Instant pond: install this water feature in five easy steps

Instant pond: install this water feature in five easy steps – includes related article on solar-powered pump for outdoor ponds

Peter O. Whiteley

Install this water feature in five easy steps

* The heart of any tranquil garden is surely a pond. Mirror-smooth water reflects surrounding plants and clouds overhead; in its depths, goldfish swim lazily, glinting softly in sunlight. And a small fountain emits the soothing sound of burbling water.

You can add a pond to your garden in a day or less by starting with a preformed plastic shell from a garden supply store or home improvement store. Installing one is easy, but it does require gloves, a good shovel, and a strong back. You just dig a hole, drop in the shell, and fill it with water and plants. Edged with stones and low-growing plants, the pond becomes graceful and inviting.

Preformed pond shells come in a variety of shapes, sizes, and depths. Some have smooth, vertical sides (which discourage raccoons); others have textured walls. Some have shelves around the sides to hold containers of water plants. Despite their bulk, most shells are lightweight – made of a heavy-duty, UV-stabilized polyethylene. Shapes range from tidy ovals to free-form; volume ranges from about 30 gallons to several hundred. Costs increase with size. The pond shown here, sold by Beckett Corporation, is available in a 42-gallon size ($52) and an 85-gallon size ($120). Call Beckett for a local merchant; (888) 232-5388.

To help keep the pond clean, you’ll need a pump. Submersible models are fine for a small pond like ours. We used a solar pump, powered by a small photovoltaic collector ($129 from Smith & Hawken; to order, call 800/776-3336). Obviously, it runs only when sunlight hits the collector.

Water plants also help keep ponds clean: as a rule, they should cover about two-thirds of the water’s surface.


* Pond shell and pump

* Yardstick

* Several bags of sand

* Shovel

* Contractor’s level

* Wheelbarrow (for moving sand)

* Edging stones (Thin, broad ones, such as flagstone, are best. To determine the number of rocks you’ll need, make a paper outline of your pond as a guide and take it with you to the stone yard. Allow space between some of the stones for growing plants.)


1. Select the site; trace the shell. Open areas are better than areas beneath trees with leaves or needles that will build up debris on the pond’s bottom over time. To install a pond in a lawn, remove the sod and keep it moist and protected in a shady area so you can reuse it later. Set the pond shell on the cleared, level site, adjusting it to face the direction you want. Holding a yardstick vertically against the outside edge, trace around the pond shell to outline it in the soil.

2. Remove the pond shell and trace the soil outline with sand (as shown, or use a hose or length of rope).

3. Dig the hole following the outline. The hole should be 2 inches deeper and wider than the shell to accommodate a layer of sand. Using a carpenter’s level, make sure the bottom of the hole is flat. Remove protruding stones or roots, then cover the bottom with 2 inches of packed damp sand. Recheck flatness with level.

4. Place the pond shell in the hole. It should sit slightly higher than the surrounding ground, and the top lip should be level. (To check it, you may have to place the level on a straight 2-by-4 to span the pond.) Adjust the shell as necessary. Start filling the pond with water, setting a garden hose to run slowly. Working in 4-inch increments, add moist backfill sand around the shell as shown, tamping as you go. Periodically recheck that the top is level. Continue until pond and hole are filled, adding backfill to create a gentle slope of soil away’ from the pond’s edges.

5. Position edging stones around the pond so they hide the lip from view. Cantilever them beyond the lip of the shell, but keep most of their weight on surrounding soil, not on the lip.

Solar-powered fountain

A small photovoltaic panel powers the submersible pump for this pond, It comes with 16 1/2 feet of wire; to operate properly, it must be in a sunny, south-facing spot near the pond. The small pump comes with a variety of spray heads that put out gentle streams of water. For a larger pond, use a standard, electric-powered pump that will circulate the pond’s volume every two hours. Such pumps require 110 volts and should plug into an outdoor receptacle with a GFCI (ground fault circuit interrupter).

COPYRIGHT 1999 Sunset Publishing Corp.

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group