An Update from my Wildlife Pond in Late Winter
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
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.
Aquatic Plant Foliage
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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 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.
Snow and Ice!
It was very exciting to get snow this winter!
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.
In the picture above, you can see my Oase AquaSkim 20 in action, sucking up any leaves or floating plant debris.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Natural Algae Treatments For My Wildlife Pond
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!
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.