How To Build An Ecosystem Pond (And Maintenance Tips)

Pond with waterfall and plants

A pond can be a beautiful addition to any backyard, and it can even provide a habitat for local wildlife. But did you know that you can also build a pond that functions as an entire ecosystem? An ecosystem pond is self-sustaining, which means it requires less maintenance than a traditional pond.

Ecosystem ponds are usually shallow, with a variety of different plant life growing around the edge. The plants help to oxygenate the water and provide food and shelter for the pond’s inhabitants. Plants can also be home to beneficial bacteria that help break down fish waste. These ponds can be home to a variety of different animals, including frogs, fish, and insects. These animals help to keep the ecosystem in balance by eating the plants and algae that would otherwise take over the pond. Ecosystem ponds also provide a habitat for birds, who use the pond for drinking water and bathing.

There’s plenty to know about backyard water features, but right now, let’s explore how to build one for your home.

How To Build An Ecosystem Pond

Beautiful pond on a sunny day

Ecosystem ponds are gaining in popularity for a good reason – they’re beautiful and can support a wide variety of plants and animals. If you’re thinking about building your own low-maintenance ecosystem pond, this step-by-step guide will tell you everything you need to know (unless you add some of these koi pond ideas, in which case there will be extra steps).

Plus, we’ll give you some tips on how to maintain your pond so it stays healthy and beautiful for years to come. Let’s get started!

How To Choose The Right Site For Ecosystem Ponds

As any ecosystem pond owner knows, the success of your pond depends largely on its location. Choose the wrong spot, and you’ll be battling poor water quality, insufficient sunlight, and other problems. So, how do you choose the right pond site?

There are a few factors to keep in mind:

Sunlight: Consider the amount of sunlight the area receives. Ponds need at least six hours of direct sunlight each day to support aquatic plants. Try to aim for a location that gets the majority of its sunlight in the morning.

Surrounding vegetation: Take a look at the surrounding vegetation. While you may love the idea of a peaceful oasis surrounded by foliage, ponds located too close to trees are more likely to suffer from falling leaves and debris. Avoid areas with mature trees as their roots can also damage your liner and affect water quality.

Utilities: Take into account any existing underground utilities. You don’t want to accidentally damage underground cables or pipes when you’re digging your pond! 

Constructing the Pond Site

Pond liner being installed

Now that you’ve decided on the perfect location, it’s time to start constructing your ecosystem pond. The first step to any home improvement project is gathering all the tools and materials you’ll need.

Tools And Materials Needed

  • shovel (or heavy digging equipment)
  • pond liner 
  • rocks 
  • aquatic plants 
  • fish 
  • water pump (optional)

How To Prepare The Area

Once you’ve gathered all of your materials, you’ll need to prepare the area where your pond will be located. This involves removing any debris or objects that could puncture the liner, such as rocks or roots. Once the area is clear, you can begin digging the hole for your pond.

Digging The Hole and Lining The Pond

Using a garden hose or rope, outline the perimeter of your pond. Now you’re ready to start digging! For most ecosystem ponds, you’ll want the hole to be about 2-3 feet deep.

When excavating the hole, avoid digging steep sides. Instead, dig down at an angle and then level out to create shelves. Shelves around the perimeter of your pond will help prevent the edge of the pond from eroding. Shelves will also allow you to install plants at different depths in your pond.

Adding liner to an ecosystem pond

Once you’ve dug the hole, you can line it with either a preformed pond liner or a flexible pond liner such as PVC or EPDM. Be sure to smooth out any wrinkles or creases so that your pond will be watertight. Buying the best liner will lessen your stress and future workload.

Make sure the liner material extends at least two feet beyond the edge of the hole. Once the liner is in place, you can add rocks and gravel to give it a more natural look. This also helps to help hold the liner in place.

Next, fill the pond with water and allow it to sit for 24 hours before adding any plants or animals. You can use a water pump to circulate the water if you like, but it’s not absolutely necessary for an ecosystem pond.

How To Add Aquatic Plants And Fish 

Ecosystem pond with aquatic plants

Plants are an essential part of any ecosystem. They play an important role in keeping your pond clean. Along with the rocks and gravel, plants will also function as a biological filter for your pond.

There are many different types of plants that can thrive in an ecosystem pond. The best strategy is to choose native plants that are well-suited to your climate zone.

