An update from my wildlife pond in autumn
Hello. Welcome to my garden and an autumnal tour of my wildlife pond. My pond doesn’t appear as beautiful in autumn as it does in late spring and summertime. None of my aquatic plants are in flower today, so you could be forgiven for believing that as the plants are dying back and there aren’t any flowers around, that there’s not much life here now. However, you’d be mistaken, as my pond is still teaming with life; it’s just the activity levels and the forms of the life that occupy this space have changed and adapted, in response to the arrival of autumn.
What do I do with aquatic plants in autumn?
Almost all of my aquatic plants are now in the process of dying back for winter. Traditional gardening advice says to promptly remove leaves and plant material from aquatic plants as they start to fade. The reasoning behind this advice is that as these decomposing leaves will gradually creep into the pond as they die, where they’ll add extra nutrients to the pond water, which in turn can help to fuel algae growth in springtime. This sounds like very sensible advice; however, my personal gardening advice differs from these recommendations – I’ve yet to remove a single leaf from my aquatic plants and I’d like to ask you to do the same.
So, why have I not trimmed my aquatic plants’ leaves as they die back? Well the truth is that I have left my plants’ leaves, (until late winter or early spring) as this is a wildlife pond. I’ve not spent very much time by my pond over the past couple of months, but in the brief moments I’ve been here, I have witnessed much activity around my aquatic plants’ leaves. Not that long ago, I watched dazzlingly beautiful dragonflies carefully laying their eggs on these very same aquatic plants’ withering leaves.
I love dragonflies and I want to help and not hinder their progress. I don’t want to prevent a single dragonfly larvae from developing or reaching maturity by removing and disposing of any plant material that may have dragonfly eggs or larvae contained within it; I have no wish to banish plant material away from an area where it will be used and is actively needed by wildlife. I want to encourage and celebrate dragonflies! It’s important to me that I allow every dragonfly larvae the best chance of life. Consequently, I’ve left these aquatic plants alone and the only leaves that have been removed from my pond are those that have been blown in by the wind as it brushes past nearby trees; these fallen leaves have been gathered up by my Oase AquaSkim 20 pond skimmer and left at the side of my pond.
Collecting fallen leaves from nearby trees that blow into my pond
My Oase pond skimmer is working really well – it’s in operation 24 hours a day and quickly gathers up any leaves that fall onto the surface of the water. This contraption doesn’t remove leaves from aquatic plants that have faded and sunk into the water – the Oase AquaSkim 20 won’t collect any leaves or debris from below the surface of the water. However all the leaves that fall onto the water or are blown into the pond are quickly retrieved from the surface of the water by this pond skimmer. My Oase AquaSkim 20 is effective at clearing large, medium, and small sized leaves, and I’ve found that even tiny leaves, like thin pine needles, can be effectively collected using this device. My Oase AquaSkim 20 works well – I’d recommend it.
The plants in my pond have lost their lush and healthy green colour now autumn has arrived, but these plants are still perfectly healthy. Summer’s glory doesn’t last for ever; aquatic plants naturally die back at this time of year. Although the season has changed and the lush verdant beauty of my pond vanished sometime ago, there are still a few sprinklings of flowers around. Even though my pond does not look its best at this time of year, this area of my garden still fulfils an important function, as it provides a home and a safe and welcoming space for amphibians, invertebrates, insects, and wildlife.
My pond isn’t very large, but it’s the largest pond I could accommodate; I’ve literally squashed my pond into my small garden! My ivy (Hedera helix) is looking fantastic at the moment with flowers delighting our local bees and berries forming on the pollinated blooms. As this is a restricted space, in autumn and winter I don’t offer same the abundance of flowers that enhance my pond when it’s looking at its best in spring and summertime. However, whatever season we’re enjoying, I make sure that there are always some wildlife friendly, accessible flowers in bloom in my garden. Currently ivy (Hedera helix), crocus, and holly (Ilex aquifolium) are providing food for insects, birds, and wildlife. I grow many of our wildflowers in my garden, plus a variety of plants that provide pollen and nectar for bees, butterflies, and other pollinating insects, throughout the year.
Creating habitats for wildlife
However, it’s not just flowers; my wildlife pond has other features and offerings for wildlife. I have a log pile, which provides many opportunities for beetles, insects, invertebrates, and amphibians, and I have a compost heap which provides another opportunity for wildlife to hibernate. Every leaf that has fallen onto my borders have been left where they’ve landed and I’ve ensured there are lots of places for frogs, toads, newts, hedgehogs, and other wildlife to overwinter.
That statement may make it sound like I often enjoy seeing hedgehogs, frogs and toads, but sadly I’ve not seen a frog or a toad for some years now and I’ve never once seen a hedgehog in this garden, which is utterly heartbreaking! However, I’m keen to ensure that any hedgehogs, frogs, and toads that do make the journey here are all welcome, safe, and comfortable in my garden. I know that my pond is home to quite a large population of newts, as earlier in the summer I observed both young efts and mature newts swimming and hanging around in the water.
