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See how I built my own water garden for under $10, and learn how to build your own water garden feature

© Pearl Sanborn

Water gardens are not just for those with piles of extra cash to spend! Anyone could build a beautiful water feature like this one with a bit of time & a few dollars.

About 5 years ago, my husband came home from work to find me digging a hole in our back yard. I'd seen these wonderful little water gardens in all kinds of books and magazines, so knew that I could find a way to build one into our cottage garden.

If you've ever looked into purchasing a pre-formed water garden kit, you know how expensive they can be! I've seen price tags anywhere from a couple of hundred dollars, to a couple thousand or more!

I decided to call my local farm store, and ask them what I could use for a liner. They suggested that I look into a product called a "silo cap." I'm sure all of the farmers who are reading this article will know exactly what I'm talking about. These are the large pieces of plastic that are used to cover a silo & keep the contents dry. They come in different sizes and thicknesses. The averages sizes are; 14x14, 20x20, 26x26 they are all generally 3mils thick, and are black plastic. Prices range from $6 - $15, and you can find one at any farm store. For me this has proven to be a great find! You can also check with your local large building supply store & find some inexpensive sheet plastic.(I recently bought a 100' 4mils. thick for under $8).

Because there are as many opinions as there are people, when it comes to building your pond, don't be put off by any of the nay-sayers that don't share your new found excitement :)




The Hole

To begin this water garden feature, you will need a hole, a liner & water. Some optional things you may also want to look at are; stones, plants, fish, and maybe a water pump. You can finish this project in a few hours - up to half a day.

(Here's the beginnings of my new pond, you can see the plastic, hole, and the stones.)

You need to pick a good location for your new project. Partial shade is nice, because it helps discourage algae growth. You also may not want to position it directly under deciduous trees, because they drop their leaves each fall, and this requires a yearly thorough cleaning. Take a peek through garden books, catalogues, and magazines to help you decide what you like best. It's a very good idea to think things through before you start digging! The size is up to you, but you will need to make sure that you're liner is big enough for your new water garden.

First lay a string, rope, or garden hose around the hole, as this will help you determine the shape. I think a shape other than a complete circle is more attractive and pleasant to look at, but this is entirely up to you. You will also need to decide if you want water lilies, or other water plants. If you do want some type of pond plants directly in the pond, you will have to make it deep enough to accommodate the frost line in your growing zone. One thing you can do is, create shelves in the walls of the pond out of soil to place your potted water plants on. Within the hole, you simply pile up soil to build ledges that are wide enough to fit a potted plant. This will of course then be covered by the pond liner.







The Liner

If you have rocky soil, be sure to take the stones out before you place the liner in the hole. Most sand yards will let you take sand by the bucket full for free, or you could try to sneak some sand from the kids sand box :) Scatter the sand in the bottom of the pond to cushion the liner, and to keep it from tearing on sharp edges.

(I've laid the plastic down & added some water, so I can position it properly.)

Spreading the liner... Lay the "pond liner" out over the top of the hole, then gently push the liner into the bottom of the pond. You can leave the edges in tact, this will be of use later. Also if you have a larger enough piece of plastic, it wouldn't hurt to double it. This will give you 6 mils of thickness or more, and a longer liner life. Next, fill the pond with water. As you are filling it, carefully position your liner to make sure it stays in place.









The Water

I use water directly out of the hose. If you have city water, be sure to wait at least a couple of days to put any fish in. This will allow enough time for the chlorine to evaporate & the water to reach air temperature. If you skip this step, you could possibly kill your fish!

The Stones

(For a natural effect, place stones around the edge of your garden pond)

Now is the time to cover all those edges of the liner. Use any kind of slate or stone from around your yard and place them around the edges of the pond to make it look as natural as possible. There's nothing worse than seeing a pond with large areas of plastic showing through! I like to place some stones or pebbles in the bottom of the pond to give it a more natural appearance & a place for the fish to hide. Please be careful not to toss stones in - or cause a rip in your pond liner.




The Plants

There are so many kinds of water plants to choose from today. Most are costly, but here are a few frugal garden ideas to make your new habitat look beautiful no matter how much you have to spend! First go to area ponds, swamps, parks, etc. and look at the kinds of plants that are growing in your local area. This will give you an idea of the kinds of plants that are hardy for your area. Many times the owners won't mind if you take a couple of things to further the species ;) Be sure to ask first if it's private property. You also want to look into endangered species laws in your state, so you aren't taking plants unlawfully. This will give you a "free" start to your water garden plants! For planting around the pond, I love things that look tropical. I was able to get a few beautiful ferns from the woods - free. Also plants that you might already have such as; vines, ground cover, small evergreens, forget-me-nots, clover, and day lilies will look beautiful next to your water garden. Again think about nature here. How about cat -tails? They grow in almost all of the ditches in my area. This would be another source of free garden plants for you.

The Fish

For my new fish, I went to the local pet shop & bought some beautiful fish called - feeder goldfish. They were very cheap at only .10 each! I was VERY surprised at how fast they grew. I was also extremely excited when they decided to have babies in their their home! Here in NY our winters are very cold, but because I thought my pond would only partially freeze, I decided to let my fish stay outside in the pond the first year. BUT this was not the case! My little fish froze solid right in the middle of the ice! They looked like fishcicles! OK calm down everyone ;) To my amazement, in the spring when things started to warm up, the little guys started moving around! I could not believe my eyes! They were totally unharmed by the deep sleep! It is totally up to you what you do with your little friends, but you will need to decide how you will take care of the fish before you buy them. =) Some people bring them in the house, and keep them in a child's swimming pool in the basement.

A note on fish: Before you release the fish into your pond, be sure to leave them in the bag & float them in the pond for 45-60 minutes. This will help them adjust to their new home - instead of "jumping in with both feet" :) Caring For Your Water Garden
Try to keep all debris out of the water. This will cause the water to get smelly & might kill the fish. You will need to keep the pond filled up - as the water will evaporate. If you have a small pond, it would be no problem to empty the water out & clean it every spring & fall. Or, if you'd rather, you could just use your hand to remove the leaves & things that have collected over the season.

Other Options

You may want a pump for the beauty of a fountain, or merely circulating the water. Small pumps go for approx. $30. A waterfall is easy to incorporate also.

* Use soil to build up the area where you'd like your waterfall.

* Line that area with a piece of the liner.

* Be sure to bring the liner all the way to the bottom of the pond & overlap it - if you don't the water will drain out! The preferable thing to do is, make the waterfall & pond area with 1 piece of liner if possible.

* Connect a piece of plastic tubing to the pump.

* Bring the tubing up from the back of the waterfall - to the top. This keeps it out of view.

* Arrange some stones to make the actual waterfall. Make this look as natural as possible.

* Put the tube under the first rock so the water can spill out & run down the other rocks to form the waterfall.

I've had my pond for over 5 years & it's still a source of beauty in my yard. Will they come? Oh yes! We've had frogs, tadpoles, butterflies, birds by the flock, bats, hummingbirds, cats, dogs, coons, dragonflies, and more! Just a few more of life's precious gifts! Take a few hours to claim a little piece of earth, for your family enjoyment.