Wildlife ponds are a must-have in every homeowner’s yard. Not only do they provide an oasis for a range of wildlife but they also offer a tranquil spot to enjoy on a lovely day in your yard.
Few features in the yard have the power to attract in quite the same way that water does. A pond, and the life it contains, has a mesmerizing ability to soothe frayed nerves. It allows the gardener to grow a whole new range of plants and provides an important refuge for native wildlife.
The shaggy, sprawling charm of a traditional wildlife pond is, in itself, popular with many gardeners. Yet, if you have a formal yard or limited space, you might like the idea in theory but can’t see how it could become a reality in your yard.
The good news is that what sets a wildlife pond apart from an ornamental pond has little to do with superficial style, and everything to do with functional design.
You must provide your wildlife guests with easy access into and out of the water, plenty of spots to hide, and a favorable environment in which to reproduce. Given these elements, it is perfectly possible for a formal pond to support a range of wildlife. And it’s just as easy to create a naturalistic wildlife pond that won’t look out of place in a formal or contemporary setting. Even a tiny pond can make a significant wildlife habitat.
In short, the only reason for not having a wildlife pond in your yard is if you share the space with very young children (or grandchildren). If you are in this category, then bookmark this page and come back to it after a year or two.
For the rest of the article, we will talk about building and landscaping your own small wildlife pond in the yard. Keep on reading to learn more…
Should You Buy a Ready-Made Pond or Is a DIY Pond Better?
First, you need to decide whether to buy a ready-made pond or create your own from scratch.
There are ready-made tanks on the market that allow you to quickly build a pond in your yard. Usually, they are made of polyester resins or polystyrene. Their form resembles plastic, which is placed in a trench that’s been precisely made and properly hardened. There are also rubber ponds that perfectly match the ground.
Getting a ready-made pond allows for a quick and easy installation. However, this solution has one disadvantage. The store-bought tanks are available in limited sizes and shapes. Building a larger, irregularly shaped pond requires DIY.
Where Should a Wildlife Pond Be Located in the Yard?
The pond should be placed in a place that will be visible from the windows of your house. But also from the porch or a place where you like to relax most of the time.
It’s also worth choosing a place that is not too sunny because the wildlife will not have the right conditions to thrive. Too much sun also increases water evaporation and can cause excessive algae growth.
Next, identify a large site, allowing some part of it for easy access on all sides of the pond for future maintenance.
Above all, it’s important to avoid dense shade and overhanging trees, especially deciduous ones that will pollute the water with their falling leaves. Their roots may damage the bottom of the tank as well.
What Size a Wildlife Pond Should Be?
The other important element of creating a pond is to determine its size and shape. It’s worth sketching an approximate design of the pond, taking into account all the elements in the yard. The pond can take any shape.
Aim for a minimum size of 3.5 square ft (or 1 square meter) for a pond. A bigger one is of course better, however, remember not to overdo it with its size. A pond that’s too large will only cause communication problems, and also make the yard look unattractive.
What Can You Use to Line a Pond?
You’ll need a pond liner. The most common options are pre-formed pond liners or flexible liners. Pre-formed liners might seem to be the easy answer, but they have their drawbacks. They can be expensive, they can’t be modified and it’s quite difficult to dig a hole that precisely matches the contours.
Avoid PVC, which tends not to last long, and go for a high-quality butyl liner instead. Butyl is tough and slightly stretchy, making it easier to fit into an irregular shape. It’s not completely puncture-proof but will last long enough provided that you take reasonable care.
How to Measure a Pond Liner?
Measure the maximum length of the pond, then add two times the maximum depth to this figure, plus 8 inches (20 cm) extra, so that the edges can be buried out of sight. Then calculate the maximum width, plus twice the depth, plus 8 inches. If in doubt, it’s better to add even more.
Now, it’s time to start digging.
- Mark the outline of the pond, then start digging with a very gentle slope before increasing the angle. At a depth of 8 in (20 cm) make a flat shape for plants to rest on, and make part of the pond at least 2 ft (60 cm) deep for hibernating wildlife.
