The UK’s first national Garden Bioblitz is fast approaching (1st-2nd June – put it in your diary!), and for the past few weeks I have been busy trying to tidy up my small garden and make it a bit more attractive to wildlife in preparation for the big event.
I have filled empty pots with lots of new flowers, dug flowerbeds, sown wildflower seeds, and built a makeshift compost heap. However, one of my biggest jobs has been to sort out the ‘bucket ponds’ I put in place last year, and I’m hoping that they will be even more successful this time round.
One of the most important things you can do for wildlife in your garden is to provide water. A pond is excellent, providing a home for a wide variety of aquatic species, as well as a place to bathe and drink for birds and other animals. Even something as small as a birdbath can still provide a vital source of drinking and bathing water for visiting birds, helping them to keep their plumage in top condition.
However, while a pond is an ideal addition to many gardens, it’s not always possible to build one, particularly if, like me, you have a tiny concrete garden that your landlord might not take too kindly to you ripping up. Desperate to try and attract more wildlife last year, I decided to look for a way to still provide a watery habitat in a confined, urban space. My solution? The ‘bucket pond’!
Pond in miniature
The largest, most suitable-looking containers I could find for my mini ponds were large plastic buckets that are usually used for garden waste. I ideally wanted to fill them with rainwater, but at the time I built them it was very dry and I also had no easy way of collecting rainwater in the garden. Tap water is not recommended for ponds as it contains too many nutrients, but I didn’t have much other choice for mine.
I initially started with one large bucket, later getting a second, smaller one. Initial results were not overly promising – the water went slightly green and then filled with mosquito larvae. LOTS of mosquito larvae. While I didn’t mind too much – they would provide a nice base to the food chain, for birds and bats at least, and they were my first animal residents – I wasn’t sure the neighbours would take too kindly to me providing a breeding ground for blood-sucking insects.
I also got some almost caterpillar-like worms which covered the bottom and side of the buckets; probably some sort of fly larvae, but I wasn’t able to get an ID on them.
The big breakthrough in my bucket ponds came when I added some pond plants. I tried to choose native species, both oxygenators and emergent plants (both to look nice, and for aerial insects to perch on). I also added a few small rocks, all to try and create a variety of habitats and hidey places.
I also got slightly carried away and added a third bucket! As well as instantly making them look like miniature ponds rather than sad buckets of dirty water, the addition of the plants also unintentionally brought in a host of hitchhikers. Within weeks, I had at least three pond snail species swimming around, plus thousands of daphnia and ostracods (tiny aquatic crustaceans). Suddenly, come the summer, the buckets were finally teeming with life.
The best moment in my bucket pond experience came one sunny day when I went outside to find a pair of mating damselflies in the garden. Not only did they fly around and investigate the garden, but they eventually settled on one of the “ponds” and started laying eggs! This has to be the real proof that even a small effort can work wonders in attracting wildlife.
The bucket ponds haven’t been without their challenges. A tiny body of water is never going to quite match up to a large pond. The buckets have steep sides and the tops are relatively high above the ground, making it difficult for any animals to move in and out – they are not easily going to become home to any amphibians, and won’t make suitable bird baths.
Their small size also means that the water in the buckets could undergo quite large temperature fluctuations. They didn’t freeze too badly over the winter, but I do wonder whether my damselfly nymphs made it through all the cold weather.
Even with plenty of plants and hungry snails, the water in two of the buckets has become quite choked with blanketweed. I’m reluctant to use chemicals to remove it. Barley straw is a commonly used “natural” method to combat it, but the only stuff I have found locally came as an expensive extract in a large bottle, far beyond my needs. I’m trying to remove the excess weed by hand and am hoping it’ll all find its own balance, particularly if it stays topped up with rainwater, and perhaps if I can shade it a bit more with plants.
The pond snails have laid lots of eggs though, and the daphnia are back whizzing around in at least one of the larger buckets. I’ve also added in a couple more plants this year.
YOUR TURN – take the bucketpond challenge!
My bucket pond experiment has been hugely rewarding, and I’ve been amazed how successful it’s been at attracting wildlife. If it can have great results in a tiny, really urban garden then it can work anywhere!
I challenge you to have a go. If you can built a proper pond, then please do – it’s great fun and a magnet for wildlife. If you can’t manage a pond, then have a go at building a bucket pond, and let me know how you get on or if you have any good tips! If all you can do is put a dish of water out for the birds, then even that is fantastic.
I’d love to hear how you get on!
If you want to find out more about how to build a pond, or to read more about miniature ponds, here are a few handy links:
- Pond Conservation
- BBC Gardening Guides – Build a garden pond
- Wild About Gardens: Things to do in a weekend – Put in a pond
- Better Homes and Gardens – Pond in a bucket
- BBC Nature UK: Wildlife gardening ideas – Attracting pond life
- BBC Gardening Guides – Create a mini pond
- Gardeners’ World – How to make a mini-pond
- OPAL – Pond Conservation
And more from the RSPB about providing water for birds: