Read about Kathy
A Four-Part Series on Building
Ponds for Wildlife
Maintaining a Wildlife Pond
by Kathy Biggs, California USA
Click images to enlarge
In Part 1 of this four-part series, the philosophy and mindset
for building ponds for wildlife is covered. How to Design the
Pond, Part 2 in the series, describes how to design a wildlife
pond. Revisit Part 1
| Part 2.
Maintaining a wildlife pond differs from maintaining a tropical
or koi pond because a wildlife pond doesnt need to be cared
for as fastidiously. Fallen leaves will need to be skimmed off at times and plants
will need to be thinned, but the critters that are part of the
wildlife cycle that the pond supports are living among the debris
and plantings. Therefore, when doing any maintenance, it is important
to always check any material removed from the pond for critters!
Think of it as a treasure hunt. A dragonfly nymph may be clinging
to the underside of a fallen leaf. Or frog eggs may be attached
to underwater plant stems.
Often the best time of day to do pond maintenance is in the early
morning hours. At that time of day, the warmest water in your
pond will be at a deeper level than at the surface, and critters
will have migrated there overnight for the warmth.
Two techniques that work well for protecting pond inhabitants
are to (1) always look into your skimming net before removing
the contents, and (2) put your skimmed leaves into a bucket or
tub of water and place it in the sun. If youre willing
to do both steps, youll save more of the pond critters
clinging to the plant debris. When you look into the tub later
in the day, youll find that all the critters will have
moved to the sunny side (rather than the shaded side) of the
container and can be scooped out and returned to the pond.
Because you are providing their ideal habitat, native pond plants
will flourish in your pond and may need periodic thinning during
the summer and fall months. This is another perfect way to spend
a hot summer day! If you must enter the pond, use the steps that
youve provided. I choose to wear tight-fitting bicycling
shorts because they prevent any critters from getting inside
my clothing! They also are usually made of material that is fast
drying. It is best to enter the pond when it is cool and in the
shade, as sunblock on your legs or arms would pollute the pond.
In the fall you may need to skim off fallen leaves. If your pond
is under or near several large trees, I suggest that you suspend
bird netting over the pond to catch the leaves before they hit
the surface. A photo in
Part 2 of this series shows the pond with netting suspended over
it. To prevent birds from getting stuck in the net, be sure to
use a single layer and not allow folds to form in the netting.
Not all leaves need to be removed as some litter in the bottom
of a wildlife pond provides habitat for pond critters.
Winter pond cleaning can be a challenge, but proper apparel makes
all the difference. For cold weather, nothing beats fishermans
waders! Long johns under a wading suit and a warm cap will keep
the pond-cleaner comfortable in inclement weather.
When you go into your pond, its handy to have a partner
nearby so that if you forget anything, or need assistance, you
dont have to leave and reenter the pond. When you enter
your pond, you stir things up, and you want to keep this to a
minimum. Thats why a go-fer helper is a good
idea. If I take a tub (or even a garbage can lid) into the pond
with me, I can float my tools in it as well as the plant clippings
Dont be hasty about throwing your pond clippings onto
your compost pile. They may be full of critters! What works well
is to put down a screen mesh (1/2 mesh or chicken wire
works) over some rocks and water just inside the pond edge. Put
your clippings on the screen and gently hose it down. This will
help any critters fall back into the pond. Within a half hour
everything, except any eggs that were laid inside plant stems
(darner dragonflies and damselflies do this), will have had a
chance to return to the pond. You cant save eggs but youll
save many of the already hatched inhabitants.
It is helpful to know what the underwater critters in your
pond look like. Below left is a scan of a skimmer dragonfly nymph.
It is squat in appearance and looks like a six-legged spider.
A damselfly nymph, below in the middle, is thinner and much smaller
than a dragonfly nymph and it has three feathery gills at the
end. A darner dragonfly nymph, below right, is long and narrow,
and looks like a miniature dragon. A diving beetle nymph has
big jaws and a mayfly nymph has feathery gills alongside its
Skimmer dragonfly nymph
Darner dragonfly nymph
Koi ponds are usually cleaned every winter, but a wildlife pond
should only need to be cleaned every third year if necessary.
Some wildlife ponds can go six years or more before they need
to be cleaned. Pond cleaning is best done during your ponds
dormant time. For certain, it should not be done in the spring
when frog eggs (see photo at the left) are in the pond. If you
live where your pond doesnt freeze over, January and February
in the nothern hemisphere or July and August in the southern
hemisphere can be good pond cleaning months.
When you are ready to clean your pond, you can easily remove
the water by turning your pond pump so that it is pumping the
water out of your pond instead of recirculating it. If youre
not using a recirculating pump, you can siphon off the water.
Depending on where you live, this water can flow into your yard
or be shunted off towards a drain, but at least some of the pond
water should be collected for reuse in the pond.
Try to preserve as many of the critters that live in the debris
at the bottom of the pond as you can. Heres a good technique:
Pump or siphon the water into a holding tank. A childs
wading pool makes a good holding area.
The pump can remove the water from your pond to a level that
is only several inches (1"=2.5cm) of water above the muck.
After that youll need either to siphon it off and/or use
buckets. Then you can hose down the sides, pick out debris, and
remove accumulated muck with a bucket. Be certain to look for
squirming critters such as beetle and dragonfly nymph and put
them in the holding tank.
If there are native fish in your pond, stop pumping the water
from the pond when there are only a couple of inches of clear
water left and remove the fish before taking the pond completely
down to muck only.
If your water is chlorinated, refilling your pond can be a
challenge. A large volume of chlorinated water at once could
harm aquatic life and plants. Before refilling your pond, be
sure to leave the water in uncovered containers overnight to
allow the chlorine to dissipate. Some city water contains a form
of chlorine that doesnt dissipate overnight, and you may
need to consult your local tropical fish store or pond and garden
shop for ways to remove it.
When you refill your pond, remember to add any pond water
youve saved; it contains beneficial microorganisms that
inoculate the newly cleaned pond.
Maintaining a wildlife pond demands that you pay attention
to the critters that live in it. Because of this, the least disturbance
possible is usually best. Maintenance differs so much from pond
to pond; you may not need to clean summer, fall, and winter.
Some wildlife pond owners do heavy maintenance less often
they skim off some leaves every other week or so, but clip out
excess plants only once or twice a year. If your pond is built
to the size recommended in part 2 of this series (not wider than
you can reach into with a net), you can avoid entering and stirring
up the pond.
to learn more about Bigsnest Wildlife Pond, 15 years old in 2010
and Dragonfly Roost Pond, five years old in 2010.
1: Why Build a Pond for Wildlife? (WGI Online Journal, November
How to Design a Pond for Wildlife (WGI Online Journal, February
Part 4: Tie in with the Rest of Your Yard (WGI Online Journal,