A wildlife pond

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FAQ about creating and maintaining a garden wildlife pond

Do you have a wildlife pond in your garden or would you like to add one? Nature thanks you.

Museum Wildlife Garden ecologist Sylvia Myers provides advice and answers to commonly asked questions about pond creation and upkeep.

If you've yet to create your pond, check out our guide to making a small wildlife pond.

Pond plants

  • What are the best pond plants for a small pond?

    Ponds need at least one kind of submerged oxygenating plant. As well as adding oxygen to the water, they provide creatures with valuable cover.

    Adding emergent plants will allow insects that start life in the water - such as dragonflies - to exit the pond when they are ready to transform into adults.

    Marginal plants around the damp edges of a pond provide cover for amphibians and bathing birds, and hunting grounds for dragonflies.

    Floating plants are good for attracting insects that lay eggs in the pond or on the underside of floating vegetation.

    It is best to plant native pond plants as non-native aquatic plants can be problematic if they escape into the wild.

    The more plant variety the better, as it creates niches for more creatures. The following species are native to the UK and suitable for small ponds:


    • hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
    • willow moss (Fontinalis antipyretica)
    • water starwort (Callitriche stagnalis)

    Emergent plants:

    • water mint (Mentha aquatica)
    • lesser spearwort (Ranunculus flammula)
    • lesser water plantain (Baldellia ranunculoides)
    • water forget-me-not (Myosotis scorpioides)

    Marginal plants:

    • creeping Jenny (Lysimachia nummularia)
    • greater bird's foot trefoil (Lotus pedunculatus)
    • water avens (Geum rivale)

    Floating plants:

    • frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae)
  • What plants oxygenate a pond and how many do I need?

    For a small container pond you will need at least one submerged oxygenating plant. Ideally you want about 40% of the pond to consist of plants. Don't worry too much about exact proportions, but some open areas of water are important to allow light to reach the oxygenating plants and to allow space for growth over spring and summer.

    Oxygenating plants native to the UK include:

    • hornwort (Ceratophyllum demersum)
    • willow moss (Fontinalis antipyretica)
    • water starwort (Callitriche stagnalis)
    • spiked water-milfoil (Myriophyllum spicatum)
    • whorled water-milfoil (Myriophyllum verticillatum)
    • curled pondweed (Potamogeton crispus)
    • marestail (Hippuris vulgaris)
    • water violet (Hottonia palustris)
    • water crowfoot (Ranunculus aquatilis)
  • Where can I buy pond plants?

    Pond plants should ideally be bought from a supplier of UK native pond plants - these can easily be found online. Sometimes garden centres sell plants that are problematic if they escape into the wild, although many of the most invasive species have now been banned. Plantlife provides a list of banned plants (almost all are aquatic).

    It is best not to get pond plants from friends with ponds because this could spread amphibian diseases.

  • How do I plant pond plants? And what soil do I use?

    Planting pond plants is really easy. Many floating and submerged plants don't have roots and can simply be placed in your pond in the open water.

    Marginal and emergent plants can usually be wedged into the gravel or stones at the bottom and edges of your pond - adding soil to the pond may lead to algae growth.

    If you are creating a large pond and want instant vegetation you can buy pre-planted coir mats that you can lay around the pond's edges.

Other things to consider when setting up a pond

  • How big should a wildlife pond be?

    Even a tiny pond will benefit a lot of animals. Small ponds are fantastic for water boatmen, pond skaters and bathing house sparrows.

    Dragonfly larvae usually prefer bigger ponds but don't always stick to the 'rules'.

    Likewise, some amphibians, particularly common toads and great crested newts, prefer to breed in large ponds. Typically, toads are thought to prefer ponds that are at least 20 metres in diameter. Frogs and other newts will lay spawn in much smaller areas - ponds that are one to two metres across can prove very popular.

    A pond of any size will help amphibians to keep cool and moist in summer, as well as benefiting other local wildlife.

    Create whatever size pond you are happy with and something will enjoy it.

  • How deep should a wildlife pond be?

    Most pond life thrives in water less than 30 centimetres deep (a lot in water less than 10 centimetres). However, you can create deeper bits if you want to reduce the risk of the pond drying out or filling with silt too quickly.

    The best ponds for amphibians have both shallow and deep areas. Tadpoles will bask in shallow areas. Toads usually breed in deeper ponds. Including a section that's at least 60 centimetres deep will reduce the chance of a pond drying up while tadpoles are still active.

    Whatever the depth of your pond, be sure to include shallow edges that gently slope. Or in a container pond, add staggered stones. This is important to ensure animals can get out if they need to and creates the best areas for pond plants to grow.

