How green is your pond?

By Carol Bartlett at the Sunday Gardener

frog-on-leafpad-pond

Ponds are great way to attract wildlife to your garden.
Image source: Svetlana Foote

A pond will attract a variety of wildlife into the garden such as frogs, damselflies, dragonflies, water boatman and pond skaters. Many different types of birds will visit for a bath and a dip; I even had a kingfisher dive in for a fish.

But what should you do if your pond looks like a bowl of green soup? The good news is that this can be fixed. Here’s how.

A natural water balance

Don’t despair if your pond looks like pea soup.
Image source: Carol Bartlett

The cause of this greening is algae. Usually a pond is fairly clear over winter until spring arrives and the ecology starts to change. As temperature and sunlight levels increase, the water warms up, blooms of algae appear, and your pond turns green.

For algae to thrive in your pond it needs sun, minerals and nutrients to feed on. The key to maintaining clear water is to create an ecological balance which reduces these elements, in turn, inhibiting the algae.

Reduce sunlight to the pond

Use plants to reduce the amount of sunlight that reaches the water.
Image source: Dirk Ott 

Cutting down the amount of sun on your pond will make the conditions less suitable for algae. This may seem counterintuitive since most pond plants like a good amount of sun. So to keep algae in check you’ll need to come up with a clever way to reduce the amount of sunlight to the water without shading the plants.

The answer is to cover a good part of the pond’s surface with plants that will act as a shield to the water underneath. Floating plants, submerged plants and water lilies are ideal. You should aim to cover about half of the pond’s surface.

Reduce nutrients in the pond

Scoop any fallen leaves from your pond to reduce nutrients in the water.
Image source: Sinica Kover

Algae feed on the nutrients in your pond, so reducing nutrients in the water will inhibit algae growth. Avoid constructing a pond near deciduous trees and shrubs. When leaves fall into a pond they sink to the bottom, rot down and make the water more nutrient rich. In addition they also release toxins which pollute the water and endanger pond life. If leaves do fall into the pond, it’s best to skim them off with a net and remove.

It may be tempting to use ordinary compost when planting into a pond, but it’s full of nutrients. It’s better to use sterile aquatic compost which is free from peat and nutrients wherever possible.

There is also the thorny issue of whether to introduce fish. Fish are attractive, but they excrete, which adds nutrients to the pond and feeds the algae.

Oxygenate the water

Water Crowfoot is a good oxygenating plant.
Image source: Zoltan Major

Algae grows fast and can rapidly deplete the water of oxygen. It’s important to oxygenate the water to support the plants and wildlife which in turn keep the water clear. Submerged oxygenating plants are invaluable to the natural balance of the pond. Try things like ranunculus aquatilis (water crowfoot), hottonia palustris (water violet), potamogeton crispus (curly pondweed), and myriophyllum verticillatum (milfoil). They will also help support the algae-eating animals, such as water snails and tadpoles.

Most oxygenating plants grow well, but depending on your local conditions, you may have to try several to establish which grow best. Most are easy to control so they shouldn’t get out of hand. However, do bear in mind that some oxygenating plants are invasive. Things like parrots feather, have the potential to escape and overwhelm native plants.

A fountain or a waterfall makes a lovely water feature. They look good and serve a practical purpose – adding more oxygen to the water. Installing a waterfall or fountain will require a pump which can be combined with a filter and a UV clarifier. These also help to keep the water clearer.

If planting water lilies, remember that they don’t like being splashed, so arrange fountains accordingly.

Other tips to reduce algae in a pond

This pond has a concealed pump and filter system.
Image source: Del Boy

It’s part of the natural pond cycle that early in the season there will be an algae bloom, when the water first warms up. Then the oxygenating plants start to work, the vegetation grows and the lily pads will spread over the pond surface. Within a week or two the green bloom fades and the water becomes clear. The period of green should be limited to a couple of weeks early in the season. If it continues beyond a few weeks, here are some other things to bear in mind.

The size of a pond can affect its natural balance. A larger pond will maintain its natural balance more easily while small, shallow, under-planted ponds will heat up faster and suffer more from algae.

