I love my pond. Its almost 6 years old now, and it has been attracting wildlife to my garden from the first day it had water, even though we filled it by hose from the tap, so the water was full of chlorine etc. Its not very big, and although it has a surface area – when full anyway – of about 5 m² (~54 square feet) most of this is devoted to marginal shelves of various heights and a gently sloping beach area.

Pond Contours

When I first had the pond I envisaged netting it every Autumn to prevent any leaves getting in, and bought a net to do this. I envisaged planting lovely marginals in aquatic baskets, and moving them around the marginal shelves as and when I wanted to. I planned to lift, divide and replant regularly, and in the case of my pygmy water lily at least, feed too. As if!

I’ve been through lots of different marginals, some of which survive to this day – Pontederia cordata or Pickerel weed thrives, though not in the original baskets. Others failed. The corkscrew rush springs to mind. I only netted the pond once – fiddly and ugly, and anyway, what about the frogs? I had problems with blanket weed, until I discovered EM Mud Balls, which seem to be far more effective than barley straw, if rather more expensive. In general my neglect seems not to have mattered. I get a huge range of wildlife, and although we only ever seem to have one newt we always have lots of frogs. Apparently you tend to either have one or the other, rarely a healthy population of both. The snail population is varied and plentiful, there are numerous small bugs, worms, larvae, and the water is, in general, crystal clear. Apart from the duck weed.

After experimenting with various oxygenators I ended up panic buying Canadian Pond Weed. Its very effective, but very invasive. It has been taking over. More than that, the tangle of stems floating on the surface of the water make it nigh on impossible to net out the duck weed. I promised myself that this year I would do something about it.

I am very bad at keeping my promises when it comes to my pond, a situation only exacerbated by the advent of the allotment. I’ve been meaning to clear the pond and divide the irises for weeks now, knowing that I needed to get it done before the pond fills up with frog spawn. The realisation that the pond has started to bubble violently every time anyone goes near it, indicating the gathering of many, many frogs ready for high jinks, singing and spawning, convinced me that I needed to stop procrastinating.

Pond Pre Clearance

Due to the Pickerel Weed’s skills as an escape artist, I can’t any longer trim back all the dead growth from the sides of the pond, even with the aid of pond gloves which go right up to the armpits. So, it was a case of donning the waders and joining the frogs. Cutting back the marginals that I hadn’t been able to get to and pulling up armfuls of Canadian Pond Weed were the easy part. There was still my Iris Shame to face.

The Main Problem

Everyone knows that irises need regular division. The centre of the clump dies out and new growth only appears at the edges. Division re-invigorates the plant and makes it look a whole lot better. I should have tackled this years ago, I can’t use the allotment as an excuse. A combination of laziness, being away and being ill mean that I now have a significant problem.

Congested Iris Pre Split

The one above isn’t too bad. I was able to lift the (too small) basket out of the pond fairly easily. Having gently removed the snails and returned them to safety, it quickly became apparent that the only way of extracting the iris from the basket was to cut the basket open – the strong roots had grown through the holes in the basket, locking the plant in place.

Congested Iris

The majority of the basket was filled with solid and unproductive root (tuber?). Replanting the healthy section in a new basket with pond compost and a layer of carefully washed gravel was pretty straightforward. If I’d been keeping on top of this job over the past few years this would have been the story for the rest too. However.

Impossible To Split

Confronted with 2 – or is it 3, impossible to tell – baskets tightly knit together with the very strong roots of the irises, I couldn’t actually tell where the baskets were. Carefully trimming back some of the more fibrous roots revealed that, rather than creeping over the top of the basket the healthy growth was pushing through the baskets themselves. I couldn’t see how to detatch the plants from the baskets without damaging all the roots and therefore possibly losing the lot. I confess, I chickened out. I reasoned that they seemed to be doing just fine without any interference from me, so I would leave them be and see what happens. If they don’t flower, I will take them out and hack them about in the Autumn.

