How to Build a Header Pool for Your Pond

A header pool is a great way to add extra interest to your pond whilst also giving other benefits including pond and fish health and the sound of moving water too.

Created by Andy Hobson (Alumni) on Monday, 28th of July, 2014.
Updated on Tuesday, 20th of December, 2016.


Pond header pool in a beautiful garden.

A header pool will sit above the surface of your pond, filled from being fed by your pond pump and overflowing back into the pond creating a watercourse or waterfall, this movement of water not only looks and feels great but it also has added benefits for your pond and fish too.

The movement of water increases oxygenation which is good for fish health and also promotes their activity too, as the water surface is broken oxygen is added into the pond. Fish thrive in water conditions where oxygen is plentiful so if you deplete those levels then problems can begin for your fish.

When oxygen levels increase, so do beneficial bacteria levels in the pond. This bacteria helps to break down sludge and silt that tends to sit at the bottom which can cause water quality problems. Increasing this bacteria also means that your filter is going to be much more efficient at breaking down waste.

So just by adding a header pool you're improving your pond's quality for plant and live stock, what's in it for you? Well first of all the size of your pond has increased, giving you more to enjoy and secondly you've created a water feature which is intergral to the pond.

The sight and sound of water overflowing rocks and running over them back into your pond just looks and sounds fabulous. 

What Equipment Will I Need?

There are some things you're going to need before you're able to begin building your header pool. In the photo above we used loose rockery stone placed on top of a liner and I'll talk you through how this was set up.

  • Rockery stone
  • Pond liner - I used 0.75mm thick EPDM liner
  • Underlay
  • A spade

Preparing Your Header Pool

This header pool is located on ground which was already slightly higher than the pond level which is ideal. I dug down slightly and then built up the sides of where I wanted my pool with rocks. After this I laid my underlay over the potential header pool area and over the rocks at the sides.

The mouth of the header pool should be lower than the rest of the sides of the pool, this allows the water to run out of the pool at the correct place when the water gets to a certain height. You can either build the mouth up slightly lower than the sides with the liner or have it flat level with the height of the bottom of the header pool and block it up with rocks so the water runs between them.

After laying the underlay I made any adjustments to the sides by moving the rocks underneath until I was happy with the shape of the pool and the height of the edges. Depending on how deep you want the header pool you would have two options in this scenario, either dig deeper or build up the walls higher. 

Lay Your Pond Liner

My next step was to lay the pond liner in place, over the top of the underlay which will be there to protect it, as the weight of water when pumped in will mean any sharp stones underneath could cause damage.

I made sure to run my liner down the stepped area and into the pond, this prevents any water loss which could be caused if the liner wasn't running all the way down. This is because water can run back under the rocks and, if there wasn't a liner underneath, the water would then potentially drain the pond.

Begin Testing the Pool

Before you start to lay your decorative elements such as heavy rockery stones or anything else my advice would be to give it a test. I say this because if you've got a liner which leaks or the pool is way too shallow for your liking then at least you haven't completely finished and have to take it all apart again to make adjustments.

I personally found that I wasn't happy with the depth so I made some adjustments, so I speak from experience when I say testing the header pool is important.

Start Decorating Your Header Pool

If the testing all went well and you're happy with the layout then you can now begin the decorate the pool. The first thing I did was to place my rocks at the mouth of the header pool. These rocks allow the water to build up in the pool rather than gushing straight out, as the mouth area is lower than the rest to allow a nice flow into the pond. The water on mine not only overflows the rocks but runs between them too, I found this created the best sound.

I made many adjustments with my rocks until I was happy with the waterflow back into the pond, making changes for the look and sound too until I found something and it worked really well. So be prepared to stand back have a look and listen and maybe have to change something until you find what works best for your taste.

How is the Header Pool Filled Up?

Your header pool should be fed with your pond pump, you can either do this by placing a filter box behind the header pool or running pipe from your pump directly into the pool.

The pipe I used ran into the pool at the back and I covered it over with rocks so it wasn't visible. The pipe was also entering the header pool from slightly above to stop any water loss.

Can I Put Fish in the Header Pool?

You can if it's big and deep enough, if not then I'd say this could be cruel as they wouldn't have space to move around freely and could get stuck in the waterfall.

My advice would be not to and keep them in the main pond.

Where Should I Locate My Header Pool?

You can locate it anywhere you like, just remember that if it's in full sunlight then you're likely to have blanket weed problems. This is exacerbated in a header pool as they're normally not as deep, shallow water is easier for blanket weed to thrive in.

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