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Tips for your garden pond

A pond can be a great addition to any garden, big or small.

 

Their reflective qualities make gardens seem larger and they are an excellent source of water for wildlife, attracting all sorts of animals, birds, amphibians and invertebrates. Here are some tips to get you started.

Garden pond

Image via Wikipedia

If you’re unsure whether a pond is right for you or if you’ve only got a small space to work with, why not try making a miniature pond in an old pot, barrel or upturned bin lid? Use a combination of submerged and floating plants to oxygenate the water, keep algae to a minimum and provide shelter and foraging space for fish. A variety of depths will accommodate different species of plants and sloped edges will provide escape points for stranded animals and easy access for creatures like frogs. Keep your pond clean of dead leaves and debris as they decompose, depriving it of oxygen and making it very acidic – not a nice place to live! Leave a rubber ball or plank of wood floating in your pond over winter to prevent ice building up. Once your plants have established themselves, a small number of fish can be introduced to control aquatic insect life and add a splash of colour.

What wildlife can I attract with a pond?

frog on lily pad.JPG

Image by whiteoakart via Flickr

A balanced ecosystem and a good variety of plants and aquatic organisms will attract plenty of other wildlife. Dragonflies and damselflies will flit about your marginal plants while flowering perennials will help to invite butterflies, bees and other invertebrates. Plenty of insects will attract hungry frogs which may be seen relaxing on waterlily leaves. Newts, salamanders and toads will benefit from a log pile or stone wall close by to your pond where they can spend their days hiding and generally lazing about. Scavengers like snails may also populate but these may need to be controlled as they can damage your plants or pass on disease to your fish. If you do add fish to your pond, make sure that there are plenty of places for insect larvae to hide out. They are great for controlling mosquitoes and other pests but may end up eating other insect larvae of pleasant garden visitors like dragonflies.

Where should I put my pond?

When installing your pond, factors like viewing, sunlight and proximity to trees must all be considered. Many aquatic plants require plenty of sunlight so place your pond in an area which gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day. Shady ponds are fine and certainly make fish feel safer but will attract ferns and mosses rather than flowering aquatic plants like water lilies and lotus species. Falling leaves can decay in your pond, depriving it of oxygen and making it very acidic so situate your pond away from trees. Pine needles can be particularly deadly to fish and other pond dwellers. Roots from larger trees may also break through pond liners so be sure to plant new trees away from your pond. Above all, place your pond somewhere you can comfortably view all the wonders it brings!

 

Whiskey Barrel Pond

Image by Geek2Nurse via Flickr

Can I have a pond in a small space?

Ponds aren’t only for large gardens; with a bit of imagination you can get a water source into even the smallest space. Old pots or barrels can be used as containers, as long as they are non-toxic and without cracks or holes. Rubber liners provide waterproofing and protect the water from any toxins that might leach into it. Small aquatic plants can be squeezed in to oxygenate the water and keep your pond cool and shaded. The addition of small pond fish can also help to keep the water clean by eating mosquito eggs or other insects which may make the water cloudy and stagnant. Make sure to top up your container as water evaporates and clean out if necessary. A water spout clipped to your container’s edge will circulate and aerate the water, keeping it clean and healthy.

How do I control algae?

A good indicator of a healthy pond is the level of algae in it. Algae are excellent food providers, but can discolour your pond or overwhelm it if kept unchecked. A certain amount of algae will help to oxygenate the water but too much will have the opposite effect as it begins to die and decompose, making it a less habitable environment for other creatures. To avoid an over abundance of algae, try not to have too many fish as their waste provides food for algae. Algae can be starved out of existence by submerged plants which compete for mineral salts and floating plants (cover about 60% of your pond) which block out sunlight. Waterlilies are good for this. Their long roots also provide sheltered spots for fish to forage, mate and lay their eggs, as well as lots of sneaky hiding places for fish to seek refuge from predators. Algal blooms may happen from time to time but don’t panic, provided that the pond’s ecosystem is balanced and healthy, it will subside in time.

 

Waterlily

Image by net_efekt via Flickr

How do I care for and maintain my pond?

A pond needs a lot of work to establish but once your ecosystem is up and running, it’s easy to maintain. Keep it free of debris and pollutants and make sure oxygen levels are high. Buy a pond vacuum to clean unwanted debris away. Mix the effluence with soil as a fertilizer. Clean any pumps and filters regularly and replace evaporated water every few days during the summer. Keep an eye on your fish levels. If they get too carried away during breeding season (try not to play any Barry White music near the pond!), you may need to remove some fish or ammonia levels will get too high and unbalance your ecosystem. Remove any stringy or bubbling algae as these can be bad for your pond and may indicate the presence of decaying matter. Try to avoid using edgings which will stop animals escaping – the last thing you want in your nice new pond is a drowned hedgehog!

In spring and summer, it is important to keep your plants under control to prevent overcrowding. Trim back plants if needs be, removing any yellowing or dead leaves, but try to avoid pulling plants up as this will foul the water. Dangling roots from floating plants may also need to be trimmed back but make sure there are no fish eggs attached to them before you do so. Any plant debris you pull out should be left around the edges of the pond for 24 hours so that any stranded insect larvae may escape back to the pond. During the winter, ice can suffocate fish and trap noxious gases. Leave a floating object in your pond to prevent ice building up but if it does freeze over entirely, create a hole in the ice by putting a pan of boiling water on it. Never hit the ice as this will kill or concuss your fish!

Photograph showing the head of a slug (Arion a...
There are natural ways to keep pests at bay.
Even the smallest space can be a wildlife haven!
Garden pond
A pond can be a great addition to any garden, big or small.
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