- Use a long board and a spirit level to check the edges are level in every direction. Next, remove any tree branches, tree roots, or stones that could puncture the liner. Go over the entire excavation and cover it with an underlay or 1 in (2.5 cm) layer of damp sand.
- Lay the unfold liner in a central position, then open it out and secure the edges with bricks.
- Begin to fill the pond with water. The lining is going to fill the hole under the weight of the water. Once full, trim away the excess liner, leaving a flap that can be buried.
Note: You must hide the edges of the liner because the exposed areas are rather unsightly and are vulnerable to damage.
The following steps will show you how to finish your wildlife pond and landscape it in a way so it takes on a beautiful character.
It’s necessary to cover the edges of the pond liner with pebbles, both large and heavy as well as smaller. This way it will also double up as a rocky beach for wildlife. For a wonderful viewing platform, you could lay a section of decking over it.
If your pond sits next to a lawn, use the grass as an edging. Lift sections of turf and hide the liner edge underneath, laying the turf back on top. Thus, it will soon grow happily to the water’s edge.
You can also put other plants to hide the pond edges as well as adjoining bog garden plants, and overhanging shrubs. Marginal plants, such as Veronica Beccabunga, all further soften the edges, provide a range of wildlife habitats, and offer splashes of color in your pond landscaping.
It’s also worth placing plants on the surface of the water, or put in the gravel at the bottom of the pond.
What Are the Best Plants for a Wildlife Pond?
Plants offer an irreplaceable decoration of ponds. To make your DIY pond look effective, you need to know what to plant and where to plant it. The flowering plant species are the most beautiful, so they should not be missing here. Remember that you can create colorful and original compositions from aquatic plants as well as from bedding species.
When selecting plants for your small wildlife pond, it is impossible not to mention several species:
Siberian Iris (Iris Sibirica)
The plant creates clumps of narrow leaves. Its flowers are blue but can be also white and pale pink. It is ideal for planting near the pond wetlands. It likes the sun or partial shade, and clay soil with the addition of peat and compost.
Purple Loosestrife (Lythrum Salicaria)
It reaches approx. 3.2 ft (1m) in height. The leaves are dark green and turn red in fall. Purple-pink flowers appear all summer. Loosestrife is best planted in groups, in a clay soil fertilized with peat and compost. It likes sunny places, on the edges of the pond.
Yellow Loosestrife (Lysimachia Punctata)
It blooms yellow almost all summer, reaching 2.60 ft (0.8m) in height. The dotted loosestrife should be planted in clay soil enriched with compost and peat. It’s preferred location is sunny or semi-shaded.
Water Mint (Mentha Aquatica)
It grows up to 1.64 ft (50 cm) in height. The mint is enriched with pink-violet flowers that appear in summer. It should be planted in a clay substrate with the addition of peat, in a sunny or semi-shaded place, on a pond’s wet edge or in water up to 4 in (10 cm) deep.
Marsh Marigold (Caltha Palustris)
Its yellow flowers appear in April and are practically the only decoration of the pond at this time of year. Marigolds like clay soil with a mixture of peat and compost. The best places for them are semi-shaded places, in a wet flower bed, or in shallow, up to 4 in (10 cm) water.
Pickerelweed (Pontederia Cordata)
The heart-shaped aquatic perennial blooms blue and grows vigorously until early fall. The plant requires planting in containers in a fertile substrate and it likes sunny and warm places. However, the plant hibernates under the ice, so during the winter, the container with the plant should be placed deeper, below the freezing point.
Blue Cardinal Flower (Lobelia Cardinalis)
Lobelia is not a very demanding plant and it’s quite easy to care for. It prefers a sunny location and, at the same time, sheltered from the wind.
Lobelia is a somewhat poisonous plant. It can irritate the skin and eyes, and its direct consumption can lead to poisoning (be sure to protect children and pets).
In addition, daylilies, astilbes, and primrose flowers can further decorate the edges of the pond.
The best location for growing daylilies is a sunny or slightly shaded place. However, daylilies are undemanding plants with high adaptability, so they can also be grown in other locations. Daylilies like moderately moist, fertile, and deeply cultivated soil. They tolerate drought and low temperatures quite well.
