Guide to Different Types of Pond (Natural & Man-made)

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For centuries, ponds have been utilized for all manner of things. Many ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Romans, used ponds to farm fish to feed their vast populations. Some spiritual societies, like the Buddhists, have ponds outside of temples for bathing as well as spiritual cleansing and reflection. Nowadays, most ponds, whether man made or naturally occurring, are typically used for either fish, wildlife, plants, decorative purposes, or all of those things. They can range in size from a few hundred gallons and only a few inches deep to spanning several acres and reaching many meters in depth.

Regardless of the type of pond or its desired purpose, all ponds have the potential to provide a safe haven for plants and wildlife as well as a calming aesthetic, and we’ve listed the most common types of ponds (and their most defining characteristics) below:

Different Types of Man Made Ponds

1) Fish Ponds (Koi & Goldfish Ponds)

a pond with many white, yellow, black, and orange koi fish
Fish ponds are the most popular type of artificial pond, and can house various species, including koi, goldfish, sturgeon, and orfe. Public domain.

Fish ponds are among the most popular artificial ponds, as they can be constructed and maintained to host all manner of fish for decoration and entertainment. Because different fish species have different needs, maintaining a fish pond constitutes a fair amount of work and upkeep, including monitoring pH levels, nutrient levels, dissolved oxygen content, temperature, and water hardness to name a few.

Equipment also has to be installed and then cleaned regularly to ensure a healthy environment for the fish and keep everything in proper working order. Fish can produce a great deal of waste, so a hardy filter will be necessary, plus possible manual removal of fish and plant waste. A pump will also be needed to help aerate the water. If you incorporate plants into your pond (which is recommended to provide oxygen, shade, and shelter for you fish), you’ll also attract valuable pollinators and possibly other wildlife as well!

2) Wildlife Ponds

a small wildlife pond that will attract birds, newts, turtles, insects, frogs, and plants
Wildlife ponds may not contain fish, but they’re great for attracting native insects, birds, newts, frogs, and even plants.

As covered in our article on wildlife pond maintenance, ponds worldwide have disappeared by an average of 50% due to human activities. As such, man-made wildlife ponds have become invaluable and often lifesaving resources for wildlife. Many species of waterfowl depend on them for stopover points during migration, salamanders and frogs need them in order to spawn and raise young, and other wildlife like songbirds, deer, and rabbits depend on them for a quick drink during dry, warm weather as well as a place to forage on tasty and nutrient rich emergent vegetation.

Wildlife ponds tend to be larger than fish ponds, as they are generally geared toward helping to support a wide array of species, both plant and animal. These ponds, though typically artificial, don’t require as much upkeep as fish ponds, and as such don’t need as much equipment like filters, pumps, or vacuums. In fact, so long as nutrient and pH levels are kept in check, these ponds don’t need much of anything at all – it’s best to leave things as undisturbed as possible, so nature can do its thing and allow this pond to really be a sanctuary for wildlife.

a mini pond can attract wildlife, and can be brought indoors for winter
Mini ponds can created from small pre-formed plastic, bowls, wash basins, or even pots. The smallest are suitable for patios and can even be brought indoors in winter. Public domain.

3) Mini Ponds/Bowl Ponds

Mini ponds are quite small and can be made out of something as simple as a bowl, preformed plastic, pot, or a barrel that’s been cut in half. Due to their small size, they can be portable and are suitable for use indoors, in small gardens, on patios, or really anywhere – this is particularly handy if you’d like a pond aesthetic, but live somewhere such as an apartment where having a typical pond isn’t possible.

They’re also an excellent fit if you’d like a water feature but lack the experience, funds, or even just motivation to take care of anything substantial, as mini ponds require minimum maintenance. These can range in size from a small soup bowl to a large meter squared ceramic urn. Truly tiny bowl ponds are limited in terms of vegetation, but anything around 50 centimeters in diameter or greater can truly become miniature ecosystems. Dwarf water lilies, water lettuce, hornwort, taro, and soft rush among others are all well suited to these miniature ecosystems, and can beautifully complement each other and the water. From time to time you’ll likely need to trim back the plants (no more than about 75% of the surface should be covered, otherwise the water will not get enough light and can become a prime area for algae and water quality issues), if it the pond is outside and you live in an area with cold winters, it will need to be moved indoors. You can check out our full guide to the best plants for mini ponds and container ponds here: 10 Best Plants for Container Ponds, Bowls, Tubs & Patios (Updated)

Due to its small size, neither of these should present much issue! If outdoors during the spring and summer, you may have visitors such as salamanders and dragonflies discovering your pond and visiting it regularly.

