Wildlife Ponds and Pond Care

Jim Gallion
Frederick County Master Gardener Program

These easy to create water features can add wonderful diversity to your yard while providing endless hours of entertainment and educational opportunities for you and your family. I have obtained some information from the National Wildlife Federation (NWF) that I would like to share with you.

Often a "sight for sore eyes" to salamanders and frogs that may have lost their natural vernal pools to development, backyard ponds can be teeming with life soon after they are created. Spring will greet you with salamanders, singing frogs and toads, and egg masses appearing overnight. Reptiles, such as turtles may also take advantage of this new addition to your backyard. If you provide a shallow area, birds and butterflies will delight in daily bathing and mud puddling routines.

Voracious "mosquito-eaters," dragonflies and damselflies, will also set up home in your pond and work to keep nature in balance. Balanced backyard ponds rarely attract unusual numbers of mosquitoes as often believed. A variety of flora and fauna will work together to maintain your pond as a healthy ecosystem.

Beachfront property is where it's at! If possible, use a flexible liner and design a beach into your pond edge. This shallow graduation allows easy access for critters to get in, and out, and gives birds and butterflies a place to dip into shallow water. Many wildlife drownings occur in backyard ponds because they inadvertently fall in and cannot escape. Chipmunks, shrews, and box turtles are common victims. Some animals such as frogs, toads and salamanders visit the ponds in spring to breed and lay eggs, but need to have a way of getting out of the ponds to return to their terrestrial habitats for the remainder of the year.

Full sun or part shade? You will find that different critters will inhabit your pond depending on the amount of sunlight it receives. It is most desirable to locate it where it will receive some direct sun, but not full sun.

The depth of your pond and the area you live in will determine the degree to which it freezes. If your pond freezes entirely to the bottom, plants and wildlife may not survive. If your pond is shallow you may need additional heating in the winter. If small children play near your pond, you may want to add a fence for safety purposes. Check your local laws to see if a fence is required and what maximum depth is allowed.

The healthiest pond will most closely resemble a natural pond, with plenty of native plants, some debris settling on the bottom, and perhaps a log or branch floating on the surface. A pond with these ingredients should soon balance itself, and algal growth will be seasonal and minimal.

For a wildlife pond, fish and snails are not necessary, and in fact can be disruptive to the natural balance of your pond. Most fish are very predacious, and can quickly multiply and dominate in the pond environment without the check of natural predators. Snails will generally eat your plants and algae. Essentially, fish and snails may turn your wildlife pond into a large outdoor fish tank that could require additional maintenance to keep clean.

Pumps, waterfalls, and fountains can add the wonderful elements of sound and flowing water. Birds are actually attracted to moving water, and provided they have a place to land, they will be frequent visitors. Moving water is not essential to the health of the pond, but will add additional oxygen.

If you fill your pond with water that is being treated with chlorine, you should consider using a product to remove the chlorine. You can jump-start your pond life by adding a bucket of water from a nearby natural pond. One bucket is all it takes to introduce the millions of microbes that help keep the systems in check!

There is a vast assortment of additional information available on ponds of all kinds on the web, through your local water gardening stores and the public library.

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