OK, my favourite subject. No pictures here, only words.
Why create a pond?
Amphibians eat mosquitoes, slugs, beetles,
cutworms, sow bugs, pill bugs, centipedes, flies, mole crickets, ants, earwigs and gypsy
A toad can consume up to 1500 earwigs in one summer. (from Organic Gardening May/June 1994) Toads are cute and they'll come by themselves.
Okay, so how about this:
Canada has lost 80-90% of its wetlands in the south and Canada has 24% of the world's wetlands. A whole bunch of ponds can't replace what we've mucked up, but it will help a bit.
Or this: It's good "fung shui" to have moving water: a waterfall, a fountain, a pond and some fish it, brings in good ch'i, which brings good luck. To the Chinese fish is a symbol of wealth. A Japanese garden wouldn't be one if there was no water or a symbol of water.
Or this; Almost 80% of the gardens in The Netherlands have some form of water garden as do 75% of German gardens!
Or this: It will be the busiest place in your
whole yard, it will tear you and your loved ones out of your house to use the outdoor
living room, and no
TV. nor computers
It's easy and will change your life!
Enough said, you should have a pond, we all should.
Even a little balcony pond for passing dragonflies.
OK...So now you want a pond eh?
My kind of pond is "eau" natural. Nothing but water, plants, birds, frogs, dragonflies and other little wonderful bug eating machines. Once you have your predators in place, you don't have to worry about mosquitoes taking over your yard either, that's an old myth. If you want to make it really hard for mosquitoes to lay eggs, keep the water moving. They don't like to lay eggs in moving water. It's a myth that Water Lilies don't like active water, give them a "quieter corner". All kinds of critters eat mosquitoes so you don't want to eliminate them completely, you just don't want them to be your main wildlife!
There are chemicals available that will do the trick, but I'm not going to recommend, them because they are not good for nature..
Oxygenated water and bacteria along with plants and some fish are all you need.
No matter what we choose to do with our watery areas, we cannot fool ourselves into thinking we can recreate an area like those found in nature. There are too many things that have to be just right. Too many variables and situations that are impossible to create. What we can aim for, is our version of a wet area and it will serve nature as well, just differently. It will be used by many creatures that are moving from one area to the next. Frogs need permanent water and toads live on land, but need moist areas and water to spawn in. If you don't live anywhere near natural water, don't despair, the creatures will find you. If you live 20 km from the nearest water and there are twenty tiny ponds, puddles and ditches along the way to your house, you will get the toads at some point and maybe even frogs. When you convince your neighbours to put in a cheap little pond and they convince their neighbours and friends... you get how it works.
So you want to build your own?
Keep in mind that the smaller the pond, the harder it is to balance the algae, bacteria, plants and fish. Since our summers are so short, a good size waterfall will help to build up oxygen and maintain it. Don't shut down your pump at night, the bacteria need the oxygen to survive.
Okay, first step, decide what kind of water-type thing you want (bog, marsh, wetland, pond?) and if it's possible where you live. A natural bog will dry up too fast if you put it in a place that has wonderful drainage. If your house was built in a place with a high water table, or a place that was once a wetland, good for you, the part of your yard that never seems to want to dry up, will be perfect and you can start to fix the damage done by earlier humans.
Most of us however will have to fudge the whole thing with liners and preformed plastic ponds to keep the water from draining away. Liners vary in price so look around and ask questions. They come in different thicknesses and the thicker ones will last longer, but cost more. Which ever you chose, take your time installing it because it's not something you will want to redo!
Liners are measured this way determine the maximum depth, length and width of your pond, multiply the maximum depth by three and add this number to your length and the same to the width. Easy, huh?
By the way, a good starter pond can be made of an inexpensive kiddy pool, but you'll want something bigger in no time.
If your pond will be freeform, use your garden hose to create the shape. Stay simple. If your pond has lots of little bays and inlets, they're only going to become places for water to stagnate and become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. A nice kidney shape is best. If you do want deeper inlets add a pump and/or skimmer to each inlet to move the water.
