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The Living Pond
THE LIVING POND
A living pond adds a completely new and fascinating dimension to the garden. It’s a mini backyard ecosystem; home to fish, frogs, insects and water snails, and an oasis for visiting wildlife including birds, lizards and possibly even the odd passing tortoise.
A living pond is not just an interesting garden feature, it’s also an opportunity for us to give something back to the environment. It’s difficult to do much about the larger native animals that we’ve forced out from the towns and suburbs, but a backyard pond provides a much-needed habitat for many smaller animals.
Kids, too, will love the pond. It gives them a chance to study wildlife and poke around with nets and jam jars in a much safer environment than the local bushland creek. And just think, the sound of frogs croaking in the backyard at night is considerably nicer than listening to traffic or your neighbour’s TV!
A healthy pond is a balanced ecosystem, which supports the plants and animals living in it. The temperature, light, oxygen and nutrient levels are critical – if any one is out of balance, the pond life will soon die.
Water plants are essential – they provide oxygen and food for the animals living in the water. A diverse range is important, including marginal plants (ie. plants that grow around the edge, both in the water and in the moist ground) and aquatic plants (both rooted and floating species).
Take care that plants don’t clog up the surface of the pond – they should never cover more than 1/3 of the water surface. This allows sufficient light to penetrate and permits you to have a clear vision of the water and its inhabitants.
Rotting vegetation and algae use up oxygen so you may need to remove excess growth occasionally.
Adding movement to the water (e.g. a small fountain, or small waterfalls, or trickling water runs entering the pond) will help keep oxygen levels high in the water. This can be achieved by using a small pump in the pond and recirculating water from the pond to the fountain, water fall, etc. where it then runs or falls back into the pond. Moving water will also minimise the likelihood of mosquitoes breeding in the water (they like it still).
Other things to look out for include:
· Fertilisers – water runoff from your garden containing fertilisers can cause algal blooms which deplete oxygen levels in the water, and algae can completely cover the surface of the pond restricting light penetration. Flush the pond out with a running hose (being careful to minimise impacts on animals in the pond), and remove excess plant growth (which can be placed in a compost heap).
· Pesticide and other chemical contaminants – don’t wash out pesticide sprayers in the backyard, and be careful when spraying in your garden to avoid the likelihood of any spray drift reaching the pond. Also be careful with the use of other chemicals, such as cleaning products or degreasers (e.g. when washing your car, or washing down hard surfaced areas) to make sure they don’t get washed into the pond.
· Acidity levels – ideally the water should be around neutral (pH 7). Excess fish food, rotting vegetation and fertilisers can increase acidity. If the pH of your water varies greatly from neutral then you might need to buy additives from a water garden specialist to adjust the pH, or flush out the pond with clean water until the pH reaches 7.
· Sediment – make sure that any debris in run off water is trapped in some manner before the water reaches the pond, or that run off is diverted elsewhere so that it doesn’t reach the pond at all.
Attracting animals to the pond
Animals need to feel safe from predators when they visit or live in the pond. This can be done by:
· Placing rocks and plants for animals to shelter in around the edge of the pond.
· Creating wildlife habitats in other parts of the garden (eg. trees, shrubs and rocks) so that the animals don’t have to cross a large expanse of bare lawn to reach the pond
· Creating an miniature island (preferably with plants) in the centre of the pond, or placing large flat rocks which protrude above the surface of the water
· Keeping cats and dogs locked up at night
· Making sure your cat wears a bell on its collar
Goldfish are probably the hardiest fish for domestic ponds. There are many attractive varieties which are commonly available from pet shops. Other fish which are suited to ponds are green tench, blackfish, golden perch, catfish and trout. Trout need a large pond – 200 square metres minimum.
Generally only one type of fish is kept in the pond; if you plan to keep more, keep them in separate sections of the pond. A general guide for fish stocking rates is that for every 100 sq. centimetres of suface area, you can have 50 mm of fish (excluding the tail).
You shouldn’t need to provide fish food in a healthy balanced pond. A small amount may be needed while the pond life is establishing or after pond clean-ups. They should be able to consume all the added food within three minutes.
Place terracotta pipes or rocks with overhanging ledges inside the pond as this will give the fish a place to hide from predators, such as water birds.
Entire species of frogs are disappearing at an alarming rate in the natural environment so these should be considered a welcome addition to any backyard pond. Contact your local wildlife care group for more information on the different species and their care.
The native Long-necked Tortoise can become quite tame and will happily breed in backyard ponds. Handfeeding them earthworms and small amounts of mincemeat will help tame them. They have a habit of wandering off, so make sure the pond is well stocked to encourage them to stay, and provide protected areas for them away from cats and dogs.
Water snails play a useful role in the maintenance of the pond. They feed on algae and plants and so help to keep the pond clean. They can be purchased from specialist aquatic suppliers.
*Insects and bugs
There are many aquatic creatures which will help to make your pond a diverse and fascinating place. Skaters, water boatmen, water beetles, water spiders and water scorpions are just some of the insects and bugs that commonly live in ponds. You may need to catch some in your local creek to start off your community.
The flying insects, such as dragonflies, damsel flies and bees, are a bonus – they’ll soon be attracted to the water of their own accord.
Small birds, including wrens, finches, silvereyes and swallows, will happily bathe and drink at the pond, providing cats aren’t a problem. Low branches over the pond will provide perches and a quick take-off point if predators appear.
Larger water birds (ducks, cormorants, herons, egrets) may visit bigger ponds (12 square metres or more), although white-faced herons are notorious for visiting even the smallest ponds to enjoy a tasty goldfish meal.
Want to find out about frogs from different parts of Australia? Interested in finding out why frog populations are declining? Would you like to encourage frogs in your garden? Find out more by hopping into the following websites: