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Backyard Fish Pond: 7 Steps to Creating an Oasis

Backyard fish pond

Backyard Fish Pond – A Perfect Retirement Project

My mom retired this year! After being an algebra middle school teacher for 30 years, she decided to retire. And one of her first retirement projects was a gorgeous backyard fish pond! My husband and I helped with the project and we learned SO much. I’ve asked my mom to recap the steps for you… so here we go!

Our plan was to have about a 6 x 10 foot kidney shaped pond that is about 28 inches deep.  If you plan on having fish in your pond you need to have part of your pond deeper than 24 inches so the fish can survive the winter months.

Decide where you want your pond in your yard, keeping in mind that you will need electric to plug in a few things to keep the pond running (I needed four), and the outlet needs to be four feet from the water.

Plan out the shape.  As I said, we chose a kidney shape that would have a waterfall, and also three shelves so I could place some plants in my pond and also decorative river rock.

The Hardest Part: Digging!

The most shallow end of our backyard fish pond is 24 inches and it slowly gets steeper to reach 28 inches on the opposite side. The shallow end is where your waterfall will be. The deep end serves two purposes. One, this is where the pump will go to keep water circulating. Two, this is where the fish will want to hibernate in the winter.  Be sure to leave enough room for both the fish and the pump in the deep end.

Backyard fish pond: Step 1 - identify space and measure out hole

As you are digging, you want to make sure the rim around the pond is LEVEL.  Once the pond is filled you don’t want to see a lot of the liner.

Backyard fish pond: Digging is the hardest part!

There are two other spots you should consider digging a few inches down. For the waterfall you will need to dig out a few inches next to the pond because this has its own plastic container and filter. We also dug a hole for the filter to sit in – about 18 inches deep.  A waterfall and a UV filter are not necessary, but we wanted to play it safe for our inhabitants.

Backyard fish pond: Step 2: Make sure all surfaces of dug out hole for pond are level - this affects your water levels!

Laying the Liner (It’s a lot heavier than it looks!)

The liner is one heavy piece of rubber.  You want to be sure to get the type that does not break down after prolonged sun exposure.  When determining the size needed prior to purchasing, be sure to take into account the height of the walls of your pond. You also want to have about two feet extra on the lip of the pond so that when you place your first layer of rock around you can flip the liner over the first rock layer and add more on top.  You want to do something similar around the waterfall so you water does not escape.

Now don’t be upset if you can’t get your liner to lay flat, you will have some creases. (This was a bit tough for me with my OCD haha).

Backyard fish pond: Step 3 - Lay your rubber liner into the pond with as few creases as possible!

Assembling & Filling Your Backyard Fish Pond

Next, you want to plan out how much plastic tubing you will need.  The tubing connects your pump, filter and waterfall (if you have one). I placed my pump in the deep end of the pond and the filter sits in the hole we dug behind the water fall.

We also purchased two aerators; these blow bubbles up in the pond, giving the fish more oxygen. We placed each at opposite ends.

The waterfall plastic insert was placed and leveled into our shallow hole we dug near the shallow end of the pond. Once all the parts are positioned out, you need to be sure your plastic tubing reaches the filter from the pump and the pump to the waterfall.

Once you have this in place, and connected, ADD SOME WATER to your backyard fish pond.  You want to fill the pond half way to make sure everything is working before you lay your stone.

HELPFUL HINT: The plastic tubing is pretty inflexible so you may find it difficult connecting your tubing to the filter or pump attachements. To make the tubing more pliable, you have two options. 1) Allow the tubing to sit out in the sun for a while before attempting to connect the pieces. 2) Use a hair dryer to heat up the ends of the tubing to allow for more flexibility.

Backyard fish pond: Once you feel confident about placement, begin to fill with water!

Stone Laying – An Artform

Once everything has been tested and is running properly, and your water level is growing, start laying your stone and hiding your tubing.  Trust me, you will be moving stones around for a few days until you have it JUST RIGHT!

Save your larger slats of stone for your waterfall, to build good shelving for the water to run over and for the first layer on the liner. We also allowed our first layer of stone to hang over the edge of the pond a little. This gave it a more natural look and hid the liner better.

We also purchased some river rock to sit on the ledge we built in the pond under the water (the colors are gorgeous when the sun hits them!) and some plants that thrive in ponds. We used some of the flat stone to anchor down the plants and prevent them from falling over.

Backyard fish pond: Rock placement is a pretty artistic task  - have fun with it! But make sure all edges of the rubber liner are hidden.

New Family Members: The Fish

Once everything is running and the pond is full, you can go buy your chemicals and your fish.  We were told the fish could go in right away with the chemicals, but that made me nervous so we waited an hour before releasing them into their new home.

We purchased four koi fish – two with orange and white coloring and that had black accents. They all seem to be getting along quite well! You’ll see your fish growing pretty quickly, but they’ll only grow to the size your pond allows them. (And if they get too big – some fish stores will allow you to bring them back to swap out for some smaller fish!)

Backyard fish pond: After placing any rocks, lighting, filters and plants into your pond, you will begin introducing your fish to their new home!

Backyard Fish Pond: Well Worth It

All in all, this our backyard fish pond project did not take too much time.  The hardest part was the digging.  Once we had that done, the rest happened in one weekend (with the help of my daughter and son-in-law haha). Since then, we have added a bench and bird bath and plants.  It is so enjoyable sitting out there each morning, and the fish greeting you just waiting to be fed. 

HELPFUL TIP: Don’t make my mistake though!  The fish don’t need to be fed that much, at most once a day or once every other day.  Also, make time every couple of weeks and take a sample of water to your nearest fish store for testing to be sure your ecosystem can flourish.

Backyard fish pond: Enjoy as your ecosystem flourishes! Our lily pads thrived in their new home.
You'll even get beautiful flowers when the sun is out from the lily pads!
And if you're lucky - frogs may call your pond their new home, too!
About 2 months later - our pond habitat is happy and healthy.
Backyard fish pond: Enjoy your new oasis!

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