Why build a wildlife pond?
As soon as we moved into Blackbirds I knew I wanted to build a wildlife pond. Looking back now we’ve had a pond in pretty every house we’ve lived in since we were married. It’s the peace and tranquility that water brings to the garden, along with an abundance of wildlife that a pond attracts into the garden.
If you’ve never had a pond they are well worth considering, but do remember ponds can be dangerous places so always think safety first.
Digging your pond
You can dig your pond by hand (if it’s not too big) , but it is back breaking work, so if possible try and rope in a friend or two to help out. Alternatively hire in a digger or find someone that has one and is willing to come in and dig it for you.
You can have pretty much any shape you want, but it will need to be at least 2-3 ft deep at the deepest part or the water will warm up in the summer sun and won’t have a chance to cool down which will lead to green water. We went for the classic kidney shape for our pond with the deepest part in the middle. (This was intentional to ensure any animals have a chance of survival should they fall in.)
Early Spring is the ideal time to build a pond as it gives any plants a full season to get established and you get to enjoy the pond through the summer months as it starts to settle.
Another key thing to remember when designing your wildlife pond is to create a series of gradual slopes on the side of the pond. Any wildlife that makes it’s way into the pond, or accidentally falls in can easily climb back out. If you take a look at our liner you’ll see we’ve banked up the sides all the way round the outside.
Couple of other things to be aware of:
1. Make sure the pond is as level to ensure the water level remains constant.
Take piece of board long enough to stretch across the pond and lay it from one side to the other. Then take a builders level and check for level. If it’s not level add some of the soil you excavated from the pond and check again. Repeat all the way around until you will have a level edge to your pond. Alternatively drive in wooden stakes at 1 foot intervals around the edge of the pond and level the top of the bank with the top of the stakes.
2. Make sure you use underlay before lining your pond.
It’s a good idea to use some sort of under felt as it provides the liner with added protection from stones or roots. It’s fairly cheap, but you can also use a piece of old carpet instead, it will do the job just as well and it’s free. We used both as I had some old off cuts of carpet around the place.
Lining and filling the pond
When you have the hole dug the next consideration is how you plan to line the pond. There are several options available, Clay, Plastic, Preformed, Concrete or Flexible Rubber Butyl. We planned to create a natural pond with lots of different depths and contours, so we decided to go for a flexible butyl liner as it would give us a fairly instant result and we had experience of using it before.
I like to buy local so I headed off to the nearby aquatic center in Porton. What a fantastic place! just about anything and everything you need for building and maintaining a pond. When it comes to calculating the required size of liner the following formula as a rough guide.
Formula for working out the size of your pond liner?
WIDTH x LENGTH x (MAXIMUM) depth.
I always add another 10% for any nooks and crannies that may emerge as the liner goes down.
When its time to fill the pond, lay the liner out and leave it loose as the water moulds the liner into the shape of the pond. As it starts to fill up work the contours in ensuring the liner lye’s as flat as possible and create pleats if there is too much liner in one place. Don’t worry too much about how neat it is as it will weather over the coming months and the liner will disappear as the plants settle in around it.
Planting Your Pond
There are a number of plants that will live happily in and around the edges of your pond and most are extremely attractive looking plants. My favourites are water lilies, in particular the beautiful pink broad leaf varieties. A combination of huge rich green pads and gorgeous flowers make for an irresistible and quintessential part of an English garden.
We kept a few pond plants from our old house, which have been living happily in a plastic tub for the last 2 years. Most are marginal’s like the ever dependable Iris pseudacorus, Caltha palustris or Marsh Marigold, and the gorgeous yellow spikes of Ligularia przewalskii. All these plants live happily in the shelves and slopes around the edges of your pond and all encourage dragon flies and damson flies to your pond.
One of my most favourite pond plant is the water lily and in particular the beautiful pink broad leaf varieties. Lily’s prefer to live in deep water, ideally in an aquatic basket filled with aquatic compost covered in pea shingle to avoid the sold from spilling out.