I grow a number of varieties of rhubarb around my pond. I really enjoy growing fruit and vegetables, and I relish finding extra spaces to grow food in my garden! These rhubarb plants fit in well to my planting; they echo the form of their relations, Gunnera manicata, but on a much smaller scale. Gunnera manicata form magnificent but massive plants that would dwarf my pond; these plants are suited to growing in a much larger area.
My rhubarb plants are all planted in the sandy soil around my pond. None of my rhubarb plants are growing in my pond or in the water – they’re planted in the soil around my pond. When this pond was installed in 2019, a number of small, boggier pockets were created in the border alongside the pond, but my rhubarb isn’t planted in these areas of wetter ground, all the rhubarb plants are growing in ordinary sandy soil.
Rhubarb is a really productive, perennial plant; it’s a superb plant to grow in your garden! Bare root rhubarb plants are available over autumn and winter; rhubarb crowns can be ordered now from online nurseries and garden centres and delivered to your home; so you don’t need to venture out to purchase this plant!
Encouraging ivy (Hedera helix) to flower
I just adore Hedera helix, I grow plenty of ivy in my garden, as this plant is just so wonderfully beneficial for insects, birds and wildlife. I also think that ivy looks good all through the year. This plant really is a true blessing for both gardeners and wildlife; ivy doesn’t need to be watered in the summertime ,and there’s also no complicated pruning to worry about. The one thing to remember with ivy is that it’s the mature, older stems that have the capability to flower – so if you prune ivy a couple of times a year, the trimmed stems won’t be able to flower. Creating a bushy plant, like mine allows for an abundance of flowers, plenty of perches for birds, with shelter for moths to roost in the daytime and butterflies to retreat to in the evenings.
The last waterlily flower of the year!
Most of my aquatic plants stopped flowering this month, or earlier this autumn. However, one of my waterlilies, Nymphaea ‘Chubby’ is actually in bud at the moment!
Allowing wildlife to access my garden
There are at least three passageways underneath my garden fence that provide entrances to welcome wildlife into my garden. This is to make it easier for frogs, toads, newts, mice, hedgehogs, and other wildlife travel from one garden to another. There’s one gap under the fence in the far corner of this fence, you can’t see it in my pictures, as it’s shielded by the log pile and ivy, but the wildlife entrance is there and it performs an important and valuable function.
If you’re unable to create a gap under your fence, you could remove a section of one of your lowest fence panels. Ensure that your entrance isn’t too steep, as hedgehogs in particular are unable to master steep inclines. It’s also important to create a deep and wide enough passageway that a fully grown hedgehog can easily fit through, so do bear this in mind when you’re installing or maintaining fences, or looking for ways to improve your garden.
Have you seen a hedgehog in your garden? It’s easy to think of a hedgehog as ‘our’ hedgehog and imagine that the dear little hedgepig will be very happy indeed to live out the rest of their days in our garden, but hedgehogs need a vast territory to find enough beetles, caterpillars, millipedes, earwigs, slugs, and snails to survive, and they also need to travel to find a mate and secure somewhere to nest and hibernate.
I’ve got a small garden and there’s no hedgehog in sight for me, but I hope these tips will help you welcome hedgehogs into your garden.
I love Hedera helix! Why is ivy so wonderful?
Last year, I planted some very young plants directly in front of the bare fence that runs alongside my pond. However, these little plants were hammered by relentless rain during last year’s wet winter. The warm, dry spring and summer drought further contained these plants, so they have yet to make themselves known or make any attempt to cover the fence panels. This empty fence glares at me each time I visit my pond. I am not a fan of bare surfaces, especially prominent features like fences, I much prefer to see plants growing wherever there are opportunities. However, I cannot justify buying any more plants at the moment, having already spent all of my money on plants!
Happily, I can divert my eyes and attentions to the more successful garden boundary at the back of the pond, which is delightfully cloaked in ivy (Hedera helix). My ivy has been in flower for a while. Most of these Hedera helix inflorescences have been pollinated and they’re now developing into berries; there are still a few blooms out at the moment. Ivy produces these interesting flowers, which appear as a truly uplifting sight in autumn, when they positively sparkle in the sunshine, shimmering with bees and insects that revel in their very existence!
My Hedera helix‘s dark, inky berries have yet to develop, but in winter these dark berries become nutritious treats for the birds. Even when it’s not in bloom, ivy provides a refreshing bank of emerald green, with heart shaped leaves that shudder in the breeze but stand firm all year round.
But when it comes to ponds, it’s not just about the plants; for me, the insects are just as beautiful and fascinating!
Growing plants for bees!
Apart from the Ivy bees that have been excitedly tending to the (Hedera helix) that’s growing along one side of the pond. I’ve also spotted a variety of bees, hoverflies, and other insects, enjoying the Erigeron karvinskianus and Verbena bonariensis flowers, as well as the Asters that are growing in the border around my pond.
Many of my Erigeron karvinskianus plants are still flowering now in November. I cut my plants back at different times to maintain a longer flowering period and create an extended period of interest. These dainty plants pop up all around my garden, they’re so cheerful and pleasing; I just adore them.
There are just a few flowers left on this Inula hookeri specimen now, but these blooms are welcomed by foraging insects.
