Urban Ponds in Chicago Landscapes

Thinking About Adding An Urban Pond?

Check Out These Tips on Building and Maintaining An Attractive Garden Pond

The lush beauty of a well-planned and maintained urban pond is easier to build than you think. With just a little imagination, you can create an exciting dimension to your yard.

A water garden is home to exotic plants that attract hummingbirds, and also colorful live fish. Add a waterfall with natural stone to aerate and a curb to contain it all, and you’ve got yourself a little slice of peace that is sure to make your heart happy.

All you need to get started are the right tools and materials, along with some spare time. Here’s what you need to know before adding a garden pond to your backyard.

View All Photos of This Chicago Urban Pond


The most important decision you will make is where to place your pond. Before you dig, take a critical look at your back yard and consider sunlight, drainage, and trees. These considerations may narrow your choice of position, but if you do not carefully consider them, you could wind up with a pond that is sucking up all your free time with maintenance.

    • Trees matter because they shed leaves and pollen. These two activities greatly affect your pond’s environment, and subsequently, everything in it or around it.
    • Ideally, you’ll want a spot with a little sun and a little shade. This allows for a variety of plants, and keeps fish happy, too.
    • Excessive rainfall or overfilling it is going to create an issue if you don’t plan the way the water will drain. You’ll want to build a low spot or build in an area with a natural drain-off to keep water away from your home’s foundation.

Plan Your Design

Now it’s time to think about how you’d like your urban pond to look. Consider shape, size, and design elements as well as what you’d like in and around the pool.

  • Think about size as it relates to your property. Your pond should accent the existing landscape. Pick a size that doesn’t overwhelm your yard or house. For reference, small ponds generally hold up to 500 gallons of water and medium ponds hold 500-1500 gallons. If you have room for a larger pool, go with a 1500-3000 pond or even bigger with an extra-large 3000 gallon for more pond!
  • Choose your shape. Common designs include formal, straight-lined square and rectangle shapes, round or oval, free-flowing, and tiered. Pull out a piece of paper and doodle some shapes to see what looks good to you.
  • Consider the pool liner. You can choose a flexible liner or you can go with a rigid pool shell. Flexible liners work for irregular shapes, but the rigid shells are easy to just drop into your hole.
  • Finally, think about how you want your urban pool to look. You can add a lot of interest with stone on the bottom of the pond, but leaving it empty is easier to maintain. Are you going to add a waterfall? What kind of stone will you use? Again, jotting down a few design ideas is a great way to flesh out what you want.


Once you’ve decided on shape and design, it’s time to start digging! Check with your local utilities to obtain any required permits. Confirm underground water or electric/gas lines before you start.

    • If your garden pond is large, rent a bobcat. It’s exhausting to hand-dig out any size, and you’ll want to save your back for the fun stuff.
    • Once you’ve dug the hole, add the liner and seam the flexible liner if necessary with a reliable bonding agent, such as a good roofing sealant.
    • Add rocks! If you’re going to use stone on the bottom of the pond, then arrange them as you’d like. Big boulders or flat rock sheets are perfect for curbs and waterfalls. Use your imagination!
    • Add plants and fish! Finish off your design with your favorite plants!
    • Buy a filter. If you have a small pond with a waterfall, and no fish, you might not need a filter. If you’re going to put fish or other life into your pond, it’s necessary to make sure that there is adequate oxygenation. Fish produce ammonia, and so does other organic matter that decays in the pond. Ammonia is toxic to the fish and removal is a must. You can find more about filter choices at your local garden and home improvement center.


After all the building is complete, fill your pond with clean water. Top it off at the desired level and you’re ready to enjoy your urban pond. A few notes about maintaining the beautiful ecosystem you’ve just created:

  • If you have fish or other animal life in the pond, test the water chemistry frequently to heck for ammonia and other undesirable chemicals.
  • Fish have specific requirements to survive in an urban pond. Goldfish do not require a large area, but other fish, such as koi, require least one thousand gallons. Colder climate is also an important consideration. Koi fish will not survive cold Chicago winters. You’ll have to winter them indoors during the coldest months. Goldfish will survive the winter in the pond, but the pool depth needs to be at least one foot below the frost or freeze line. You’ll also need to drill an air hole for them in the winter if ice forms.
  • Keep plants trimmed by removing dead leaves and flowers. Skim off any leaves or other debris that finds its way into the water.
  • During winter, float a ball or a piece of wood on the pond surface. This will help reduce pressure from expanding ice.
  • Clean the bottom of the pond in the spring and reinstall the pump and filter, if you’re using one.
  • Your fish don’t need to eat during the winter. Their metabolism slows down to fuel essential activities. In the spring, though, you’ll want to be sure to start feeding them a quality high-carbohydrate food that will encourage more activity.

There you have it! If you’re thinking about building an urban pool, you’ve got the information you need to get you started. You can also talk to the folks at your local garden center for advice specific to your needs, or simply call your favorite Chicago landscaping design company for a quote to do the heavy lifting for you. Either way, you’re on your way to enjoying the natural and soothing beauty found in your own backyard pond!