The really bad news, and why this is a cautionary tale rather than an informative post on how to divide pond irises, is that the remaining clumps are so strongly emeshed in the underlay that protects the pond liner itself from stones etc. that I couldn’t lift them out. Even with all my (considerable) weight behind it I could’t shift them, and feared not only falling over backwards and filling my waders from the top, but wrecking the pond itself by heaving up the underlay. So although I have been able to divide some of the irises and move them to a better postion, the rest are staying put. So the pond doesn’t actually look that different after all my efforts than it did before.

Pond Post Clearup

I did re-float the duck, and the large heap of plant matter will stay on the pond edge for a couple of days to allow the pond life to escape back into the water before being added to the compost heap.

Grumpy Frog

The frogs soon emerged from hiding, though this one looks a little grumpy. Perhaps he knew what he was missing out on:

Friendly Frogs

46 thoughts on “How not to look after your pond

  1. “A Froggy would a wooing go..” then? That grumpy frog looks really mean. Hope he hasn’t beaten-up the little ducklings just for spite.

    1. LOL! It’s the female frog I feel sorry for, he’s going to be insisting on having a turn…

  2. The frogs are too cute, mad or not. Ponds are a lot of work and I took mine a out after six years. It was not big or deep enough to be self sustaining. And iris… I just split mine up last Fall after way too long. Like you I had monster rhizomes. I am reducing my work I hope rather than getting more for myself, but I do have a slew of perennials that need splitting.

    1. Hi Donna. They are a lot more work than anyone lets on, aren’t they. Hence the neglect… Good luck with the work reduction, a wise move. Gardening when you feel as if you are permanently behind or just not up to tackling what needs to be done is no fun at all. A tightrope I walk all the time.

  3. You do have quite a few frogs in there. They got to be happy living there though we can’t really tell with the looks. :)

    1. It is a little hard to tell, isn’t it! Last year we had over 20 frogs mating, very noisy at night. Most of them leave after they have done the deed, but we always have around half a dozen. Wonderful for slug control!

  4. We haven’t spotted any frogs just yet in our pond although it is usually something of a rave at mating time. I think Canadian pondweed is causing problems in natural waterways as people have got fed up of it in garden ponds and dumped it elsewhere.

    I can feel a pond post coming on before too long as our pond has also gone through lots of transformations and caused some dramatic episodes.

    1. “Something of a rave” – I like it! I won;t be dumping my Canadian pondweed anywhere but the compost bin, but you are right, it is causing a huge problem in the natural waterways. I’m much more native aware nowadays, and will be restocking very carefully. I’ll look forward to your pond tales!

  5. Janet, I’ve never divided the iris in my pond, now seven years on, and they seem quite happy with the neglect. -I wonder if being in water lessens the need for division? Isn’t it exciting when the the pond begins to bubble with life – cute shot of the frogs :)

    1. Hi Cyndy, really interesting that you say that. Certainly I had the best flowers ever on the irises last year, truly spectacular. You give me hope!

  6. Hi,

    Good on you for getting out there and attempting to sort it!

    I’d love a pond, but know the exact same would happen to me, my boyfriend really wants one but I know the work will come down to me and because I won’t bother doing the work it’ll just end up in a complete mess.

    1. Hi Liz. I understand you not wanting to take a pond on, though I actually wouldn’t be without mine, despite the hassle. The reflections of sky and tree, the wildlife, and the slug management make it worth it.

  7. The frogs add so much enjoyment to a pond! Mine sits two feed off the ground (stock tank) so I haven’t had any frogs yet but all the wildlife it has attracted to my yard is priceless. This will be my first season to divide water plants…I need to read up on it as I’m not sure about soils…I know I need heavy clay of some sort…plan on going back to the store where I bought the plants. It’s amazing how all the plants have jumped their containers (with the exception of the water lily) and are growing outside them! Love the expression of that first frog ;)

    1. Hi Cat, I like the sound of your container-jumping plants! Do you plan on having a ground-level pond too?

      1. No, sadly, my dog would spend his day in the pond leaving no room for plants, wildlife or water!

  8. I installed an extremely small pond in my garden two years ago. The fourth post I ever did on my blog was about the plants I put in it, and luckily they’re still here today. I did buy a water lily which was suitable for small ponds, but I think my pond was still too small for it and it died. Even though my pond is very small, it still requires maintenance each year, it’s amazing how much the plants grow. I love how ponds attract wildlife in to the garden, even my tiny pond has it’s resident frogs and attracts insects.

