An Update from my Wildlife Pond in Late Winter

An Update from my Wildlife Pond in Late Winter

Here’s my pond, as pictured on the 5th December 2020.

Hello and welcome to my wildlife pond.  In this post, you can see the pictures I’ve taken of my wildlife pond throughout autumn and winter 2020/21, right up to this weekend and the present day (hello future readers, this weekend was the 27th and 28th of February 2021).  Other than observing my aquatic plants as they’ve died back, my husband and I have not carried out any maintenance to our pond since my last update, but that’s all about to change!

Up until now, I have left our aquatic plants’ foliage to die back naturally into the pond.  Last autumn, I witnessed a magical moment as a dragonfly gracefully whizzed in and carefully laid her eggs on one of my Caltha palustris (Marsh Marigold) plant’s fading leaves.  After observing this small (but utterly magnificent) wonder of the world, I have spent the autumn and winter months very conscious that my aquatic plants’ fading foliage may have held dragonfly eggs or other valuables.  I am now aware that allowing aquatic plants’ foliage to die back into the water, where the dragonfly nymphs can come to life, will hopefully help the dragonfly larvae and other pond life in my pond to be able to survive and prosper.

I realise that I am flying in the face of more accepted wisdom, which advises us to collect up the fading foliage from our aquatic plants in autumn, but this method works for me and more importantly, it works for the wildlife in my pond.

This weekend has been a time of action in the pond, but before I tell you about all of that; here are my pictures showing my pond gradually becoming suffused with winter….

The Arrival of Winter

Here’s another view of my pond, as pictured on the 5th December 2020.
My pond pictured on the 30th December 2020 – a cold and frosty morning. This Rhubarb is called ‘Livingstone’ it’s a variety that produces its harvest in summer and autumn.
Here’s my pond, as pictured on the 2nd January 2021.

Algae

My pond was created in April 2019.  When it was installed, I filled our pond up with tap water (as we were experiencing a drought at the time and my small supply of rainwater was rapidly diminishing) and planted it with small aquatic plants.  The aquatic plants were so tiny, there was nothing to shade the water and the bright and persistent sunshine that spring, combined with the nutrients in my tap water, caused my pond to rapidly become overwhelmed with algae.  Since 2019, I’ve fought a gentle (but at times incredibly irritating) battle with algae.  This year, I am absolutely determined to win!  I am eager to conquer the algae in my wildlife pond and prevent my pond from being choked by algae growth.

I took this photo of algae in my pond on the 2nd January 2021.
I took this photo of algae in my pond, on the 2nd January 2021.

Aquatic Plant Foliage

The majority of this Marsh Marigold plant has died back now. I’ve left the stems in the water to break down sufficiently to support any dragonfly larvae. New leaves and new growth is already appearing. Pictured on the 2nd January 2021.
Here’s another Marsh Marigold in my pond. The dark stems are last year’s leaves and flowering stems, which have died and are now breaking down in the water. Lovely new leaves are now appearing. Pictured on the 2nd January 2021.
This Pontederia cordata ‘Alba’ plant’s leaves have died back, new leaves will emerge later in the season, when the temperatures are much warmer. Pictured on the 2nd January 2021.

Scenes like this picture of the Pontederia above, seen with a barricade of dead leaves surrounding the plant and lovely fresh new leaves emerging all around can trigger a keen and instinctive desire within us to remove the decaying leaves and tidy them away.  However, although I understand that this course of action may create a sense of accomplishment for us, I am sure that carrying out a leaf clearance in autumn or winter will not be beneficial to wildlife.  Without the full and lush leafy growth we admire on our aquatic plants in June, the dead stems and leaves create places where wildlife can seek refuge and shelter, and these faded plant growths create opportunities for insects to enter or emerge from the water.  The dead stems and leaves could be a food source or a place to live or hide; or they may have another beneficial effect for wildlife and after all this pond was created for wildlife.  Hence my reasons for my firm stance on leaving the dead leaves of my aquatic plants and not touching my pond over the autumn and winter months.

Most of the aquatic plants in my wildlife pond have died back or are in the process of dying back, but there are still a few green leaves. Pictured on the 2nd January 2021.

