Water is essential in the garden, being something in which wildlife can drink, bathe and breed. A dish of water or a birdbath can make a world of difference, or why not go the whole hog and dig a pond?
Ponds provide a habitat for amphibians and insects such as dragonflies and damselflies to breed in, but they are also a source of water for other species like birds and hedgehogs who will drink and bathe.
They’re great fun, too. Look in the water in summer and you’ll see anything from tadpoles and mating dragonflies to diving beetles, water hoglice and caddisfly larvae. A typical pond is round or kidney shaped with a deep area of 60-90cm and graduating sides to create shallows. You’ll find the most wildlife in the shallows, including tadpoles and other aquatic larvae, so if you only have room for a small pond (up to 3m across), make it shallow, with a maximum depth of 30cm, graduating to just 1cm. Hedgehogs and birds also use pond shallows (deep ponds without sloping sides can be death-traps for hedgehogs, which can’t climb out).
For the best results, site your pond in a sunny spot as this will attract more insects, while frogs prefer spawning in warmer water. Avoid adding fish to the pond, as they eat tadpoles, nymphs and larvae.
Edging the pond
If you want to emulate natural conditions then you can’t beat a grassy edge. This will grow and provide a refuge for amphibians as they leave the water. More formal edging includes decking or stone slabs. A pile of rocks provides cool, dark shelter for amphibians, and looks good too.
If you have a really small garden, you don’t need to dig a pond at all – simply make one in a container, like an old tin bath or Belfast sink. You can put this on your patio, ornamental border or veg patch, where frogs will be on hand to eat slugs and snails. Add a few stones and a plant or two for shelter, and don’t forget to make a frog ladder on the outside, for easy access.
Tap water or rainwater?
It’s best to use rainwater (collected in a water butt) to fill a pond, as tap water may contain chlorine and chloramines, which are harmful to aquatic life.
Plants provide shelter for tadpoles and other aquatic larvae, as well as a habitat for toads, newts, dragonflies and pond snails to lay eggs. Aim for a good mix of submerged, floating and marginal plants, which provide a variety of habitats for a variety of pond life.
Top five plants for a small pond
- Brooklime (Veronica beccabunga) – marginal plant. Newts lay eggs in the leaves
- Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) – floating plant. Provides shelter for tadpoles and is a good alternative to water lilies for small ponds.
- Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum) – submerged plant. Provides underwater cover for newts, frogs and toads and absorbs excess nitrates in the water, preventing the spread of algae and duckweed.
- Water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides) – marginal plant. Newts lay eggs in the leaves.
- Water lily (Nymphaea alba) – floating plant. Newts shelter under them and honeybees use them as landing pads through which to drink water.