Back to the issue, where to put your pond? Some points to remember: the pond needs sunlight if you want to grow the standard pond life and have amphibians basking on your rocks; shade trees are wonderful things but the leaves filling up your pond may be too much to take and depending on the type of leaf, it may change the ph balance in your pond, especially oaks; the pond needs to be in a place where the excess water will not drain towards your house during huge rainstorms, it also has to be in a place where the runoff from your lawn and driveway will not go into the pond.
It's not as complicated as it sounds. Find a spot that's in the sun, lower than the foundation plantings around the house and higher than the ground that immediately surrounds it.
After you call your utilities to make sure you're not digging up a gas line, dig your pond hole to the depth you need (the deep part should be at least 60cm or 24" and deeper is better) and if using a liner, make sure you line the bottom with sand. A barefoot inspection for rocks is a good idea too, because trying to find a pinprick sized hole later on when the water has drained out and your tadpoles are squiggling around on the bottom, could really put a damper on your day. The pond should have more shallow 'shelves' around the sides and even a slope if you can pull it off. The liner should be a little flexible and not pulled or stretched tightly.
Make your pond level!!
If you don't have a long board and level use pegs in the ground on the perimeter of the pond, use a hose with water in it and keep the water at the same height at both ends. Make any adjustments before the thing becomes permanent and weighs more than we can dream of adjusting.
A waterfall is a great way to get more oxygen into a pond and with a biological filter you will help close the circle. A skimmer helps to clean the surface of the pond and thus you have less organic material precipitating to the bottom. Organic material breaks down and robs the pond of oxygen as well as creating nitrites, poison for plants and algae.
After you place the liner, cover it with boulders and pebbles of different sizes to protect it from the sun, animals etc. and to give the bacteria a place to live and grow. You should be walking on the liner with soft shoes.
The anaerobic bacteria, in the deep pebbles, change the nitrites to nitrogen gas and nitrates; food for algae and plants. The aerobic bacteria nearer to the top and in the volcanic rock in the filter box (if you use one) breaks down the plant and animal waste to ammonia and the nitrites. That is the life nitrogen cycle, self-contained and totally natural.
Back to pond building:
Slowly fill with water. For liners, place rocks lightly around the edge and move them as the pond fills and the liner adjusts. Once the pond is filled, fold the curves like you're making a bed, nice and smooth. Place rocks or slabs around the edge after you check the underside of the rocks for sharp protrusions. The rocks can overhang the edge slightly to conceal any liner still showing. If you've used tap water, let the pond sit and relax for a few days while all the chlorine evaporates. Rain water may not be so good either; ph test it and add a shovel of non-organic soil for minerals.
The plants you choose for your pond should be three types. emergent, submergent, floating and either deep water (50-150 cm) or shallow water (10-15 cm) plants. Emergent are things like cattails and lilies that have their roots in the water but part of the plant rises out of the water. Submergent plants are those that remain under water and are called oxygenators like Elodea. Floating plants are things like duckweed that may need to be skimmed off the pond once in a while. They make great fertilizer anyway, so nothing is wasted. Check your emergent plants to see what depth they need, some need three feet! Browse the library or the web sites of water garden centres. Again, native is better and there are tons of beautiful ones to choose from.
Your pond will develop an algae bloom
once or twice a year and also when it's first installed. Big deal, it's just trying to
find its balance, don't worry about it. Critters will move in to eat some of it too. When
your pond finds its happy spot, your water will be crystal clear 90% of the year. The
other times it will be spring when the water first warms up and the algae gets a
head start on the algae eaters and sometimes in the fall. I've heard this doesn't always
happen, so again nature has rules that don't always get followed to the letter. If you get
a really bad algae bloom, don't use any chemicals, add bacteria and let it work itself out
or fix the problem of too much sunlight and too much nutrients. Shading half of the pond
until the plants do it themselves, is also a very good way to prevent blooming. Algae and
plants both feed on the same nitrates so make sure you have enough plants. Changing your
water will only delay the balancing act and cost you on your water bill.
Snails are your friends. They eat the algae and in turn feed some pretty nice birds too. They won't bug your garden plants if you've installed a copper ring or a wet/dry sandpaper ring around your tasty plants like Hostas. Again, check some of the watergarden centres for protecting your pond plants against critter damage. Native snails are not much of a problem with our native plants.