Personally I prefer to create as natural environment as possible so I tend to plant as much as possible straight into the soil in and around the margins of the pond. I also plant my water lily into a small mound of soil on the bottom of the deepest part of the pond.
One other group of plants that are vital to a healthy wildlife pond are the oxygenating plants.
Elodea Crispa is the most familiar and is an extremely vigorous plant and will rapidly colonise any pond if left unchecked. If you know anyone with a pond they are bound to have a few spare bunches of Elodea, alternatively any aquatic center will supply. Ideally your pond should have one small bunch for each 3 sq.ft of surface area.
You can throw a few stalks into the water and they will eventually root, but I prefer to tie to a small stone to a bunch of stalks and chuck them into the center of the pond, they will sink and rapidly root into the soil and sediment.
It’s the combination of marginal plants, oxygenators and shade creating plants like Lilies that will create a healthy looking pond and will encourage all manner of wildlife to live in and around the pond.
Should I use top soil in my pond?
Some gardeners warn against putting soil in a pond, but I’ve done it with all our ponds to date and I find the plants just seem to grow away better, and the pond clears within a month. Of course it depends to an extent on what type of pond you’re trying to create, but this post is about creating a feature to attract the wonderful wildlife we have around us and so I want it to both look and function as naturally as possible. I appreciate the argument the pond will rapidly fill up with plant life, but you can always thin out once in a while.
Now all it needs is a few weeks to settle in and the frogs and newts will come. It still remains a mystery to me where they all come from, but come they do.
If you are planning to make a wildlife pond of your own it’s important to provide lots of cover for the creatures that will inhabit the pond. My preferred option is to lay grass turf around the side of the pond, and leave it to grow fairly wild. After a while the base of the grass becomes damp as it soaks up water from the pond which the young frogs love to hide in as they emerge to embark on their journey of discovery from the pond.
Here are a few more finishing touches that will help to attract wildlife to your pond:
Add rotting wood to the surrounding area to attract woodlice, bugs and slugs (Tasty meal for a Frog or Toad)
Consider building a small stream. Slightly more ambitious I know but I find the birds will come and drink and take a bath in the pond, but when we added a small stream the birds moved from the pond to the stream, must be something to do with running water as we have the most wonderful variety of birds visiting. Perhaps they are attracted by the sound of running water?
Include a gravel/pebble bed at the shallow end of the pond. Tadpoles love the shallow water and the warmth of the stones as they heat up in the summer sunshine.
Introduce a few water snails to the pond to help keep the water clear. They feed off the algae in the pond and can be bought from any good aquatic center, or alternatively ask a friend with a pond if they can spare a few.
Grow plants that attract wildlife in the surrounding areas. Buddlia, fruit bushes, bamboo (always in a pot), teasel, poppies etc will all bring wildlife to the water side, but most off all running water seems to be the main focus of attention for the local wildlife population.
Hemorocallis just love it by the pond, and they just keep on flowering
Maintaining your wildlife pond
As far as maintenance of the pond is concerned I’ll top it up from time to time with rainwater from the harvester, and continue to plant up the surrounding area, but apart from that it pretty looks after itself. As it continues to mature I will have the thin out the plant life from time to time as any pond needs a balance of sunlight and shade if it is to thrive.
It took us pretty much all weekend to complete our pond, but it’s very satisfying to see it finally coming together, not to mention the hours of enjoyment it gives us. If you’re thinking about creating your own dew pond then I’d urge you to have a go and don’t be intimidated by all the information, simply dig a large hole, line it with a liner, make sure it’s level, fill it with water, add some aquatic plants and let nature do it’s stuff!
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UPDATE (07/06/11) – 6 Weeks on and the pond is really starting to mature. The turfs we used to line the edge of the pond have all taken root and are growing away nicely. The irises are coming into flower and all sorts of plants have started to grow along the shelf without any encouragement from me.
UPDATE (10/06/12) – Pond really looking at it’s best just over one year on.