There are four common types of Astilbes: Hybrid Astilbes (Astilbe x Arendsii), Chinese Astilbes (Astilbe Chinensis), Japanese Astilbes (Astilbe Japonica), and Star Astilbes (Astilbe Simplicifolia). The hybrid astilbes are among the most popular and include more than a hundred varieties.
These plants are not difficult to grow and all of the types also have similar requirements. A Chinese, Arendsi, or Japanese astilbes should be grown in a semi-shaded or shaded location. The soil should be fertile and constantly moderately moist.
Primrose Flowers (Primula Polyantha)
Primroses, also called primulas, are a must when landscaping the pond in your yard. There are over 400 species of primroses, and they come in different colors and heights. Although resistant even to severe frosts, primroses may not cope when the soil will be too moist in winter.
After planting the flowers, it is now time to put the water and wildlife in your new pond.
What Water Do You Fill a Pond With?
Despite common belief, you can actually fill a wildlife pond with tap water as it contains huge amounts of minerals that feed algae. But if you leave it for at least 24 hours (or preferably longer like two to three days) before you introduce any plants, it will be fine to use. Most of the chlorine will have evaporated, and any greening of the water should be only temporary.
If your pond is small, it is possible to top it up with rainwater from a water butt or any other large container.
Remember not to bring in wildlife from other ponds. It rarely survives and you risk introducing disease or invasive weeds. Be patient and the wildlife will come of its own accord.
Create a Pond Cascade
A small, simple wildlife pond with a water cascade does not take up much space and adds charm to the garden.
The appearance of the pond can be made more attractive by building a small waterfall or a cascade on its edges. Usually, the cascade’s structure resembles staggered shelves on which water flows all the time. However, cascades can come in all shapes and sizes.
To build it, you can use the soil from the digging of the pond basin. Form a hill from the soil, which will support the entire structure. Mold steps to be able to arrange stones on which water will flow. Make sure to protect the cascade trough in the same way as the pond basin, i.e. with a liner. Finally, arrange the stones, trying to make the whole structure look as natural as possible.
Another decoration idea is to have gently moving water or lights in the wildlife pond. But these will be for your benefit rather than the natural organisms in your pond. If you are determined to have electrical devices, plan them in from the beginning and use a qualified electrician for installation.
How to Look After a Wildlife Pond?
A wildlife pond is undoubtedly a great yard decoration. But to be able to fully enjoy it, you need to remember about proper care and cleaning the water surface from impurities.
You should remove leaves from the water surface on a regular basis. They will decompose on the bottom of the pond, taking oxygen from other organisms living in the water. The same goes for removing any yellowed plant debris and stalks growing in and near the water.
Luckily, wildlife ponds are low maintenance and most problems will sort themselves out in time.
Murky green water is a common complaint. It’s generally caused by an excess of nutrients in the water and will come clear as the nutrients are used up. In this case, don’t refill the pond with tap water, as this only exacerbates the problem.
On the off chance that you’re really bothered by green water, put bales of barley straw into the pond in February or March. The straw decomposes to release natural hydrogen peroxide, which kills off the algae.
Blanket weed and duckweed are two real enemies of wildlife ponds. They spread rapidly to cut out light and kill off other plants. Chemical controls are available for both but it’s much better if you can control the problem manually. Blanket weed is fairly easy to pull out by hand, while duckweed can be scooped out using a fine-meshed net. But try to avoid introducing either in the first place. In extreme cases, you may need to empty and clean out the pond before making a fresh start.
Can You Put Fish in a Wildlife Pond?
Somewhat paradoxically, fish have no place in a wildlife pond since they feed voraciously on the pond wildlife creatures you are trying to attract, such as frogs, newts, and dragonflies. The only exceptions are stickleback and minnow species of fish.
A wildlife pond allows you to create a unique microclimate that is favorable not only to people but also to animals and plants. A small pond is also a great way to add a unique character to your garden.
However, it is worth investing in an attractive-looking pond by landscaping it in a proper manner. This way, you will enjoy the beautiful sight during every moment spent in the yard.