Wild About Garden Ponds
No matter how big or small, adding a pond to your garden will prove invaluable for wildlife.
A pond is an attractive addition to any garden and, with careful thought about its design and construction, can be a haven for local wildlife. During the last one hundred, over 50 percent of ponds have been lost from the UK countryside, meaning garden ponds and water features now play an increasingly important role.
Do I need to add the wildlife?
Wildlife tends to find a new pond surprisingly quickly. Pond skaters and diving beetles usually arrive within a few days or weeks, and amphibians could be on the scene within the year. Tempting as it is to move frogspawn, pond sediment or even pond water from one pond to another this is not a good idea.
Depending on the size of your pond you can expect to see anything from frogs, toads and newts to waterfowl, including mallard ducks, and moorhens.
Designing your pond
Try to incorporate at least one side of the pond with a long, shallow slope to allow easy access for wildlife. In general, the larger the pond the more wildlife you can expect to attract. But even a mini pond will provide a habitat and water source for wildlife.
Try to incorporate some shade over part of your pond as it will help reduce build up of algae. Try to ensure that part of the pond is in full sun which will make it more attractive to spawning frogs and toads.
A pond doesn’t just work in isolation – it is part of a network of habitats. It’s a good idea to let grass grow along one edge of the pond, or perhaps grow some shrubs at one side. Keep at least one section of the pond perimeter open and sunny.
Don’t put fish in your pond if you want to attract wildlife, they will eat all the insects before you can even get started attracting other species and their waste can cause water quality problems. If you have inherited a pond with lots of fish, see if you can find them a new home in a fish pond or, if that’s not possible, why not make a new pond elsewhere in the garden.
Managing your pond for wildlife
Don’t be too hasty to top up your pond in dry weather. Seasonal ponds are more natural, filling up in winter and occasionally drying out in summer. This can favour certain animals such as newts which can survive in the mud. Where additional water needs to be added try to use rainwater. Use tap water as a last resort.
Weed and algae control
Extensive open water is not essential for a good wildlife pond; most creatures prefer an underwater maze of plants. If you do need to do some removal don’t remove too much at once.
If sediment removal is necessary do this in early autumn and try to remove only half at a time in order to minimise the loss of mud-dwelling creatures and their habitat.
If you have allowed grass to grow long along one edge of the pond, strim and mow it in late autumn after young amphibians have had a chance to escape. And delay cutting back marginals until late winter to help give maximum protection.
Don’t worry if a few leaves fall into your pond as there is little evidence this is bad for pondlife. However, if it is excessive, fish out with a net before they sink to the bottom.
Consider adding a fountain, as this will help to attract birds and frogs. Some have pumps that will help aerate the water or choose a solar design that floats on the surface. If you are installing a pump, make sure it has an integrated wildlife protection system in place.
Which plants should I choose?
Water plants are not just for decoration – they play an important role in maintaining water quality and balance. Firstly, keep the plants you choose in check; pond plants can very quickly take over, so don’t plant too many at the beginning.
Offer shelter with Lilies
Surface-leaved plants, such as waterlilies help to prevent algae and offer shelter for wildlife. Hardy waterlilies (Nymphaea) are known as deep-water aquatics. They have floating leaves and flowers, some of which stand proud of the water.
Choose good-quality, hardy lilies that have been stored in aquatic baskets. Also, make sure the rhizome (root stem) is hard to the touch and there are roots emerging from the sides.
Look for signs of root growth outside the aquatic pot, which indicates the plant has been grown correctly in the proper container and not just recently potted up.
Oxygenators grow quickly and help to maintain a healthy nitrate level in your pond. The foliage of oxygenators is fully submerged, which means they absorb carbon dioxide during daylight hours and release oxygen into the water. They’re usually sold in bunches tied at one end with a small weight. If you prefer, you can plant them into aquatic baskets topped with gravel. Oxygenators such as hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) or water starwort (Callitriche autumnalis) give tadpoles and other larvae plenty of underwater cover from predators.
Marginal plants are those that grow around the shallower edges of the pond, and can tolerate waterlogged soil or having their crown submerged all year. Good examples include lesser spearwort (Ranunculus flammula), flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus) and marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) to attract bees and hoverflies in summer.
Floating plants provide valuable cover and protection for ponds. They cut down sunlight and help prevent green algae growth and blanket weed problems. Two thirds of your pond should have floating, submerged and oxygenating plants.
Pre-planted coir logs or mats
Some suppliers offer coir logs or mats preplanted with native pond plants such as soft rush (Juncus effusus), purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) and yellow flag iris (Iris pseudacorus). These are great for anchoring to bare margins of new wildlife ponds or even stream or river banks if your garden happens to back onto these.