4) Swimming Ponds

a swimming pond that has been converted into a wildlife fish pond
Swimming ponds can be converted pools or fish ponds, and need to be maintained to keep away algae, sludge, and pests. Public domain.

Swimming ponds can vary but are usually a bit of a hybrid between a swimming pool and an actual pond. Oftentimes, they will be lined or may even be held within an actual pool structure, but will also contain some plants and perhaps even fish. Since the pond is used for swimming, you’ll really have to be on top of maintenance to ensure there aren’t any organisms such as leeches or an overabundance of algae that could harm you or anyone else swimming in the pond.

In addition, because the pond also contains plants and possibly some fish as well, you won’t be able to use chemicals such as chlorine to keep it clean. Rather, you can conduct some research and choose plants that are particularly adept at filtering pollutants and adding oxygen. These plants could be placed either along the edge of the pond or along the bottom, where they’ll be mostly out of the way for swimming. You could also use salt to keep the water balanced and clean, but then you will only be able to have plants and fish that are adapted to saltwater environments else they will die.

Different Types of Natural Ponds

a vernal pool ephemeral pond that will dissipate in a few weeks
Ephemeral ponds, or vernal pools, are formed from snow-melt and typically only last a few months of the year. Public domain.

1) Ephemeral Ponds (Vernal Ponds)

Ephemeral ponds are those that are formed in the spring by melting snow and increased rainfall. They usually dry up within a few months, but despite their short lifespan they are depended on by a variety of wetland species, like frogs, salamanders, jewelweed, and water crowfoot to name only a few.

Mammals and birds will utilize them for drinking as well as hunting much needed food that is otherwise scarce when exiting winter.

2) Kettle Ponds

kettle ponds that have formed from retreating glaciers
Kettle ponds, or potholes, are formally from retreating glaciers which leave behind deep depressions which fill with water. Photo courtesy of Ducks Unlimited.

Kettle ponds are often quite old, formed by retreated glaciers that carve depressions (sometimes over 100 feet deep) into the ground. A portion of the glacier detaches and becomes embedded in the ground, where it gradually melts and forms a pond with rich glacial sediment.

They are most often found in open areas like savannahs and prairies, typically near mountains. They are exceptionally ecologically important – the Prairie Potholes region located in the western United States and southern portion of Canada, for example, is one of the richest and most diverse wetland ecosystems on the planet. In fact, about a third of North America’s waterfowl nest here, and about half visit it as a crucial stopover point during migration.

3) Spring Fed Ponds

a spring-fed pond that is very rich in minerals
Spring-fed ponds are generally very clean and rich in minerals, with clean water being pumped from deep underground. Ben Amstutz / CC BY-NC 2.0

Spring fed ponds are, obviously ponds that are formed by underground springs as they flow up to the surface into some form of depression. These are often very clean, mineral rich pond systems, due to the natural and thorough filtration that is conducted by underground springs as they pass through soil and rock.

You can find a variety of species at these ponds that may not exist in other areas. For example, salamanders, dragonflies, and various plant species may set up residence near spring fed ponds, as these species are generally pretty intolerant of pollution and spring fed ponds are quite clean. However, there likely won’t be much life in the pond itself due to the cold spring water.

4) Meadow-Stream Ponds

a meadow stream pond with several deer drinking and cooling off
Meadow-stream ponds form alongside streams, and provide valuable water and foods sources for various animals. Public domain.

Formed by streams and rivers as they carve out sediment, meadow-stream ponds are typically found in lowland meadows and grasslands. The ponds are formed as a part of the stream, rather than separate from it – rather than being perfectly still, these “ponds” are often just very slow, deep pools in the stream.

They typically have muddy bottoms, and are depended on by species like salmon, roaming ungulates such as elk, a large variety of micro and macroinvertebrates, birds, and just about anything else found in the grassland ecosystem.

5) Mountain Ponds

a mountain pond that is important for many wildlife species
As the name suggests, mountain ponds form around mountains, typically at the base or within the cracks of the mountain itself. Public domain.

Formed by melting snow, water runoff, and shifting rock, mountain ponds exist only in mountainous regions. They can exist at the base of mountains, or sometimes be formed in overhanging ledges on the mountain itself after rock has fallen off and gradually filled in with water. They’re very unique ecosystems, often home to species that are rare or even extinct elsewhere.