  • Can I use tap water in my pond? How do I dechlorinate it?

    Rainwater is best for a wildlife pond. It is useful to have a water butt for this purpose.

    Tap water is high in nutrients (encouraging algae) and chemicals used to treat water.

    Leaving tap water outside for 1-2 days will allow chlorine to dissipate but the nutrients will stay. Try to add the smallest amount of tap water possible to your pond.

Pond maintenance

  • How and when should I clean my pond?

    Wildlife ponds don't need to be cleaned. The water may become cloudy from time to time, usually after heavy rain, but this will usually settle after a few days.

    Sometimes an oily film may appear, which usually precedes algae.

    A small amount of algae or duckweed won't cause problems and creatures such as young tadpoles and snails will feed on it.

    If the growth of algae or duckweed in your pond gets excessive - covering most of the surface so that not enough sunlight will reach the submerged oxygenating plants - you may need to remove some (see below).

  • Why is my pond green?

    Excessive algae or blanket weed growth can be an issue for ponds, particularly ones containing tap water, or ones where the sediment is regularly disturbed.

    To reduce the nutrients in a pond, use rainwater rather than tap water to fill it and top it up.

  • How do I get rid of algae in the pond?

    A small amount of algae such as blanket weed isn't a problem. But you can usually get rid of excessive algae by simply scooping it out with a net. Place it next to the pond for any animals to crawl back in. After a couple of days the algae can be added to compost. If you want to give the creatures more of a helping hand, you can wash them out of the algae in a bowl of pond water.

  • Is duckweed good for ponds?

    A small amount of duckweed is fine, but if it covers most of the surface it can stop sunlight from reaching oxygenating plants, causing them to die. As a result, pond oxygen levels will drop.

    To clear duckweed from your pond, scoop it out with a net and place it next to the pond for a couple of days. This will give animals a chance to crawl back into the pond. The duckweed can then be added to compost. If you want to give the creatures more of a helping hand, you can wash them out of the weed in a bowl of pond water.

  • What do I do if my pond is drying out?

    Pond levels will naturally fluctuate throughout the year so the best option is to just to let your pond levels change with the weather. A lot of pond life is adapted to water bodies that dry out completely in the summer.

    However, if you want your pond to remain as a water source for animals over the summer or grow plants that can't tolerate a pond drying up completely, you may wish to add water.

    For a wildlife pond, rainwater is best. It is useful to have a water butt for this purpose. Tap water is high in nutrients (encouraging algae) and chemicals used to treat water. Leaving tap water outside for 1-2 days will allow chlorine to dissipate but the nutrients will stay. Try to add the smallest amount of tap water possible.

About the wildlife

  • What animals live in a pond?

    Ponds are crucial habitat for a great diversity of animals. Some creatures spend their whole lives underwater while others begin their lives there and return to breed.

    Typical pond life includes amphibians such as common frogs and smooth newts. A large number of insects and invertebrates rely on ponds. Those common in garden ponds include pond skaters, water boatmen, backswimmers and water beetles.

    You might also spot damselflies and dragonflies flying around ponds or resting nearby. Their larvae live in ponds. The same goes for some species of hoverflies.

    Yet more animals use ponds for feeding, drinking, bathing or nest-building.

    Explore more pond life >

  • Can you buy newts for a pond?

    No, you can't buy newts to release into a pond. You shouldn't add animals to your pond because the spread of diseases is a big problem, particularly among amphibians. Exotic newts shouldn't be introduced because they could escape into the wild and it is illegal to trade in UK amphibians. Animals will find your pond by themselves.

  • How do I attract wildlife to my pond?

    If you follow our guidelines on how to create a wildlife pond, you will create an inviting habitat.

    Pond animals have fantastic dispersal adaptations and will make their own way to your pond.

    Water boatmen, water beetles and frogs are often first to arrive and will happily live in a small pond. Toads, newts and dragonfly larvae usually prefer bigger ponds but don't always stick to the 'rules'. 

  • Won't a pond attract mosquitoes?

    Mosquito larvae are often one of the first animals to appear in a new pond. They look like small, hairy worms with round heads and are less than a centimetre long. Sometimes referred to as wrigglers because of the way they move, they spend a lot of time hanging upside down from the surface of the water.

    If you notice mosquito larvae in your pond, there is no need to be concerned. They are near the bottom of a pond food chain and soon more animals will arrive and eat the larvae and create more of a balance. Adult mosquitoes are an excellent food source for pipistrelle bats.