I’ve even got Knautia arvensis flowers and Hesperis matronalis var. albiflora blooms staggering around, somewhat weaker after flowering for so many months in a row, but still standing fairly proud, for the moment.
Growing plants for caterpillars & hoping to see more butterflies next year!
In late summer, I managed to get a quick snap of this rather worn Holly Blue Butterfly, as it stopped to refuel at one of the Verbena bonariensis flowers that are overhanging my pond. I often see the Holly Blue Butterfly in my garden, as I grow both of the Holly Blue Butterfly caterpillar’s food plants, Holly (Ilex) and Ivy (Hedera helix)) in my garden, alongside plenty of of nectar-rich flowers for these butterflies to feast upon.
Holly Blue Butterflies lay their eggs on Holly (Ilex) and Ivy (Hedera helix) plants. This butterfly’s tiny caterpillars cause minimal damage to the plants, which is barely noticeable, even if you’re scrutinising the plants closely.
This Holly Blue Butterfly was the last butterfly I saw in my garden. I am sad to say that I have seen far fewer butterflies in my garden this year. I love butterflies and so their absence from my garden concerns me greatly. I cannot remember another year when I have not seen a single Painted Lady Butterfly. I’ve been looking forward to the Painted Lady’s eventual arrival, but sadly it never came. I hope to see more butterflies next year.
Continuing the battle with blanket weed algae in my pond!
I use an Oase AquaSkim 20 pond filter to keep the surface of the pond clear of fallen leaves and debris; however on the 10th October 2020, I noticed that the filter was clogged up and had stopped working. On the 11th October 2020, my husband waded into the pond to clear out the Oase AquaSkim 20, as this could only be done from the centre of the pond. After clearing out the pond skimmer, my husband removed a large proportion of the algae. This was easy to do, the algae was simply twirled around a pole and removed in as small a segments as possible. Each section of algae was checked for dragonfly larvae (more than 40 dragonfly larvae were found) and then the algae was left at the side of the pond, so any creatures that we had missed could more easily return to the water. It would have been better to have removed more algae from the pond, but we stopped work then, as I was anxious to avoid any risk to the dragonfly larvae.
After this work was completed, algae was still present in the water but its presence was reduced. I hope that by continuing to use the natural algae treatment each week, that the algae won’t now get out of hand; fingers crossed!
Helping to protect dragonflies
I’ve spotted a few dragonflies around my pond this autumn. Most have been a blur, but I did manage to take a few pictures of this Southern Hawker Dragonfly, laying eggs around the pond.
On the 7th November 2020, my husband helped me use a net to gather a small scoop of pond water and sludge from my pond. I was debating whether to remove any algae and slime from the water, so as the alleviate the quantity of algae in the pond next spring and summer.
However, this one scoop of water was teaming with life and featured dragonfly larvae of various sizes.
Instinctively, I felt that it would be impossible for me to scoop any remnants of algae without harming these dragonfly larvae and other life forms, so I hurriedly took these photos and then everything (including the algae) was promptly returned to the water.
Looking out for moths in autumn!
There are a number of Thorn Moths that can be found in the UK. This is the Dusky Thorn Moth, which is a moth I often find in my garden in late summer and autumn. I don’t always need to set my moth trap up to discover this moth, as there are quite high numbers of Thorn Moths in my area and I’m used to spotting them.
I find moths fascinating!
The Large Yellow Underwing is a very common moth. I usually catch a number of these moths, whenever I set my moth trap up in late summer and early autumn.
I have a particular fondness for Emerald Moths. This is the Light Emerald Moth, a magnificent moth with mint green coloured wings. Light Emerald Moths are a common UK moth, they usually fly from June to August. This might be a moth from a late brood, or perhaps it’s one from a second generation of Light Emerald Moths.
The Shuttle-shaped Dart Moth (Agrotis puta) is a moth that benefits from a cloak of disguise; thanks to its wings that enable this moth to be very well camouflaged when it’s resting on tree trunks, branches, and log piles.
Although Black Rustic Moths are on the wing in September and October, this is the first Black Rustic Moth (Aporophyla nigra) I have spotted this year. I caught this moth in my moth trap on the 21st September 2020, along with a substantial quantity of Large Yellow Underwing Moths and Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing Moths, a number of Light Emerald Moths, and a couple of Lesser Yellow Underwings, Square Spot Rustic Moths, and Lunar Underwing Moths.
Black Rustic Moths are fairly common in moth parts of the UK, especially in the South East of England, where I live.
We’ve had a spell of wet weather recently, and as a result I’ve not set my moth trap up since I took these pictures on the 7th and 12th October 2020. There are fewer moths on the wing at this time of year, but the moths that are active need to feed and they don’t want to waste time during a precious dry evening being held inside a moth trap. If we have a run of dry nights, then I will set my moth trap up to discover out what moths are active in my garden later in autumn, but for the moment, I am keen not to hinder the moths as they go about their autumn routine.
To see the next update from my wildlife pond, please click here.
Other articles that may interest you…………….
To read my plea to leave autumn leaves where they fall, please click here.
For autumn gardening advice, please click here.
For ideas of houseplants, please click here.
Alternatively, click here to find every article about my wildlife pond.