I have found barley straw effective, although it doesn’t seem to work for everyone. The straw decomposes in the water inhibiting the growth of algae.

A pond filter can be very helpful to remove algae. If you have a significant number of fish, a filter is essential to maintain good quality water and to ensure that fish excreta doesn’t feed the algae. It is important to buy the right size of filter for the volume of water (determined by the size and depth of the pond), and number of fish to be stocked in the pond. Specialist suppliers offer advice on this.

There are chemicals which can be added to the water, but I’m not happy to add them to a pond which is full of wildlife. It is a matter of personal choice. The sustainable way forward is to build up the ecological balance in the pond so that it naturally takes away the algae.

With a little effort, it is possible to have an algae free pond. Apart from the early spring bloom, algae is not inevitable as long as you have a few tricks up your sleeve to keep it at bay.

About the author

Carol Bartlett, The Sunday Gardener, lives in the north of England where she has created a diverse garden including wildflowers, natural areas, herbaceous borders, a wildlife pond, trees and wetland plants, along with a vegetable plot. She has been gardening, reading, researching and photographing plants for over twenty years and her website is a popular resource for gardeners young and old.

Ten Wonderful Wildlife Blogs

Feel inspired – and grab your binoculars – for a chance to spot these elusive little creatures this summer
Image: Shutterstock

If you love nothing better than to “stand and stare” in the hope of spotting some of the UK’s phenomenal, but rather shy, wildlife, have we got a treat for you. Here’s our round up of some of the best UK wildlife blogs around. These blogs are filled with great wildlife stories, gorgeous photos, live webcam footage and more. Perfect to enjoy over a hot cuppa.

 

Wildlife Kate

Customers at Kate’s bird snack bar
Image: Wildlife Kate, sponsored by CJ Wildlife

With heaps of live webcam action, wildlife blogger Kate’s site is a must. Enjoy footage of birds stopping off at her purpose-built bird snack bar, and mice dropping into the festive mammal feeding station she built complete with Christmas tree and roaring log fire. It’s wildlife footage with a difference.

A wildlife expert with a passion for education, you’ll have seen Kate on Countryfile, Springwatch and more. Check out her photo of the foxes visiting her garden. There are two dogs and four vixens, three of which look pregnant. She hopes to be “filming cubs visiting around the middle of May… Exciting times.”

Brigit Strawbridge 

Female hairy-footed flower bee
Image: Brigit Strawbridge

Have you ever spotted a hairy-footed flower bee buzzing around your garden? Brigit says they’re smaller than a bumble bee and have a zippy, unbeelike flight path. But the telltale sign that alerted her was the characteristic high-pitched buzz of a female – like the one pictured – supping on the nectar from a snowdrop.

If you’d like to learn more about bees, Brigit’s blog is the place to go. Based in Dorset, she gives talks in the local area as well as further afield – like this lecture she gave at the National Honey Show. She’s also working on a book which is due to be published in Spring 2019. You can read a few excerpts from it on Brigit’s blog.

My Life Outside

‘Owls’ about that?
Image: My Life Outside

Having spent eight years searching for the elusive little owl – but never being lucky enough to spot one – Wales-based wildlife photographer Adam didn’t hold out much hope when he took his mum on an owl-spotting trip to Kenfig near Bridgend. But then his mum said, “isn’t that one over there?…”

Here you’ll find stunning wildlife photography from someone who likes nothing better than to grab his hiking gear and camera, and head out into the magnificent wilds of Wales. Check out Adam’s series of badger photos from Dinefwr Castle.

The Reremouse

The striking Noctule bat – with his beautiful auburn fur
Image: The Reremouse

How well do you know your bats? If you’d like to know more than you currently do, take a look at this blogger’s bat pages. It turns out the gingery Noctule (pictured above) is the UK’s biggest bat. And, up to 40g, he’s about the size of two small hamsters.