My pond reveals its beauty in late spring and summer.  Through the autumn and winter months, and during this time in early spring, my pond is resting, waiting for brighter sunshine and warmer temperatures to arrive.  This is not my pond’s moment to shine; removing all the dead leaves will not transform my pond into a lush green oasis and removing the decaying leaves will not enable the new growth to appear more rapidly.

My Oase AquaSkim 20 Pond Skimmer operates 24 hours a day. The skimmer creates constant movement, which prevents the water around the skimmer from freezing. Pictured on the 2nd January 2021.

Undoubtedly, my pond looks rather scrappy, but that’s OK, it’s still a useful and valuable space that benefits wildlife every day.  I’ve left the plants around my pond alone, I’ve not cut them back yet.  Dead stems and fallen leaves provide homes for insects to hibernate in over winter and have many uses for wildlife.

Here’s another view of my pond, as pictured on the 2nd January 2021.
A look at my pond, as pictured on the 9th January 2021.

As I looked into the water on the 9th January 2021, I could see a big clump of algae that I couldn’t resist from removing.  Only one scoop of algae was removed; here you can see the algae pictured below.

Removing Algae From My Wildlife Pond

This is some of the algae that was scooped out of my pond on the 9th January 2021.

Whenever algae is scooped out of the pond it is checked over for signs of life; any dragonfly larvae or other creatures are promptly returned to the water.  We always leave the algae right by the side of the pond; so that any dragonfly larvae or pond life that have been caught up within the algae can easily return to the water.

Scooping algae out of the pond on the 9th January 2021.

When removing algae from a pond in winter, it’s really important not to dig your net in too deeply into the pond.  The last thing you want to do is touch the base of your pond with your net; as you could accidentally disturb or harm any frogs that are hibernating at the bottom of your pond.  When scooping out algae from ponds in winter, I recommend keeping your net in the top half of your pond water; use deft strokes and don’t be tempted to dredge along the bottom of your pond.  Any sludge at the base of your pond will provide somewhere for amphibians to hibernate and will provide nutrients for aquatic plants in springtime.

Having a pond is about creating a balance, you don’t want to have too many leaves in your pond, as an excess of nutrients from the decomposing leaves will fuel algae growth.  I have a superb pond skimmer, an Oase Aqua Skim 20, which operates 24 hours a day, every day, collecting up any leaves that are blown into my pond.  This pond skimmer is especially useful for a wildlife pond like mine, as the skimming action continually moves the water, which prevents my pond from freezing over in winter.  This allows birds to bathe and drink from the water, even on frosty or snowy days.  (Update: I no longer recommend the Oase Aqua Skim 20)

If you’re clearing algae from your garden pond, deposit the algae at the side of your pond, to allow any wildlife that may have been caught up in the algae that chance to return to the water.  Before emptying your net, dip the net into the water and check for any signs of movement and rescue any creatures, by quickly returning them back to the water.

Birds

A female Blackbird (Turdus merula) pictured feasting on Ivy (Hedera helix) and Honeysuckle (Lonicera) berries near my pond.

Birds bathe in my pond and forage in this area of my garden; however, I usually see only a fleeting glimpse of a bird as I approach the pond and accidentally scare the birds away.  I grow ivy (Hedera helix) and honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymum) in my garden and around my pond, as these plants are so beneficial for wildlife.  Over winter, birds flock to feast on the ivy and honeysuckle berries, which are an important food source for birds over the winter months.  I was so happy to see this female blackbird last month, when I was lucky enough to capture these two photographs.

Here’s a closer look at this female Blackbird. Pictured on the 10th January 2021.
A look at my pond on the 16th January 2021.

Snow and Ice!

My wildlife pond, as pictured on the 24th January 2021.

It was very exciting to get snow this winter!

My wildlife pond, as pictured on the 24th January 2021.
My wildlife pond, as pictured on the 24th January 2021.
My wildlife pond, as pictured on the 24th January 2021.
My wildlife pond, as pictured on the 8th February 2021.
My wildlife pond, as pictured on the 8th February 2021.

