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It may be the gloomy depths of winter, but it’s not too soon to start thinking about the first flowerings of spring. The thought of the garden brightened with vibrant colours, birds and insects can be extremely cheering and motivating. An excellent way to add extra interest and life to your garden is to create a pond.
It’s a great time to start planning and designing a garden pond ready for the early spring planting season, so that it is well established by the time that summer rolls around. Here are some top tips to help you get started.
Decide what type of pond you want
Think about what you want from your pond: a wildlife pond to attract amphibians, insects, and birds; an ornamental pond that will be the centrepiece of your garden; a fish pond, a duck pond, or even a swimming pond? All of these factors will influence the location, size, and type of plants you will need for your pond.
A wildlife pond is purposely designed to attract amphibians and insects such as dragonflies, bees, birds and butterflies to visit, drink, bathe and breed. This brings interest and beauty to your garden, as well as enriching the biodiversity of the local area.
A wildlife pond tends to be less formal in shape and structure than other types of pond, and is ideally suited to a quiet location in your garden that is in sun and partial shade for a portion of the day. They do not require pumps or filters if you have the correct balance of aquatic plants to keep the water healthy.
A wildlife pond is ideal if you have a small garden, because even the smallest pond will make a difference. However, for the optimum size to attract frogs and so on, aim for a surface area of at least four to five square metres, with a deepest point of at least 75 cm. Curved shapes such as a circle or kidney shape are most suited to plants and wildlife.
The pond should have a gently sloping shallow area that allows creatures to enter and exit easily, often referred to as a beach, and also tiered shelves to place marginal pond plants on. Marginal plants help to attract insects and also soften the edges of the pond, adding visual interest.
Choose native species such as Marsh marigold (if you have a larger pond, choose the giant variety, also known as Caltha polypetala) and Creeping Jenny.
The pond will also need fully submerged plants to oxygenate the water and provide a good habitat for wildlife, such as hornwort and Willow moss. Also plant some species with leaves that float on the surface of the water to provide shelter and shade for wildlife, such as Water lilies, water crowfoot or frogbit.
An ornamental pond may require an electricity supply to work water features such as a fountain or waterfall, so factor this into the early stages of the planning and make sure you avoid disrupting underground services such as sewers and existing cables and pipes. Investigate the possibility of using solar power if you can.
Some ornamental ponds have raised sides, which can be an attractive feature to make the pond the focal point of the garden, and are also safer if you have small children or pets. However, they can be more difficult for frogs, toads, and newts to access.
It’s still important to have a good balance of oxygenating plants, marginal and deep-water plants in an ornamental pond. Water lilies with their beautiful flowers in a variety of colours look especially good in ornamental ponds, as do water Irises. ,
Fish ponds are not compatible with wildlife ponds because the fish will tend to eat frogspawn, tadpoles, and insect larvae. They also tend to nibble on algae and other pond plants that wildlife rely on for food sources, so if you want to keep fish as well as enjoy wildlife in your garden, it’s best to plan separate ponds if you can.
Fish ponds will usually require a pump and filtration system to remove the buildup of waste from the water. Add some oxygenating fish-friendly plants such as hornwort and water lettuce.
If you wish to keep wildfowl, the size of your pond very much depends on the type and amount of wildfowl you want to keep. A single pair of non-diving ducks such as mallards can be happy with a pond that is one metre in diameter and about half a metre in depth, whereas several diving ducks will need a much larger and deeper pond.
Duck ponds require a mixture of floating and marginal plants that are robust enough to survive the attention of curious wildfowl who may try to pluck at them. A mixture of short and tall grasses around the margins such as Cyprus sedge and Sweet galingale will provide shelter and encourage nesting.
It’s also important to attract insects that ducks will use as part of their food source. Choose flowering marginal species such as Purple loosestrife, Water mint and Gypsywort.
A swimming pond will naturally need to be large enough to take exercise in; at least 60 to 100 square metres is recommended, because some of the space will be taken up by planting and the natural gravel filtration system that keeps the water clean. This avoids the need to use chemicals that will harm wildlife and upset the natural pond ecosystem.
The same principle of planting a good mixture of submerged, floating, and marginal plants applies to swimming ponds, in order to keep the water clean and add visual interest. For a swimming pond relying solely on planting for its regeneration area this area should take up at least 50% of the total area of the pond.
Opt for mainly native species, and if you do decide to include some non-native species, check carefully that they are not fast-growing and invasive, as they will quickly choke out other species.
The larger size of the swimming pond means that you will have scope for taller growing varieties such as Cyperus longus and Yellow flag iris. Varieties of Sweetflag and rushes will help to provide a good filtration system.