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How to Choose the Right Fish Pond Liner

Updated on November 2, 2012

Building an Ornamental Fish Pond

If you have decided to build a fish pond in your garden or back yard you will probably have an idea of what sort of fish and what type of pond you want to create. You will probably have a limited amount of space suitable for siting the pond and the layout of your ground and your available budget might dictate the sort of pond you want to build.

For example, if budget is no option and you want to keep a lage selection of koi carp in healthy conditions you will want to build a large concrete pond with a sophisticated filter system. However, if you are seeking to build a modest fish pond, perhaps of an irregular shape on a sensible budget, you will no doubt consider the options of using one of the many pond liners available in the aquatic fish keeping market today.

The Advantages of Using a Pond LIner

A poured concrete pond or block built fish pond can be a high quality home for expensive show koi carp, but a pond built using a flexible rubber or plastic liner can be extremely attractive, suitable for a wide range of aquatic inhabitants and last for many years. There are many advantages of using a pond liner over a permanent concrete pond:

  1. A pond liner is far cheaper to buy and install than building a proper concrete pond. For example, a 2000 gallon pond could end up costing $3000 without the additional expense of the filter system you might want to install. A pond liner laid in a hole dug by hand holding the same volume of water could cost as little as $200 - if natural water quality control is used there is little other cost than buying plants and fish!
  2. A pond liner can be laid into any shape you choose, so if you have an odd triangle area that you want to utilise - no problem. You can easily have different depths throughout the pond - to allow for a deep cool area in the summer for the fish and shallow shelves for certain plants to thrive on.
  3. With a pond liner you can get started straight away - pop down to your local store and buy your pond liner - start digging when you get home and by the evening you could be filling the pond with water! Contrast this with ordering cement blocks, ordering sand and cement - digging the hole - leveling the site - etc etc.


Building an Ornamental Fish Pond Using a Pond Liner

You have decided to build your fish pond as a natural habitat in your garden. It will be about 12 feet long and 10 feet wide having a random curved perimeter to look natural. It will contain a mixture of goldfish, orfe, tench and other ornamental fish that take your fancy in the ornamental cold water fish stock section of your local water garden centre. A variety of plants will be grown including weeds, lillys and floating oxygenating type plants. The pond is intended to attract frogs and newts, water insects and other wildlife. It is also assumed that your pond is going to be built where the climate is temperate (e.g. many parts of the USA or all the UK/northern Europe etc).

You first need to ensure that the intended position for the pond is suitable - is it under trees and therefore fill up with dead leaves in the fall? Is it going to be dangerous for your children to fall into? Will your dog use it as a swimming pool? These practical questions must be answered before digging your pond.

Draw your desired pond shape on the ground using an old hose pipe or trail of dry sand. Try not to make the shape too complicated, it will only add to the amount of folding (weak spots that will gather muck and dirt) of your pond liner when it is eventually fitted. An oval or kidney shape is good if you want a natural looking pond.

Dig the first 18 inches or so of pond out. The sides will be a gently sloping as you can manage. Once this is done you can dig out the deeper areas - take another 18 inches or so out. The last layer can then be removed so that you have the deepest area of approximately 54 inches - if you can manage this you will end up with around 4 feet of water at the deepest spot in the pond allowing 6 inches of free board between the water surface and your garden.

You must realise that this is an awfully large amount of spoil to remove - if you have a large garden you might be able to get rid of the topsoil elsewhere, you will probably need to order a skip to remove the waste. If your ground is hard or rocky, you might have difficulty getting as deep as 54 inches - depending on your local climate you might be able to get away with 30 - 36 inches at the deep point but if you get the occasional severe winter expect to loose some fish from time to time. Conversely, if your climate is subtropical or more - you will definitely need the depth to keep cool spots for you fish during the hot summer - and may need to think about how much aeration and water movement you need within your pond in such conditions.

The next step is to ensure that your pond has smooth sides to prevent any stones or roots from puncturing your pond liner. This can be achieved by buying some soft sand and lining the walls and pond bottom with a 2 inch layer. You can also buy special pond underlay for this job, and many people often use old carpet to great effect. You are now ready to install your pond liner.