It still looks very stark around my pond and this is accentuated at this time of year when there is so little in leaf.  Last year, I planted some plants to grow up and cover my fence, but these young plants are taking time to establish themselves.  I really hope to cover this fence with plant growth, this year.

My Oase AquaSkim 20 has kept the centre of my pond free from ice throughout the winter. By keeping the water moving, the water has been prevented from freezing. Pictured on the 11th February 2021.

In the picture above, you can see my Oase AquaSkim 20 in action, sucking up any leaves or floating plant debris.

Update: Please note: I do not recommend using the Oase AquaSkim 20 for use in wildlife ponds – please see this update for more information.

These aquatic plants are perfectly hardy; they may not look much now but soon these lovely Marsh Marigolds (Caltha palustris) will be enhancing my pond with their new growth and delightful flowers. Pictured on the 11th February 2021.
My waterfall features a few icicles and the Ivy (Hedera helix) leaves nearest the waterfall have a substantial coating of ice. Pictured on the 11th February 2021.

Iris

Two of my best friends bought me this Iris ‘Harmony’ plant a couple of years ago. This iris is growing close to the edge of the pond in my free draining sandy soil; this isn’t a bog garden plant – this iris favours moist but well-drained soil. Pictured on the 11th February 2021.
Iris ‘Harmony’, pictured on the 11th February 2021.
An overview of my pond, as pictured on the 27th February 2021.

Here’s a view into my pond, as you can see there is still a worrying amount of algae.  I am very keen to overcome the algae before it takes a firmer grip and hold over my wildlife pond.

Here’s a look at the little waterfall which is draped in algae! Pictured on the 27th February 2021.
Here’s another view of the mini waterfall, as pictured on the 27th February 2021.
A view of my wildlife pond, as pictured on the 27th February 2021.

I’d like to adjust almost everything around my pond, but where this small body of water is literally crammed into this small space it makes it impossible for me to access the waterfall, logs, stones and aquatic plants.  I realised that I was making it difficult for myself when I designed this pond, so I knew what I was getting into, but these limitations are still frustrating at times.

Here’s a view of my pond before we removed any algae. Pictured on the 27th February 2021.

Newts

If you’ve got frogs or toads in your pond, you may be being blessed with frog or toad spawn at this time of year.  We’ve only had frog spawn once or twice in the smaller pond that was this pond’s predecessor, but our joy was short-lived, as the frog spawn was quickly eaten by the newts.  We’ve not had any frog spawn since we installed this wildlife pond in the space where our old pond stood.

This water snail was found in the algae. I took this picture and then returned the snail to the water. Pictured on the 27th February 2021.

Some ponds can become either ‘newt ponds’ or ‘frog ponds’; my pond is most definitely a newt pond.  Sadly, I’ve not seen a frog or a toad for at least a year or two.  I am always anxious not to disturb or distress wildlife, so while carrying out any work around the pond we are as gentle and as quick as we possibly can be.

I am quite the clumsiest person in the world.  I will admit, much to my embarrassment and shame, that throughout my life I have fallen into almost every single pond I’ve ever visited!  The fact that I can only observe my pond from the path in my garden, goes a long way to explain how my own pond is one of the few ponds that I’ve yet not fallen into.

Thankfully, my husband is far more agile than I am; he’s the one that does all the physical work around our pond, climbing into the pond and around the outside to undertake any maintenance.  The water was too cold for my husband to consider wading through yesterday!  I guess my husband spent 30 minutes yesterday going around the outside of our pond with a net, gently clearing some of the algae from the pond and removing a lot of the dead leaves and stems from the water.  The dead plant material that was removed, all came from the aquatic plants that are growing in our pond; these plants will produce new foliage and flowers over the coming months.

I hope we will see more waterlily flowers later this year.  Last year, I was too anxious about the newts and wildlife in our pond to allow anyone to wade through our aquatic plants and give them each a fertiliser tablet to boost their flowering potential.  It’s a bit early to be thinking about giving out fertiliser to be honest, the waterlilies will not be appearing for some time yet, but I felt that it was better to carry out this task yesterday, whilst the algae was being harvested and the old leaves were being cleared than risk another year with no fertiliser.

