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How to Build a Small Wildlife Pond: Our Real-Life Experience!

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It is no exaggeration to say that building a small wildlife pond is the best thing we’ve done to enhance biodiversity in our garden! We are fascinated every day by the wildlife that appears in and around our pond, from emerging dragonfly nymphs taking to the skies for the first time to the gang of sparrows that visit for a cool splash in the water every evening.

Even the tiniest pond will attract myriad creatures, helping to create a thriving ecosystem with numerous benefits to a sustainable growing system. By building a wildlife pond, you’re establishing a home for nature and minimizing the likelihood of pests and diseases attacking your food crops.

How to Build Your Pond for Wildlife

Here is a sneak peak of our lovely wildlife pond. Building one from scratch is a tad tricky. But – this wildlife pond guide will make the process more manageable.

We’ve got an endless wish list of projects that need tackling around here, but somehow, building our wildlife pond jumped right to the top! I’m not sure how digging a pond became more critical than finishing our house, but we just felt an overwhelming urge to create something lush and beautiful near our outdoor seating area.

Today, we shall talk about the unique features that make a pond an outstanding habitat for wildlife. So, whether you’ve already got a pool that is crying out for a nature-friendly makeover or if you start from scratch, let’s look at how to build a small garden pond that will be teeming with an array of wildlife!

What Is the Best Size for a Wildlife Pond?

Kate's Incredible DIY Wildlife Pond

The joy of this project is that it can be as large or small as you want. Even the tiniest water feature can attract aquatic life and beneficial insects, and a miniature garden pond can nestle into the tiniest backyard space.

Our pond-building journey started at our old house when I noticed the garden birds drinking rainwater from plant saucers. We made a micro container pond for them in an old plant pot, sealing the bottom and filling it with rocks to give birds and insects somewhere to land. They were soon queuing up for a splash about in this mini-pond, arriving throughout the day to quench their thirst and cool off.

So, while it is true that a larger backyard pond will create more biodiversity in your garden, don’t be put off if you’ve only got room for a mini pond. Nature comes in all shapes and sizes, and a small shallow pond will provide a water source and habitat for many different animals, insects, and birds.

Here is a photo from September 2022. The whole pool complex is starting to look more established after significant fiddling around with the margins. There are still a few bare patches to cover, but we’re getting there!

How Deep Should My Small Pond Be?

Luckily, you don’t need to bust your back digging a super deep pond – when it comes to wildlife, shallow water is often better!

A small pond should be no more than 12 inches deep. Otherwise, the water quality may deteriorate due to low oxygen levels. Larger ponds can sustain a deeper zone of around two feet deep, but make sure to have shallower plant shelves around the margins of the entire pond. Keeping your pond edges shallow is the most critical feature of a wildlife pond, so digging to a great depth is not all that important.

Read More – 10+ Raised Garden Pond Ideas for Backyard Relaxation, Ambiance, and Goldfish!

How Do You Landscape a Wildlife Pond?

Logs, rocks, tiles, and plants around the margins provide valuable habitat for wildlife. Everything used to landscape around our ponds comes from building project salvaged waste piles.

Once you’ve decided on the size and depth of your pond, it is time to get creative with the design! Certain features will make the area much more appealing and beneficial to wildlife. Consider the following.

  • A shallow, boggy area with small gravel where marginal plants and aquatic insects can thrive is perfect. This area contains an immense proportion of wildlife, so make it as large as possible!
  • A ramp or series of small steps to allow creatures to enter and exit the pond is a great idea. A ramp will help mammals drink from the pond without risking drowning.
  • Flat, shallow shelves about 15-25cm below the water surface provide a growing area for emergent plants.
  • Perches for birds and insects, such as rocks that protrude above the water’s surface, make your pond more welcoming.
  • Sheltered zones where creatures can hide. A wooden plank or rock slab across one pond corner is perfect.
Check out one of the many resident frogs who keep us entertained daily with their constant chattering.

Read More – Dozens of Thirsty Plants That Absorb Lots of Water | Shrubs, Trees, and Ferns!

What Do I Need to Build a Small Pond?

It might sound obvious. But all you need to build a small pond for wildlife is something that holds water! Various options exist, such as preformed ponds, flexible pond liners, a bird bath, or large planters.

We opted for a flexible liner when we built our pond. The pond liner gave us more freedom with the design. We created two larger ponds linked by a shallow channel of smaller pools. One pond is higher than the other, and water gently circulates between them by a pond pump to keep it aerated. Nothing is more relaxing than the beautiful sound of water trickling over stones!

While a flexible liner is excellent for creating a unique design, getting it to look tidy is tricky. Neaten the folds as you fill the pool with water. The idea is to trim away excess liner and try to get it to lie flat. Even now, I still find myself tweaking bits of liner that I’m not happy with, so it pays to take your time over this step.

Here is the beginning of the slow and painstaking process of installing the liner. Before we’d even half-filled it with water, dragonflies surrounded us! They are looking for somewhere to lay their eggs.

How Can I Make a Cheap Pond?

If you’re on a tight budget, there are some easy ways to keep costs down when making a natural pond. Firstly, have a scout around (Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, et cetera) to see if you can get hold of a secondhand preformed pond – you can find one cheap – or free, potentially!

Alternatively, you can repurpose a watertight container to create a pond, such as a half barrel, plastic storage box, or even an old bathtub from the salvage yard.

When creating a pond using a rigid preformed liner or an upcycled container, you can still incorporate all the landscaping features listed above while strategically placing rocks and gravel in the pond.

