One of the best things about living in South Florida is that any time of the year is nice to be outside. Barbeques with friends gathered in the back yard is a nearly every weekend plan, and with the beautiful weather, why wouldn’t it be?
While the backyard may not be the focus of such gatherings at your place yet, there’s a way that it can be all the talk the next time you host friends over for an afternoon or evening, and the best part is, it’s cheaper than you think.
Building a Pond (On a Budget)
You may have seen images on Instagram or Pinterest of super elaborate aquatic garden settings and thought that it would be impossible to turn your backyard into an aquatic oasis. You may think it takes an engineer, an excavator, and 100 man-hours to even get a pond started at your house. But luckily, there’s good news. Fish don’t care how elaborate your pond is, and there’s quite a few tricks to making a fish pond fit any budget (and space).
With such basic materials as cinder blocks, pond liner, and pavers, you can build a basic pond that you can slowly modify and add to over the years to meet your own aesthetic. In just one weekend (maybe 2 if you want to take it at a slower pace), you can have your own custom pond or water garden up and running in your back yard.
Step 1: Finding the Space
The first thing that you’ll want to do is plan out where you will build your pond. A lot of this has to do with how much space you have in your back yard that you can dedicate to this. But whether it’s just a 6′ x 6′ corner by a fence, or a wide open 20′ x 10′ span, there’s a way to build your pond in a simple way.
There are two ways to approach the pond building process. Which one you decide on will depend on how much brute labor you want to engage in and how custom you want the pond to be.
Option 1: Buy a pre-fabricated pond at a store like Home Depot, Lowes, or on Amazon, already shaped in a way that you like and in a size that will fit your planned area. Prices range from $66 to $86 on Amazon for an 86-gallon and 163-gallon pond respectively.
Option 2: Go custom and build the pond in any shape you like, anywhere you want it. For this, all you’ll need is cinder blocks and a pond liner and a bit of creativity. Liners are available at Amazon (with Prime Shipping) in a variety of sizes, starting out at just $35 for a 7′ x 10′ piece that could build a pond about 3’x6′, which is about 200 gallons. Remember, you’ll also have to buy cinder blocks to shape the pond, because digging into South Florida soil does not work well beyond about 6″ deep.
Step 2: Laying out the Pond
Once you know the space your pond is going to go in and know what type of material you’re going to use for it (pre-fab or liner), you’ll want to actually plan out how you’ll install it.
If you’re going the pre-fabricated way, you’ll want to paint out an outline of where your pond is going to sit. For added structure, you may want to dig a little bit into the soil where the deepest point of the pond will be so that the shallower shelves can sit on the ground, or on a paver of sorts to support it from bowing out.
For cinder block and liner ponds, simply lay out the blocks in the shape you want for the pond. Keep in mind how large your liner is to avoid having to move the blocks around any more than necessary to save yourself the labor. You’ll want the pond to be at least 18″ deep, which will take off about 4′ off of your pond liner length and width to allow for the sides and overhang on which you will place pavers to hold it in place.
Step 3: Landscaping the Pond
Once you have your pond in place, you’ll want to spruce it up a bit! Get small garden plants to go around the edges of the pond to hide the cinder blocks or plastic edges of the pre-made pond. You’ll want hardy varieties that don’t shed a lot of leaves, since any loose leaves will end up causing more headache in keeping the pond clean. Plants like Aloe and Bromeliads are great in the case that they are beautiful, tropical, and have the added benefit of keeping birds and cats from getting too comfortable around the pond where they may be able to try to swipe at the fish.
Step 4: Filtering the Pond
Once your pond is finalized in its place, you’ll want to get the filtration system in place so that you don’t have to mess with it once there’s already water in the pond. A basic filter system will consist of a submersible water pump, some tubing to connect to a canister filter, and tubing to connect back to your water feature, whether it’s through a waterfall at the back of the pond, or a spitting fountain. You’ll want the water to strike the surface in a way that will generate oxygen, as the fish appreciate any extra bit that your system creates. If your pond is sitting in a full-sun environment, then an Ultraviolet Light may be necessary to install in-line from your pump to your filter. This UV light will destroy any algae particles in your water and kill them allowing your filter to remove them from circulating, and will help keep your pond from becoming green.
Step 5: Filling up the Pond
Now you’re ready for water! Yes, already! If you have well water that you use for your landscaping/sprinkler system, then you can just use that to fill up the pond. If you’re on city water (chlorinated water that comes from the tap), then you’ll need to treat it and let it circulate for a day or two before adding any fish. The products that we recommend for de-chlorinating city water is Kordon’s Amquel and Microbe Lift’s Water Conditioner.
Confirm that your pump and filter (and optional UV light) is working right in this time that you’re waiting before adding fish.
Step 6: Adding Fish
You’ve followed all the steps and now you’re ready for fish! Depending on how big your pond is will affect what size and type of fish you should keep. For ponds under 500 gallons, we recommend sticking to Goldfish varieties, such as Sarasa Comets, Shubunkins, and Fantails. Of course, you can also add tropical fish varieties like Angelfish and Cichlids, but these tropical fish are more temperature sensitive and may need extra care in the winter months like adding a heater or bringing them inside to an aquarium.
If you have a larger pond, then you’ll probably want to go with Koi, as they will get fairly large and will give you more of a higher-end feel. Koi have a wide variety of styles and color patterns, and sometimes it feels like no two are alike, so when you find one that you like, it’s a good idea to buy it right then, because it may be sold by the next time you return. There are Butterfly Koi, which have long fins that make them look like they’re flying through the water, and there’s also Domestic and Imported varieties that have different colors that can be very striking.
Step 7: Maintaining the Pond
Now that you’re enjoying your pond, you just have to know what you need to do to keep it running and looking great! As long as you got a pump and filter sized appropriately for your pond, you should only need to work on it about once every 2-4 weeks, to clean out the filter pads (either by hosing them off or by replacing them if they’ve gotten too worn down). Higher end filter models have a setting to back-wash the filter so you don’t even need to get your hands dirty!
If you have a filter that you clean by back-washing, or if you lose a lot of water to evaporation, you will need to add water occasionally to keep it at its optimal level. Remember that if you are adding city water, then you must add the appropriate amount of a dechlorinator to eliminate the chlorine, ammonia, and other toxic chemicals that come through the tap.
Step 8: Enjoy your Pond!
You’re all set! Invite some friends over, enjoy a meal and some drinks, and tell them about your new hobby! You don’t have to tell them how easy it was, but if you do, send them our way. We love the aquatic hobby and have made it our business for over 40 years to help South Florida enjoy aquariums and ponds for themselves as much as we do!