Step By Step Guide on Building a Simple Wildlife Pond


picture of a pond in a garden

Incorporating a water feature in your garden is one of the best ways to invite wildlife to your yard. By building a simple wildlife pond, you will witness frogs, invertebrates, newts, toads, and even chipmunks. And a pond will be a great companion to your butterfly garden if you have one. And the best part is, you can make it all on your own!

Begin with picking up a location and marking an outline for the pond. Then, dig up the area and cover the pot with a liner before filling it with water. Now, cover the exposed liner with pebbles and plant some water plants.

Sounds easy, right? But there are many things that you need to keep in mind if you want your wildlife pond to fulfill its purpose – become a water haven for wildlife. And if you wish to build a pond that can do exactly that, we have a step-by-step guide that will help you.

Things You Will Need

Before we begin, here is a list of things that you will need:

  • A sufficiently large patch of turf
  • Spade or garden fork
  • A plank of wood and pegs
  • A bubble level
  • Pond liner
  • Rocks and pebbles
  • Sand or gravel
  • Water (preferably rainwater)
  • Underwater and floating plants

Step 1:  Picking the Site

picture of spot for garden pond

A suitable spot for a wildlife pond should only get dappled sunshine. So, pick a spot that is away from overhanging trees. The pond must be in a shaded area as it will help in reducing issues with algae.

Moreover, various pond plants and animals prefer shade. However, you should not pick a spot that does not receive any sunlight. So, it is better to pick a spot where some part of the pond will be exposed to sunlight. This will also help warm up the water during springtime, making it a desirable spot for spawning frogs and toads.

Step 2:  Outlining

picture of man outlining the spot for pond

Once you have picked the right location for your wildlife pond, you need to outline the pond shape you want before starting digging. You can do this with the help of a hosepipe or a rope. And since this is a wildlife pond, you can go with any shape. You may even give it a more ‘natural look by keeping the edges a little uneven.

But if you have a definite shape in mind, it is better to view the outline from different angles and adjust it according to your preferences. Then, View from various angles and adjust the shape until you are happy with it. Now, with the help of some pegs, a straight board, and a level, ensure that the area is perfectly leveled.

Step 3: Digging

digging the pond

While excavating, ensure that you do not go too deep. Also, remember to save the turves, as these can come in handy when rounding the edge of the pond. Even if you do not use them, ensure that you do not put them in the pond. This will pollute the water and will damage the plants as well.

Next, you need to remove all the sharp stones and everything else that comes in your way.

While digging, you need to be sure that you incorporate a shallow and long slope at one side of the pond. While this will allow easy access to frogs, it will also help beetles, bugs, and other insects or animals to find their way out of the pond if they fall inside.

Also, keep in mind that you should leave around half of the pond shallow (around the pond’s perimeter) while the deeper end should not be more than 30 centimeters. Shallow basins can do wonders for your pond. Tadpoles like to spend a lot of time in shallow areas of the pond.

But if you are living in an area that experiences harsh winters, you can dig down to 50 or 60 centimeters to keep the fish warm.

Step 4: Building a hibernaculum

building a hibernaculum

While you are planning to invite wildlife to your pond, you should also be able to offer them a cozy space throughout the year. With a hibernaculum, frogs and other amphibians will have a place to hibernate during winters. For this, you need to dig a hole around 50 centimeters deep and 1.5 meters wide. You can use a wood pallet that will act as a base for your hibernaculum.

Now, you can put some logs and branches and spread stuff like cups or pipes that will offer frogs a place to hibernate in. You can also spread some leaves, soil, and some rocks along with it. You may even add another layer of it before covering it with soil completely. Be sure that there are a few drainpipes that remain uncovered.

These pipes will act as an entrance tunnel which will lead the frogs to the hibernaculum. Now, all you need to do is wait for the winters when frogs and toads would hope their way in this comfy hibernaculum.

Step 5: Lining The Pond

lining the pond

After you are done with all the toil, you need to line up the pond. But before this, you need to create a protective layer using sand, old newspapers, or cardboards. You may even buy commercial liner protectors that are quite affordable. Sand is one of the most preferred options since it is sterile and would prevent the pond surface from harboring microbes. But be sure that you do not use all the sand, and it comes in handy in the next step.

Now that you have prepped the surface of the pond, you can begin lining it up. Butyl rubber is one of the best materials for this, and they also give the pond a more natural look. This is the reason why concrete is not quite suitable for a wildlife pond. Moreover, they can be difficult to install and may even crack.

To ensure that you pick the right size, measure the maximum length, width, and depth of the pond and then follow this table:

Liner width    2 x depth + pond width + 30cm
Liner length  2 x depth + pond length + 30cm

Once you have the right measurements of the liner, it is time to lay it on the pond. Carefully open the liner and ensure that it overlaps well on each side. Once you have lined up the pond entirely, you can weigh the edges down with rocks or anything heavy.

Avoid walking on the liner as it can damage it and even cause punctures. There would be some excess liner left, but you need to wait a little more until you can trim it off.