Choosing and Installing Your Pond LIner

Size of pond liner

You must calculate the longest measurement of your pond and the widest measurement and add to each of these twice the maximum depth. Add a further 2 feet to each measurement to allow for a healthy margin of 1 foot all around the pond. When you come to landscape the pond you will cover this edge with paving stones or decking.

You will probably buy a pond liner of about 25 x 20 feet for your 12 x 8 feet pond.

Pond liner material

You can buy many different types of pond liner - these essentially fall into three basic categories:

  1. Polythene liners - these are cheap solutions and useful for small or temporary water features without live fish.
  2. Propriety PVC and similar pond liners that are relatively cheap to buy and if installed carefully with good quality pond underlay will last you many years. They are not as strong as the third option and if your pond is likely to attract dogs and children playing in the margins you would be better seeking a more robust solution.
  3. Butyl pond liners - these are more expensive to buy but are by far much more stronger than the previous options. Even these come in different qualities usually depending on the thickness of the butyl rubber that forms the pond liner. A thickness of at least three quarters of a millimeter is ideal and very strong. A suitable butyl rubber pond liner for your 2000 gallon pond might cost around $400. They general cost around $8-$10 per square yard - but you will end up with a pond that will last a lifetime.

Installing the pond liner

Installing pond liners could not be easier - the liner is laid in the pond and spread out as evenly as possible. Take care to ensure that folds are as neat as possible and put a little water in the pond to "set" the liner - adjust where necessary and add more water.

As the pond fills you will now find that all the effort made when first digging the pond - to get the levels right and the sides to gently slope - will pay off. The desired result will be a pond that fills evenly leaving a regular amount of free board all around that will form the first of the next stages of your pond installation:

  • Landscape the edges and surrounding area of your pond adding garden décor where required
  • Install pond pumps, water filters or fountains
  • Commence planting you pond with aquatic plants
  • Start introducing suitable fish slowly into your pond
  • Fine tuning your pond and dealing with problems that might arise

Final note

One important point to note is that although using a pond liner may be a quick option, it still pays to plan your garden pond very carefully. Take time to think where it will go, how it will impact your garden or yard and whether or not there are too many trees that will shed their leaves close by. When finished, you will definitely wish you had made it bigger, but the size must be compatible with the space you have.

I am in the process of planning a new pond, to be built during the Summer when my forensic accounting business should be quieter than during the rest of the year - as all the lawyers and court officials are on holiday!


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    • Mark Jenner profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Jenner 

      6 years ago

      An answer to this question would merit its own Hub as there is quite a lot to say - and a lot of variables. I will give this some thought and see if I can put it together as an interesting piece.

      Many thanks for the idea.

    • profile image


      6 years ago

      please can you tell me the conditions of siting a fish pond

    • Mark Jenner profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Jenner 

      6 years ago

      Agreed - and I am sure that there is polythene and there is polythene - i.e. it is possible to buy a sheet from your building merchants for a temporary fix - or better quality material that you describe for longer term use.

    • profile image

      Jan Elliott 

      6 years ago

      Mark, I am curious about your comment "Polythene liners - these are cheap solutions and useful for small or temporary water features without live fish."

      Polyethylene liners are a great long term, fish and plant safe material. BTL has been using this material for 20+ years in all applications, small backyard ponds to lakes, multiple acres in size. Please see our website to see a few. Thank you for your article! I would love to send you a sample liner.

    • Mark Jenner profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Jenner 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for your comment PondWorld - I have enjoyed your hub on ponds (and the others about filtration/plants etc)

      Regards, Mark

    • PondWorld profile image


      7 years ago from Dallas, TX

      I love that pond in your picture! What do you think of our hub on ponds?

    • Mark Jenner profile imageAUTHOR

      Mark Jenner 

      7 years ago

      Thanks for your comment John - you will not be disappointed when you get round to building one. Take plenty of time to plan it as I guarantee that you will wish you made it longer/wider/deeper etc etc.


    • John Sarkis profile image

      John Sarkis 

      7 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      Great pond picture. I've made it a point to have an artificial pond made when I purchase my first houses (Up until now, I've only owned condos).

      Nice hub



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