Garden Pond

How to Make a Pond on a Budget

Making a pond on a budget isn’t exactly the most straightforward since everyone’s budget is different and using mainly recycled materials requires a fair bit of creativity. When we moved into our current house, we had no plans or desire for a pond. As gardening grew on me, so did gardening shows and magazines. One glamorous pond or water feature after another, I was in love, of course!

If you’re a total novice like me, you might be torn between Victorian fountains and modern, sleek water features. There is an astounding choice of ponds or water features out there so you’ll need to think a little bit before you decide what to put in.

Before you build your pond ..

Decide what kind of pond you would like :

Is it going to be a fancy,large pond lined with stones and gravel housing Koi Karp? Will it be a running stream of water running into a peaceful pool giving you all the Zen you could ever wish for ? Will it be a bowl of water buried in the ground with a hidden pump that gently makes the water run to sound like a distant stream? Or could it be a relatively simple pool of water,wildlife-friendly, surrounded by your favorite plants reflected in the water and giving nectar to the bees?

Budget and Wildlife :

Depending on your budget and the amount of wildlife and pets you already have, you will be able to make a choice without spending too much time. My neighbours’ cats spend more time in my garden than me so I didn’t have the choice of making a fish pond. My husband argued that we could cover it up with a mesh, etc etc etc. But what’s the point then ? You may have different thoughts of course but I just couldn’t do with the idea of the eyesore of a mesh over the pond.

External sockets / electricity :

My budget was nonexistent (and thus the necessity to share my ideas about how to make a pond on a budget!). Sure, I could spend a little to buy a pump but I decided against it since we have no sockets outside. Solar pumps are readily available but living in the U.K, I again decided against it. In my relatively sheltered garden, this was sort of a no-brainer. Therefore, if you’re thinking of adding a pump, take this into consideration. Installing sockets / wiring outside can add significant costs to the budget.

How I made my pond on a budget

When saying ‘ how to make a pond on a budget,’ I actually mean: ‘how to make a pond without a budget!’ I decided to build a pond without a pump, mainly for wildlife, using only recycled materials and surrounded by my favorite plants. Easy-Peasy (but the husband disagrees with these last two words).

Generally speaking, you need a space dug out to the shape of your pond, a pond liner (which can be either premade or a fabric liner), gravel/rocks to line the pond, optional sand to line it, optional pond plants, optional pump, optional decor, and optional plants to surround the pond.

Things You Need to Make a Pond (or things I Used):

To make my first pond on a budget (with no external help other than from my husband), here’s what we used:

1. Pre-made pond / tub/ sink / etc – I used my child’s old plastic bath-tub. You might be either snorting or thinking I’m bonkers but wait till you see the result!

2. Lining fabric

3. Spray paint suitable for outdoor use (Optional)

4. Rocks, gravel, stepping stones.

5. Garden ornaments (Optional)

6. Solar Lights (Optional)

Step 1. Optional step: Spray paint the bathtub with a light blue/suitable shade.

I had leftover paints from my son’s playhouse that we built the year before. These were outdoor and wildlife-friendly and I had no other uses left for them – so I sprayed the tub a faint blue and let it dry before proceeding towards the major step: Digging.

Step 2. Dig out the area you want to convert into a pond.

Marking with the pre-made pond (if that’s what you’ve gone for) or drawing a boundary with multiple depth levels is extremely important. Your pond will need to have varying depths (you can dig these in the form of steps at the edges and/or place rocks) to ensure the wildlife coming in has a way to get out and doesn’t drown.

I chose an area that could take the chosen tub, additional plants and ornaments (all re-used from the current garden). Since we inherited this current garden and it was only our first year here, I did not know what a lot of the plants were so I let them grow. I decided well into early Autumn about what I didn’t like. One of these was the huge 2×2 m area which had only Giant Montbretia. Quite the sight to behold when looking at the garden from the study window but these guys were planning world domination. It took me 2 days of back and soul breaking digging to get these out.