For example, Hanging Lake in Colorado is one of the most well-known mountain ponds (its definition as a lake or pond is contested, as it’s fairly small in size) in the U.S., and is home to the rare and highly protected cutthroat trout. It’s found near the top of the mountain and literally hangs over the mountain face to overlook the canyon and forest below.

9 thoughts on “Guide to Different Types of Pond (Natural & Man-made)”

  1. I could use input! We have a small, spring-fed pond on our acreage (the previous owner/builder noticed the spring and dug a hole – it filled up! So he put in a waterway to connect it to a nearby creek for overflow). He also put in a windmill powered aerator. However, we still have algae in it, and I am concerned about mosquitoes. In trying to look up what sorts of pond plants and/or fish I could use, NOTHING seems to be out there for COLD water ponds. Can you give me advice or point me in the right direction?? Wonderful article, by the way! 😀

    • Hi Judy,

      Thanks so much for reading; we’re glad that you enjoyed the article!

      In terms of plants that could be used for cold water, hornwort, anacharis, equisetum (horsetail as well as scouring rush both work), and pennywort among others tend to do well in colder waters. We do have a guide for some cold weather plants here:

      In terms of fish, I’m not sure what your average water temperature is, but weather loach (40 to 70 degrees F), pond sturgeon (above freezing but below 70 degrees F), guppies (above 50 degrees F), golden orfe (50 to 77 degrees F), and koi (59 to 77 degrees F) tend to do alright with cooler water temperatures. Of these, guppies, golden orfe, and koi are known to eat mosquito larvae.

      If fish are able to access the waterway that you mentioned, please DO NOT GET FISH! If they are able to get into the waterway, they’ll then be able to move into the creek and that’ll wreak absolute havoc on the ecosystem and could also result in hefty fines.

      Hope that this helps!

  2. Hi, Vicky here. We have a small farm of five acres and dug a pond (it is on the smallish side, maybe 15,000 gallons, maybe more). so that we could water our orchard and vegetables from it. In SE Kansas there is quite a bit of water and it stays full from rainfall much of the time, even in the heat of summer. The soil is clay, and when dug we piled the soil along one edge. On that soil have grown many plants, including a willow tree and cattails. We have a small amount of algae. The pond appears murky, even in the lakes around here the water appears brown.
    My question is, does it sound like we need to add beneficial organisms or some type of aeration to use the water safely for irrigation of fruit trees and vegetables? Will using as is poison us or the plants? If so what should we do. I have read so much but the contradictions are numerous. Any help would be greatly appreciated.

    • Hi Vicky,

      I can certainly understand your concern and confusion given all of the possible resources online! Brown/murky water can be caused by a variety of things: certain species of algae, tannins from nearby trees like oaks, and natural sedimentation can all contribute to water having a brown appearance. None of these are generally harmful, particularly since you said that there’s just a small amount of algae and if you’re just using the water for irrigation of crops/fruits. Murky water is pretty common this time of year as temperatures cool and leaves fall, contributing to tannins and nutrients in the water. My best guess is that it’s sediment floating about in the pond – you could try manually filtering and skimming the water to remove any debris, or adding in an electric or solar-powered filter pump to help keep floating sediment to a minimum. I would also suggest moving the soil piled on the edge to a location further away, if possible, as this is very likely running off into the pond when it rains.

      If you’re really concerned, I would suggest doing a simple water quality test. Water hardness, salinity, pH, dissolved oxygen levels, and potential runoff all impact the health and appearance of your water. If you already have a filter, cleaning it out regularly and, if possible, doing a partial water change of 50% once every two weeks for a while might help balance things out. If there aren’t any plants in the pond I would highly suggest incorporating some, as these will help naturally filter the water and add in helpful nutrients and dissolved oxygen. We have a plethora of articles on all manner of pond plants; in particular, you may be interested in our article on oxygenating pond plants that can be found here: and our article on marginal plants for filtering pollutants:
      Keep the small willow and cattails around, if you can! These are both great at helping to filter water and soil.
      Another option is adding in a natural beneficial bacteria supplement, which will help to break down detritus that might be contributing to the water’s murkiness. We have a couple of guides on beneficial bacteria here: and here:

      I hope that this helps!

  3. Hello thank you for the article,

    My wife and I are installing a water feature in our backyard and want to create a small pond to sit in at the bottom. Will the water oxygenate as it flows over the stream? And if so would it be safe to soak in as it gets hot in the summer? Thanks!


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