. These can easily be cleared but it’s worth bearing in mind as an additional task to maintain your pond.
  • If you want to attract the most variety of wildlife in your pond then select a nice sunny spot.
  • Think about what kind of wildlife will take up residence in your pond. Amphibians like frog and newts love garden ponds and will try make these their new home so think about somewhere a little private, away from the house.
  • Near a seating area might be ideal if you want to sit and admire the pond and the wildlife it brings. Maybe near a patio or decking area.
  • If you have a garden with a slope, this can be ideal if you want a waterfall feature. Otherwise sticking with a flat area will be easier to install.
  • Avoid areas that might have underground pipes or cables. This might be near the house or any out building with electric run to them.
  • If you’re thinking about installing a pump, lighting or other water features then think about how you will get power to the pond.
  • Avoid tree roots where possible as they can disrupt your pond and make it difficult to dig out.

Size of your pond and liner

We used a piece of string to measure out and visualise the size of our pond. This was then used as a template to find the correct size pond liner.

We also had a few pond plants at the ready to further understand and play with the layout.

The size and shape of your pond are really up to you. This is where you can be a little creative. We decided to go for a pear shaped pond simply because round or square was too common. We also wanted a gentle sloping section where animals could easily access and exit the pond.

The pond liner you purchase will need to be at least 1m longer than the hole you dig as don’t forget that the liner goes down into the shape of the pond and will sink a little further when filled with water.

There is a simple calculation you can use to determine the size of the liner required.

Overlap + depth + Length/width + depth + overlap = overall size

Digging the hole

We started by digging out the hole with a spade and shovel. You’ll need to think about where the soil is going once removed. Think about hiring a small skip or simply transferring the soil to another part of the garden.

At this point we were starting to make a small ledge around the edge of the pond. This would be used to house some aquatic plants and also provides a shelf for amphibians to sit in shallower water.

The hole expanded in length and depth slowly as we dug out more soil. It was about 50cm deep in the middle and there were 3 different flat layers. It was important to make these sections level to place plant baskets on.

It’s worth using a spirit level to ensure both side of the pond are equal in hight. This will ensure the water level is the same all around the pond.

Adding the liner

With the hole now dug out you can add the liner. You wont need to cut the edges just yet as this can be done once the pond is 3/4 full of water. The weight of the water will push the liner flush against the hole you have dug.

You can see we have used some larger stones around the edge to hold things in place whilst we filled the pond with water.

Using a pair of scissors we then cut the lining edges leaving about 20cm length over the edge of the pond.

Things are starting to take shape now.

Rockery – stones and pebbles

There are plenty of different stones and rocks you can purchase, even online. See below for a few different options.

Finishing off the surrounding of your pond with rocks, stones and pebbles really makes the pond look natural in its surroundings. Again, this is the time to get a little creative with your pond and really make it stand out as a feature within your garden.

We displayed some larger stones around the deeper edges of the pond and went for smaller stones on the gentle slope. This way it has provided shelter and hiding places for the amphibians and allows creatures to easily walk/crawl out of the water at one end.

Water plants

To turn your small garden pond into a little sanctuary you’re going to need some established plants to kick start the mini eco system. Here is a list of plants we used in our pond that have thrived over the last year. Some of them died off over winter but soon returned in the spring. You can find all of these plants on eBay and have them delivered to your door.

Here’s some basic information about each plant
  • Water soldier (Stratiotes aloides) – submerged in water over the colder months. Pops up over summer displaying white flowers and provides shelter for many aquatic insects.
  • Elodea densa – Excellent oxygenating pond plant. Helps prevent algae.
  • Equisetum robustum – Provides year round ever green stems. Best grown in subversive baskets to prevent over spreading.
  • Orange water lily (Nymphaea Perrys) – Best grown in pots of baskets this is a beautiful flowering pond lily.
  • Yellow water lily (Nuphar lutea)- Grown in baskets and produces white/yellow flowers during summer months.
  • Flowering rush (butomus umbellatus) – Grown at the pond edges up to 25cm deep. Produces long stems and pink flowers during summer months.
  • Starwort – Evergreen oxygenator producing dense mats of small green leaves.
  • Corkscrew rush (Juncus effusus ‘Spiralis’) – Formed in small clumps and produces small brown flowers during summer months.
  • Arum lily (Brosimum aethiopica) – Grows well in soil under up to 30cm deep and flowers during the spring/summer months.
  • Duckweed (Lemna minor and L. gibba) – Multiplying quickly during the spring and summer but disappearing completely during the winter. Returns again every spring. Can quickly cover any small pond.
  • Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae)- Like a mini water lily, offers shelter to tadpoles, fish and dragonfly larve.
  • Typha angustifolia (Typha gracilis) – Can grow in water up to 40cm deep, roots may puncture pond liners. Flowers and brown and spiky.

A wooden boardwalk

To provide access to the pond and provide a seating area we decided to build a board walk that surround the pond.

You can read more about this project here: https://wood-create.com/2020/07/04/how-to-build-a-reclaimed-wood-scaffold-boardwalk-or-decking-area/

The pond will take a little time to become established but you should start to see life within a few months. We build our pond in late winter / early spring time which was a good time just before summer and allowed new plants to flourish.

You can see from the above picture it’s quite a bit different from a year or so on.

A well established pond

Well established duckweed.

The pond over winter. Most of the plants survived the winter.

I hope you enjoyed reading this post. Why not try some of my other DIY projects:

One comment

  1. This is absolutely lovely. And how exciting to have attracted newts! I haven’t seen one in a long time.

Leave a Reply