Adding a Pond to your Garden
Water is required by all forms of life, so one of the best ways to quickly promote activity in your garden is to build a pond. There are many benefits to having one, on both the environmental and aesthetic sides. Let’s look at some of them:
A pond brings an entirely new dimension to the types of plant and animal life that will want to live in your garden. It provides both a sanctuary and a breeding ground for beautiful fish, dragonflies, amphibians and birds. As custodian, you will reap the benefits by being able to observe the interesting life cycles and behaviour patterns of creatures, and the colours and shapes of new plant species.
Ponds are relaxing! It has long been known that the presence of water helps reduce stress and bring a sense of calm to any environment. They also make gardens cooler in summertime, so are most welcome in the warmest months.
As you lounge in your garden in a summer’s day, the gentle splashes of water from fish and frogs will relax your nerves as you gaze upon the subtle ripples and reflections. Children will love them too and spend hours amusing themselves, looking into the pond to try and spot creatures, while you take a well-earned break from their demands.
Ponds promote a much broader ecosystem around them. The diversity leads to a healthier garden that seems more alive, and the wildlife they attract is worth much more than its aesthetic value alone.
Birds and insects will come to drink and bathe, and while they are there they will eat. Of course, the most important thing for vegetable gardeners is that ponds provide a home for beneficial predators like frogs, toads, and newts, which kill slugs, aphids and other pests.
Ponds are also low-maintenance, so building one and keeping an army of frogs is like having your own team of workers for free. If you are lucky you might even occasionally find a heron or a snake stopping off on their travels, unfortunately they might take a frog or two, but what a sight!
The presence of a pond keeps nearby plants moist in hot weather. As the pond is heated by the sun, water vapour rises and settles on leaves and soil, so the pond acts like a built in mist-sprayer for your garden.
This humidity also helps maintain soil moisture during the driest months and promotes a less arid garden overall.
Green Fertilizer Source
A pond can be a great source of natural organic fertilizer because the algae and organic matter that collects in there is excellent plant food.
You can dredge the bottom occasionally and use the pond sludge as a fantastic mulch, and to make use of the nutrient-rich water, simply in dip your watering can in every so often being careful not to suck up any creatures.
How to Build a Simple Garden Pond
Let’s consider the construction of a very simple garden pond, large enough for frogs, but cheap and basic enough for anyone to afford and create. If you want a more extravagant pond, then simply adapt this idea to your own requirements.
The best time to build ponds is late summer/autumn so that they can establish through the winter. You will need a spade, some PVC pond liner, some large rocks, sand, and gravel.
Choose Your Spot
First, find a place to put your pond. This is entirely up to you and should suit the style of your garden. Don’t build a pond that is too large or small for your garden, plan it so it will look proportionate. You may wish to have it in a corner out of the way, or you may like it as the centrepiece to your garden. That is up to you too, however, it is best if the pond gets a decent amount of light and is away from trees, because the leaves can fall in and turn the water acidic.
Mark your pond shape on the ground with some ground spray. The pond shape and size is also up to you, but a 3’ (1 m) by 3’ (1 m) square is a good place to start for a small pond.
Dig a Hole
Start digging out the pond shape and mounding up the earth. It will be hard work but worth it, so just put your back into it and don’t complain, that’s the way now!
Dig the pond as deep as you like it, but 2’ (60 cm) is the correct depth for goldfish, so that is a good rule of thumb. Over 3’ (90 cm) is getting a little too deep.
You can dig the entire thing to 2’ if you like, or you can vary the depth. For example, you might want a deeper drop at one end, or you may wish the depth to be evenly slanted from one end to another. It is again down to personal taste, but design a home you think pond creatures would like. Also be aware of the drowning risk if you have very small children.
Cut Your Pond Liner
With your hole dug, you need cut your PVC pond liner to shape. Throw the liner over the hole so it is completely covered. Now push it down and stand on it so that the PVC liner is pulled down around and neat to the sides of your hole. Now put a few rocks there to keep it in place while you jump back out and put rocks around the edges to hold it there too. Finally, you can cut around the PVC liner with a pair of scissors. Make sure you leave at least a 1’ (30 cm) excess of PVC around the hole.
Camouflage Your Pond
So now you have your basic pond, it is time to blend it into the environment.
Get back in the pond and take out the rocks from the bottom. Now shovel back in some of the soil you got from digging the hole, or alternatively use some sand. Not too much, or it can make the water acidic. Add just enough to cover the bottom with a fine layer. This will provide some substrate for pond life to hide in and lay their larvae.
Now start adding some gravel to the bottom of the pond, followed by pebbles and then some large rocks. Don’t add too much stuff, leave plenty of space for water. But a few biggies here and there is good.
Some people advise against putting rocks and substrate in a pond at all, because it can turn the water too acidic. However, that does not really apply to frogs and other traditional pond life so long as you don’t add too many. However, your prize koi carp will do better without.
It is excellent if you have a large rock that will peek out of the water because amphibious creatures love them. You should arrange it so that some of your rocks form at least one bank or staircase that creatures can use to get in and out of the pond. If you don’t allow frogs to get out they will drown! But make sure the rocks will not topple over or move.
