How to build a natural pond

Build your own natural pond with simple and efficient methods -

A natural pond is a great feature to add to almost any garden. Water features create favorable micro climates, habitats for many beneficial animals and provide water to the roots of surrounding trees and plants. If you want to create your own natural pond, this is the place to start!

This article is a short step by step guide to creating a pond of your own using all natural methods. Information about ideal size, favorable shapes, plants and animals to incorporate etc will be presented in later articles. See this post as a short introduction. You can experiment with the method described below on a very small scale to get a hang of it before you plan a bigger project.
Watching the water fill up in the new natural pond -
I learned this method when I took a pond building course at the Green Lounge garden in Heidelberg with Harald Wedig as a teacher. I do recommend that you take a proper workshop to learn more if you want to build larger natural ponds. It was great to get hands-on experience together with others and with the support of a teacher that has built a huge number of ponds already.

No pond liner needed

The method shown below works without using a pond liner. It’s definitely possible to build a pond that is waterproof without one. We used bentonite clay to make sure the soil would retain the water. Some soils would retain the water even without this, but in most cases it would be recommended to add some to be sure that the pond doesn’t start leaking. Other soils may be far too sandy an then you might have to add other methods to make sure the water stays where you want it to be.

More on that in a later article. With the method described below you can start experimenting on a small scale in your own garden.
Digging out different levels of the hole for the natural pond -

1: Dig the hole for your natural pond

Make sure to create a shape with a lot of edge = irregular rather than smooth lines. Also make sure to dig out areas that are deeper and some that are more shallow to create different microclimates and habitats for different plants and animals.

It’s important to remove all top soil containing humus. Keeping it would cause the pond to leak.

(Note: Make sure to inform yourself about local legislation on ponds and other water features, especially if you’re planning a larger pond.)
Compacting the soil of the bottom -

2: Clear out rocks

Clear out rocks and stones that are larger than the thickness of your sealing layer (in our case it was around 3-4 cm). Then stomp the bottom of the pond with your feet to compact the top layers of soil.
Adding the first layer of bentonite clay to the natural pond -

3: Add bentonite clay

Carefully loosen the uppermost layer (ca 2 cm) and mix in bentonite clay powder. Stomp the bottom one more time until the surface is compact and without cracks. Then work in one more layer of bentonite starting at the bottom in the middle and working outwards in a spiral.
Adding the second layer of bentonite to the pond -

4: Hiding features for small creatures of the pond

Add larger rocks, pipes, logs etc to the bottom to create habitat for small fish and other animals needing a refuge from predators. It is important to do this before filling up the pond with water to better protect the bottom. Stepping in or sliding across the bottom with your feet may cause leaks.
Adding pebbles for extra protection -

5: Pebbles for extra protection

Add a layer of pebbles to the bottom of the pond for protection. They will protect the bottom in case you do need to step into the pond as well as create potection against strong rain and movement on the bottom.
Coconut fiber mats to stabilize the edges of the natural pond -

6: Stabilize the edges

Add coconut fiber mats to the edges of the pond to stablilze them. This is useful when needing to do maintenance. Fix them at the edges with forks of branches. Fold in the edges of the coconut fiber mats when filling up the water to avoid them sucking up water and leading it away to the surrounding soil as this may cause the soil to become unstable when it’s saturated with water.
A protected shallow area in the natural pond -

7: Create protected habitats in shallow areas

Add some rocks or other items to more shallow parts of the pond to create a protected habitat for amfibians as well as giving insects a place to drink safely without falling into the pond.
Adding plants to the natural pond -

8: Time to fill up water in your natural pond!

Fill up water with a hose placed on a tarp placed halfway down in the pond. This is done to protect the bottom so that the bentonite isn’t being washed off. You will probably need to fill the pond two to three times before it retains the water level. It is natural that the water slowly seeps away during the first days since it saturates the soil surrounding it. This is the perfect time to add some waterplants, which you will need to help keeping your water clean. If you notice that your pond seems to lose water too fast after this, throw in a few fistfuls of bentonite clay.
Natural pond after the first filling -
Your pond is now ready and you can add fish, snails, amfibians and other creatures to help you in the garden. (More on suiting types will be presented in a later article.)

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How to build a natural pond - a step by step guide to natural ponds using simple but effective methods. Anyone can do this! -

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Veronica is the founder of With one foot in the past and one in the future she takes inspiration from older aesthetics and ideas to apply them in updated form today. She is passionate about teaching timeless skills and believes that the world needs more polymaths.

24 Comments on How to build a natural pond

  1. Very god Veronica Thank you! Question: you plant the plants into and through the layer of bentonite?

    • In this case we secured the plants with the layer of pebbles and some of them were floating plants. Eventually some plant roots will grow into the bentonite layer, but we didn’t dig them into the bentonite since that would have damaged the layer. Throwing in a small amount of bentonite in the water every now and then will mend any small holes in the layer created by roots growing through it.

    • I am going to be building a duck/goose pond, and wonder if this design would work? I’ll be able to make it about 20’x40′. At the moment, I have 7 ducks and 5 geese.

      • Hi Layla.
        I believe the design will work out fine for you as long as you make the sections for the water plans large enough. Since ducks and geese tend to contaminate the water you might need to add some more water plants to make sure the water stays clean. Best of all would be if you could have some form of water inlet and overflow system for a bit more circulation of the water. That also helps.

  2. Really interesting! I live in the woods and am anxious to provide a place to benefit the varied wildlife and for myself, just the magic of water, alive with little creatures and plants. I am concerned, however, about leaves collecting in the pond. What to do?

    • Thank you! It was such a fun workshop to take part of.

