The Registry of Nature
Building a Small
We often in our zeal to attract wildlife
to our property, forget how important a good water source is to
wildlife. Usually a good source of food is available and
wildlife can survive a short time without food but water is a
different matter. Wildlife will inhabit an area more densely
when water is available. By providing a good clean and
dependable source of water, wildlife will be attracted to your
property in a much broader spectrum than with a food source
What tyes of water elements can be
offered to wildlife?
Small Yards - The best
water sources are bird baths and misters. Place the bird baths
at different heights to attract the largest array of wildlife.
Keep them in a shading location to keep the water cool.
It is very important to keep bird baths clean and filled
with fresh water.
If there is enough room a small container
such as a barrell or a pre-formed pool can be used. The
pre-formed pool can be dug into the ground or used above
ground. The pool can have fish, snails, waterlilies and other
plants in it.
By sinking a bird bath in the ground with
soil in it will provide damp soil for butterflies, bees and other
Large Yards - Ponds made
with liners work best. This will allow for different depths
which again will attract a larger spectrum of wildlife. Birds
fear deep water while frogs need it. A large pond allows for
more plant life and fish. Less winter care is needed if the
pond is deep enough. Birds love shallow moving water
so provide a shallow stream of water entering the pond to
attract the birds.
Installing the pond
You can put in a backyard pond anytime the ground is
not frozen or overly wet. If using a pre-formed liner, dig a hole to
the correct depth and slightly wider. Insert the liner, making sure
it is level and sits securely in the ground. Backfill around the
sides. Add water, pump, and plants. Complete landscaping around the
If you use a liner, plan on at least a weekend
to install and landscape.
Steps to install a pond with a liner:
- Decide on your pond's location.
- Using a hose or rope, lay out the shape of your pond on the
- Once you are happy with the shape, start digging. Stockpile
your topsoil so you can use it to landscape around your
- Plan for part of your pond being at least 18 to 24 inches
deep; 24 to 36 inches is even better. This will allow for a
greater diversity of plants and fish to live in the pond. You may
want to make tiers around the inside of the pond at various depths
on which to place pots of different aquatic plants. Make tiers
about 12 inches wide to accommodate the pots.
- Remove any rocks from the excavated area.
- To help prevent punctures in the plastic, put a one-inch layer
of damp sand on the bottom of the excavated area.
- Spread the plastic liner over the hole. Let it sag gently in
the hole. Place a few rocks or bricks around the edge to hold in
- Slowly start filling your pond. The weight of the water will
help smooth out the liner. Remove rocks holding the edges to allow
liner to conform to the edges of the hole. Smooth out wrinkles but
do not pull too tightly. You can walk on the liner if you remove
- Finish off the pond by placing rocks around the edge to
securely hold the liner in place.
- Install pump and filter, if desired. Many smaller pumps have a
built-in filter. For larger pools, a separate pump and filter may
be necessary. Make sure the filter and pump are adequate for the
volume of water in your pond. Pumps not only add interest, but are
important in adding oxygen to the water. If you want a fountain or
waterfall in your pond, you will need a pump to circulate the
- Let the pond sit for a few days before adding fish and plants.
This allows chlorine to evaporate from the water. Chemicals are
also available that will quickly neutralize chlorine and other
- Place plants at various depths and add fish.
For ponds, consider a mix of emergent, submergent,
and floating species. Emergent plants, those that have their roots
in the water but their shoots above water, can be added to the
margins of pools. These include cattails (Typha spp.), arrowhead
(Sagittaria spp.), and water lilies (Nymphaea spp.). Submergent
species, or those that remain under water such as elodea, are often
used as oxygenators. These are plants that remove carbon dioxide
from the water and add oxygen. These plants are essential in most
ponds to keep the water clear. Floating species or those that are
not anchored at all in the pond include plants such as duckweed
(Lemna minor), water lettuce (Pistia stratiotes), and water hyacinth
(Eichhornia crassipes). While attractive, water hyacinth and water
lettuce can be serious weed problems in the south; however, since
they are not winter hardy, there is no problem with them spreading
in northern climates. While not as effective as oxygenators, these
plants help keep the water clear by limiting the amount of sunlight
that algae receive. In tiny ponds created in barrels and similar
containers, these plants may be adequate to maintain clear
Choosing and establishing plants for
- Consider the following when selecting plants.
