An Update from my Wildlife Pond in Late Summer
Hello, and welcome to my wildlife pond at the end of August. I find peace and solace in nature and I love spending time by our wildlife pond. Usually my visits are fleeting, lasting just a few minutes, but these short burst of connection with plants and wildlife revitalise and recharge me, instantly eliminating all the stresses of life. It’s a wonderful feeling; I am always excited about my next visit to my wildlife pond!
I’ve not managed to take any pictures of dragonflies or damselflies since my last update. I’ve not seen quite as many of these dazzling insects as usual. The tantalising glimpses I’ve had of the dragonflies and damselflies around my wildlife pond have either been when I’ve observed them from a distance, or during brief but wonderful encounters when the insects didn’t wish to remain still for long enough to have their picture taken.
I assume that the drop in dragonfly and damselfly numbers around my wildlife pond was due to this summer’s inclement weather affecting these invertebrates as they emerged from the water for the first time. Before a mature dragonfly (or damselfly) larvae can moult and take off their old, brown leathery jacket, ready to emerge as a fully-formed, dashing dragonfly, they’ll crawl up a stem and move out of the water. Above the water line, the mature dragonfly nymph begins the fascinating process of pushing themselves out of their old skin; this exhausting operation can take the insect anywhere from an hour to up to a number of hours, depending on the species. At this stage of their lives, dragonflies and damselflies rely on having a period of dry weather, as they’re particularly vulnerable while they’re shedding their protective outer skin. These insects are still defenceless for quite some time after they’ve emerged; as their brand-new dragonfly tissue is soft and delicate at first – it needs time to dry and harden, before they’re ready to take their maiden flights.
We’ve endured some crazy weather this year. I’m really hoping for some extra opportunities to bask in the warmth of the sunshine by my wildlife pond and enjoy a few more flowers before the autumn weather breezes in.
Growing aquatic plants for wildlife
Ranunculus flammula has been such a delight in my wildlife pond this summer. This aquatic plant started flowering in the middle of May 2021, producing a sprinkling of sunshine-yellow flowers that gleamed in the sunlight. The number of dainty star-like blooms gradually increased until Ranunculus flammula had pumped our wildlife pond full of hundreds of twinkling flowers! Today, at the end of August, this charming fellow is past his peak, but Ranunculus flammula is still holding on tightly to its cheerful chorus of blooms; these flowers sing out on overcast days and sparkle in the sunshine.
When I visit our pond, I almost always observe at least a couple of bees, hoverflies, and other pollinating insects buzzing around the Ranunculus flammula flowers. The blooms sometimes dip under the extra weight when a heavier insect touches down on the flower and then spring back up as the pollinator launches itself into the air ready for its next conquest.
The aquatic plants in my pond are never crawling with bees and other insects, but they receive a constant, steady stream of visitors. Currently, in our pond, the Ranunculus flammula and Myosotis scorpioides alba flowers are the most popular aquatic plants for insects to visit. Bees, hoverflies, wasps, and other insects arrive at the pond to access the water and take a drink. Earlier this summer, solitary bees collected mud from from around the perimeter of the pond; I’d quietly watch the bees fly off with as much damp soil as they could carry, ready to finish building their nests in the boxes we’ve added along the sunniest side of the fence.
So far, I haven’t spotted any insects visiting the Mimulus ringens flowers. I bought this aquatic plant specifically because I was told that it was a superb plant for insects, but I’ve not noticed any activity whatsoever around this aquatic plant. Maybe all the action happens when I am not there!
My waterlilies have been too shaded to flower. My rhubarb and the other plants I’m growing in the narrow border around my pond have grown very nicely indeed; they’ve produced lots of leafy growth, which has shaded the perimeter of the pond. Whilst the aquatic plants have thrived in the water and now cover the surface of the pond, preventing as much light and warmth from penetrating into the water.
For my waterlilies, the problems they’ve experienced include too much competition from neighbouring plants, not enough fertiliser, and not enough light, but another contributing factor could also be the fact that the waterlilies’ leaves were damaged during the many hailstorms we had in late spring and early summer. These storms delivered the largest hailstones I’ve ever seen – the solid white lumps of ice really felt like pebbles as they aggressively pounded my little patch of earth. Afterwards, my garden was covered with a layer of ice that took a while to melt. Hailstones damaged many of the plants grown for the Trials I was running at the time, which was intensely frustrating!