      We talked a bit about leaves and other debris ending up in the pond and it all depends a bit on how large it is and what animal life, microbes etc you have in your pond. In a larger pond you might not need to do much as the leaves will slowly break down or be eaten by fish, leaving them finally as a layer of humus at the bottom of the pond. However, if yo have a smaller pond you might have to manually remove the leaves a couple of times a year. But do this carefully with the help of a collection bag or similar to not risk damaging the bentonite layer (or add a bit extra of that afterwards to mend eventual damages to the surface). Hope that helps. 🙂

  3. Standing water ,mosquitoes ?? How is that solved or prevented??

    • Hopefully the pond will also attract small reptiles such as lizards and birds that will keep the mosquitoes in check. Or plant some mosquito-repelling plants around the pond.

  4. I’m looking forward to this in the spring! thank you! 🙂

  5. also what else can you use besides the coconut fiber mats? I think its more of an eye sore, or what can I use on top of them to disguise it?

    • Thank you Christina.

      I agree they’re not the prettiest solution but they help to give some protection to the edges. Not sure what other materials would work. You can most probably cover them with sand and with some time plants will grow along the edges of the pond and naturally disguise them.

    • Hi Christina. I honestly don’t know of a good alternative to the coconut fiber mats. They are only ugly in the beginning. With time they will be overgrown by plants.

  6. I have been looking for an alternative to having plastic liners. I really like this idea. It looks like it is possible to have a recycling pump to keep the water fresh, am I correct? For a beginner, what size is good to start with (surface area and depth)? Does it matter if it is in a sunny or shady area?

    • Hi Joy. Yes, it’s definitely a great alternative and I know this pond is still keeping the water fine without a pond liner. Regarding the pump, I would say it depends on the local conditions. Even a small pond can do without a pump if the amount of plants and the air flow is right. You can for instance create a shape that funnels the wind into the pond which will give you a natural flow + make sure that rain water is led from other parts of the property into the pond which also enhances the flow and reduces the need for a pump. Regarding the size, I personally wouldn’t build one less than 2-3 meters wide and at least one meter deep, but also there it depends a lot on how other factors such as flow, planting etc interact. Important is that you try to create different depths in the pond and not just dig a hole with smooth sides. The various depths also help circulating the water. A bit of shade is of course of an advantage since the water evaporates slower and will be less prone to algae. If you can, plant some bushes or trees around it.

  7. love this topic We will do one soon good ideas to put in practice thanks

  8. Hello! We have an underground spring in our backyard that is driving us crazy with standing water. We’ve been toying with the idea of building a pond as a natural retainment for the water. Would this project work with the spring? Thanks!

    • Hi Lisa. It’s hard to say right away that this method would work without knowing a bit more. It depends if it’s possible to stabilize the ground around the spring in an easy way or not, if the slope is steep near it etc. But generally a place where water already gathers naturally works out fine.

      • Everything that I have read, is that you need to add 30 inches of soil so that your plant roots don’t damage the natural lining. Is this something that you would recommend?
        Also, I am in a very cold region, so what depth would the fish need to survive and would they survive without circulation?
        This is all fascinating to me and thank you for your article. I would love to read some of your more in depth ones.
        Thank you

        • Actually I would say that it depends. You might have issues in the beginning if you have roots growing into your pond from the sides, but after some years the bottom will seal itself with the help of debris from surrounding trees or plants decomposing. The teacher of the workshop I went to recommended to throw in a few fistfuls of bentonite clay every season to seal cracks and holes that may appear in the beginning.

          You need to find out the frost free depth of your location to answer how deep the water has to be for fish to survive. It also depends on the amount of fish and the water volume in total.

          Thank you. 🙂 I might write some more on the subject at a later point when I’ve had the chance to experiment some more myself.

          • Thank you for your prompt reply. I definitely agree with utilizing bentonite for, not only its sealant properties, but also for its capabilities to neutralize toxins, including and especially, nuclear contamination that is present in our atmosphere, therefore in our rainwater.
            I have been amending my heavy clay soils for almost all of my crops with hugelkultur, now I have a reason to be grateful for the clay. ?
            I will also update you on my experience as I observe how nature reacts to my attempts to get her to work with me.
            Keep doing what you’re doing and thank you again for being a beautiful and important part of the change in thinking that our earth needs in order to survive and grant our children a healthy existence.

  9. We have a back garden that slopes, with heavy clay under the top soil. the rainwater drains into one corner and does not easily drain away. we wish to make a natural pond in this area. would this system work here. look forward to your comments

    • Hello Keith. That sounds like a good area to build a pond yes and the method should work considering your description, but I’m always a bit hesitant giving out advice without knowing more. If it’s just a small pond you’re considering and the slope is moderate it should be alright, but a larger pond and a steep slope might cause a risk for landslides. So it all depends. Please consider taking some professional advise from an engineer if it’s a larger project that might need some stabilization of the ground first. If it’s just a small one like the one we built in the article, the risk is very small and you can just go ahead and try it out.

  10. hi! i love your article, incredibly informative! will you write a continuation of it? also, i was wondering if you had any thoughts/tips on working with rocky soil type? thats what i have here, its a nightmare trying to dig through without a jackhammer/demolition hammer because of all the rocks. do you think bentonite clay would still work as a sealant? or would i have to suck it up and get a really thick liner?

    • Thank you. 🙂 Actually I’m not really sure. During the course we learned that one should try to remove as many stones as possible to make leaks less likely so we removed most larger stones to get a rather smooth surface, but on the other hand the bentonite seemed to be rather efficient. What I would try before buying a liner would be trying to dig a smaller hole in the same type of soil and see how it behaves using only bentonite first.

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