If you love attracting wildlife to your garden, a pond is an addition you should definitely consider. Once your pond is dug however, it’s also important to maintain it to keep a healthy habitat for frogs, newts and even bees, who need water to make honey. It can be tempting to clear your pond in spring when preparing the garden for the growing season, but you should avoid creating too much disturbance once mating seasons have begun.
When you first dig a pond, whether you create a shape yourself and use a pond liner or decide to use a preformed moulded pond that you sink into the ground, you have to fill it with water. In order to attract wildlife, it’s always best to let a pond fill naturally. Using water from the tap is not advisable as the chemicals like fluorine it contains are not good for the balance in a wildlife pond. Instead, allowing it to fill with rainwater means there are no added nasties floating in your pond.
If you’ve dug your pond in fair weather and can’t wait to see it teeming with life, you could use water from a water butt or rain that has collected in buckets or pots (as long as they’ve not contained any chemicals that could harm aquatic life) to give the water level a helping hand. You could put a few tubs and buckets out to start collecting rainwater in advance if you’re planning to build a pond to give yourself a head start. It can be surprising just how much water is needed to fill a pond!
The site of your pond is another consideration. Ponds that are in full sun can become green and algae filled rather than containing healthy looking clear water. One way to limit this is adding a couple of oxygenating plants.
Another approach is positioning your pond so it isn’t in direct sun, in particular between 11am and 3pm. If this is unavoidable, try planting irises or tall grasses to provide shade across your pond. Not only will they offer some shelter for frogs and pond life from predators like cats and birds, but their shadows should help reduce algae which gives the unpleasant green colour to pond water.
An established pond needs ongoing care too. It’s important not to mess too much with a pond, because over a couple of seasons, it will become its own ecosystem. Male frogs will sleep through the winter with their heads in the mud at the bottom of your pond; insects will live in and around the pond providing food for frogs and birds. The best approach is to not disturb things if you can help it. However sometimes a deep layer of sludge can build up in the bottom of your pond.
If you’ve noticed a lot of sludgy mud building up, the number one thing to avoid is draining and restocking your pond. This will destroy the habitat of creatures who’ve come to live there, so the best approach is to reduce the chance of sludge building up in the first place. The main culprit tends to be leaves falling into a pond which then rot. As they rot, they give off noxious gases – another reason to have a couple of oxygenating plants which can combat this. The residue from the leaves then deposits as a mucky mess in the bottom of your pond. Some of this sludge and mud is good; there will be creatures that love the nutrients and live in that layer of your pond. But too much is not so good.
Whenever you see leaves floating on the surface, the best approach therefore is to skim them off and add them to the compost pile before they sink and join the rotting mess at the bottom of the pond. Ponds covered by many trees that drop leaves in autumn can be covered with a net to make it easier to remove all leaves in one go, but be careful to leave space for any occupants of your pond to escape. Raising the net at the edges should be adequate.
In cases where ponds have been neglected and the sludge is a few inches deep, one method of cleaning the pond is to gently stir up some of the dirt and soil, then scoop a bucket full of water from the pond. Make sure any creatures scooped up by mistake are gently returned, before replenishing the same amount of water with rain water. This will help remove particles without being too disruptive to the pond as a whole. Avoid doing this in breeding times however when frogs are laying frogspawn, like springtime and early summer when a second batch of eggs may be laid. The best time to clear buildup is in Autumn before creatures hibernate.
A pond doesn’t take a lot of time and effort to maintain, but just keeping on top of falling leaves and debris that land in your pond will support a wide range of creatures to help give natural pest control for your garden.