A well-planted, well-maintained garden pond doesn’t just look good – it’s also beneficial to all sorts of wildlife.
Over the last century, nearly 70% of garden ponds have been lost from the UK countryside, meaning that man-made garden ponds have an increased importance for wildlife.
A well-planted garden pond attracts and supports a wide range of aquatic species, and its margins will provide food and shelter for frogs and other creatures, including birds and butterflies, which bring life to the garden.
Now’s a good time to make an existing garden pond more wildlife-friendly with sloping edges for easy access, especially for drinking and bathing birds.
Alternatively, put a big, flat rock just below the surface of the water and watch the waders flock in and the toads enjoy a spot of fly-catching.
Add a fringe of evergreen sedges and grasses around the edges to provide visiting wildlife with shelter and privacy, and aim to make more of your pond with clever marginal planting that melts the pond into its natural surroundings without any seams.
Start by linking the aquatic pond plants to the colour scheme and textures of nearby borders and, as with the rest of the garden, aim for year-round interest.
You can prepare the ground now for planting by installing a boggy strip around the margins, lining a depression in the soil up to 45cm deep with perforated polythene and filling with sieved garden soil.
Plant perennials such as native Iris pseudacorus, kingcups and bogbean or giant cowslips, which don’t mind getting their feet wet.
For semi-natural and ornamental ponds that don’t feature totally indigenous plants, fill adjacent borders with varieties that thrive in damp soil. Try hostas, astilbe, Crocosmia ‘Lucifer’, Lobelia cardinalis and Lythrum salicaria.
It’s possible to extend your enjoyment of your garden pond into winter and make it sparkle after dark with some creatively placed lighting.
Underwater lighting or floating solar lights will create a soft, but dramatic, effect, and, when used in conjunction with a simple fountain, can become the heartbeat of the garden.
For something a bit different, though, use coloured LED lighting to create an eerie effect. Or to add some mystery to your garden pond, install a pond mister – the device will create a foggy mist rising from the water and, with the help of lighting, cast a moonlight glow and even rainbow effects.
Still water captures reflections, which add mystery and depth to a garden. Switch fountains off now (and remove pumps for routine maintenance) and you’ll see that on a clear moonlit night you’ll be able to watch the dark water project the midnight sky, bringing stars crashing down to earth.
By the end of autumn, most of the herbaceous perennials in the garden will be going to ground. With pond plants, it’s especially important to trim back and remove spent foliage and flowers. If left, they will rot and pollute the water.
To reach any deep-water aquatics towards the centre of the pond – water lilies thrive in 60-90cm of water – straddle a sturdy decorator’s plank across the pond so that you can attend to the plants.
Cut off the leaves and stalks, but leave the buds and, if necessary, shorten vigorous rhizomes by up to a third. Always place the trimmings and decaying plant material at the side of the pond so that any smaller aquatic wildlife that is hidden away can return to the pond.
Don’t neglect autumn raking, as rotting leaves will upset the nutrient balance of the water. To prevent them from blowing in, install a fine net over the surface.
If the pond has already become a smelly stew of rotting vegetation, then you will need to remove fish and plants and put them into a holding tank before scooping up the mud and topping up with fresh rainwater. However, if severe weather is forecast, it’s probably best to leave this task until spring.
If you’re a serious water gardener, then now’s a good time to top up the gravel mulch in planting baskets. Doing this will help prevent fish, which are preparing to settle for the winter in a state of semi-hibernation in the deeper reaches of the pond, from disturbing the potting soil and muddying the water.
As there’s no real need for ‘fish kit’ such as bio filters and ultraviolet clarifiers at this time of year, you can remove and maintain them, and keep them in a dry, safe place until needed again.
The one bit of useful equipment that you might like to consider, though, is a pond heater. This can be a lifesaver for fish in very severe weather, as it will stop the entire pond freezing and causing a build-up of toxic methane gases, which robs the oxygen and causes stress to fish.