Wildlife Gardening: March Focus = Garden Ponds

garden pond
Copyright: Ron Zmiri

Up to 70 percent of our ponds have disappeared from the British countryside in the last 100 years, so garden ponds are increasingly important for wildlife.

Of all the habitats you can create in your garden to help wildlife and promote biodiversity, a garden pond is one of the most effective.

The larger the pond the more wildlife you can expect to attract, but don’t despair. Even if you only have a small space a small container pond, in a barrel or old sink, will provide essential drinking and bathing water for birds and a habitat for insects.

If you have room for a slightly bigger pond, ensuring you have a range of marginal plant species around the pond edge will encourage a rich diversity of insects and other invertebrates. Beautiful in their own right, they also provide an important food source for birds and other animals.

garden pond
Image by S. Hermann & F. Richter from Pixabay

Attracting Amphibians to Garden Ponds

Garden ponds are extremely important for amphibians such as frogs, toads and newts, particularly in urban areas.

March is a key month for them. This is the month when they are all officially on the move; heading back to ponds to breed. Your garden pond will provide the perfect location.

Frogs are the first to start breeding in mid to late March.

Females lay their spawn at the edge of  the pond. They prefer ponds which are shaded and relatively shallow with plenty of vegetation around the margins. You will see the eggs as they start to mature. This is when the clusters of spawn swell and float to the water’s surface. 

There’s no such thing as too much frogspawn, so don’t worry if your pond seems to be full of it! Only one in 50 of the eggs laid will survive to adulthood, so the more the better. Don’t be tempted to transfer frog spawn to different sites; this can spread disease and will reduce the survival rate of the eggs.

Toads start to mate a couple of weeks after frogs.

Towards the end of March, they start to migrate back to their ‘ancestral’ pond site (the pond where they were spawned). They are heading ‘home’ to find a mate and reproduce. 

It is the male toads who arrive first and wait for females.  Toad spawn is easy to distinguish from frog spawn. It will appear as ‘ribbons’ of spawn around the stems of water weeds such as marsh marigold and water violet, rather than ‘mats’ of spawn floating at the pond edge.

Newts are the last to head to ponds to breed. They feed on frogspawn and tadpoles, so they time their return for when there is plenty of food around.

The best way to look for newts is to shine a torch in your pond in the evening. You may be lucky and catch the male newts performing their courtship dance. 

Newt eggs are laid individually. The female carefully wraps each one in the leaves of pond plants such as water forget-me-not to protect them.

There are a few key plants to introduce into your pond in March which will help attract breeding amphibians. Brooklime and water forget-me-not will attract newts, and submerged plants such as hornwort and curled pondweed, will shelter frog, toad and newt tadpoles from predators and oxygenate the water.

Remember, amphibians are gardeners’ friends – as adults they love to eat slugs, so will keep the populations down naturally and protect your plants.

garden ponds
Image by Peter H from Pixabay

Building a Garden Pond for Wildlife

Location: Putting your wildlife pond at the lowest point of the garden will make it look more natural.

A warm, sunny area will be best for attracting wildlife. This will ensure the water warms quickly in spring, making it more attractive to spawning frogs and toads. A little shade over part of the pond to help reduce problems with algal blooms (particularly common in spring), is also important as these quickly deplete oxygen levels in the water. 

It is a good idea to avoid large mature trees; they can fill your pond with autumn leaves and the roots of young trees may puncture your pond’s lining.

Size and Depth: In general, the larger your pond the more wildlife you can expect to attract. A depth of 20-60cm varied across the pond is ideal. Introducing shelves at different levels gives different depths for the different species which will use the pond. If possible have some water of more than 60cm deep, so it doesn’t freeze over completely in the winter. 

Access: One side of the pond must have a long, shallow slope. This will ensure that birds have an area to safely bathe and drink and amphibians will lay their eggs in this area. Also, small mammals such as hedgehogs will be able to use it to escape if they should accidently fall in! Ideally provide a variety of slopes and a long shoreline.

 If you are making a container pond which isn’t sunk into the ground, you will need to fix a ramp of some sort both inside and outside the container to protect small mammals.

Liners: Flexible butyl liners are the easiest way to create a natural-shaped pond and last about 25 years. Pre-formed plastic or fibreglass pond liners are hard to install and only last 10-15 years. 

Planting: Foliage and low bushes around a pond will be a great habitat for wildlife, and especially good cover for birds and amphibians. 

Within the pond, aim to have about 1/3 of the pond surface covered with a variety of plants. Try to include some deep water plants, oxygenators and marginal plants. 

Water lilies (Nymphaea alba, Nymphaea lutea) are excellent deep water plants. They need calm, still water away from disturbance. They are best grown in aquatic baskets in aquatic plant compost.

Marginal plants grow in the shallows at the pool edge and are particularly important for attracting amphibians. Some (not listed) can become very invasive, so choose with care. Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris), yellow iris (Iris pseudocorus) and water mint (Mentha spicata) are all good choices.

Oxygenators such as Water buttercup (Ranunculus aquatilis) and Hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)are submerged plants. They add oxygen to the water and provide food and shelter for pond life. 

If you are interested in promoting biodiversity in your garden, get building! You will find simple instructions here

You will find a range of good quality materials for building your wildlife pond in our shop. Take a look!

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