Once you have added rocks to the bottom, get out of the pond, go around the outside and remove the rocks from there. Then cover over the protruding PVC liner with soil or sand and start adding rocks back on top of it to hide the entire circumference of your pond. Try to get that unsightly PVC liner really covered up and your garden will look all the better for it.
If you want to plant any pond plants at the bottom of the pond before filling, then now is a good time to do it. Otherwise, you are done, and congratulations on building your pond!
Fill Your Pond
Now for the moment of truth. Get your hosepipe and fill it up.
If you have done everything correctly and assuming there are no holes in your PVC liner, your pond will stay filled without a hitch. If you have a leak, then unfortunately you will have to sort it out and that may mean taking up your PVC again.
When you fill the pond you will see that the water goes murky and cloudy. Don’t worry, this is just because you disturbed the substrate. It needs time to settle, and when you come back in a day or two you will find it clear again.
You will need to leave the pond overwinter to establish before you can start putting any creatures in. At the very least give it enough time so that the chlorine can evaporate.
Adding Plants and Animals to your Pond
A lot of pond life will come automatically, but you might wait years for some creatures to show up, and sometimes they won’t at all. So the impatient ones among us like to stock our ponds from items given to us by other gardeners.
Remember not to get carried away and overstock your pond! Just like any environment, a pond has limited resources and if you have too many plants and animals fighting for food and oxygen your pond will end up dying.
Let’s look at some of the most common plants and animals you may want to introduce.
The water lily is perhaps the most famous of all pond plants. It has beautiful flowers and large pads which sit on the surface. The pads provide stepping stones for creatures such as frogs to jump on, and the plant is oxygenating, which means it prevents your pond going stagnant.
Water lilies should be planted at the deepest end of the pond. A depth of 2’ (60 cm) is about the minimum to support them and they are quite large, so they may not be suitable for the smallest ponds. Water lilies grow from rhizomes you can get from aquatic garden centres. There are various types, so do some research and find the best ones for your pond.
You need to plant the rhizomes into aquatic water baskets and then lower them into the pond so that the plant’s leaves sit on the surface. You won’t be able to lower them to their full depth until they are fully grown. Instead, you need to start off at about 8” (20 cm) and then keep increasing the depth as the plant matures.
Hornwort is a submerged oxygenating plant that is very attractive to spawning creatures like frogs and toads. It is that evergreen-looking stuff they hide amongst, that you have probably seen as a kid when fishing in local ponds.
Hornwort needs to be planted in aquatic planters or at the bottom of your pond in the deepest areas. There are many varieties so make sure to select those that are suitable for your pond size.
Water soldiers are attractive floating plants that winter at the bottom of the pond then float up to spend summer on the surface producing white flowers. They are propagated from cuttings which can be had from others with ponds, or bought at aquatic garden centres.
Marginal plants are those plants that grow in the shallows of your pond on the banks. There are literally thousands of different marginal plants to choose from and most are flowering species with spindly leaves and stems. They can be planted directly into the soil of your pond bank or into aquatic planters.
This marigold is planted around the outside of the pond in boggy soil and produces clusters of bright yellow flowers that are highly attractive to insects. They are best propagated by division or bought from garden centres.
Frogs are probably the best creatures to get into your pond because they come out and take trips around your garden eating slugs and flies.
You might be lucky and have a pair of frogs come into your pond and spawn. But sometimes you can wait forever and no frogs come, even though you have plenty round about. This is because frogs seem to return to the ponds which they were born into, or which they have spawned in before. So it is often a good idea to get some spawn and put it in the pond.
The best way is to just ask someone you know who owns a pond for some spawn. Or, you can go and collect it from wild ponds or lakes in February/March. Despite the urban legend, it is not illegal to collect frogspawn from public land, it is just illegal to sell it.
You will find frogspawn around the edges of ponds and lakes. It is clumps of clear jelly with black dots in the centre. Just collect the spawn with a net and put it in a bucket with water, before releasing it back into your own pond.
But do not take loads of spawn, and if there is little to begin with don’t take any. Just take what you need and let the wild frogs thrive. The amount you need will be very small, since one clump can contain about 1000 frogs. But don’t take whole clumps either, break a little off different clumps. If you take the whole clump you are taking all the offspring of one frog pair and that is detrimental to the ecosystem.
When the spawn hatches into tadpoles you will need to dangle a piece of beef on a string into the pond to give them some food.
Toads live on dry land for most of the year but go into ponds to spawn. They are often slightly larger and more impressive than frogs but hibernate more. Like frogs, they are good creatures to have around because they will also attack pests.
Toadspawn is the same as frogspawn but rarer, and instead of coming in clumps it comes in long necklaces attached to plants. It is legal to collect toadspawn, unless it belongs to the natterjack toad which you should leave well alone.
Newts are amphibians that look much more like lizards, some have fiery-coloured bellies and are an impressive sight. They are great to have in the garden for the same reason as frogs and toads.
Newt eggs look similar to frog and toadspawn except they are laid more randomly, and usually on the underside of plant leaves. You are not allowed to collect the eggs of the great crested newt or handle him, so leave him be.
These little hoovers perform the beneficial function of cleaning away rubbish and detritus from your pond. They are part of the ecosystem and are difficult to keep out of any pond, so you might as well learn to love them!
If you want to introduce them, then you can catch them from someone else’s pond and transfer them to yours, you will find them at the edges sucking onto rocks.