Written by David S.
Wildlife ponds vary in size, from lakes and large natural ponds to the tiny five-gallon oasis in our gardens. A straightforward example of a wildlife pond is a birdbath. It is nothing other than water set out for birds to use. In this blog, we discuss ways to create wildlife ponds for your landscape, including:
- Plants and water plants that go with wildlife ponds
- Care and maintenance needs
- Features, such as lights
- Their benefits
The Benefit of Wildlife Ponds
In an environment where water is scarce, a wildlife pond becomes an oasis to many animals that may visit your yard. Biota, which in science means the living, brings into perspective the number of organisms that benefit from small garden ponds. Those include:
- Bees and pollinators
- Domestic animals and those that are feral
- Raccoons, possum, and smaller animals
- And so many others
As the gardener, you decide and design the types of critters who benefit and come to your pond. The tools you use are plants, the size of the pond, and its location.
Wildlife Ponds and Design
Most wildlife ponds are preformed metal or plastic containers designed to hold water over many years. These include galvanized tubs and plastic rigid pond liners. They can be installed above ground or in the ground. They also can be as fancy as you want them to be or as simple. ‘The idea is to create a beautiful addition to your yard or garden that also attracts animals that you can enjoy watching. Bird feeders are an example of small installations that bring a lot of joy to your landscape.
The main attractant is water, and that is both the beauty of a wildlife pond and the way we give back to the surrounding environment. As a species, humans take a lot from the natural world, and we give back very little. So, on the subject of tiny contributions, these small ponds are an easy way to give back to and support the smaller forms of life that share our yards.
What Makes Good Wildlife Pond Design?
From the human perspective, a wildlife pond should be:
- Aesthetically pleasing to the eye
- Functional and safe
- Low maintenance
From the perspective of the surrounding biota, a wildlife pond should be a place where water is available consistently. The key ingredient is water. What we do from there is up to us.
Wildlife Pond Sizing and Attributes
Some beautiful wildlife ponds are tiny, and some that range to a thousand gallons or more. Size does not matter, in this case, as the sizing of the pond is all about the creatures it serves. If you don’t mind deer roaming around the yard, a large pond is perfect. If you want to attract dragonflies to your yard, smaller ponds are a good choice, but they also love larger ponds.
The considerations about which size pond to install in your yard include:
- The spacing you have for the pond
- The creatures you want to attract
- Whether you have small children (safety)
- Expense and maintenance
Water weighs a lot, about eight pounds per gallon. So a five hundred-gallon pond would weigh about 4,000 pounds. Where you place, that is important. If you plan to place a small pond on a deck, remember that even a 100-gallon pond will weigh 800 pounds. Pounds over 100 gallons should be placed on the ground or installed as an in-ground pond.
A benefit of a dragonfly pond is that dragonflies eat other insects, such as mosquitoes. If you have a biting fly or mosquito problem in your yard, then a dragonfly pond is a natural way to help combat those types of flying pests. How you design your pond to attract specific types of visitors becomes a learning opportunity to know more about those creatures. Dragonflies, for example, are:
Both water and terrestrial insects. They spend most of their life in the water as a Naiad and emerge only to mate.
As adults, they like to perch. Taller plants such as rushes and cattails are perfect for dragonfly perches.
There are many attributes you can give to a wildlife pond. Some folks like to add underwater lighting, which makes an exciting opportunity for nighttime viewing creatures that live in the water. Your pond will likely attract aquatic wildlife, such as toads, frogs, salamanders, and other creatures. Some small ponds can be set up to house small fish safely. A good tip is to ask your local mosquito abatement facility for mosquitofish. These are small guppies that will do an excellent job of eating mosquito larvae. Many county or city mosquito abatement departments will give mosquito fish away for ponds. In warmer climates, goldfish may survive. There is less oxygen in warmer water than in cold water, and goldfish are cold-water fish.
Children and Ponds
If you have small children, ponds can be dangerous. Children are naturally curious, and water and small children should not mix without adult supervision. Fencing the pond is one way to keep children out of it. In addition, placing the pond in an area of your yard where small kids cannot access it is critical.
Pond Expense and Maintenance
There are small pond kits available for all budgets. The simplest ponds can be a hole in the ground with a pond liner. A five-gallon bucket can become a frog habitat simply by burying the bucket and placing stones around the rim.
Most wildlife ponds require very little maintenance. The key is to balance the water with the plant life so that the pond achieves a biological balance. The plants help clean the water, and the water helps sustain the plants. Therefore, a reduction in plant populations can be a good thing once or twice per year.
Plant Selection for Small Ponds
There are many plants that we call Marginal. These are plants that can live out of water or in water. They include:
Actual aquatic plants are also available, such as water lettuce. There is such a wonderfully long list of aquatic plants that do well in small ponds.
Caring for plants in ponds is often minimal. The pond will care for the plants, but in small pots with compact soil, you can plant pond plants. You can also place plants around the pond rather than in it. You can also do a mixture of both, which gives you more freedom to choose plants for the pond. Small willow trees would be an example of a taller plant that can go in the pond or beside it. If you plan to use the pond as a sitting area, then you might enjoy the shade of a tree or a pergola with a vining plant on it.
Strawberries are another plant that would do well around a pond. Lizards will eat the fruit and prey on insects that the fruit attracts. There are almost no limits to what you can do with a small pond and landscape design.
For more inspiration, please stop by any of our five Southern California Green Thumb Nursery locations and browse the pond kits we carry. While you are here, investigate the many plants that are suitable for ponds or around ponds. We even have pergola kits. Our plant experts are here to help you too. If you need recommendations about plants, ponds, or pond products, they are happy to help.
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