How to Build a Basin Pond to attract wildlife

Frog

Guest post By Adam Lee. Adam is a volunteer for UK Charity, Garden Organic’s, brilliant Master Gardener  programme (supporting people to grow food at home).  

Basin Ponds made out of a washing up bowl are a simple wildlife friendly idea for small spaces. They are easy to install, cheap to make and encourage a variety of garden friendly wildlife including aphid eating hoverflies. Filled with rainwater and suitable plants, basin ponds breed Daphnia, Cyclops and Gammarus which support other wildlife as well as water beetles and pond skaters. If your growing space is at ground level, frogs and other amphibians may also be attracted  providing invaluable slug control. Not only are basin ponds safe for children, pets and Hedgehogs, they make an excellent project to do with children and those keen to learn more about wildlife gardening. Even a patio or balcony can have a basin pond.

basin pond

To make a Basin Pond you will need:

  • 1 normal sized washing up bowl
  • Enough washed gravel to cover the bottom of  the bowl to 2 – 3 inches deep
  • 2 or 3 suitable aquatic plants
  • Enough rainwater to fill the bowl
  • Old bricks or logs to surround the bowl

Site:

Choose where you’d like to put the basin pond. Make sure the site is flat and even.

Suitable Plants:

You only need a few plants per basin pond. Plants that grow to height out of the basin pond, such as Water Dock and Sweet Flag, are best since they can provide a habitat for the larvae of moths and butterflies. Other good choices include:

  • Flowering Rush
  • Arrowhead
  • Yellow Flag
  • Frogbit
  • Water Lilies
  • Lesser Spearwort.

Avoid plants such as Elodea, Parrots Feather, Marsh Marigold and Floating Pennywort.

If you know someone with an established pond ask if you can have two or three plants, otherwise look on the internet for good suppliers. If asked politely, many pond owners will happily give you plants that have overgrown their ponds. Don’t take plants from the countryside.

plants

Making the Basin Pond:

Gently place one plant in the washing up bowl and cover the roots with washed gravel so the plant can stand up freely on its own. Do this with your remaining plants and top up the gravel to an even surface 2 to 3 inches deep. Place the plants around the sides of the bowl to leave some free standing water in the middle. Fill the bowl with rain water. Line each side of the bowl with recycled bricks, rocks or woodpile logs ensuring that nothing is loose or unstable. Leaving gaps between bricks or logs provides a habitat for amphibians. Alternatively, the gaps can be filled with soil and spring bulbs or flowers planted to make a more decorative feature. This works best in shadier areas with bluebells, ferns, primroses and cowslips. Placing a larger rounded stone in the middle of the pond that just breaks the surface of the water makes an excellent frog plinth. Don’t introduce fish into the pond since they are voracious feeders upon insect life and any amphibian eggs.

Pond 2

Aftercare:

Routinely remove any dead leaves or rotting material from the basin pond and top up regularly with rain water. If the pond plants overgrow, then gently remove some, but leave anything you remove by the side of the pond so insect life can crawl back in. Duckweed in basin ponds is not necessarily a bad thing since it provides cover for insect life and any excess can be easily removed. Sometimes green hair algae may grow. This can be removed by twirling round a stick and pulling the long strands out of the pond. This algae usually thrives on excess nutrients, so once the ecology of the pond is established, it shouldn’t be a problem. Never treat the basin pond with pesticides or anti-fungal agents.

Will Wildlife Visit my Basin Pond?

Your pond will attract birds and a variety of beneficial insect wildlife. If you want to look at this water fauna gently take out a cup of water, pour into a flat tray and armed with a hand lens or magnifying glass try to identify the creatures you have found with the aid of a good guide book. If your pond is at ground level (eg on a patio) and in an amphibian rich area, frogs will most certainly visit the pond once it is established. With luck, Newts and Toads may follow. In more urban settings it may take several seasons to attract frogs. Remember that amphibians don’t live in water all year round, they need suitable habitats close by, but water features are essential for breeding.

Frog 2

Will the pond attract mosquito’s?

Having a gravel substrate, plants, and microflora will discourage midges/mosquitos as there should be plenty of life to gobble the larvae up – unlike waterbutts & standing water which attracts the biting insects because they don’t have this ecology.

Your turn…

If you’ve made a mini pond on your balcony, rooftop or patio, what was your experience? How did you make it and what wildlife did it attract? I’d love to hear in the comments below.

40 comments… add one

  • What light conditions are best : shade? Partial shade?

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  • I’ve just made a pond from a shallow tub trug as we found a frog in our garden a couple of days ago and have been meaning to create a tiny pond for frogs (we have a small garden). Only problem is we have no rain water so I’ve filled it with tap water. I believe this is okay as long as you give it a couple of days before putting anything in it so the chlorine and and any other nasties have time to dissipate? Is that true?

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    • Hi Leah, That all sounds great! The chlorine in the tap water should go within a few days and the water will be safe for wildlife. It’ll top up naturally with rain water anyway. Good luck with your pond and let’s hope your frog finds it!

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  • Hi , made a small basin pond for the corner of my garden , soon attracted wildlife and a frog !