I’ve included this scrappy looking picture above, as a reminder that our aquatic plants still hold a great value to wildlife as they fade. Last September, I watched a female dragonfly carefully laying eggs on the leaves of some of the aquatic plants in this pond. Traditional gardening advice recommends removing all the faded leaves of aquatic plants in autumn, to prevent the foliage enriching the water. However, I leave all of the browning foliage on my aquatic plants until springtime; I’ll eventually remove the decomposing plant matter just as the new growth is ready to push through in early spring. The remnants of these plants offer food and shelter to dragonflies, insects, and various forms of wildlife.
How effective are the natural methods I’m using to control blanket weed algae in my wildlife pond?
There’s still a surprising amount of algae in my wildlife pond. I’ve not tried to physically remove any of the algae, as I don’t want to risk disturbing or harming the young newts, or the damselfly and dragonfly larvae, and any other wildlife that’s living in the water. The last time I used my net was in March 2021, when I dipped the net into the pond water just once and found a number of dragonfly larvae, which I quickly returned to the water!
The only actions I have taken to control the algae in my wildlife pond are to add packets of barley straw to the water and to administer the same weekly natural algae treatment that I have been using for quite sometime.
I must say that feel uneasy adding the netted barley straw, just incase the netting accidentally traps a dragonfly larvae or a young newt, but I’m told this is how the packs are intended to be used and I’ve been assured that they’re safe for wildlife ponds.
Previously, in times of drought, when the water levels in my wildlife pond dropped, I used to top up the pond water with both tap water and rainwater. I have now stopped using tap water entirely, and I only add rainwater to my pond.
I have a dedicated water butt attached to my shed and its water is only used to fill up the pond. I must say that I haven’t needed to top up my pond very often this summer, as we’ve had such high rainfall!
I’ve continued adding weekly treatments of Ecopond Eco-friendly Barley-Bio Algae Control, as this product is reputed to control algae. I’m not aware of any improvements in the concentration of algae in my wildlife pond, but as I have already purchased this product and it’s safe for wildlife, I’ve continued using it.
I’m showing you the worst pictures I can of the algae, but there are areas of clear water around the pond, with opportunities to peak through the water at the underwater world ruled by newts, and damselfly and dragonfly larvae.
How to control dratted duckweed!
I am not certain what species of duckweed I’m unintentionally cultivating in my wildlife pond, but this miniature plant is steadily growing. This is exactly what I expected, as duckweed will determinedly send out new baby plants in all directions, as speedily as it can. If you’ve got one of these tiny plants, you’ll soon have more!
When I first set this pond up, I installed a pond skimmer, which very effectively sucked up any leaves (or duckweed) on the surface of the water. I banished this product from my wildlife pond when my husband discovered a dead newt trapped in the collection basket. Since we removed this piece of apparatus, the duckweed seemingly popped up out of nowhere to colonise our wildlife pond. I expect the duckweed was brought in on the feet of birds and other garden visitors, who had been on a pond expedition and visited a pond with duckweed, earlier the same day.
I don’t want to have any duckweed in my pond, but without a pond skimmer, using my net, or taking some form of physical action, I am unable to effectively wish this plant away. I need to clear this plant by hand religiously every week in order to have a chance of controlling this pesky aquatic plant!
If you’ve got duckweed in your pond, take care as you remove this plant by hand. Look out for any dragonfly nymphs while you’re lifting the duckweed out of the water. I find that it’s easier to spot something moving in amongst the plants while there is some water in the net, so we dip the net in the water while we examine the contents.
Be mindful of where you deposit your gathered duckweed. Usually, I advise leaving leaves or detritus at the edge of the pond, as this allows any creatures the opportunity to escape back into the water; however, with duckweed, if you leave these plants at the side of the water, the chances are that at least a small number of these plants will be moved by birds, newts, or wind and rain, and as a consequence the duckweed will return to repopulate your pond. Instead, check the net over thoroughly while making your collection. I like to dip the net into the water and examine the contents, thoroughly checking for signs of movement and then I deposit the duckweed away from the water. Duckweed can be safely added to your compost heap.
Growing climbing plants to scent and enclose this area of my garden
This year, I’ve felt so grateful for the Clematis integrifolia alba and Clematis ‘Kaiu’ that have given the fence at the side of my wildlife pond a rather exquisite modesty cloak. Next year, I want to create more plant cover in this area of the garden. There are a few plants that were planted at the back of my wildlife pond when the pond was first set up, including at least three more Clematis and grapevines. I cannot get over to this side of the pond, so I am unsure if these plants have perished, but they may just be establishing themselves. I don’t remember seeing anything of Clematis ‘Kaiu’ last year, yet this clematis has been an absolute superstar this summer!