Make it accessible. There are many ideas here and you can pick and choose or crowd them all in. My favourite is to get a lovely log from your friendly recycling centre for free and lay this log -gently! Think puncture!- into your pond with the end out of the water and nestled into your rocks. Nature does this and the logs get used by many critters, for basking, for eating the bugs in the log, as a walkway to the pond for birds, a walkway from the pond for frogs and newts, a perch for just about anything and the soggy log will get used by butterflies when they need a drink. There's probably a dozen more specific uses.
CAUTION: don't use a log from the Juglans family of trees: Butternuts and Walnuts and the like. They will turn the water jet black and probably kill half of your plants because of a substance in the tree. Most of the plant's killing substance is actually in the leaves and twigs but I wouldn't want to test how much is in the log. Use a nice dead maple or something safe like that. If you're not sure what a dead maple log looks like- most people aren't sure - just ask the guy driving around in the bulldozer near the brush piles at the recycle centre, they seem to know just about everything. Or take a good tree ID book, one that shows the different bark of various trees. You could also just grab a birch, we all know what they look like.
If cats are a problem, you can make lots of hiding places for your desirable critters around the edge of your pond and/or make an island in the middle. The island is just an upturned plastic pot with a flat rock set on the top of it. You can add rocks to your island or even a plant or two. Don't forget to take your shoes off when you put your island in the centre. Make the island partially below or almost even with the water. Most birds are shy of deep water for obvious reasons.
Set up places for creatures to over-winter. Log piles, sandy loam toad pits, leaf piles and compost bins. If you want a pond with a deep end that can accommodate frogs and other underwater hibernators, it has to be 1.5 -2 meters deep. This would be good for bull frogs, pickerel frogs, mink frogs, green frogs, northern leopard frogs and mudpuppies. Gray tree frogs and spring peepers will use your leaf pile, as will four-toed salamanders. Other salamanders will use log piles, underground tunnels and compost piles. If it's not deep, you will need to bring your amphibians in for the winter.
If you're using a liner and raccoons
are messing up your pond edges, you may have to do the picket fence thing. A tall one!
Those crafty little claws can be sharp and they may play with a rock or two that have
sharp edges. They don't usually cause problems with the preformed ponds, if you have heavy
rocks and logs as your amphibian hiding places around the edge. They try but until they
figure out pulleys and levers, you'll be okay. If you have a natural pond, make sure you
have adequate hiding places for your critters and have fun watching your raccoons. They
are part of the big picture and they have to eat too. Don't let anyone tell you that
the pond is responsible for attracting raccoons, people are the ones responsible and
raccoons just seem to fit right in to the way we've altered their homes. Metal garbage
cans with tricky lids seem to be a good idea though. If you want to feed them the
occasional fish, that's a different story but give them something more enjoyable than
A decorative metal grate over your pond will keep raccoons out and will allow you to enjoy the fish and other critters. Some of these grates look like wrought iron, very chic.
The dos and don'ts. (this section expands as I get more letters!)
-Don't use ANY chemicals in your pond or near your pond. They will most likely kill the wildlife you've worked so hard to attract. For fancy pond people: like koi enthusiasts, go straight to a really reputable dealer because these kinds of ponds are a whole other kettle of fish. Koi are voracious eaters and can mess up a pond very quickly. They need a deeper pond 1.5 meters or more and are more sensitive to iced over ponds, but they make great pets.
-Do buy a test kit for pH but use sparingly.
-Don't treat your pond with a 'harmless' algaecide. You would be putting off the inevitable. If there's an excess of the stuff, that should tell you that there's not enough plants shading the water or that there's fertilizer (natural or not) getting into the pond or maybe that you need a few snails and things to eat the algae. Do your homework and find out what the real problem is if the bloom doesn't subside.
-Do remember to think of the little kids that may find their way into your pond to 'look a the fishies'. It could be your neighbours kids when you're not home. You can't take a chance but you can put up a protective fence to surround your pond and accent the plantings around it, make it a focal point. As an example a little white picket would also serve as lookouts for birds and help to keep predators out. It only takes seconds for an accident.