- How deep is the water? This will be a factor in establishing
plants and their survival over winter if you live in colder
regions. Some species need a minimum depth of 2 to 3 feet to
- Is your pond permanently installed in the ground or is it a
small tub that will be moved inside in the winter? In this case,
even tropical plants may be an option.
- Will you drain your pond in the winter? If you intend to
drain your pond, you should consider plants that can spend the
winter in a basement in a dormant state.
- How much sunlight does your pond receive?
- How large is your pond? If your pond is small, consider
- Purchase plants from a reliable vendor. Remember to include
some oxygenator plants such as elodea.
- Emergent and submergent plants should be planted into pots. A
wide assortment of pots is available, from plastic baskets to pulp
planters. Choose pots that are large enough for your
- If using baskets with numerous perforations, line the basket
with burlap or 2 layers of newspaper to keep the soil from falling
out of the holes.
- Fill the container about half full with a mixture of good
garden topsoil. Do not use potting mixes or peat moss. These are
too light and will float out of the pot. Adding aquatic plant
fertilizer to this bottom layer of soil is recommended for some
species. Follow directions on the label for amount.
- Place the plant on top of the soil and fill the container with
topsoil within one inch of the top.
- When planting water lily rhizomes, make a mound of soil in the
middle of the pot. Place the rhizome at a 45 degree angle. The
crown of the rhizome should be toward the center of the pot. Cover
the roots with soil, but not the crown.
- In all cases, add a layer of gravel to the top of the pot.
This will help keep the soil from floating out and prevent fish
from digging in the soil.
- Slowly place the pots in the pool to keep soil from floating
out. Place pots on bricks to get the desired height.
- Floating species can be placed directly into the pond with no
other care needed.
Plants should cover 50 to 70 percent of the water
surface. Native plants usually do not need fertilizer. For some
exotic water lilies, limited fertilizing once yearly may be
required. Check with your nursery on care of plants and how deep to
place potted plants. Be aware that overfertilizing may cause
unwanted algae blooms which can rob the water of oxygen.
Add fish and scavengers
Consider stocking your backyard pond with native
fish. They are fun to watch and help keep the pond free of unwanted
insects. Most small ponds will warm up quickly in the summer, so
make sure you stock with fish that can tolerate elevated
You'll also need scavengers, such as aquatic snails
and tadpoles, to help control algae. In cold climates, a heater may
be necessary for fish to survive the winter. However, this uses a
significant amount of electricity and, in most cases, probably is
not justified. A better option may be to set up an indoor aquarium
in which to overwinter fish and plants.
Algae is a common problem in many newly established
ponds. The water often becomes an unsightly green after a few days.
While your first instinct is to drain the pond and start over, this
only prolongs the problem. Once a pond is "balanced," algae usually
are kept at an acceptable level. A balanced pond is one in which the
nutrients are at the appropriate level for the plants present.
Excess nutrients and light are needed for algae. Reducing the
nutrients and decreasing the amount of light entering the water will
help reduce algae. Floating plants or those with broad leaves such
as water lilies will help reduce the amount of light available for
algae and compete for available nutrients. Scavengers such as snails
will help clean up wastes from the bottom of the pond.
Pond filters can help reduce algae, but require
maintenance. Filters need to be cleaned frequently if algae is a
problem. Chemicals can also be used to control algae. Use cautiously
as they can be toxic to other plants and aquatic life. The need for
algaecides should decrease as plants become established.
Excessive plant growth, especially of free-floating
plants, may be a problem. Periodically skim off excess growth of
duckweed, water lettuce, and other floating plants. Monthly, prune
dying plant material. Clean out some of the decaying plant material
that has accumulated in the bottom of the pond in the spring.
Remember: a natural pond is not a swimming pool and too much
cleaning can do more harm than good.
Locate the backyard pond where it is unlikely to
attract unattended children. Check local safety ordinances to
determine if a fence is required for the specific depth and size of
your pond. Check local building ordinances for depth and safety
restrictions and permits. Equip outdoor outlets with a ground-fault
circuit interrupter. Unplug the pump before cleaning the