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Building a wildlife pond to manage garden pests

 
gardener
Posts: 2167
Location: Olympia, WA - Zone 8a/b
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Hey all,

I wanted to share a new wildlife pond that I built in October/November 2020. This new pond was created to help attract beneficial critters--specifically garter snakes and frogs. Though it should attract a lot more wildlife than just those. While it's still winter I've already found a frog around the pond and some water beetles have moved in. Once the plants grow it should really start to attract a lot more wildlife.

The pond is fairly shallow and while roughly rectangular it's designed to have lots of edges in regards to habitat types. By the waterfall at one end there is a rocky pool with lots of little areas for critters to hide. This also helps to oxygenate the water. The middle is fairly shallow but that is due to all the soil I added to this area. I've planted a bunch of wapato tubers in this area and it should provide a great staple crop come fall. The black metal fence and long logs are setup to make harvest easy. That fence is easy to take down and the logs make a nice place to sit and harvest the wapato.

Along the other long side (northside) of the pond there is another soil filled shallow area where I've planted some other native aquatic plants to create a dense plant filled habitat. These also get a bit tall and should be a nice backdrop that will hide some of the rocks.

At the far end away from the waterfall there is an area planted with smaller sedges and a couple other plants. There is also a spillway for the pond to overflow during rain events.

Outside of the pond I've installed a couple snags, added a log pile, a bunch of rocks, and I've planted (from seed) a native meadow that is just starting to come up. I'm going to be adding some other plants too but they haven't arrived yet.

All of this should create a very diverse mix of habitat for all sorts of wildlife. And since this wildlife pond is located just a couple feet north of my kitchen garden it should help ensure garter snakes, frogs and other beneficial critters end up hanging out near my garden. Hopefully this will help keep pests--especially slugs--under control.

Here is some more info about the pond.



The first step to build the pond was to dig it out. The area was just part of an old lawn that I've slowly been eliminating. I just did it with a shovel and over a few days (with a little help from my 2 young kids--the oldest will be 4 in February) we made a lot of good progress and got it all dug out.



Once the pond was dug out the next step was to install the liner. I didn't want to spend a lot of money for this pond and I also didn't want to use new material where I could avoid it. So I ended up getting 2 old billboards (I put them on top of each other to help ensure the pond would last) that were completely waterproof to use instead of buying new liners. This was much cheaper and the billboards are actually a lot tougher than regular pond liner so it should last a good while. The billboards weren't that hard to install and the back of the billboards is just black so it works out great.

In later steps I completely covered the billboards so they won't have any sun exposure. Though they're supposed to be fairly resistant to UV damage.

I went with a lined pond so I could easily guarantee that it would hold water year round. And since it's fairly small it wasn't very expensive to buy the liners. Plus I was able to find the old billboards which basically kept them out of the landfill. This pond isn't meant to be a water capture feature or to rehydrate the land. It was designed to attract wildlife and help me manage slugs around my garden. I've got some large unlined ponds in other areas of my property but I decided that using a liner was best for this small wildlife pond.



After putting in some more rocks and logs into the pond I decided to get the waterfall built and tested. This was all done without any mortar and so far it's holding up great. The waterfall has been running all winter without any issues--we don't get cold enough here for me to worry about it freezing.

Just a small simple waterfall but it makes a really nice sound that we can hear from the house when our backdoor is open.



To help make this pond as good for wildlife as possible and to get the biggest wapato harvests possible I decided to add soil to the pond. This reduced the open water depth a fair bit but should work well for my purposes. I used logs to outline the different sections and then rocks to hold it all in place and to create more habitat.

Bit of an issue with the logs floating at first but once I got everything in place the logs all locked in fine and I haven't had any issues since.

There are tons of places for critters to hide in this pond and once the plants all grow up it will be fantastic for wildlife. Though the birds already love it and we get tons of them using it already. There are several shallow rocky areas that I made specifically for birds to use as bird baths. And already I've watched them using those areas for that purpose.



Once the soil was in it was time to fill up the pond and start working on the outside areas while the soil all settled out. The pump for the waterfall is on the side towards the far end of the pond in a little nook that keeps it safe from the soil but still fully submerged. Easy to access and clean as needed. I will turn it off though when I harvest wapato and wait till the water settles before turning it back on.

Just to the north of the pond you can see that dark area of soil--I've broadcast seeded a bunch of native meadow plants and they're starting to come up now. It should be a very beautiful area that will really attract a ton of beneficial insects once the plants are all grown up.

And of course there are all the logs, snags and rocks around the edges of the pond to help attract and support more wildlife.



I decided to put a fence around the whole pond so it would be safe for my kids to play around it. They're still too little to be around an open pond by themselves. But the fence will eventually come down and the black metal fence is easy to take down when it's time to harvest wapato or clean the pump or do other pond maintenance.

I got a few more plants to add around the pond and I really can't wait to see it all come to life this spring. But already birds, frogs and water beetles are using it and I know many more will use it come spring.

It will change a lot in the spring--the plants will fill in and much of the open water will be covered up. But that should make it a nice wetland area for wildlife. The cover will also reduce how much water we lose to evaporation which will help in the summer months. And it should help keep the water from getting too hot.