Pond plants can be divided into 5 main categories: bog, marginal, floating, emergent, and submerged. Let’s take a quick look at all 5 types:

Bog Plants

Bog plants are an essential part of any ecosystem pond. Some bog plants help to oxygenate the water, while others provide shelter and food for fish and other aquatic creatures. Still others help to filter out toxins and excess nutrients. Some of the most popular bog plants include water lilies, cattails, sedges, and rushes.

Marginal Plants

These plants create a visually distinct border between the water and the surrounding land. In addition to providing aesthetic appeal, marginal plants help to keep the water clean by absorbing excess nutrients and providing shelter for wildlife. Some common marginal pond plants include cattails, irises, and sedges.

Floating Plants

Floating pond plants are aquatic plants that float on the surface of the water. Floating duckweed and water hyacinth are two common types of floating pond plants. Floating pond plants not only look beautiful, but their roots also help filter animal waste and excess nutrients out of the water.

Emergent Plants

Lillies in a pond

Emergent pond plants are any plants that grow in or near water and have stems that float on the surface. These include aquatic grasses, sedges, lilies, and more. Emergent pond plants can be beneficial by providing food and shelter for fish and other aquatic creatures.

Submerged Plants

Submerged pond plants are aquatic plants that grow entirely underwater. They typically have long, thin leaves that resemble blades of grass. Common examples of submerged pond weeds include Eurasian watermilfoil and curly-leaf pondweed.

What To Do Next With Your Plants

Once you’ve chosen the right plants, you can plant them around the edge of your pond using soil bags or baskets. Emergent plants can be planted on the shelves you previously created around the edge of your pond.

Be sure to leave enough space in between each plant so that they have room to grow. It’s also important not to overcrowd your pond so that there’s plenty of oxygenated water for your fish.


Koi in a large backyard pond

You can add fish once the plants have had a chance to establish themselves. Fish are an important part of ecosystem ponds, as they help to control algae growth and aerate the water. 

If you’re interested in adding fish to your ecosystem pond, there are a few things you’ll need to take into account:

Fish type: you’ll need to choose the type of fish that is best suited for your climate and ecosystem. While this will vary depending on where you live, goldfish are typically a good option because they are hardy and easy to care for. They will also help keep your pond clean by eating algae and other small organisms.

You’ll also want to avoid adding predators, such as bass or catfish, as they could kill off all of your other fish. In general, goldfish, koi fish, bluegills, sunfish, and guppies are all good choices for residents of your ecosystem pond.

Fish-to-water ratio: You’ll need to make sure that your pond is large enough to support the fish population. A good rule of thumb is 10 gallons of water per inch of fish.

Food and shelter: You will need to provide adequate food and shelter for the fish. Plants can provide food and shelter, but you should also be sure to add rocks and other objects that can create hiding places for the fish. This will give them a place to hide when predators, such as birds, inevitably show up.

By following these simple guidelines, you can create a healthy and thriving ecosystem pond that will be enjoyed by all.

How To Maintain Ecosystem Ponds

tj shinholser owner of charlotte backyard ponds on the job site

An ecosystem pond is a beautiful and natural way to enhance your yard or garden. Not only do they provide a habitat for wildlife, but they also help to filter runoff from rain and snowmelt, improving water quality in the process.

Although ecosystem ponds require less maintenance than many other types of water features, they are not completely maintenance-free. They require some regular upkeep to stay healthy and keep functioning properly. Here are some tips for keeping your ecosystem pond in tip-top shape:

  • Have a professional perform a seasonal cleaning 2-3 times per year
  • Remove pond debris regularly, including leaves, twigs, and dead plants. This will help prevent the decaying organic matter from polluting your pond water
  • Check your plants regularly for signs of disease or pests. If you see anything suspicious, remove the affected plant from your pond immediately
  • Perform a water quality test monthly to check pH levels and dissolved oxygen levels
  • Clean the pump and/or filter system as needed to remove debris and waste (only required if you installed a pump or filter)
  • Replace the pond liner every 3-5 years to ensure proper function

By following these simple tips, you can maintain a healthy ecosystem pond that will provide years of enjoyment!

Charlotte Backyard Ponds Can Bring Your Ecosystem Pond To Life

Congratulations! You’ve just completed the first steps in building your own ecosystem pond. With a little bit of knowledge and elbow grease, you can create a beautiful oasis right in your backyard that will provide years of enjoyment for both you and the local wildlife.

If you have any questions or need help getting started, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us. We would be more than happy to assist you further. Furthermore, if you are interested in having one of our professionals build a pond for you, please fill out our contact form today.