A mini pond in a pot

It's easy to make a small pond in a container and it will provide an important habitat and source of water for creatures including insects, amphibians and birds. Watch our video below for simple instructions.

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How to make a small wildlife pond

A pond is a fantastic way to attract wildlife into your garden and even a tiny pond will benefit a lot of animals. Many creatures are entirely aquatic, some start their lives in water and others need water for drinking and bathing.

Creating a pond in a container is easy and requires little maintenance.

Get started and you could soon be watching wildlife including frogs, pond skaters and blackbirds enjoying your pond.

A pond skater

Pond skaters can fly and will quickly arrive at a new pond. They move across the surface of the water using surface tension. © ColleenSlater Photography/ Shutterstock

When to create your pond

You can create a garden pond at any time of year. Different seasons have different advantages.

If you create a pond during autumn or winter there will usually be plenty of rain to fill your pond but you might need to wait until spring for pond plants to be available. Conversely, in spring and summer it is easy to buy pond plants but you might need to wait for rain.

Where to position your wildlife pond

Ponds need light. Sunshine allows pond plants to photosynthesise, adding more oxygen to the water. Oxygenated water is needed by aquatic wildlife that doesn't come to the surface to breathe.

Shade for part of the day can help reduce evaporation in warmer months but full Sun is preferable to full shade.

To allow amphibians to forage and dragonflies to hunt, add patches of long vegetation next to your pond (on the side that won't shade it) and piles of logs and stones.

How to make a mini pond in a pot

You will need:

  • gravel
  • large stones
  • logs
  • rainwater
  • pond plants (check out our suggestions below)
  • a large container
  1. Find a spot that receives both Sun and shade throughout the day where you can place your pond.
  2. Line the bottom of the container with a layer of gravel, then use the large stones to create hiding spots for wildlife.
  3. Place a log inside so it reaches the top of the container. This allows animals to escape if they fall in.
  4. Next, add a pond plant of choice, following the recommended planting instructions.
  5. Fill the container to the top with rainwater and add at least one oxygenating plant. The plants are key to a healthy pond habitat.
  6. Finally, use more stones or logs to make an external ramp. Your pond is now ready for nature to move in.

Read on to find more tips on creating wildlife ponds and how best to look after them, or check out our pond FAQ to quickly find answers to specific questions.

A female blackbird next to a container pond

A female blackbird about to drink from or bathe in a container pond © Sue Rae Edmondson/ Shutterstock

What if I want to make a bigger wildlife pond?

If making a miniature pond has whet your appetite for wetland creation and you have a bit more space, you might wish to build a bigger pond.

If you dig a pond it is better to create your own shape and use a flexible pond liner rather than a pre-formed, plastic mould. The pre-formed pond moulds are usually too deep and too steep-sided.

Aim to give your pond shallow edges that gently slope. 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. 

An area of lawn where a pond is being dug out

A wildlife pond being dug out © Gillian Pullinger/ Shutterstock

If you have space but can't dig, you can use pond liner to create a pond in a raised bed.

As with the mini pond, add logs, stones, pond plants and rainwater to complete the habitat and ensure wildlife has easy routes in and out.

Garden pond safety

Small children are fascinated by ponds. To minimise the risk of children falling into a larger pond you might want to add a barrier (a hedge or fence), a heavy metal mesh over the surface or increase supervision.

The shallow sides that are beneficial for wildlife also make ponds safer for children.

Looking after your wildlife pond

Whether you have created a mini pond in a pot or dug out a larger pond, the tasks you will need to complete to maintain your pond are the same.

Autumn is the main time for pond maintenance, after amphibians have left the pond but before pond life has gone completely dormant.

The main task is reducing plants - ideally you want about 60% open water to allow light to reach submerged plants and to allow space for growth over spring and summer. But different species like different amounts of vegetation so don't worry too much about exact proportions.