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  • As a great wildlife enthusiast, I set up my container pond late last summer. I live at the end of a cobbled Victorian mews in Central London so I suspected this was going to be something of a challenge! Up against the boundary wall at the far end of the mews, both my neighbours and I have a grand array of plants and shrubs. I purchased a large plastic container online, and set it among the abundant foliage with a couple of potted aquatic plants supported on bricks. I also bought an oxygenating plant and put in various rocks and a small piece of log for any ‘visitors’ to climb in and out. I surrounded my container pond with 2 container bog gardens filled with plants, grasses, and stones for extra encouragement! Well, we’re now well into spring and, unfortunately, the only inhabitants of my pond are water snails … loads of them!!! Taking into account the location of my pond, am I likely to ever get anything as exciting as a water boatman or pond skater? We see the occasional dragonfly out in the street but, if only one would take a fancy to my pond! I don’t expect frogs or toads but, what honestly are my chances of achieving my wildlife haven?

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    • It sounds like you’ve done a wonderful job there, Maureen – and inspiring what you are trying to achieve in central London. Adam who wrote this post is the expert on these ponds – I’ll ask him what he thinks.

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    • Mo, you’ve obviously done a great job so far to get life, snails in the pond. Your “bog garden” attachments just sound great and just the right environment to attract frogs. Most people think our lovely frogs, newts & toads live in water. They don’t. They just need water, like a basin pond to “hang out” in, rehydrate their skins and breed. That’s why log pile, stone crevices & bog gardens are so important for them to live in most of the time. These environments attract amphibians & provide food, so I think your chances are quite good, given time. If anyone has a pond with frogs near, they’ll find yours eventually. Water Boatmen or “Backswimmers” love a pond. They can fly & along with other beetles colonise ponds quite early. Pond Skaters (Striders) are sure to turn up. You need to have a good look for other creatures such as “Asellus” which looks like a water woodlouse & it’s close cousin “Gammarus”, which is a type of freshwater shrimp. If you have a magnifying glass or hand lens gently scoop some of the water out, put it in a small glass container or tray & see if you can see Water Fleas (Daphnia) and Cyclops which are tiny crustaceans. Make sure the water doesn’t get overgrown with algae & everything should be fine for you to see plenty of pondlife. Keep us informed, sounds like a great pond!

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  • Hi there. I love this post and have shared it lots. Just about to make my own sink ponf and wondered if the size of gravel matters? We have lots of large gravel.in the garden. 2cm sized pebbles. Would these be too large? Thanks

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    • Hi Pegs, yes, Adam did a lovely job on this post. He is the pond expert rather than me – but I think your gravel will be absolutely fine so I’d go for it. If Adam sees your question, I’m sure he will get back to you if he has any different views!

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    • Hi Pegs, 2 cm gravel should be fine as long as you can anchor the pond plants with it. Good luck with your pond!

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      • Thanks! Have given it a go. The plants look happy enough so fingers crossed for wildlife now….

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  • I got an ecogardening book for Christmas in 2014, and there was a section on a bucket-pond. I really wanted a pond as I saw a frog in my garden that year. In the end, I went for a larger one as I wanted to encourage frog spawn. It’s in our meadow corner of the garden & I finished it ~Feb/Mar 2015, and we’ve yet to see the frog return. It’s very tempting to find some other spawn, I’m trying to be patient. How long is a typical duration before your pond becomes established do you think?

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  • This is a brilliant! Since we are now in January I’m wondering if I could fill up the basin with snow now and just let it melt? (clean snow of course) It can take time to collect rainwater if you don’t have a roof to connect your collection to.
    Thank you for a very inspiring blog.

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    • Yes, I’m sure melted snow would be fine. Very good luck with your pond. lovely project.

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      • Snow would be brilliant! Just make sure you top up the pond with rain water, or more snow, since snow is less dense than water. If it snows lots where you live, the natural snow fall should eventually fill the pond and be ready for the first wildlife to find in the spring.

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  • Very informative. We’ve been doing wetland restoration project and every project excites me because we are transforming and plain lifeless space into a entirely new small ecosystem where different kinds of living things can thrive on.

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  • I put a little pond in our garden last year, nothing huge, just a little one to add a bit of variety. We now have frogs, which I love as they eat the snails that were eating my strawberries. Its such a better alternative to slug pellets :)

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  • BRilliant design!

    We put our first one in a couple of months back and just had our first dragonfly.

    We have Water Mint in ours – going to see if it makes good mint tea soon!

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  • Love my mini ponds. I can’t have a big one as the river regularly floods my garden, but I’ve got several little ones scattered around the place. There are nearly always birds bathing in summer, perched on the stones. Every time a washing up bowl gets old and battered I put a new pond in. The one on my son’s balcony gets lots of visiting birds. He has a little solar pump on it and a syphon from a rainwater collector to keep it topped up. Since he’s in the city and it is warmer he has a dramatic papyrus – though it needs replacing with a new cutting regularly as it easily takes over.

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  • Thanks for the Leicestershire Master Gardeners mention Mark. It’s good to see your site going so well.

