DIY Natural Backyard Pond

Learn how to build a natural backyard pond that stays clean and algae-free without the use of pumps, filters or chemicals.


  • Natural Pond
    Plants and wildlife thrive in the author's southern Ontario natural pond, where mechanical systems and chemicals are strictly off-limits.
    Photo by Robert Pavlis
  • Planting Ledge
    Incorporate a wide, shallow planting ledge into the design of your backyard pond.
    Photo by Robert Pavlis
  • Pond Liner
    If you must use a pond liner, protect it with a carpet underlayment.
    Photo by Robert Pavlis
  • Pond Shallow Ledge
    To foster water-cleaning microorganisms in your natural pond, place rocks and pebbles on the shallow ledge.
    Photo by Robert Pavlis
  • Pond Illustration

    Illustration by Keith Ward
  • Clean Water Pond
    Your natural pond won't need a pump or filter because the many small rocks on the ledge will harbor beneficial microbes to keep the water clean.
    Photo by Robert Pavlis
  • Cattails
    Native cattails can seed themselves on the planting ledge of a backyard pond.
    Photo by iStock/AndrewKravchenko
  • Pontederia Cordata
    Flowering pontederia cordata, commonly known as pickerel rush or pickerelweed, thrives in shallow water.
    Photo by Fotolia/Gordana Sermek
  • Iris
    Iris laevigata and iris hexagonae are beautiful water plants that will thrive on the edges of your natural pond.
    Photo by Fotolia/F Studio
  • Water Lillies
    Water lillies will shade the surface of a natural pond and help inhibit algae growth.
    Photo by iStock/aimintang
  • Umbrella Plant
    Umbrella plant (Darmera peltata) is a "marginal" plant that prefers the perimeter, or margins, of a natural pond.
    Photo by Fotolia/Axel Gutjahr

  • Natural Pond
  • Planting Ledge
  • Pond Liner
  • Pond Shallow Ledge
  • Pond Illustration
  • Clean Water Pond
  • Cattails
  • Pontederia Cordata
  • Iris
  • Water Lillies
  • Umbrella Plant

Water, soil, plants and animals live together in a harmonious balance in a natural pond. No one needs to scoop out algae. The water doesn’t need pumps and filters to stay clean and oxygenated, and required maintenance is minimal. Years ago, I dreamed of having such a backyard pond, but everything I read claimed that pumps, filters, chemicals and constant care would be necessary. So, I set out to prove the experts wrong.

Natural Garden Pond Design

In a conventional backyard pond design, algae levels are controlled by adding chemicals and using a mechanical filter and a circulating pump that cost up to several hundred dollars. These filtering systems are essential because a standard design doesn’t provide a hospitable environment for the beneficial microorganisms that would otherwise keep the water clean. I have found that by changing the design so the pond itself becomes the filter, you can eliminate the need for such systems.

This article will focus on how to create a low-maintenance, natural pond in your backyard by applying these principles:



  • Provide surfaces for beneficial microorganisms to grow.
  • Prepare plenty of space for plants.
  • Restrict sunlight from the surface of the water to reduce algae growth.

Room to Grow

Insects, frogs, fish and other living creatures add organic matter to a pond, as do pond plants and nearby shrubs and trees. This organic material would build up and overwhelm the water were it not for the pond’s secret weapon: microorganisms. These organisms are everywhere — in soil and on rocks and plants — and they feed on organic matter. The more surfaces there are to support microbes, the cleaner the water will be.

To use microbes to your advantage in your DIY pond, plan for half of its surface area to consist of a shallow ledge, about 8 inches deep, around the pool’s perimeter. Place a ring of large stones along the inside edge of the ledge, closest to the deeper water. Then, position pebbles (about a half-inch in diameter) on the rest of the ledge. The larger stones will prevent the smaller ones from rolling to the bottom of the pond. The surfaces of the small stones will be the perfect places for microorganisms to grow and become your pond’s filter. In no time at all, the stones will become slimy, demonstrating that microorganisms are prospering and cleaning the water.

Jenni A
3/26/2021 11:32:25 AM

We moved on to a property that has a lot of low areas which is leading to standing water. We want to put in a shallow pond to help with this. Just looking for ideas.


Sue
1/5/2021 5:59:22 PM

I'd like to try a pond once again, FL, zone 9B. VERY warm most of the year, deluge of water at times. I've had a filtered pond in zone 9, but it quickly became an unfiltered pond because there was too much algae which overtook the filter and filter manager. Water will not stay in the pond here without something to retain it. And I don't understand how I can provide more leaf shade than I did with the first. But a "natural pond" seems to be the best solution for me in this environment. Also, having at least a 3 foot depth helps a bit with keeping the temperature of the water lower. Solar heating really ramps up the water temp, even with only 2-3 hours. The bluejays loved when I cleaned out the long algae strings and set them to dry on the edge of the pond. They'd pick at the small snails, then fly off with strands, even if it wasn't nesting season. Not sure what they did with them. PS. I had much more wildlife come after the filter quit functioning. Thx for the article. I'll have to do more research for Florida natural ponds.


chumel_nz
9/30/2020 4:04:19 AM

Hi, We moved to a new property that has a fairly large pond. We worked out approx 20000 gallons and about a meter and a half deep in the middle, approx 7-8 meters by 5-6 meters. We have put a few goldfish in and they seem to be happy. My question is regarding the thick layer of sludge over the whole bottom which is about 30-45 cm thick in the middle. I would love to get in and clear at least a fair bit of this layer away. Any suggestions on the best way to do this to not upset fish or cause pond issues. The water is very clear but has algae build up on surface that bubbles up from sludge below. I clear the top regularly. Also the pond has no filter but self drains via a small stream that flows from it. From what we gather it is spring feed water into the pond and always has a bit of a freshen up after heavy rain. Any advice re sludge removal would be appreciated, wonder if it would be to thick for any sludge treatment to clear and would need to be removed manually. Thanks.






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