Garden ponds for attracting beneficial wildlife
Tips on how to build a small pond to attract frogs and other wildlife into the garden. Includes information on placement, size, materials, and maintenance DIY video at the end
Organic gardening can be difficult, especially when it comes to slugs. You can pick them off individually, set out beer traps and pelleted wool, but most people resort to slug pellets. They’re just so much easier and successful to use. Unfortunately, they can be fatal to pets and to wildlife like hedgehogs and birds. If a slug comes into contact with a slug pellet and is then eaten by another animal then that animal is doomed too.
Building a wildlife pond can be the solution. Not only will it entice those very slug-eating animals into your garden but it will attract another one too — frogs. Voracious hunters of insects, including weevils, frogs and toads will devour the slugs in your garden too. It’s also a lot of fun to watch them swimming around and filling the garden with life. They don’t eat any of your veggies either.
A haven for wildlife
The idea for a wildlife pond came to me as I was tidying up a flower border. I accidentally disturbed a large frog and then helped herd him into the hedge. I don’t know why I was surprised to see him there as there was a basin of water nearby that had been there all summer. That eureka moment helped spur the ideas to build a purpose-built frog pond in the vegetable garden.
I’ll be sharing how I built mine a bit further on but want to share the most exciting bit of news. There were frogs in my pond just a few months after building it. They find it on their own in most cases and all you have to do is build one and wait.
The pond is now three years old
I’m sharing this project several years on from when I built the pond. That first year I used an old piece of plastic sheeting for the lining and you’ll see that in the video further below. Unfortunately, it sprung a puncture that first summer and I replaced it a year after the initial build. I attribute it to the stones I filled the bottom with so keep that in mind when you’re building your own.
Since then the pond has been a stunning little jewel in my allotment vegetable garden. I have tadpoles and frogs in it every year, birds come to drink from it, and my honeybees come down for a sip too. I honestly couldn’t recommend any other feature to put in a veggie patch than a small wildlife pond.
Where to build a small pond
You can create one at any time of the year but I think it’s a great project for early spring. First of all you’ll need to choose the location of where to situate your pond. It should have a good amount of sunlight (4-6 hours a day), and preferably in a flat area in the garden. Keep it away from trees since their leaves will become a nuisance in the water. Not to mention their roots when you’re trying to dig the pond out.
You should also take precautions if you have small children or a social area nearby. If you have little ones, they’ll naturally be curious about the pond. Any kind of water can be dangerous though so make sure it’s fenced off.
Depending on your area, ponds could be a place where mosquitoes can breed. If you’re worried about this, keep the pond away from your seating area and deck and consider investing in a pond pump and fish.
Wildlife pond sizes and depths
Size does matter when it comes to ponds. They should be deep enough for fish and frogs to hide from predators and shallow enough for aquatic plants. If you live in a cold area, you may need a deeper pond to stop it from freezing solid. Something to really take into consideration for frogs and fish.
Small garden ponds tend to have two to three depths — shallower areas to put plants, and a deeper area for animals to hide in. The shallow area for plants is generally a foot deep and the rest of the pond is 2-3 feet deep depending on your area.
Because you need to accommodate these two depths, the width of a pond should be at least three feet. More is better though and my own is four feet in diameter.
Planning the pond site
It’s pretty easy to build your own wildlife pond. First, make an outline on the ground where you’re planning on building it. Use flour or cornmeal for an eco-friendly solution. Imagine where the shallow areas and deeper areas will be. Most people choose to have the deeper area in the middle of the pond. That makes it safer for children who might visit and also creates a safe little nook for wildlife to hide from birds and other predators.
Now it’s time to start digging and constructing the pond. You’ll need these materials and tools:
Building your own small pond
Dig your pond so the the edges gradually taper down, if possible. Your pond will need an access area for frogs and other creatures to get in and out. A natural slope from the water’s edge is the best solution.
When the hole is dug, make sure there aren’t any stones or sharp objects that could puncture the lining. Next stamp the ground down to create a firm surface. Spread the underlayment layer over the hole. This soft material gives extra support to the pond liner and reduces the chances of punctures. Unfold the pond liner and lay it over top so that it’s edges overlap by a good foot or two. Don’t trim the edges until the very end of this project. Also, the plastic will be wrinkly and look a mess but will sort itself out in the next step.
Fill the pond with water, and you’ll be amazed to see how the liner forms to the hole you’ve made. The next step is waiting 48 hours for the pond to settle and for the chlorine in the water to evaporate out. After this time you can trim the edges of the plastic liner and outline the pond with stones and/or pebbles. Aquatic plants can go in next and the ones I have in my pond are flag irises, a papyrus, and a marsh marigold. There’s lots of choice though.
Creating a wildlife pond on a slope
I’m 100% about making garden projects on the cheap so I used what I already had to create my pond. The challenge for me was that I was building on a slope. I didn’t want to terrace the area and also didn’t want to buy a pre-formed liner. Getting one would be a good investment though.
What I did was dig my pond’s hole out to the shape of an old wooden garden bed frame. This frame sits embedded into the hill on the upward side of the slope and creates a lifted pond edge on the lower side. Rather like embedding a bowl in the hill. Then I lined the frame with the pond liner and I highly recommend getting a purpose-made liner. I didn’t the first time around and you know the saying — buy cheap, buy (and spend double the amount of time working) twice.
Although you see a lot of rocks in my pond in the video below, I used a lot less after putting in the new liner. Just a few large rocks for wildlife shelter and a large one to create a place for frogs to crawl out of the pond.
Even if you have a water pump installed, your pond will need maintenance. Birds that visit will bring in pond weed on their feet and it will colonize your pond too. Leaves and other material will fall in the water too, rotting and depriving the water of oxygen.
With my small pond I tend to clean it a little throughout the year. I’ll reach in to pull out blanket weed or skim the surface to remove a lot of the duck weed. I set it at the pond’s edge for a few days before putting it in the compost pile. This gives time for aquatic animals to find their way back in the pond.
The best time to do a full pond clean is in autumn. It’s after a lot of the leaves on nearby trees have fallen but before animals have gone dormant in the lower levels of the pond. Pull excess leaves and muck from the bottom and bail some of the water out with other pond scum.
When you’re refilling the pond, do it gradually and with safe water. It could be from rain barrels or from containers filled and left out for at least a couple days. Remember that chlorine can kill frogs and other pond creatures.