September 9th, 2009

Wildlife ponds – a natural option for backyard design

Pond building is becoming popular amongst homeowners these days – More and more people are discovering the joys of having your own water garden. But most of us when imagining an outdoor pond will envision a very “clinical pond“. We’re talking about bodies of water that run on pumps, and can generally be swimming pool replacements if only they didn’t have fish swimming around in them.

Rarely, though, you find a highly entrepreneurial individual in the pond building community that decided to introduce a wildlife pond into his backyard design.

Natural Ecosystems

Think of a wildlife pond as a natural, self-sustaining ecosystem in itself. An undisturbed corner of your garden where nature is back in full control and you are only the sponsor and observer of such beauty.

What are the steps for creating natural backyard ponds? Let’s go over some general guidelines:

  1. You select a spot close to nature, where wildlife will have free and undisturbed access to your pond.
  2. You build an outdoor pond – but in this case with much less equipment needed, as described below.
  3. You place naturally rich (others would call it dirty) water into it.
  4. You let it be on its own with minimum interference.
  5. Eventually, the environment will take care of the rest, and turn that little corner of your garden into your very own bog.

The results? Well, If you do it right, you’ll have a multitude of organisms living inside (and around) your pond. And if you really pay attention to the details, the ecosystem will fully autonomous and  you won’t even have to worry about the creatures you have growing in your pond!

Building a wildlife pond

The secret to a rich ecological balance lies in what you put in your pond; building a pond with sloping banks, lining it with rocks and other items, and generally making sure the surroundings have enough shade and sunlight to promote growth isn’t enough.

Attracting wildlife

where there are insects, there are insect predators

A wildlife pond is built in a very similar way to another informal outdoor pond, you will select a spot in your backyard, dig the soil, install the liner and natural looking decoration. But there are some very important differences.

First you will need less equipment as natural wildlife ponds don’t need filtration and aeration, the ecosystem will take care of keeping the water on its best natural condition. You also won’t introduce fish into this pond as they won’t allow your insect population to develop.

You will need to have to make sure that your pond has a source of water to prevent it from drying. This can be a nearby stream or a controlled supply of piped water that you installed.

Eventually your outdoor pond will attract nice wildlife such as this dragonfly

Eventually your outdoor pond will attract nice wildlife such as this dragonfly

A second important point is the location of the wildlife pond, make sure its on the very edge of your backyard, close to nature, giving access to the wildlife you want to attract. Also remember – the pond will eventually attract insects, toads and other animals make sure its far from your house or your neighbors property to avoid future problems.

A last point relates to your garden maintainace around the pond. Leave the area around the pond a bit untidy – high vegetation and rocks are generally hidding  spots for the creatures you want to attract to your pond.

If I build it, will they come?

There is a little secret here to be shared. It’s in what you put into the pond that makes the difference. In order to create a wildlife pond, you need to look for a naturally occurring pond, take a bit of water from it, and dump that water into your own pond. That’s the elixir of life that makes a difference.

The Animals in my Garden

What can you grow in your pond, though? Thanks to the water you borrowed from the natural pond, you’re sure to grow several insects in your water garden. Your first visitors will be pond skaters; eventually, other insects like dragonflies will make their way into your pond. After all, it’s an inviting habitat.

But won’t the insects be bad for your general area?

lily pad with pond skaters

lily pad with pond skaters

That’s quite true. You’re liable to start growing mosquitoes in the pond, sooner or later. You can put in a couple of snails into the mix to keep the water clean, but that won’t be enough to control the insect population.

But where there are insects, there are insect predators. Sooner or later, you’ll find that your little pond will start attracting frogs, newts and toads—amphibians of the highest order that feed on nothing else but insects and insect eggs.

A wildlife pond may not be as tantalizing a pond idea as a common pond is, at least to water gardeners. But it’s a unique concept, and if well-executed, it becomes a rich and harmonious, Zen-like community that’s full of life and the simple beauty of a perfectly balanced ecosystem.

Additional reading:

4 comments to Wildlife ponds – a natural option for backyard design

  • Love the post. Great ideas and advice. Thanks!!

  • Ana

    Thanks for the advice! I “inherited” a natural pond with a new home I purchased, and I vowed to give it my all to maintain it. Already the frogs are out!

  • Fran

    This was helpful. I have 2 rainwater tanks(stock tanks) and would like more info on keeping gold fish and plants in them.Are there certain books that would help me? I don’t want to resort to pumps and a lot of chemicals.

  • I have always wanted a spot in my yard for a pond… it sounds like a worthy tradeoff to not put fish in it if I could support frogs with a nice habitat!

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