The Registry of Nature Habitats - Ponds
Components of a Nature Habitat
Building a Small Pond
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 alone.
What types 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 barrel 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 insects.
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.
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 pool.
If you use a liner, plan on at least a weekend to install and landscape.
Steps to install a pond with a liner:
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 water.
Choosing and establishing plants for ponds
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 over-fertilizing may cause unwanted algae blooms which can rob the water of oxygen.
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 temperatures.
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 over-winter 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 filter.