I dug out over 50 kilograms of..Montbretia Corms. Note to self: NEVER plant these animals out without root barriers/restrictive methods. Best planted in pots/walled beds, etc. It took me weeks to get rid of these because throwing in the compost isn’t an option – either plant elsewhere or gift away (I did the latter).

To give you a better perspective, here’s a photo that shows the garden before I did the extensive digging. The Montbretia (large grass-like leaves at the end of the garden, in front of the swing) on the left is what I decided to dig out. It was huge, it was pretty much in all parts of the garden and wasn’t letting grass around it grow because of the extreme shade. I love them but they’re not the greatest choice for a small garden like mine. Also, they’re super invasive.

Summer garden

The digging up business obviously wasn’t that pretty, as you can see below:

Dug up lawn

I had to dig a huge load of Montbretia corms which is why this project took longer than expected. If you’re working on an area that has nothing/turf, it will be much easier.

Here’s the area with the pond taking shape:

Dug up pond

Step 3. Place a layer of sand (optional) and/or a pond-liner.

Some people recommend this, some don’t. I didn’t use sand to line the base of the pond. I only used weed suppression fabric which I bought off the local Homebase without really spending much because the area to cover was quite small.

For those people who are using only pond liner without a pre-formed pond (or tub, like me), sand must be used below the liner. Pond liner is different than weed suppression membrane and isn’t usually recommended for ponds. I used the latter since my pond was made of thick, high-quality plastic which I don’t think would allow weeds to grow through. I re-inforced the base with weed suppression membrane, bringing it out by about 30-40 cms outside the boundaries of the pond to cover this with gravel and not let plants/weeds grow at the immediate edge of the pond. This is totally up to you, of course, I chose this since I wanted minimal maintenance around the pond.

Step 4: Put the pre-formed pond/liner in.

Here’s what mine looked like, after the surrounding weed suppression fabric had been covered with soil:

Pond from a bathtub

Step 5: Add boundaries with rocks/gravel.

A picture here is really worth a thousand rocks:

Garden pond made on a budget

I’ve created varying levels with rocks within the pond. All the gravel and rocks were bought from the local Homebase again, on multi-buy offers as always. The stepping stones were added to create a bit of order and to cover up the area more easily along with providing easier access in the future if I were to change my mind about planting schemes (which I often do!).

Step 6: Decorate and add water!

Family filling up their garden pond

I recycled ornaments from the garden. The black birdbath was again bought at a clearance event and was less than £20 – I can’t recall the exact price. There is a red rose bush along with Salvia Officinalis, Hardy Fuschia, Broom and some Agapanthus (all not visible in these photos) behind the pond. I planted the borders around the pond with naturalizing varieties of tulips and daffodils with a few Fritillaria Imperialis scattered here and there. My mouth is watering just thinking about this year’s Summer!

The duck ornaments were bought from a clearance event 2 years ago at Homesense. The large green flowers were from a clearance event last year at Homebase. All the ornaments cost less than £30 in total. If you’re creating a pond on a budget, you may want to leave the ornaments or decor for later. But remember to plan ahead and leave space for these.

Garden Pond on a budget

I have recently spotted birds sitting on the stepping stone drinking water from the pond, more often than they use the birdbath. I haven’t managed to get any decent photos yet but I’m sure I’ll have lots when the weather is better. I’ve left a few spaces in the edging for wildlife to get in. Again, the weather hasn’t helped much in this regard.

Garden pond made on a budget
lotus ornament
A beautiful and inexpensive Lotus ornament.

Other than pond plants, Solar lights are another optional feature and the ones I used were literally taken from other areas of the garden. This is something you can add on later, but it does create a magical effect:

Garden pond with solar lights

To summarize, for creating a pond on a budget, the main thing you need is either the liner or a pre-built pond. The latter can be anything from old bathtubs to unused sinks. The local skip may have some finds. There’s a lot of ideas on the internet about creating ponds from some very quirky things so have a look around. Any questions, please feel free to comment below and I’d be more than happy to help! Take away message: Please recycle as much as possible and try to salvage what you have rather than buy new! Happy Gardening!

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