Step 6: Filling with Water

picture of a man filling up a pond

Filling up the pond with tap water can work just fine. But for best results, it is suggested that you go with rainwater. And filling up the entire pond may take a while. So, you can use this time to place turf, fill soil, or flagstones on the parts of the liner exposed at the edges.

This is particularly important if you have used a butyl liner as it tends to degrade when exposed to sunlight for a long period of time.   

Step 7: Creating a Boundary

creating a boundary of the pond

Once you have filled the pond, it is time to create a boundary. Since this is a wildlife pond, rocks and pebbles would be a good choice. While creating a boundary, you do not have to make it look perfect. Moreover, the more gaps you leave, the better it is. These gaps between the rocks will create a cavity where fish and tadpoles can hide from cats and birds.

Once you have created a rough boundary, you need to cover the tops with some large slabs. This would not just give the pond a complete look, but it will also ensure that there is only a single access to the cavities.

Now that you have a pond, you can trim off the excess liner. After this, you can cover the shallow basins with soil, gravel, or pebbles. Be sure that these pebbles are spread throughout the slope towards the edge of the pond.

If needed, you can put some large stones at the base of the slope and switch to small pebbles while working your way through the top.

Step 8: Adding Plants

adding plants to the pond

Well, you do not necessarily have to add plants to your pond. Plants will naturally colonize the pond over time. And while watching plants naturally grow in your pond is quite fascinating, various gardeners cannot wait to see their pond full of fresh plants. Or they are just extremely excited to decorate it on their own.

Before planting, you need to let your pond rest for a couple of days. After this, you can add local, native, or wild-sourced plants to your pond. It is better to have plants in aquatic baskets rather than adding soil all over the base of the pond.

Excess soil may introduce a lot of nutrients to the pond, which can result in algae. Moreover, aquatic baskets are more manageable, especially if you are planting native plants, as they can be invasive.

Picking the right plants is quite important. There are majorly four categories of aquatic plants, and a mix of all of them would help you in maintaining an ecological balance in your pond. You can choose from the following:

Totally submerged (in deeper water) – oxygenating plantsSubmerged, with floating leaves – oxygenating plantsEmergent (in shallow areas) Marginal (growing in the pond edge and bog areas)
Spiked Water-milfoil – Myriophyllum spicatumWater Crowfoot/Buttercup –
Bladderwort – Utricularia spp
Branched Bur-reed – Sparganium erectum (tall, can be invasive)Flowering Rush – Butomus umbellatus
Hornwort – Ceratophyllum demersum (pollution intolerant)Ranunculus aquatilis (pollution intolerant)Amphibious Bistort – Persicaria amphibiumLady’s Smock – Cardamine pratensis
Shining Pondweed – Potamogeton lucensFrogbit – Hydrocharis morsus-ranaeArrowhead – Sagittaria aquatilisPurple Loosestrife – Lythrum salicaria (tall, good for bees)
Horned Pondweed – Zannichellia palustrisBroad-leaved Pondweed – Potamogeton natans (pollution tolerant)Water Crowfoot – Ranunculus aquatilisMarsh Marigold – Caltha palustris
Fennel Pondweed – Potamogeton pectinatus (pollution tolerant)Curled Pondweed – Potamogeton crispus (pollution tolerant)Water Mint – Mentha aquatica (can be invasive, strong scent deters some insects)Gipsywort – Lycopus europaeus

For a better idea of how to build a pond, you can watch the video below:

Step 9: Waiting

Picture of a pond with plants

Once you have planted certain aquatic plants in your pond, you are basically done with all the work. Now, all you need to do is wait and let the wildlife visit this new freshwater haven. While mammals, bugs, frogs, turtles, and birds will find their own way to your pond, there are quite a few ways to encourage wildlife that you can try:

Create microhabitats

The cavities we created along the pond’s edges in step 7 will create a microhabitat and attract wildlife to your pond.

Add nesting structures

Creating some nesting structures like wood nest boxes, platforms, or bug hotels can further attract wildlife.

Place rocks and logs to the pond edge

Placing some logs and rocks along the edge of the pond will offer a great spot for cold-blooded bodies to bask in the sun.

Conclusion on step by step guide on building a simple wildlife pond

Building a pond from scratch can be a tiresome task, but I am sure that it is all worth it in the end. Witnessing wildlife visiting your pond is a fascinating experience. Not to mention, the aesthetic value of your garden is going to be soaring high just with this one little addition.

If you already have a pond but wish to give it a whole new look, I have a video that can help you. You can watch it below.

I hope this guide will help you build your own pond that will invite wildlife to your garden and improve its overall health and appearance. So, are you ready to build a wildlife pond in your garden?

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Tony O'Neill

I am Tony O'Neill, A full-time firefighter, and professional gardener. I have spent most of my life gardening. From the age of 7 until the present day at 46. My goal is to use my love and knowledge of gardening to support you and to simplify the gardening process so you are more productive

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