    1. Hi Jo, even a tiny pond is a wildlife magnet. Sorry to hear about your water lily. Mine is one for small ponds too, and I didn’t get any flowers at all for the first 2 years. Now it flowers really well – probably because it too has escaped its basket! I’m leaving it well alone, as it seems very happy…

  9. Oh, this post makes me miss my pond! We just moved, and sadly had to leave our pond behind. We’re building a new one this year as soon as the ground thaws, I can’t wait! I’m longing for froggy serenades in the evening.

    1. Hi Shannon, hope the ground thaws soon then! You should have your very own frog chorus again next year.

  10. Goodness that’s a lot of work for what seems like a small pond. A whole other level of gardening knowledge seems to be required, not to mention a whole bunch of different gardening tools. I’ve never yet had to use waders in my garden!

    1. I’ve actually only used mine a handful of times in the 6 years I’ve had the pond. Its not actually very tricky, but I have rather neglected mine in recent years. Mostly it is just a source of delight and amusement, I’d hate to think I’ve put anyone off. There again, like any other area of the garden, it does need some attention occasionally.

  11. Geez, what a lot of work! I’ve never had a pond garden but did have to divide my non-aquatic iris this fall after the middle of the clump died, creating a hideous mess all summer. I would to have all those frogs! Maybe I can convince a few to move into an old, unused birdbath! :o) I’d probably just end up with a bumper crop of mosquitos!!

    1. Hope your irises reward your attention with prolific flowering. Actually, even a tiny amount of water would attract lots of wildlife, possibly including a frog – not sure what you’d do to deter mosquitoes though…

  12. I really enjoyed this confessions post as I have been tardy with my Irises precisely because they have melded into the container. Need more baskets, aquatic soil and concerted effort but there is not much dead middle so might leave! You have worked hard here and your pond looks as though the wildlife are having as much fun as any froggy could wish for. I just wish for frogs – even a single newt would gladden my heart.

    1. Hi Laura, well they say confession is good for the soul, glad it comforted you too! I have to admit I was horrified at how expensive aquatic compost is nowadays. Sorry to hear you haven’t got frogs – do you think that is due to living in the city? Not enough wildlife corridors for the frogs to find your pond?

      1. Right on – no wildlife corridor for frogs in this part of the city. They would have to hop along major roads and finally over my walled garden. The pond needs a shallower margin anyway were they to make it here.
        p.s. like your email reply system – must investigate how to do this!

        1. Glad you like the reply thingy – its a wordpress plugin called replyme. Shame about the lack of frogs.

  13. Dear Janet, Yes, I also understand it to be true that newt and frogs do not together go. I wonder why that should be? Ponds like so many other gardening tasks are, of course, great ideas which always need a tremendous amount of work to keep looking good and within their allotted spaces. Still, you do seem to have made a lot of progress to me .I have regularly used a large knife to chop up Iris clumps, with good success so I am sure yours will be fine.

    1. Hello Edith, I am greatly comforted by your tales of successful knife-wielding re Irises. Mind you, having seen how successfully they are escaping the aquatic baskets, I think these are thuggish enough to survive most things!

  14. What a nice account of your time spent sorting out the pond. It may not look noticeable now but your efforts won’t be in vain come spring. I agree it’s probably best to leave the Iris that have anchored itself on to the underlay for the risk of causing more damage to the pond.