-Do keep a sharp eye out when you mow from now on. There may be new residents living in the grass.
-Don't buy critters from a pet store or scoop them from the wild. If a friend has a tadpole or two and they were spawned close by, a relocation isn't going to muck anything up but a newt from British Columbia should stay where it is. Pet stores often carry amphibians from several parts of the world and we don't need to see another Asian Long-horned Beetle, tent caterpillar, starling or house sparrow problem. If it happens by mistake, we'll just have to deal with it, but we can do our part by not making it happen quicker. There are some folks who say 'big deal, only the strong survive, blah blah' but if we adopt that attitude we'll have a very boring world with only a few species floating around, just think, billions of cats, cockroaches, rats and Canada geese. Okay, I exaggerate but you get my drift. Your critters will find their way there all by themselves. It may take two days or two years but in the meantime, you will have all the swallows eating your new bugs, you will have the moths and dragonflies, birds of many kinds, butterflies puddling and maybe some others you may never see like owls and bats. A wet owl is pretty funny looking but I have yet to see more than just a photograph of a soggy owl.
- Do rescue any critters that are on land near you and that you know is about to be plowed or paved over. They may not make it but give them a chance at least. That doesn't mean that you should just scoop up any ol' turtle crossing the road. It would be a nice thing to stop and give it a safe lift across the road though.
- Do check with the local authorities about pond sizes and depths. No one wants to fill in a pond after all that work.
- Don't mess with an existing water system of any kind. It's not only a bad idea, it's illegal. Check with the government people if you must alter any water system for any purpose.
-Do remove a frog from a shallow pond in the fall if it finds its way naturally to your backyard. An aquarium will do while you spend the winter designing a deeper pond (1.5 meters) to accommodate frogs. They will freeze if left to over-winter in a shallow pond. Toads do not spend the winter in water but where they usually spend their time, on land. All they need is a nice compost heap or some sandy soil to bury into.
- Don't put a bird feeder near your pond. If commercial bird seed mixes get into the water, it will give off a smell you'll never forget, you'll never want to remember it either. This includes corn in any form, squirrel food, bird food or cobs filched from your compost.
You may get Starlings bringing whole buns and bread slices to dip them into your 'gravy' or you may see Crows dip all sorts of things if you're lucky enough to attract them in the first place. However beware of Grackles bearing old corn cobs. Get them out!
- Don't encourage pigeons no matter how much you may like them, your neighbours will want to throttle you. They're poo machines. It's unlikely you'll get pigeons coming to your pond if the pond has some natural cover around it but if you do, take care of these guys right away. They're rather smart and will remember your little bird pub if they have an enjoyable experience. First thing is to buy a slinky toy or two (plastic or aluminum, not steel) and string them around the perimeter of your pond. Pigeons hate these little toys because they move. Realistic rubber snakes half hidden in the grass will help as well. Your toys only need to be kept there for a little while until the pigeon decides it's no fun anymore. Keep your slinky toys just in case they're ever needed again. They're fun to play with too, but don't get them knotted up like you did when you were a kid!
Another idea is to use a motion sensor that gives a squirt of water when something moves into its path. This will also scare away some critters you want there, so be choosy.
- Don't take your plants from a natural wetland. A big no-no for obvious reasons. Seeds are fine as long as you only take a few. If there is an area that has to be filled in for whatever dumb reason, ask the owner of the property if you can go in and save a few plants and critters. Most people are reasonable in this regard, so respect their property as you go about it.
Don't do this if the area is far away from your pond, those critters don't belong with the critters from your area. If you want to move them to an adjacent wetland, good for you!
- Do get a comfy chair and a beverage and relax after all your hard work. The only maintenance you'll need to do now is to occasionally skim the duckweed off the top, keep the water level up, check your pH once in a while, check to see if your fish are healthy and remove some of the plant debris collected on the bottom. It's not supposed to be totally cleaned up, go gently. Also be careful doing this last bit, you may scoop up some toad's kids!