You might also need to remove some sediment or fallen leaves from the bottom of your pond if it is in danger of becoming a bog rather than a pond (unless you would like a bog garden - they are great habitats too). Never remove all the sediment - this is where a lot of pond creatures live, especially in the winter months.

If there is a long cold spell in winter it is good to brush snow from the top of your pond to ensure enough sunlight reaches the plants.

You can add a floating ball or gently break the ice on your pond if you want visiting birds and mammals to use it as a drinking source, but you don't need to break the ice to keep the plants and animals in the pond alive. The pond plants will continue to photosynthesise under the ice - producing the oxygen that animals need - as long as they continue to get light.

During spring and summer you may wish to top up your pond with water, or clear algae or duckweed (see sections below).

Choosing pond plants

Pond plants are essential for a good pond ecosystem. If you make a pond in a pot you will need at least one submerged oxygenating plant and one plant that sticks out of the water (an emergent plant). Emergent plants allow insects that start life in the water - such as dragonflies - to exit the pond when they are ready to transform into adults.

A few suggestions of plants suitable for very small ponds are:

For a bigger pond you should also aim to have marginal plants around the damp edges of your pond as cover for amphibians and bathing birds, and hunting grounds for dragonflies.

Marginal plants that are also suitable for very small ponds:

Floating plants are good for attracting insects and amphibians that lay eggs in the pond or on the underside of floating vegetation. Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) is suitable for very small ponds.

The more plant variety the better, as it creates niches for more species.

The Wildlife Gardening Forum has a more in-depth discussion of plants for wildlife ponds and their roles in a pond ecosystem, as well as extra suggestions of plants for larger ponds. 

Pond plant with lilypad-like leaves and white flowers

Frogbit (Hydrocharis morsus-ranae) © Toni Genes/ Shutterstock

Buying 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.

Planting pond plants

Planting pond plants is 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.

Adding water to wildlife ponds

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.

Pouring water into a pond

It is best to use rainwater to fill and top up wildlife ponds

Wildlife ponds do not need pumps or filters and they can be harmful to creatures that get sucked in. Submerged plants add all the required oxygen to the water.

Pond water doesn't need cleaning (different advice applies for fish ponds). It 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 (see below).

Attracting animals to your pond

You don't need to add any animals to your pond and to avoid spreading diseases, particularly among amphibians, you shouldn't.

Pond animals are fantastic at dispersing and will make their own way to your pond. 

A common frog in a pond

Even a tiny pond will help frogs to keep cool and moist. They are among the first animals to arrive at a new pond. © Geoffrey Osborne/ Shutterstock

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'.

If you want to create a pond for wildlife it is best not to add fish - they will eat everything else.

Discover what wildlife might move into your pond >

A hedgehog about to drink from a pond

A hedgehog might drink from your pond if it can reach the water. Hedgehogs can swim, but it's important that pond designs include a way for them to climb out if they fall in. © Coatesy/ Shutterstock

Unwanted pond guests (algae, mosquitoes and duckweed)

When you first create your pond, you might find mosquito larvae are one of the first animals to arrive. Don't worry about this. Mosquito larvae 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.

What if your pond turns green? Excessive growth of algae such as blanket weed can be an issue for ponds, particularly ones topped up with tap water or where the sediment is regularly disturbed.

Blanket weed can stop light from reaching oxygenating plants, causing them to die and reducing pond oxygen levels as a result.

Blanket weed can be scooped out with a net and left next to the pond for creatures to crawl back in. 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. After a couple of days the algae can be added to compost.

Duckweed can also sometimes shade out ponds. If it covers most of the surface it can be scooped out in the same way as blanket weed.

A small amount of algae or duckweed is not a problem.

Keeping your pond healthy

Hopefully, following all the tips above will keep your pond healthy but sometimes things can still go wrong. If you notice animals are dying in your pond (particularly amphibians) it is important to report them to Garden Wildlife Health. Sadly, many amphibians around the world are dying due to diseases originating from the trade in exotic pets and insufficient measures to prevent the spread of harmful viruses, bacteria and fungi.

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