Passionate about wildlife, The Reremouse offers a great source of information to help you do your bit. Tempted to leave food out for local wildlife? “Anything you put out… needs to at least be similar to food sources that they would use in the wild – i.e. fruits, seeds and nuts.” And don’t feed too often or too regularly, or there’s a risk creatures could become dependent.

Why Watch Wildlife?

A black-headed gull was food for someone. But who dunnit?
Image: Why Watch Wildlife?

When visiting Scarborough, wildlife watcher David came across a bundle of feathers belonging to a hapless bird that had clearly become something’s lunch. But whose? Check out the clues that will set you on your way to discovering the likely identity of the killer.

David says that although we spend £200 million each year on attracting birds to our gardens, we’re actually spending less time in wild environments. If you’re in need of a little inspiration to help you step into the great outdoors, you’ve come to the right place.

British Wildlife Centre, Surrey

Meet Harry and Beatrix Otter!
Image: Matt Binstead, British Wildlife Centre, Surrey

Keep up to date with the comings and goings at the British Wildlife Centre at Lingfield in Surrey. Setup in 1997 by former farmer, David Mills, the centre now houses the UK’s finest collection of British native species.

You’ll love keeper Matt’s blog post about the centre’s two baby otters. Imaginatively named, Harry and Beatrix Otter (get it?), they’re already almost as big as their mother. Featuring a wealth of information about our British wildlife, the blog presents some wonderful photography too – our favourite is Susie the stoat in ermine.

Isle of May National Nature Reserve

Dolphins playing in the waters off the Isle of May
Image: Isle of May National Nature Reserve

What do you do when you’re trying to get off the Isle of May, and a grey seal decides to hide under your quad bike? That’s just one of the many stories in the life of this small island nature reserve, off the east coast of Scotland.

An island teeming with bird and animal life, the Isle of May hosts spectacular seabird colonies in the summer, while in the autumn it’s a breeding site for the biggest colony of Atlantic grey seals in Britain. Well worth a visit.

Butterfly Conservation

Butterflies actually benefit from a cold snap
Image: Wikipedia

Despite their fragile appearance, a winter cold snap can actually benefit butterflies and moths. In fact, the folk at Butterfly Conservation say some species including Large Skipper, Large White, Ringlet and Chalk Hill Blue, see their populations increase after a winter of extreme cold.

If you’d like to learn more about what you can do to encourage a wide range of butterflies and moths to visit your garden, this is the blog and website for you. One top tip: “Leave bare patches of wall, fence or earth, or place large stones in sunny borders, so butterflies can bask.” Check out the site for more like this.

Ben Porter Wildlife

Can you spot the plastic fragments amongst the plankton?
Image: Ben Porter Wildlife

Exeter Uni student Ben Porter spent a chilly day hauling nets near Falmouth in Cornwall. He and his fellow students were looking to establish the ubiquity of plastic and microfibres in the seawater samples they took. Sadly, Ben’s photos speak for themselves – a stark reminder of the scale of the problem facing us.

As well as flagging up environmental pollution issues, Ben, who studies conservation and ecology at the University of Exeter, is into birds, moths, mammals and more. He also takes a mean photo. Check out his spectacular snap of an oystercatcher in mid flight.

Mark Warnes Photography

Beavers have been reintroduced in Camarthenshire
Image: Mark Warnes Photography

Take a look at photographer Mark’s pics of the beavers at the Bevis Trust in Wales. This cornerstone species was hunted to extinction in the 1600s. The trust, which is working towards their reintroduction, hopes that bringing back them back to Welsh rivers will also help re-establish other species too, like otters, water voles, frogs and newts.

Mark’s blog offers a kaleidoscope of stunning nature photography, from the colourful puffins on Skomer Island to the badgers of Carmarthenshire. If you’re looking for some inspiration from the natural world, you’ve come to the right place.

 

Have we missed any of your favourite wildlife nature blogs? If so, do let us know by heading over to our Facebook page and leaving us a message.

 

How do bees survive over winter?

Wild Bee numbers have been declining for decades in the UK. This is due to the wild grasslands of this country diminishing by a massive 97%; and the widespread use of agricultural pesticides on farmlands up and down the country. The Government has urged gardeners to do their bit and help with this serious issue. Bee experts have called for a nationwide effort to protect this threatened genus.

