Moving to a new home with nothing but grass in the back yard, (having left our carefully cultivated, well-tended, critter-friendly garden behind), was disconcerting - especially with no budget for gardening.   But  after the first few weekends of having nothing but grass, fence and rooftops to gaze upon at the end of the work day, we decided to forego our upcoming anniversary "dinner and a movie", and spend the money on a small gardening project instead.

Our total cost was around $125.00 (including taxes and shipping charges where applicable), but it could have been done for less.

Solar pump with fountain $32.95
35 gallon plastic pond $32.75
(Both of these items were purchased via web stores)
Japanese willow tree 32.05
Annuals (48) $10.00
Mulch (5 bags) $15.00

The entire project took around 5 hours to complete - and we now have a small, bird and frog friendly habitat in our backyard!

The two up-close fountain photos were taken Jan 4, 2013.

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Step 1: Choose the Right Spot

We chose the corner nearest our brick patio. Corners provide more protection from winds, this corner receives the most sun, and it is closest to the community birdhouse.  (Make sure you don't have any underground lines you could disturb while digging!)

Step 2: Plant a Tree

Of course you don't have to plant a tree. A suitably large shrub would also provide some degree of shade and critter-cover.

We chose to plant a Dappled Willow tree, as we'd done in our garden back home.  In our experience this is a hardy, beautiful tree, providing great color and cover in season, and a lovely silhouette in the winter. And they're the right size in both height and width (something you need to seriously consider when planting near structures). You will want to keep them trimmed up, or they'll get that 'Albert Einsten hair' look about them.

Step 3: Put in the Pond

After looking at pond liners, and given our desire to have a smaller size, we decided to go with a rigid pond. The one we chose is a 35 gallon plastic pond (which we ordered online and picked up at our local big box home improvement store).  Make sure if you go this route and you intend to have fish, that the material is "fish-friendly" (not all are).

We chose our pond spot based on it's proximity to the tree as well as the fencepost, where we wouild mount the solar panel. (We should have chosen a few inches closer to the fence).  

At 18" deep and with a fat base, there was not a lot of digging required to place it at the depth we wanted.  (My husband was happy about that).  Once in, we back-filled around it with the excavated earth, and added enough water to make sure it was settled and level.

With a rigid pond such as this, you don't have to put in in the ground at all. Some people use these as "patio" ponds. We put ours in the ground to accomodate the toads we've seen (and we're hoping for some frogs and turtles as well). 

Step 4: Add the Fountain

We used clean cinder blocks to displace water in the pond, provide a hiding place for any critters that might visit, and have a platform for the fountain, which is gently "wedged" between two of the blocks in the pond's center. A rock is placed to provide a connecting point between the pond's center and the edge.

The solar panel* itself is attached to a flowerpot hanging bracket screwed into the fencepost.   By using superglue to make this attachment, and only screwing in the top hole of the bracket, we are able to adjust the solar panel throughout the day with a simple nudge. It is decorative, matching the other brackets holding flower baskets along the fence and added an attractive solar light we previously owned to the bottom bracket

When finances allow, we intend to replace the solar panel with one that has a battery backup, allowing the fountain to run after dark.

Love grass and creeping phlox were planted pondside, and the area was mulched.  We plan to add at least one aquatic plant to the pond, and in time, an underwater light.

*Why solar?  We didn't want to add the cost of a continuously running pump, however small, to our utility bill.  We didn't want to run conduit through the yard. We didn't want to dedicate our limited outdoor electrical socket to the fountain. 

Step 5: Plant the Flower Bed

Making the flower bed was the most labor intensive step because we had grass to remove. (In hindsight, we should have done this before we installed the tree or pond, which would have allowed for more elbow room while working). About half of the removed grass went to bare spots in the yard, the other half going to compost. 

After the grass was removed we improved the soil with 2 bags of manure mixed in.  Our soil was already in good shape - if yours is not  it's well worth it to spend a few dollars on making it so. 

We chose Impatiens for this planting. Though we plan to go with perennials later, these annuals were on sale and in terriffic condition. Impatiens prefer shade/part sun, but we have grown them in full sun by keeping them well watered.  As we have to take special care to water our new tree daily, and are going to keep the pond at the proper level as well, a routine watering of the impatiens will be done while we're at it.

That's it - a backyard water feature on a very tight budget!

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    13 Discussions


    6 years ago on Introduction

    Almost a year later and the pond and fountain are still going strong! And the birds still love having a fresh drink.

    2 replies

    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    It is an Instapark® 5 Head Solar Pump Garden Fountain Pond Water Feature - bought for < $25 at Amazon April 2012. Seriously the only time it quits running is if the water level gets too low, the pond freezes (rarely here in Memphis) or its heavily overcast/raining. Also, we have only changed the batteries twice since we began using it. Real little gem.


    5 years ago

    great idea thank you for sharing.


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Hi Melvin!
    It's a 32 gallon capacity - holding much less than this given the displacement for stones and blocks within and it not being filled to the top.

    Having said that - as with our once HUGE inground pool, with a few days of steady rain it threatened to flood - so we turned on the pump and ran out the excess. With the pond, we could either remove some of the blocks and/or bail out excess water.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    Nice ible, but just be aware a 'solar pond' actually means something other than what you have built there.

    1 reply

    7 years ago on Introduction

    Barb - Nice feature. I thought I'd share my experiences with you so you may learn from them... I have the same pond and did things a little differently. I tried a solar pump, however it never gave enough action to circulate the water. Who's solar pump did you use?
    Ponds are great!!! The sound of the water trickling and the birds come by for water. Only problem are mosquitoes. So I stocked mine with feeder Gold fish. You can buy them for 5 or 10 cents at a pet store and they'll grow to nearly a foot long (BTW - Gold fish are part of the Koi family).
    I had to put a cage around my pond. I live in Southern California near a green belt that has lots of wild life in it (deer, skunks, bobcats, opossums, rats, rattle snakes and so on...) One night at about 2AM a family of racoons came over for a fresh Sushi dinner. They ate very hearty and all of my fish (about 3 of them that were 10") tore up all the potted plants in it.
    So I built a cage around it before I restocked it with fish. Got two Dogs for 24x7 guards. Critter problem solved...
    If you go for turtles and Frogs, (which sounds really cool) you may want to have something to protect them...
    I have a Bull Toad in mine now, but it's still a tadpole. When it's full grown, it'll hop out and be quick enough to out with the critters (I hope) and live off of eating insects (such as tarantulas, scorpions) and snails that wonder out of the greenbelt.

    1 reply

    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction


    Instapark® 5 Head Solar Pump Garden Fountain Pond Water Feature is the fountain we are using. And yes it is very small, but this is a budget project. We will upgrade to something a bit grander as we can.

    Oh my you have a lot of critters where you are! We had a lot in Maryland where we too lived on a greenway. Now we are on the Mississippi River at Mud Island (Harbortown) in Memphis, a planned community only two decades old. We have few critters within the community - and with a 6 foot fence around the back yard, they'd have a hard time getting in. We have three cats who love the yard and can roam safely - and they are too old to care about chasing frogs or birds so all but the occasional grasshopper is safe.


    7 years ago on Introduction

    a tiny corner of paradise. birds and critters will love you for it


    Reply 7 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks werewolf! Having a backyard water feature is good for one's soul - and the critters love it!