I’m growing Rosa ‘Strawberry Hill’ up the arch in the narrow border around my wildlife pond, where it has been flowering its heart out this year! I am particularly fond of fragrant plants; I chose this cultivar for its sweet scent that beautifully perfumes the area around my pond.
This rose’s first flush of flowers are fully double and not at all insect-friendly. However, my ‘Strawberry Hill’ rose delivers semi-double, accessible flowers for all its successive flowerings. This is a true delight for me, as I am so much happier growing plants with flowers that benefit bees, butterflies, moths, and other pollinating insects. ‘Strawberry Hill’ isn’t as popular with bees as the other climbing plants I’m growing, namely: ivy (Hedera helix), honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), Clematis ‘Kaiu’ or Clematis integrifolia alba.
My ivy (Hedera helix) is an absolute superstar of a plant that has formed a tall and springy, bushy hedge. Intertwined with the ivy is honeysuckle (Lonicera periclymenum), another star performer around my pond, thanks to its gloriously perfumed flowers that provide nectar for bees, moths, butterflies and other pollinating insects.
I’ve also got a self-seeded bramble that I need to control and cut back (if I cannot remove it). Brambles or blackberries are wonderful plants for wildlife. I already have an area of brambles in another patch of my garden, so I want to grow other plants by my pond.
This summer I’ve attracted high numbers of Elephant Hawk Moths to the light in my moth trap by my wildlife pond. I adore these moths; it’s almost hard to believe that something quite so magical as an Elephant Hawk Moth exists, but they do! Elephant Hawk Moths are a widespread species; who knows maybe they fly above your home during the summer months, while they’re in flight?
At this time of year, you won’t find Elephant Hawk Moths, as they’re currently in another stage of their lifecycle. Elephant Hawk Moths can be seen travelling across our gardens as caterpillars. Yesterday, I spotted this dear Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillar in the narrow border around my wildlife pond. I was so excited to find this little chap! I adore caterpillars and I’m always so happy to discover a caterpillar on the plants in my garden, especially one as special as this!
Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars feed on Lady’s Bedstraw (Galium verum), which I am growing in the border around my pond, less than a meter from where I found this little fellow. These fascinating caterpillars also eat Fuchsia, and Willowherbs (Epilobium). I don’t have any Fuchsias, but I do have Willowherbs in my little garden.
This little guy is ready to pupate. At this time of year, Elephant Hawk Moth caterpillars are on the look out for a safe area of leaf litter or soil where they can bury themselves and form a chrysalis. They’ll stay in the soil overwinter, ready to emerge as a magnificent Elephant Hawk Moth in May or June.
I haven’t set my moth trap up many times this summer. It’s been difficult to find a night where it looked certain to be dry, and on those dry evenings I didn’t want to steal time away from the moths’ lives. I am conscious that moths live for a short period of time, during which they need to be able to find a mate, source food, and live; time is precious.
One thing I can wholeheartedly do is supply nectar to help moths, as I grow as many plants as I can for moths, bees, butterflies, and other insects.
Growing border plants for bees, butterflies, moths, & hoverflies!
The plants in my garden have had a tough time with fairly extreme weather this year. We endured a cold start to the year and summertime arrived late, hot on the heals of a spate of hailstorms that deposited the largest, heaviest hailstones I’ve ever seen! By the time summer arrived, the plants had endured several stresses, including: drought, late frosts, hail and ice, cold temperatures, and low light levels. Summer arrived with a heatwave, followed by thunder and lightening and heavy downpours.
Inula hookeri is a herbaceous perennial that produces large yellow daisies that are appreciated by bees and butterflies. This Inula hookeri specimen was planted in the narrow border that surrounds my wildlife pond in spring 2019. These plants thrive in moist soils but my plant is growing quite happily in free-draining, sandy soil. I don’t ever water this border, yet my Inula hookeri plant is growing contentedly.
Living near wasps
We’ve currently got a wasp nest in our garden. The nest isn’t right next to the pond, but our garden is very small in size, so it’s not far away. If I stand near the wasp nest I can watch a constant stream of traffic as wasps enter and leave their nest. We’ve not tried to harm the wasps or move them on; we’ve just left them alone. I’ve only spotted a few wasps by the pond; usually I see bees, hoverflies, or butterflies in this area of my garden.
