Video: Digging & Installing A Decorative Pond

With some strategic excavation and landscaping, an old burn pit goes from eyesore to wildlife habitat with the installation of a water feature.

When I bought my home, I inherited an overgrown burn pit. Turns out the previous occupants had tossed—and torched—everything from dead batteries and engine parts to scrap wood, plastic and glass. (Incidentally, such open burning produces harmful dioxins, hexachlorobenzene, carbon monoxide and other nasty pollutants!)

To remediate the potentially toxic lump of land, I decided to remove as much of the trash as I could. In its place? I installed a decorative water feature—a great way to attract and support area birds and other wildlife. (Check out the video to see the transformation for yourself.)

Together, a friend and I dug out the pit, and I used a homemade sifting box to sort through and remove the really big hunks of debris. We leveled the spot the pond would occupy, lined it with sand, and then carefully positioned the 125-gallon liner.

As for the soil we removed? Rather than transfer it to some other location, we used it to form a few berms around the pond. During heavy rains, these will help to direct excess water. And on dry days, they just might make a nice place to sit.

I’ve begun planting the berms with mostly natives that should be able to withstand the very poor soil conditions. Some of these include wild stonecrop (Sedum ternatum), sweet Susan (Rudbeckia subtomentosa), purple coneflower (Echinacea purpurea) and yellow wood poppies (Stylophorum diphyllum). I also plan to add Joe-Pye weed (Eupatorium purpureum) and prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis) to further shade the pond.

Read more: These native plants will help you reconnect with your land’s roots.

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To keep everything in place while my plants become established, we covered the berms with burlap. I added some cages to protect certain plants from hungry deer, too. And there’s also a broken, inverted flowerpot to provide toads and other creatures with additional cover.

Finally, once the weather warms a bit more, I’ll mulch the berms with a mixture of wine cap mushroom spawn, straw and wood chips. Although the mushrooms this will generate are edible, I won’t be eating any that emerge from the burn pit soil. Instead, I’m using them to help clean up toxins that may yet remain.

Inside the pond? I’ve added water plants, some feeder goldfish and a small, solar-powered fountain. The fountain keeps the water’s surface moving, but I’m looking into some more robust ways to aerate my pond.

It’s all still very much a work in progress. But, compared to the “before,” it’s definitely an improvement.

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