Birdbaths and Small Garden Ponds: Landscaping Hints & Alternate Design

A garden is not only plants. The use of stone, water, and other natural materials will greatly enhance the beauty of a garden setting. Water and stone can transform a plain garden into a more natural and dramatic landscape. Small garden ponds and birdbaths are easy to install with liners. It can be beneficial if they are not water-tight. The birdbath below was built with a cheap tarp and the water slowly leaks. Only when someone wants to enjoy the sight and sound of the water is the faucet turned on. The slow seepage keeps the surrounding soil constantly moist making it possible to grow wet loving perennials in a otherwise dry area. Rock and gravel hide the tarp making it attractive even if the birdbath is allowed to dry.

The photo below shows an artificial spring which feeds a small stream leading to a garden pond. Here it is necessary to use a very good rubber liner underlined with a thick bed of sand. Although it is watertight the stream is allowed to overflow in selected places to provide the moisture for plants with a high dependence on wet soil. Planted in the stream’s gravel are small aquatic plants. Much of the oxygenation and filtration for the pond is done by the stream, both mechanical and biological. An automatic timer is used to provide the small, daily overflow.


Rock should be placed with care on a extra piece of the liner to prevent a puncture. The water line from the pond pump is installed over the top of the liner in the back of the rock work for easy access. The stream bed is level allowing the pump to be turned off without draining the stream.


Ponds are more demanding than a simple birdbath. Liners can be expensive and cheaper ones should be avoided. Use only pond liners and not a rubber roofing material, especially if fish will be added. Dedicated pond liners do not have added chemical additives that are toxic to fish and plants.

As pond-building methods have been perfected, more homeowners are restoring existing ponds or digging new ones. With dozens of color photographs, Matson shows you how to site a pond in right relation to your house, offering surprisingly simple ways to visually link the two. His proven methods and designs reflect the many moods water evokes. Screen your pond for privacy, create a sandy beach and natural diving platform, encourage wetland gardens, line the shores with moisture-loving perennials, or design your gardens and paths to create a sense of mystery and adventure.

I approach small pond upkeep the same as a large aquarium. Under-gravel filters are simple to set up and eliminates the need to constantly clean filter intakes. Plants are easily planted in the gravel and do very well. Most aquatic plants mainly acquire nutrients from the water, accumulated detritus in the gravel will supply the roots. Like an aquarium a small pond’s bottom should be cleaned occasionally, and it is best done by using a large gravel cleaner from an aquarium shop.

Algae blooms and green water are often common in a new pond. Panic is not necessary, as the nutrients are used up the water will clear. Replacing water will only prolong the cycle. Adding fish to a pond increases the need for biological filtration and aeration. While plants remove extra nutrients that promote algae blooms, fish waste in overcrowded conditions will soon overwhelm the balance in a small pond. Either use less fish or a larger filtering system to keep a healthy balance. Also remember that goldfish and Koi will like your plants better than you. Don’t be surprised if plants are eaten.

Wild bird feeding kit contains everything you need to set up a bird feeding station: decorative twin hook with fleur-de-lys finial, bird bath supporting ring and bird bath, small feeder hook, mesh feeder tray, and heavy duty feeder pole.


Overfeeding is also a common problem, uneaten food will also upset the balance in the pond. Feed only what the fish will eat in a few minutes. They will often seem like they are begging for food and like a dog they will do it hungry or not.

One problem with very shallow ponds in the sun is that temperature fluctuations are extreme. Fish will hardly survive in a large cooking pot you have in the ground.

Winter freezing in the North can be a problem in shallow ponds where they can freeze solid. Damage to the pond can be prevented by simply floating partly filled soda bottles in it. They will contract with the expanding ice, taking the pressure off the side of the pond. A simple aquarium aerator will keep a small hole open all winter. It is rare when ice freezes over 18 in. thick. If you plan to raise less hardy species of plants and fish they will have to be removed for the winter. Plants can be stored in water-tight plastic bags wrapped in damp paper towels or vermiculite and kept in a cool, dark space. Fish will need to come indoors also if the pond freezes solid or they are not adapted to your climate. Now you have the opportunity to pursue another obsessive hobby. A large planted aquarium can satisfy those winter gardening urges. But no Goldfish please!