How do you attract wildlife to your garden? One of the best things you can do is to build a pond. Ponds don’t need to take up lots of space. From making a mini-pond to something a bit bigger, I’ve got all your questions about ponds covered in this article.
Read on to find out how to build a pond in five easy steps. Check out the guide to the best pond plants. I’ll help you through some of the dos and don’ts of making a pond. And maybe you want to know what wildlife will visit? My pond diary shows you what to look out for throughout the year.
This is the ultimate guide to building a pond in your garden.
What’s so Good about Ponds?
Ponds give a home to more wildlife than any other area of your garden. Amazing, isn’t it? A pond could bring frogs, toads, newts, birds, hedgehogs, pond snails, dragonflies and lots of other wild creatures to your patch.
Let me take you through a step-by-step guide to making the perfect pond. The first thing to think about is: where shall I put it?
Where Should You Put a Pond in Your Garden?
Look at what else you already have in your garden. Piles of logs and long grasses make good hiding places for wildlife, so a pond close to these areas would work well. If there are trees in your garden, they will drop leaves, so try not to put your pond too close to overhanging branches. A few leaves on the surface are ok and they will get eaten by pond creatures. But you don’t want the water to be totally covered with them.
Next, think about the sun and the shade. Lots of sunshine will warm the pond up and help plants to grow. A mixture of both sun and shade is best though because it will stop plants from growing too much. Algae can be a problem with too much sun.
Will you be able to spot your pond visitors? If you put your pond close to the house, you are more likely to see animals coming and going.
Also, where would the water go if there was a flood and the pond overflowed? Water needs to drain away without causing problems.
How Big Should a Garden Pond Be?
A bigger pond is often better, but small ponds are great too. There’s more about making a mini-pond later in this article.
A pond at least 75cm deep in some areas is perfect for hibernating frogs and other wildlife. The depth helps them to survive cold winters. Amazingly they can even survive when the pond is frozen over.
As well as the depth, think about different levels in your pond. There should be a shelf about 20-30cm deep to put some of your plants on. Some pond plants like to grow at this depth but no deeper.
You will also need a gently sloping shallow area to help animals to get in and out. Shallow water is really important for wildlife. Birds will come to wash and drink. You might get hedgehogs visiting too.
If a sloping side isn’t possible, you could make a ramp. Imagine you are a hedgehog. How would you get out of the pond if you fell in?
How to Build a Pond in 5 Steps
What You Need:
- Pond liner – rubber liners are more flexible than PVC ones
- Protective matting, or some old carpet
- Pond plants
- Spades – and willing diggers!
- Stanley knife for cutting the liner
- Rainwater from your water butt
- Paving slabs, bricks or pots to hide liner edges
- Dig a hole about 20cm bigger all round than you want the finished pond to be. This will give you enough space to add sand, matting and the pond liner. You don’t need to dig too deep – shallow ponds work well. Don’t forget the shelf area. I suppose it’s a bit like digging a swimming pool, with a shallow end and a deep end!
- Take out any sharp stones that could rip the pond liner. Spread a layer of sand about 5cm thick in the hole. This will help to protect the liner. Then add a layer of protective matting. You can buy this when you get your pond liner. Or to save money you could use an old piece of carpet.
- I found the following helpful for working out the size of the pond liner you need:
Liner length = length of pond + (2 x maximum depth of pond) + 1 metre edging
Liner width = width of pond + (2 x maximum depth of pond) + 1 metre edging
- Once you’ve got your liner cut to the size you want, lay it across the hole. Handle it carefully. Only tread on it in socks or with bare feet, so you don’t rip it. Weigh it down at the edges with a few bricks or rocks.
- Now it’s time to fill up your pond. As the water rises, you will notice that the weight of the water pulls the liner into the hole you’ve dug. Don’t be tempted to cut off the extra liner until the pond is full. You don’t want to find out the liner isn’t big enough after you’ve added the water! Once your pond is full, you can cover the extra liner at the edges with turf, paving slabs or pots. Letting the grass grow up a little around the pond will help wildlife. Longer grass gives creatures places to hide.
What Are the Best UK Pond Plants?
It is best to choose plants that are native to the UK. Some exotic aquatic plants can push out other plants and make the water stagnant. Not good! When you visit the aquatic section of your garden centre, look for ‘British native plants’ and the Union Jack flag on plant pots. British native plants are suited to UK conditions. They are plants that naturally grow in our ponds and rivers in the countryside, so they are perfect for your garden pond.
There are lots of different types of pond plant. Some like to be totally covered by water. Others like to live on the edge.
Take a look at our plant lists below for the best advice on what to buy.
Plants That Like to Be Underwater
Submerged plants are not always that amazing to look at – although it depends on what you like I suppose! – but you need them for a healthy pond. They keep your pond water clear and produce oxygen. Cool eh? This is why they are called ‘oxygenating’ plants. I like hornwort for its dark green branches which grow and spread like an underwater forest. Frogs and newts love to hide in it.
Oxygenating Plants – Which Are Best?
- Water starwort
- Water milfoil
- Curled pondweed
Plants That Like to Float
Some pond plants like to have their roots in deep water but their leaves on the pond surface. You can buy miniature water lilies for small ponds. I have one of these in my tiny pond. It has small but beautiful creamy white flowers in summer.
Floating Plants – Which Are Best?
- Water lily
- Broad-leaved pondweed
- Amphibious bistort
Plants for Shallow Water
A few pond plants like to have their roots wet, with the rest of the plant growing out of the water. These are the ones that will like the 20-30cm deep shelf in your pond. They are also known as marginal plants.
Marginal Plants – Which Are Best?