The other noteworthy financial outlay when setting up a pond is plants – these don’t come cheap! But you may be lucky enough to find someone giving away excess pond plants in your area, so it is always worth asking your gardening friends. We were gifted some lovely native plants after we put out a shout on social media, and by next year, we’ll offer our surplus plants to our friends and neighbors.

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04/05/2024 06:14 am GMT

Does a Pond Need a Pump?

A pump is not essential for a wildlife pond, as over time, a balanced ecosystem will develop that keeps the water clean and crystal clear. The design of our ponds meant a small pump was necessary to circulate the water through the connecting channel, but if we’d opted for a single pond, we wouldn’t need a pump.

What are the Best Rocks for a Wildlife Pond?

Be creative when decorating your wildlife pond. Check out some of our upcycling here. The edges have been landscaped with reclaimed materials and variously shaped rocks to provide cover and habitat for wildlife.

Once you install your liner and pump, it is time to get creative with natural features in and around the pond. I’m happy to say that this is an area that we didn’t spend anything on, as we were able to repurpose a lot of ‘junk’ left over from other projects. Rocks are a great place to start, providing hiding places for aquatic creatures and perching spots for birds, frogs, turtles, and insects.

We placed various rocks in and around the pond, using flat stones around the edges to hide the liner. We also added smooth, round rocks in the water to anchor down the roots of aquatic plants. We also utilized rotten wood from our house renovation project to create sheltered areas for wildlife to hide. Be creative! Old roof tiles are ideal for covering the edges. Broken plant pots can transform into decorative features.

Read More – 21 Innovative Duck Pond Ideas to Suit Every Budget, Yard, and Style

What are the Best Plants for a Wildlife Pond?

Always try to use native plants – even for your wildlife pond! Believe it or not, there are 20 different native pond plants within, but they take a very long time to establish.

When choosing plants for your wildlife pond, it is essential to stick to native species suitable for the size of the pool. A reputable aquatic plant store can advise you on this, as they have a wealth of experience in the correct local plants for all situations. The last thing you want to do is dig a wonderful pond and then fill it with invasive species that bring no benefits to your local wildlife.

In any pond, you will need four groups of plants:

  • Oxygenating plants that completely submerge in deeper water
  • Floating oxygenating plants
  • Emergent plants that grow in shallow water
  • Marginal plants growing on the edges

For me, pond plant shopping was the most fun part of the project! I spent hours researching the best native plants for small wildlife ponds and soon came up with an aquatic plant wishlist for my supplier. Bringing them home and planting them in their assigned positions was a tremendously happy day. Indeed!

Initially, I found the time it took for the plants to become established frustratingly slow – it was around a year before we saw any significant growth. This slow growth rate is pretty usual for pond plants, and in the meantime, you’ll probably find yourself scooping out algae regularly to keep the pond clean. Unfortunately, this is a process that all new ponds have to go through, as it takes time for a balanced ecosystem to develop.

Think about what to plant around the pond. The pond’s surrounding area is something we sadly neglected at first. Plants and shrubs provide essential hiding places and food sources for wildlife and also help to blend in any unsightly pond margins. This year, we’ve made a gallant effort to fill the zone around the pond and help the whole area appear more natural.

How to build a small wildlife pond.

Summary

I hope you’ve enjoyed our first-hand experience of creating a wildlife pond – to date, this is our favorite garden project, paying back the time and effort put into it tenfold! If you’ve got any questions or comments about building a small pond for wildlife, I’d love to hear them!

PS: Here are more photos of our wildlife pond. We hope they inspire you to build one for yourself!

Our ponds look their very best in spring when the flowers bloom and buzz with wildlife.
It’s been just over a year since we planted the native pond plants, and they are finally starting to put on some vigorous growth and fill the space.
Thank again for reading. Time to enjoy our favorite place to relax after a long, hot day on the farm!

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3 Comments

  1. @ John: mosquito dunks are a safe bet for ponds, especially smaller ones. If you have fish or other water life, you need to have rocks (large round ones to hold up the slate or flat rocks) and overhangs for the fish and frogs to hide in/under to avoid birds who will prey on them.

    Water grasses will also help make hiding places.
    Netting over the top (higher up) will help keep birds out as well…

    If you want to get really ‘natural’ about a nature habitat, build or buy a bat house and put it nearby…..

    Just a couple of suggestions…

  2. Thank you for a very interesting and informative article. With all the diseases going around, after reading this my first thought was to mosquito-born diseases. We are constantly warned not to have standing water around our properties for mosquitoes to lay their eggs. Even an upside-down garbage can lid or an old tire can hold enough water for mosquitoes to breed. This article does not address mosquitoes. Adding fish to a pond can help control this problem, but some small ponds aren’t big enough or deep enough to support fish, who also need to be protected from herons and other birds and from raccoons and other small predators. Shouldn’t this subject also be addressed?

    1. Hi there John,
      Thanks for stopping by!
      This is a valid point; mosquitoes can be a problem.
      The main thing you want to avoid is standing water. Kate’s wildlife pond is in constant motion, so there’s a gentle current flowing at all times. A small recirculating pump can make all the difference.
      A great way to control mosquitoes is natural predators. Kate spoke about dragonflies – they are fantastic at reducing risk.
      Here is some great information:

      In natural environments, bacteria, nematodes, other insects, crustaceans, and fish often keep numbers of mosquito larvae low. Conserve predators such as dragonflies and backswimmers, which may have colonized ponds, by avoiding broad-spectrum insecticides and consider introducing fish. County vector control services may provide free mosquito fish, voracious consumers of mosquito larvae and pupae.

      You can read the full article here: UC ANR

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