    I always say that a ‘Pond/Water feature completes a garden’ and I firmly believe in that, so it was a pleasure to see you have one :)

    You can fiercely thin out your Elodea crispa every spring, and it will soon bulk up in no time (as you’ve observed already). Have you tried putting in the ordinary green Calla lily (Zantedeschia aethiopica)? It is such a gross feeder that it will thrive and greatly contribute to the clarity of your pond. And hardy too! The fancy coloured ones with variegated leaves aren’t reliable but the plain green one is. You could also try the product Viresco Aqua or Blanketanswer for you blanketweed problems :)

    1. Thanks guys! Some great tips and encouragement there. I have tried Zantedeschia, I even put it on a deep shelf so that it would have even more protection from the frosts. It’s one of the plants I’ve lost over the years – I think we are just that much less protected here compared to within a city microclimate. Sad though, it was gorgeous for a season, but with winters seemingly getting harsher I daren’t risk it again.

  15. Your pond looks lovely, very jealous of your froggy population – soon to increase from the looks of things ;) We have recently put a wildlife pond in our garden, although I pretty much know I won’t see any frogs visiting this spring I can’t help but check each morning, cup of tea in hand after letting the chickens out. I don’t have any plants in it yet, perhaps in the next few weeks the shops will be stocking them again. Do you have any advice to offer on plants to buy?

    1. Hi Karen, I’m sure you will soon have frogs – I got my first within 2 months of installing the pond, and with your location I am sure it will be the same for you! Re plants, I am no expert, but I suggest you stick to natives, although things like Water mint can actually be very invasive in a small pond. Unless you have a really good aquatic centre nearby (in which case ask them for advice!) I would recommend buying plants over the Internet, bare rooted. Much cheaper and much better choice. You can find some good info at Waterside nursery (you don’t have to buy from them!) and from Naturescape, and HabitAid actually do native plant collections. Lots of people recommend not adding pond plants until mid to late May, as otherwise their growth can be checked by a cold snap. Hard to be patient though ;-) Enjoy your pond, and its wildlife!

  16. you’ve inspired me now to sort out my pond – something I have been putting off for far to long! Love the frog pics and the DUCKS!!!

    1. Hi Christine, glad you like the ducks! Good luck sorting your pond out, glad to have helped encourage you.

  17. my husband does help take care of our pond–he calls himself the pond master but he does not deal with the plants…I missed dividing the water lilies and I know I have to divide the irises that grow on the shore soon as well…thx for the reminder but they may be too late as well…although I have some wet spots that would enjoy the irises…love the frogs..they are the favorite part of my pond…I plan to keep my pond I hope for years to come or until it is too much work!!

    1. Hi Donna, I am envious that you have a pond master! I love having frogs too, although their “singing” at this time of year can get a bit much when you are trying to sleep ;-)

  18. i’ve never put in a water feature because of the maintenance issues…maybe one day when i do have more free time.

    1. Hi Noel, I imagine in your climate keeping a pond topped up could be a full time job all by itself, but I bet you could grow some pretty amazing plants in one too. Maybe one day!

  19. Ponds, allotments, gardens…you are busy, Janet! And obviously very knowledgeable and talented. Looking forward to more info on how TO take care of a pond. I don’t have one, but have often thought about adding one.

    1. Goodness, not sure about the knowledgeable and talented bit, but thank you for the compliment! I am pretty ignorant when it comes to my pond and the life it supports, its one of the things I would like to learn more about. That said, I would always encourage anyone with a love of wildlife to have a pond. Even if you don’t have time to maintain one of those pristine ponds that takes center stage near a seating area, you could always put in a small wildlife pond in a less obtrusive place. That way even if it goes green with blanket weed the wildlife will still be happy and you will get the benefit of the additional wildlife. Watching dragonflies and damselflies mate is magical, if a little odd.

  20. Your pond looks great! I would let it go…looks like all is going well as is. My new property has a pond on it…about a 1/4 acre…I think I will eliminate some the of the lily pads as it’s quite grown over. I planted some papyrus and canna but no iris yet…I’ll see what blooms this summer first. Your frogs are funny!!

    1. Hi Kimberly, thanks for popping by. You have a quarter acre of pond?! And I think mine can sometimes be a lot of work!

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