D.I.Y. Water Feature

A local couple shares how to add a water feature to your own backyard.

Photos by Amy Pennington

Mar 2013


Republic residents Dick and Mary Jane Craig discovered the joys of water gardening nearly eight years ago. With a little help from the Southwest Missouri Garden Club, the two installed their own water garden, and they share how you can, too.

• Shovel

• Spade
• Wheelbarrow
• Tape measure
• Rope, spray paint or garden stakes
• Level
• Gloves
• Filter
• Pump
• Rubber liner or preformed shell
• Sand 
• Long woodenboard
• Rocks for edging
• Water plants

1. Choose a location. The best location for a water garden is on level, well-drained ground. Select a spot that can offer as direct a line as possible between the house and the pond to make electrical wiring easier. You’ll also want a location that offers a mixture of sun and shade, and avoid large deciduous trees and evergreens that will drop leaves or needles into the pond.

2. Decide on size and shape. Mark your feature’s size and shape with spray paint, rope or stakes. Water gardens are usually 18 inches to 24 inches deep, but if you plan to have fish, plan to dig down to 36 inches deep at one part of the pond so the fish have a place to escape the heat in the summer and the frozen water in the winter.

3. Make preparations for the dig. Missouri law requires that homeowners notify the Missouri One Call System (800-344-7483) at least three days, but not more than 10 days, before any excavation project.

4. Dig the hole. Remove strips of grass within the pond area. Expose the dirt 1 foot beyond the pond perimeter to create a flat surface. If you plan to have submerged water plants around the pond, dig a shelf around the perimeter of the pond that is 1 foot deep and at least 1 foot wide. Then dig the rest of the hole, going down 2 inches deeper than the pool depth for the underlayment you will use. As you dig, angle the sides slightly and make sure that the pond edges are level.

5. Prepare the base. Remove any large rocks or sticks from the sides and base to prevent damage to the rubber liner or preformed shell. Place a 2-inch layer of sand on the bottom of the pond to create a smooth base for the liner to set on and to avoid punctures. If the slope of your water garden is too steep for the sand to stay on, place an underlayment along the bottom and sides to protect the liner from damage.

6. Place the liner. Determine the length of the rubber liner you need with this formula: Liner width=pond width + 2 x pond depth + 2 feet. Place the folded liner in the center of the water garden and unfold it. Position it so that an equal amount of edging is available around the entire pond. If you’ve opted to use a preformed shell instead of a liner, set the shell over the sand base and ensure it is level in all directions.

7. Install the pump and filter. Install the water filtration system and pump according to manufacturers’ directions. Now you can also add decorative rocks and other features to the inside of the pond.

8. Fill with water. Once the liner is in place and everything is perfectly level, fill the pond about 2/3 with water and test all systems. If you’ve used a rubber liner, shape it to the edges of the pond as the water fills. Weigh down the edges with stone or bricks. To keep the liner in place, use 20d nails around the rim of the pond.

9. Place stone & add plants. Use a wheelbarrow to haul the stone and arrange it around the edge. As you place the stone, fold the pond liner behind the stone or trim away the excess. If people will be walking around the edge, you might need to use some mortar to help set the stone in place.  Once your hardscape is in place, add plants and complete filling the pond.