One final shot of the pond. I really love this pond and all ready it's adding a lot of value to our backyard. I bought the pump new and the billboards used but all the rocks and logs were gotten for free from people in my area. It was a fun project to build and I'm excited to see what wildlife come and use it come spring and summer.

I will make sure to get some updated pictures once all the plants have grown.

My family and I often stop to just enjoy this pond. I built it with large logs and rocks around it so we can easily sit down right next to the pond and just enjoy the sound of the running water.
 
gardener
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Location: Middle Georgia, Zone 8B
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This is absolutely beautiful! I love how you did it "on the cheap" with a billboard liner and good ol' sweat equity. And it looks so natural and inviting too. I like how you planned ahead with the fencing.

Please post back later in the summer after it has a chance to really mesh with the surroundings. I'd like to see how it develops and changes with the seasons.
 
Daron Williams
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Thank you Stacie! I will make sure to post some pictures in the spring and summer. I'm excited to see how it all comes together. And I really hope it helps to bring garter snakes to my gardens. Hopefully I can get some pictures of garter snakes and frogs using it too. Thanks again!
 
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My pond liner is arriving today. I'm about to go grab some masonry sand for layering it underneath, and some larger pebbles to hold the liner.

10/10 people will say that you need a pump, but is it possible to manage a very tiny backyard pond without a pump?

So far I think I need to put gravel at the bottom, plenty of soil-free plants to eat the excess nutrients, and just a few fish inside (this will be down the road because I don't feel like killing fish willy-nilly). Is there anything else that would help?

I'm considering a solar agitator at most. I'd rather not have an extension cord running out to it because it's not near the house, I'm a stickler for aesthetics.
 
pollinator
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Hey daron. Was wondering how the pond was doing. Any updated pics?
 
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Looks amazing.

I'm half considering putting in a pond for similar reasons.

Does anybody know if a second area with a drainage pit is necessary? For excess water in the pond to run into, drainage pit of stones?

They are so good for biodiversity.
 
pollinator
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Jeff Steez wrote:10/10 people will say that you need a pump, but is it possible to manage a very tiny backyard pond without a pump?


Absolutely you can.

In my case, the main eavestrough from my roof empties a few feet away, so I can add fresh water easily. My tomatoes are in a sunny microclimate 10' away, so I water them from the pond and let the rain refill it. I have a few goldfish in there to work on mosquito eggs and algae, so there's a bit of natural fertilizer too.

If the water looks like it's getting stagnant, I will just pull a bucket of water, empty it at chest height, and do this several times to aerate it. Works fine.
 
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Hi, Daron! It's been a while - I'd really love to see how your beautiful little pond has come along, since you put it in, if you have time.  
 
Jeff Steez
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Douglas Alpenstock wrote:

Jeff Steez wrote:10/10 people will say that you need a pump, but is it possible to manage a very tiny backyard pond without a pump?


Absolutely you can.

In my case, the main eavestrough from my roof empties a few feet away, so I can add fresh water easily. My tomatoes are in a sunny microclimate 10' away, so I water them from the pond and let the rain refill it. I have a few goldfish in there to work on mosquito eggs and algae, so there's a bit of natural fertilizer too.

If the water looks like it's getting stagnant, I will just pull a bucket of water, empty it at chest height, and do this several times to aerate it. Works fine.



Hello,

I just added two goldfish to my tiny ~90 gallon pond with no pump and no aeration. I have lotus pads in there, plus I added a small bit of natural pond water from a local reserve. I aerated it heavily before adding them with a stick and dropped many bucket loads of 5 gallons water back into the pond.

I have since backed off to let them settle but they seem to be opening their mouths repeatedly and quite quickly, as opposed to the slow nature of a content goldfish, this seems somewhat hurried.

Is the oxygen still too low? Or are they just a bit stressed from leaving a cramped store and going into a natural pond?

They don't seem to be coming to the surface for breath... so maybe they're just stressed still.

Edit: I should've checked your zone, Douglas... The hotter the water the less oxygen it holds, I am sure that's why your goldfish can thrive. Mine are having trouble and I don't know what to do.
 
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Jeff Steez wrote:Is the oxygen still too low? Or are they just a bit stressed from leaving a cramped store and going into a natural pond?
They don't seem to be coming to the surface for breath... so maybe they're just stressed still.

Edit: I should've checked your zone, Douglas... The hotter the water the less oxygen it holds, I am sure that's why your goldfish can thrive. Mine are having trouble and I don't know what to do.

I think step one is to do things that will increase the oxygen level and see if it makes a difference?  Removing water from the tank and pouring it back and forth between two buckets to at least temporarily increase the oxygen might work, but if you think the issue is that the water is too warm to absorb enough oxygen, I'd do some research about water temps vs natural oxygen levels and maybe see what a local fish group says about how do deal with the problem.

Goldfish are supposed to be one of the tougher fish to manage, but is there a fish breed that copes with that combo of high heat and limited oxygen better than goldfish? I remember reading about something called a "mosquito fish" which someone in Hawaii was adding to rainwater tanks to control mosquitos during an outbreak of a mosquito born disease. Clearly, that would have been warm, limited oxygen environment. However, I read that some time ago, so you'll have to try researching it.
 
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