Nothing upgrades the beauty of a backyard like adding a water element. While fountains can add bling and splash, a pond ushers in peace, serenity and even some marine life. If you decide a pond is the very thing for your landscape, you can keep down the cost by doing the spadework yourself. But get ready for some muscle-building digging before you and your family can relax by the calm water sipping cool drinks.

Close-up of pond with green leaves inside
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Dig In

One of the great advantages of a do-it-yourself pond is that you can tailor the specifications to work perfectly with your space. If you have a small garden, you'll want a small pond, but depending on the shape and look of your existing space, you can create a long, thin pond, a round pond or a free-form pond with a special shape matching your area. Ideally, you'll situate a pond where your family can enjoy it without special effort, and it should be visible from a window, patio or walkway. Keep it within reach of an exterior power outlet if you plan to install a pump to keep the water aerated.

Before you bring out the shovel, call 811 to check on the placement of electric and gas lines to avoid dangerous mistakes. After that, map out your pond and dig in. It's best to dedicate 40 cubic feet or more for the pond to be able to keep it clean, which comes out to 7 feet by 4 feet. Dig out the pond in terraces, with one shallow level just inside the perimeter for rocks that edge the pond liner. The second, somewhat deeper terrace is for water plants; then, if you're adding fish, make a section deeper to keep the temperature constant. How deep? Two feet for goldfish, but 3 feet for koi. You need to use a level to be sure that the pond edges are flat.

A Lining in the Sand

You want the bottom of your pond to hold water, so a lining is essential. But start with a several-inch layer of sand topped by newspapers to keep it soft and smooth for a pond liner. Then purchase liner at the garden or hardware store. You'll need a piece 4 feet longer and wider than the pond itself so that when it is centered, you have a couple of feet of extra liner on either side to work with. Use stones to hold the liner in place on one side, then ease the liner down into the bottom of the hole, smoothing it out as you go. Press the liner into curves and crevices.

Finishing Details

Fill the pond with water from your garden hose, straightening it out on both sides as you go. When you are done, set up the pump in the deepest part of the pond, winding the pump's cord through PVC conduit. Then set flat stones or rocks around the pond perimeter. You want a portion of each one to hang over the pond; then cover this rock ring with another one, staggering them and setting the second ring back from the edge. The rocks should interlock to create a stable edge that looks natural. Experiment with your outcropping until you have a pleasing staggered look. You can even add a waterfall if you want to.

Populating the Pond and Keeping It Clean

Keeping the pond looking nice involves both populating it with fish and plants and keeping algae out. Fortunately, you can do both at the same time by carefully selecting how you populate the pond.

Buy water plants that work in your hardiness zone, and install them on the second terrace. You can stop algae from developing by choosing plants for that purpose. Plants like water lilies absorb nutrients developing in the water that can lead to algae forming. You might also put in plants around the outside edge to make it look attractive, but keep plants that shed leaves far from the pond. Otherwise, you'll have a hard time keeping debris out of the water.

If you want fish, check with the fish store to make sure they are suitable for the size of the pond and the regional climate. Getting algae-eating fish will help you keep the pond clean. Use the pump during the day, but you'll want to turn it off at night or it can attract wild animals during evening hours.