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  • Brilliant idea! I always thought ponds had to be a certain size etc etc so will def will building one of these – thank you!

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  • Hi, really keen to try this at my allotment – I’ve been struggling to find aquatic plants at this time of year, would marginals like Irises be happy permanently submerged. Also, do the plants need to be fed? If so, I have access to lots of liquid worm fertiliser – would that work?? Thanks

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    • Hi Catriona,
      Yes, irises do well in a basin pond, especial two or three “Yellow Flag” (Iris pseudacara). I’ve never had to feed a basin pond since some leaf fall, water , invertebrates and other insects seem to keep the nutrient cycle going. Usually it’s too many nutrients in a small pond that can cause problems with algal overgrowth, which is why I wouldn’t recommend using a rich liquid worm fertiliser. If you’re planting irises make sure the roots are well covered with gravel so the plants don’t topple. Over time a fairly nutrient rich sediment forms in the gravel and helps feed the plants. With luck they should flower next year.

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      • Thanks Adam – I managed to find an aquatic Geum and Buttercup – ironically it’s been raining too much in Glasgow to build it properly yet… Can’t wait to get things started properly. All the best.

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  • Any recommendations for good online sites to buy water plants? I have had a small bowl pond for a while and would like to add plants but live in north London where there aren’t any local suppliers of pond plants. Great tip about the gravel as I have had mosquito lavae in my mini pond – I will try adding some gravel and plants. I have a good number of frogs in my small garden and once saw a newt! I am really keen to improve on what I have to keep the wildlife thriving.

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    • I used lilieswatergardens.co.uk. Great plants but rememeber there’s nothing to give scale in pictures so might be smaller than you imagine.

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  • I’ve done this with infants – where a pond is wanted but there are safety concerns. If the water is shallow this type of container pond fits the bill nicely. I’d build a ‘shallow end’ to allow things to escape!

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  • Great ideas Mark! What a great way to attract wildlife. Can’t wait to share!

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  • Even though we live on a small farm and could put in a large decorative pond or swimming pond, I had/have several container ponds, one in an old wash tub, one in a claw foot bath tub, a couple in cement urns up by the house (which all of my dogs & even a cat or two think they are water bowls for them).
    We could never keep a dog out of a decorative in the ground pond, so containers worked well.

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  • I have literally hundreds of little frogs, about the size of your thumb nail, running around the yard. Now I know why I haven’t seen a single slug!

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  • Good to see common sense posts like this that transform the ‘small is beautiful’ idea into something practical (and which doesn’t have to cost any/many pennies). Nature is a fantastic improviser. On a bit of garden covered with repurposed black plastic, puddles at most an inch deep formed, which were soon populated by all kinds of life. The zenith was watching damsel flies in a courtship dance above these unplanned, accidental mini ‘ponds’. It was utterly mesmerising and yes, they did lay their eggs in them. Canny organic growers have lots of ponds about on their land. I wonder why…

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  • Froglets, daphne and weird underwater woodlice which perhaps turn into something all abound in my London mini pond. Although my dog just mistook the waterlily basket for a submerged toy and removed it uprooting everything! Got some plants online and collected others from rivers/ponds I visited. Some imports just appear like the duck weed. Recommend the pygmy waterlilies.

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    • Hi Alexa,
      The “weird underwater woodlice” are probably the crustacean “Asellus aquaticus”. If it looks like a woodlouse that swims on it’s side, it’s probably Gammarus pulex another freshwater crustacean. Both are really good to have in the pond & a little duckweed won’t do any harm.

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  • This is really useful, thanks. An abandoned empty plastic window box planter in a corner of our garden filled up with rainwater and became a favourite hang-out for frogs, with a number of tadpoles swimming about in the summer. I moved it to among some rotting logs, and made sure the frogs could get in and out, but I’ve been worried about disturbing it/them further. You’ve inspired me to install an ‘upgraded’ bowl version next to it, with two or three plants.

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  • This is also a nice idea for getting started if you want to put in a bigger pond later, if you have a garden.

    I would also make sure there is a way for critters to climb out if they accidentally fall in, maybe a stone staircase. Basins have steep, smooth sides.

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  • I made a tiny pond in my London garden – about 2 ft deep by 2.5 ft across with a propped log as a ramp for wildlife. I bought some pond plants and a few weeks later a friend noticed a fish; I was really puzzled, even more so when another one appeared a few weeks later. After discounting all sorts of possibilities – dropped by a passing bird? – I realised that the plants I’d bought must have had goldfish eggs on them. This might seem like a bonus but goldfish are the last thing you want in your pond as they eat everything else. Fortunately (for me, not for them) the pond froze solid in a cold winter and now it has been populated by gorgeous frogs which I can feed with juicy slugs and snails. A pond, however tiny, is always a joy. It reflects the sky and gives me a very quick way of checking the temperature on a winter’s morning.

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  • thanks for this I have spread it on twitter and FB and even though I have a garden pond already I think it a good idea to add some small basins elsewhere in my wildlife garden.. the more the merrier eh?
    keep up the great blog… im always spreading the word for you many thanks

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