Don't forget about your pond this winter

Even in winter, when the water is calm and your pond seems lifeless, we still need to do our part to help garden wildlife. Nature Skills Trainee, Andrew Campbell outlines his top tips for keeping a happy and healthy nature pond over the cold winter months.

Do you ever wonder where the vibrant wealth of wildlife that hums around your garden pond goes in the winter?

When discussing winter wildlife often it is hibernating mammals, or consistent bird feeding that steals the show, but what about winter pond life? We often forget that our ponds are full of life, and we sometimes neglect them until they thrive with noise and movement again in the spring. However, even in winter, when the water is calm and the pond seems lifeless, we need to do our part to help our garden wildlife.

Here are my top tips for keeping a happy and healthy nature pond over the cold winter months!

1. Remove fallen leaves. Adult male frogs lay dormant in the silt at the bottoms of ponds over-winter to be first in line for breeding in the spring, using their skin to breathe while underwater. This is why we want to remove any leaves that have fallen into our ponds before the ice comes, as the decomposition of leaves underwater can release harmful toxic gases. Even a thin layer of ice can prohibit this gas from leaving, and suffocate the hibernating frogs.

2. Provide oxygenating plants. Ensure you have a good amount of native aquatic oxygenating plants in your pond such as spiked water milfoil and water starwort as these will combat the decomposition of any organic matter. Try to remove snow that falls onto your frozen pond to prevent the sunlight from being blocked; otherwise, the submerged plants can’t photosynthesis to release oxygen.

3. Clear ice from the pond edges to give your garden birds a place to bathe and fresh drinking water.

4. Leave it messy. Not only are leaf piles, compost bins, log piles, and long grass important for mammals but also amphibians. Frogs and smooth newts hibernate in these microhabitats where it is a steady temperature, safe from predators, and out of the elements. Try building a hibernaculum for insects and frogs to take refuge in your garden over winter.

5. Create a breathing hole: float a small ball or pond ornament on the water to prevent the pond completely freezing over. This will allow frogs to exit to hunt, and gases to diffuse in and out of the water!

Get more wildlife gardening tips and download our free pond booklet to help create and look after your pond.