How to Build a Backyard In-Ground Garden Pond with Waterfall

Building a in-ground pond is in reality, not that difficult. Look online for examples of ponds and try to base yours off of them or do something completely new! Here is a picture of our finished pond.

Note: The waterfall can easily be omitted if you skip a few simple steps. Adding other water features can be used as substitution.

This project can take as little as a few hours to much much, much longer (it took us a year to dig and a day to lay the liner, set up the filter and waterfall).

This pond is suitable for plants, fish and wildlife (remember to do your research if you plan on keeping different species together).

Part 1: Materials

Here are the materials needed to build your own backyard pond.

Liner: You can get really creative with this or just buy one from a store. Some people use things such as kiddie pools or even tires! Other unconventional options include water holding clay or stock tanks. If you plan on having fish make sure the liner/container is safe for fish. We got a flexible TotalPond liner which can be found on Amazon. Remember to decide how big your pond will be before buying your liner to avoid a costly mistake.

Underlayment: To protect your liner from being punctured you need to place something underneath. Sand or an old carpet will do (we used a carpet) though some places will sell underlayment.

Pump: Though it’s technically not required have a pump (given you don’t have a waterfall or other feature) I recommend getting one. If you plan on putting fish in your pond then you need a pump. We got a 330 GPH pump for a pond roughly 325 gallons (note the waterfall). Choose a pump based on the size of your pond, whether or not you will have fish/plants and if you desire a waterfall or other feature.

Filter: Again, not exactly required though I recommend and would require it for a fish pond. We got the TotalPond Universal Pump Filter Box that is compatible with any TotalPond fountain pump. Replacement filter media can be found here.

Rocks: We got some rocks off of Craigslist. You can get rocks in a variety of different places including rockeries. Make sure you have enough to line your pond (and anything else you want to do). Some leave this out but we didn’t like the sight of the black liner.

Waterfall Spillway (optional): This is required if you want a waterfall. The spillway collects the water from the pump and allows it to flow in a uniform manner. There are different sizes of spillway (twelve or twenty-four inch are common) that you can choose from. We got a twelve-inch spillway Total Pond Spillway. Note that the larger the spillway the faster the pump will need to work to maintain an adequate flow rate.

Tubing (optional): Tubing is necessary for waterfalls and various other features (such as spitters). The tubing connects from the pump to the spillway or feature.

Other Features (optional): If you want a different a form of aeration different than a waterfall you can choose to have a spitter or fountain. These will generally need a less powerful pump than a waterfall. A fountain will require a nozzle kit.

Misc. Decor (optional): Other forms of decor include lighting (including lit spillways), fake lily pads and animal statues.

Plants (optional): If you want you can have plants in your pond. Plants also provide oxygen as well as numerous other benefits. This article won’t go into much detail on plants.

Fish (optional): Whether your an experienced aquarist or completely new to the trade adding some fish will add more excitement to your pond.

Leveling Soil (optional): May come in handy if your area isn’t very flat.

Seating (optional): If you can’t sit by your pond then I don’t know what to say. Some nice seating will make your pond more enjoyable (I have some tree stumps).

Part 2: Constructing the Pond

Now that you have your materials you can begin the construction process. This process can take a while (digging the pond may be the longest step and was for us).

Before you start digging you’ll want to outline your pond with something (such as ropes or stakes). Once you’ve got the right shape you can start digging.

Tip: Always consider safety. If you have young children you may want a shallower pond or one with a fence surrounding it).

Tip: Add a ledge or two for plants or other features. Make sure you leave space for the filter box. A ledge will also provide a step if someone accidentally falls in your pond.

Tip: Keep some dirt for leveling later on.

We tamped down the underlayment with our body weight.

Now lay the underlayment. If you are using something like a carpet then make sure you tamp it down.

After laying the underlayment it is time to place the liner. If you are using a flexible liner make sure you try to flatten it out though know the water will help with this.

Image of filling the pond.
Before adding the filter box and pumps fill the pond halfway.

Now fill the pond around halfway full. Once you’ve done so you are ready to set up the filter box and pump.

If you have the Universal Pump Filter Box we have then you can follow these instructions. To set up the filter box you will need to open the box, take out the bio balls and filter media, run the media through the tubing and connect the tubing to the pump, stick the pump into the box, add the bio balls, tamp down the media and close the box. Stick the box into your half-filled pond. I recommend testing your pump right now.

Picture of temporary rock formations..
Line the pond with rocks to help set the liner and for aesthetic.

If you have a fountain, connect the fountain nozzles to your filter box now.

Tip: If you plan on building a waterfall, skip to the steps below. Line the pond with rocks later.

Continue filling your pond. Once you’ve finished begin to lay rocks. Congratulation! You’ve successfully built your pond!



Part 3: Adding the Waterfall

We forgot to take the wrapper off! You can obscure the tubing later.

After filling the pond you can start constructing the waterfall. Cut the tubing to your desired size and connect it to your spillway. Build the rocks around the spillway to hide the spillway (if you want a natural look). Get your waterfall to your desired height.

Before covering the spillway with heavy rocks test it to make sure the flow is level.

Tip: Use dirt or small pebbles to make your waterfall level. A small pebble can change the look dramatically!

Finish the look by covering your spillway with rocks. You’ve finished building your waterfall!

Part 4: Finishing the Look

Now that you have the basic part of your pond and waterfall finished you can finish the look with a spitter, fish, fountain, plants or substrate!

Connect the tubing to the spitter to start it on. Assemble the nozzle kit for a fountain.

Tip: If you have multiple features use may use an adapter to connect to each feature.

You can add a layer of mulch or other substrate to give a nice look. The substrate can help you grow plants around your pond.

Check to make sure the conditions of your pond are suitable to any plants you want. Also make sure they are legal in your area. If you have fish you may want to check compatibility (see the section below for more info) with other aquatics (koi are known to uproot plants).

You can add your fish as well now.

Now is a good time to hide your tubing and electrical cord. Use the substrate to your advantage here. Cut the liner and underlayment to help disguise them. Cut both just around your rocks.

Add an lighting fixtures to your pond. Arrange any pond/fairy garden supplies you want by your pond. Add fake waterlilies (if you have them) and arrange seating.

Part 5: Conclusions

In summation, building a pond is a nice way to bring joy to your yard. Use the tips above to create a lovely feature. Enjoy!

Our Pond:

Dimensions (approx.): 7ft. by 4ft. by 18in.

Liner (approx.): 10 ft. by 7 ft.

Underlayment (approx.): 8ft. by 10ft.

Volume (approx.): 325 gallons