Bees, hoverflies, & other fascinating pollinating insects!
I adore watching bees and hoverflies as they visit the flowers I’m growing around my wildlife pond. Here are my pictures of the bees and hoverflies I’ve seen – I hope you enjoy them!
Here’s some information on growing Inula hookeri.
Slugs & snails
Slugs and snails totally decimated many of the plants I grew for my latest Compost Trial, which was incredibly frustrating! However, other than a few holes in my rhubarb leaves (which I must admit, I do quite like!) there isn’t any visible slug and snail damage on any of the plants that are growing near my wildlife pond and around this area of my garden. I’ve seen quite a few large snails and plenty of empty snail shells, left from when a bird has caught a snail.
I don’t do anything to prevent snails or slugs from reaching the plants in the area around my wildlife pond. I don’t relocate or move snails when I find them; I just let the snails be. With young seedlings though it’s an entirely different matter, as their soft leaves and small size make seedlings incredibly vulnerable to slugs and snails. If you’re worried about snails or slugs devouring your plants, check out the results of my Slug and Snail Trial to find effective and reliable methods of protecting your plants from mollusks.
Spending quality time with sparrows!
I’ve observed so many more birds in my garden this year. We now have a flock of Sparrows that visit the pond several times a day; which is especially lovely, as we hadn’t observed any Sparrows in this garden before these birds showed up.
I have a bird feeder over the other side of the garden, which has four large sized feeders; currently we have to top these up at least every two weeks, as the birds will empty them in this time!
Whatever I am doing in the garden, I am always thinking of wildlife: birds, bees, butterflies, and moths; they’re all on my mind. I have planted some trees, but I have such a small garden that I am limited in what I can grow, due to having such a restricted space.
Ivy (Hedera helix) is an absolutely fabulous plant for birds. It’s a wonderful plant to grow to encourage wildlife, as it supports bees, butterflies, moths, and other insects, as well as birds.
Looking out for butterflies & growing butterfly plants
I’ve seen higher numbers of butterflies than I expected this summer, which is wonderful! In July 2021, I found that I could take this same photograph of Cabbage White Butterflies feasting upon either the Veronica spicata or Verbena bonariensis flowers, several times a day!
The caterpillar food plants for Holly Blue Butterflies are Ilex aquifolium (holly) and Hedera helix (ivy). I grow both of these plants in my garden and so the Holly Blue is a butterfly that I see frequently in my garden. For more articles with ideas of plants to grow for caterpillars, please click here.
I love growing Myosotis scorpioides alba, as this plant’s flowers are beneficial for bees, hoverflies, and butterflies above the water, and underneath the water, Myosotis scorpioides alba leaves are often used by female newts to conceal their eggs.
Painted Lady Butterflies are just the most incredible butterflies. Did you know that every year, Painted Lady Butterflies migrate from the Middle East, North Africa, and Asia and travel to the UK and Ireland? We’d consider that a long journey if we’d travelled in a plane, but these butterflies fly themselves here. Isn’t that amazing?
I was over the moon to see this Painted Lady Butterfly sweep into my garden. I didn’t see a single Painted Lady Butterfly last year and this is the first Painted Lady I’ve observed this year. Hopefully I’ll see more butterflies this month, fingers crossed. Whatever happens, I’ll let you know in my next update!
To head straight to the next update and see my wildlife pond in October, please click here.
For gardening advice for September, please click here.
For more articles about gardening for wildlife, please click here.
To see my plant pages and find information on growing a wide range of plants, please click here.
To see every update I’ve written about my wildlife pond, please click here.
Barb PerksAugust 28, 2021 at 5:39pm
I very much enjoy your posts! Like a wise and knowledgeable friend, from whom I have learned a lot about how to have a lovely, easygoing garden and that it can be a bit wild and welcoming to so many creatures. In our new pond I have watched with interest this year as the aquatic plants go through different phases. Comforting to see the same happening in your pond too.
Thank you Pumpkin Beth,
Pumpkin BethAugust 28, 2021 at 5:47pm
Thank you for your lovely message, it’s wonderful to connect with you and find a kindred spirit. I am so happy that you’ve created a garden that’s welcoming to wildlife. I hope you’re having a lovely weekend and are enjoying spending time by your own wildlife pond.