- Flowering rush
- Greater spearwort
- Lesser spearwort
- Water plantain
- Yellow flag iris
- Water mint
- Water forget-me-not
- Water violet
The last group of pond plants I want to look at is the edge plants. These might not have their roots in the water at all, but they like the damp ground at the edges of ponds.
Edge Plants – Which Are Best?
- Purple loosestrife
- Lady’s smock
- Ragged robin
- Marsh marigold
As I said earlier, be careful about which plants you buy. Choose native plants as much as possible. Exotic plants can be invasive, and some are very difficult to control once you’ve released them.
Which Exotic Pond Plants Should I Avoid?
Please don’t buy these plants for your pond:
- New Zealand pigmyweed (also known as Australian swamp-stonecrop)
- Curly waterweed
- Floating pennywort
- Water fern
- Water primrose
- Canadian pondweed
They will take over and suffocate your pond very quickly. Sadly they also damage our countryside. They escape from gardens into rivers, swamping native plants and upsetting the balance of nature.
Not Enough Space? Make a Mini-Pond!
Did you know you can make a pond by burying an old sink? Or that container you were going to throw out? Your mini-pond will only have two or three plants, but it will still be superb! Making a mini-pond is something everyone can do, and it doesn’t take long at all.
What You Need for a Mini-Pond:
- A container that will hold water without leaking. This could be an old ceramic sink or even a large plastic washing up bowl. Make sure any holes are bunged up. You can glue the plug into an old sink, so there are no leaks.
- Your favourite pond plants. You won’t have room for lots of different ones, but three should be just fine.
- Pick one that is oxygenating and two others. Here are some that are easy to grow and great for small ponds:
- Hornwort (oxygenating)
- Water starwort (oxygenating)
- Lesser spearwort
- Water mint
- Water forget-me-not
- Some clean gravel and sand to line the base of the container.
How to Make Your Mini-Pond
- First, put your empty container where you want it to go before you fill it up. Dig a hole in a place that gets both sun and shade. By ‘planting’ your container so that it’s level with the ground, you will make sure that wildlife can get in and out. If your pond needs a ramp for wildlife, you can make one out of rocks, bricks or logs. Think of it as a staircase – if you were a hedgehog, could you get up and down the steps easily?
- Line your pond with a layer of clean gravel mixed with sand. It doesn’t look like much, but pond plants can grow in this. All sorts of creatures will burrow in it too. Don’t put soil from the garden into your new pond: it will cause slimy green algae to grow and quickly take over.
- Fill your new pond with rainwater. Have you got a water butt? If not, consider buying one to collect rainwater before you start to build your pond. You will save money on your water bill. Rainwater is better than tap water in the garden because tap water has nutrients in it. These nutrients cause plants like algae to grow. That’s not good, because algae will swamp your pond. Wildlife and plants in your garden both prefer rainwater.
- Plant your pond up. Two or three plants are all you need for a tiny pond. Choose from our list above.
If you get loads of slimy green weed growing on your pond in the first few months, don’t worry. Get rid of it by winding it around a garden cane – this is quite good fun! Keep doing this and it should give up as your pond settles down. As your watery world grows the plants and wildlife will help to keep it crystal clear.
Wow, My Pond Looks Great! What Do I Do Now?
This is the best bit. You do absolutely nothing! Really. Your local wildlife will find your pond all on its own. Your plants will grow and flourish. You just need to wait for a while. You won’t believe how quickly frogs find a new pond, trust me.
Don’t Add Frogspawn
There is no need to add frogspawn from other ponds. This can spread diseases. Just wait until the frogs arrive on their own – if you have built a really good pond, they will soon move in.
Why Frogs and Toads are Great
Gardeners like frogs and toads. Some people call them the gardener’s best friend. They eat slugs and snails, which is very welcome if you are growing fruit and vegetables and want to keep these slimy visitors from munching everything in sight. You need water to attract frogs and toads to your garden. This is why putting in a pond is such a top idea.
Creatures need somewhere to hide away, so a log pile next to your pond could be just the job. Think of it as a home for your frogs, toads and maybe even hedgehogs too. Build it somewhere that won’t be disturbed.
Can Fish Live in My Wildlife Pond?
Although fish do live naturally in some ponds in the wild, they don’t mix that easily with wildlife in garden ponds. A garden pond tends to be smaller than those found in the wild. Fish will quickly eat animals such as frog and newt tadpoles. They also pollute the water unless you install a pond filter.
If you have lots of space, maybe you could have a fish pond just for the fish! If you want more wildlife in your garden, it’s best to build a pond and wait to see what animals arrive, rather than adding them – let nature decide.
What Wildlife Will Visit My Pond? A Pond Diary
- January-February: Frogs lay frogspawn in ponds. Look to see if you have any. Newts and toads start to lay eggs in early spring.
- March-May: Look out for water beetles and pond skaters. Hoverflies may be buzzing about. These black and yellow stripy insects are harmless. They lay eggs in ponds. Have you seen any pond snails yet?
- June-August: Damselflies start to come out of the pond. They are often bright blue. Tadpoles turn into frogs and start to make tracks – but they will return to the pond they were born in. Bats fly low over the water of big ponds to catch insects. Spot dragonflies from June.
- September-November: Frog and newt tadpoles get ready to spend the winter in your pond. You may see dragonflies right into October.
- December-January: It’s cold, but there’s still lots of life under the surface: the young of dragonflies and water beetles spend the winter in ponds. You may have hibernating frogs and newts too.
Your Garden Pond Matters
Sadly many ponds across the UK countryside have been filled in, drained, have disappeared as the climate changes, or are polluted and in a bad way. This means there are fewer homes for our frogs, toads and other pond wildlife. On the up side, we now have at least 2 million ponds in our UK gardens – and we need more. When you build a pond, you are making another brand new home for wildlife.