My Oase Aqua Skim 20 works really effectively at removing any leaves that fall into the water; this product is really effective, I’d recommend it.  I am still using all the other Oase products that were installed when this pond was new in 2019.  (Update: please note that I no longer recommend the Oase Aqua Skim 20)

Whenever I visit our pond, I am on the look out for newts!  I am so keen and eager to see a newt, but I am anxious not to disturb or distress the newts.  Whilst trying to lift out some of the algae from the pond yesterday, we found this common newt in the net.  We quickly returned the newt to the pond and didn’t remove any more algae.

We accidentally caught this newt, whilst scooping out algae. I took this photo before we released the newt back to the water. Pictured on the 27th February 2021.
Here’s the newt returning to the water. Pictured on the 27th February 2021.
Here’s the newt returning to the water. Pictured on the 27th February 2021.

Natural Algae Treatments For My Wildlife Pond

Here’s my pond pictured on the 27th February 2021, after algae removal and with the addition of some barley straw.

We are using a natural barley straw extract that we add to the pond each week to control the algae but we have also added some barley straw packs to the pond, to help control algae.  I am hoping that now the plants in my pond have grown larger in size that the algae will not be such problem this year.  Fingers crossed!

Here’s my pond pictured on the 27th February 2021, after algae removal and with the addition of some barley straw.

To see the next update from my wildlife pond and see my pond in springtime, please click here.

Other articles that may interest you…………

For gardening advice for March, please click here.

To see all of my updates from my wildlife pond, please click here.

For tips on long flowering plants for bees and butterflies, please click here.

For a guide to planting a meadow, please click here.

Other articles you might like:

One thought on “An Update from my Wildlife Pond in Late Winter

  1. Emma

    February 28, 2021 at 9:36am

    Hi Beth ! Thank you for this article. It is very interesting and useful to see the evolution of your pond’s life cycle. As always, your pictures are great, not to mention your writing !
    I can well imagine how your encounter with the dragonfly was the occasion to re-evaluate the utility and value of commonly accepted practices. I particularly liked how you articulated your thoughts regarding fighting the urge to remove dying/dead foliage from your pond, in order to support wildlife.
    This is a battle I know well. I now resist the temptation to rake all leaves in the fall and early spring, and accepted that maintaining a perfect lawn was not good for the wildlife.
    I’m lucky enough that my garden is big enough that I now try to leave a significant area to its own natural/wild devices.
    I have a (natural) pond, and I’m still trying to figure out a way to enhance its natural beauty without making it an inhospitable habitat for the wildlife.
    On top of my personal struggle to fight my own “clean out and tidy up” urges, I am confronted with my elderly neighbours’ conservative opinions of what a “tidy” garden is or should be. Here in Germany, this generation’s understanding of garden work is generally to rake it to death (this means you literally have to see the raking pattern on the soil, undisturbed, similar to Japanese dry rock gardens). My elderly neighbours regularly challenge my choice to adopt a more natural approach, and I believe they consider it “lazy gardening”.
    I hope the beauty of my garden will, someday, convince them that a more “natural” approach is not something to automatically discard.
    Thank you for your work on your blog. I find it inspiring and very useful.
    Emma from Germany

    • Author

      Pumpkin Beth

      February 28, 2021 at 10:26am

      Hello Emma

      It’s lovely to hear from you and so good to find another kindred spirit! I am sorry that your neighbours don’t share your understanding and love of nature but I hope that in time they will come to appreciate your garden and see how valuable it is for wildlife. It’s very draining to feel constant pressure to change, so my heart goes out to you. I hope that those that challenge your gardening methods will give you a break and will eventually come to understand your methods. The next time you enjoy an encounter with an animal or insect that you know they like, if you tell them about your experience or give them some tips on when to see wildlife maybe this will help. However, I know that this idea might not be the perfect solution that I’d like it to be and it may have no effect at all!

      I am so glad that you don’t rake up all the leaves in autumn, as this benefits all manner of wildlife; your garden sounds like a wonderful place to be for both wildlife and people.

      Thanks for your comment and your kindness.

      Warmest wishes
      Beth

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