Aubretia 'Cascade Purple' & Wildflower 'Honey-bee Flower Mixed'

Aubretia ‘Cascade Purple’ & Wildflower ‘Honey-bee Flower Mixed’

So what can gardeners do to help bees survive – especially during the winter months? Well there is plenty to do to help in small ways.

The first thing to do is leave a small patch of your garden to grow wild, and make sure it will not get disturbed in any way. Make it just as nature intended it, and you can do this by letting grass grow long and allowing wild flowers to bloom. If you have a north facing bank then this is the ideal spot to allow grass to overgrow. Bees like to burrow, especially when they need to hibernate and facing north is the most suitable for their hibernation.

It is also important to grow plants which will provide an essential food source for the bees during the colder months. Such plants as spring flowering plants and winter flowering plants are a good idea. Perhaps an aubrietia or acacia dealbata. Hedera hibernica ivy is also good for wildlife gardens, fast growing it is ideal if you want to get your wildlife garden going quickly.

Echium vulgare 'Blue Bedder' & Wildflower mixed seeds

Echium vulgare ‘Blue Bedder’ & Wildflower mixed seeds

For your wildflower garden you can scatter seeds straight into the ground, with one of our wildflower seed mixes, so there is no need for potting up or pricking out. For early flowering plants crocus bulbs and snowdrops are perfect, they provide early springtime food supplies to sustain the bees until more spring flowers arrive.

Most bees exist in a state of near hibernation during the winter but having food to eat during this time will give them a much better chance of surviving until the next spring. Summertime flowers are frequently seen in the garden; but extending the time there are nectar rich flowers into early spring and late autumn is increasingly important for the bee’s survival.

Anemone 'Wild Swan' & Acacia dealbata

Anemone ‘Wild Swan’ & Acacia dealbata

Lord Gardener Minister of Rural Affairs and Biosecurity has said that bees are a much loved feature of the English countryside in summertime. He also stated that they are also a crucial part of the biodiversity of this country and an essential part of our economy; and that it is vital not to forget bees’ during winter time. At Thompson & Morgan we feel that it is extremely important to provide a home and food for these wonderful little creatures that do so much for us.

If you would like to find out more about making your garden a haven for wildlife – the articles below have a vaste array of information, knowledge and inspiration >>

Bees & Butterflies Inspiration

Encouraging Wildlife including Bees

Plants for Wildlife

What to do in the Garden to Encourage Wildlife

 

Wendie Alexander

I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

New bird care products to enjoy

In a bid to provide the gardener with everything they may need for their outdoor space, T&M have recently introduced a new bird care range.

Within the gardening community it is considered good practice to encourage wildlife, and especially birds into the garden. Not least because they are as native as we are and have as much right to be here as we do.

We often forget how truly magnificent birds are. Some birds take up the challenge of migrating thousands of miles just to be somewhere where there is a larger food stock or better nesting facilities. The UK has a fairly temperate climate, which is perfect for a wide variety of birds. This makes the UK a great place to see common and visiting birds. However, with the urbanisation of much of the country it is necessary to top up the bird’s food sources to give them a helping hand.

A variety of bird feed

A variety of bird feed

At T&M we have a variety of bird care essentials in our range, making it easy for you to order via our website. It is not just winter time that birds need help with homes and food. During the summer months we have visitors such as swallows and martins, who may need help with nesting habitat or a wider variety of food.

Although there are specific food and nesting needs for certain birds, for a beginner all you really need to do is provide food. You can then wait and see what happens! This is a great way to introduce you and the children to the joys of watching wildlife. In our range, we have bird tables, bird feeder stations and bird seed. This will provide you with endless enjoyment watching your garden visitors eat to their hearts content.

Bird tables and stations

Bird tables and stations

If you want to provide a home for birds, you can choose one of our bird boxes where they can make a nest. Watching a bird fledge for the first time is an amazing experience. But the favourite of all things bird is the bird bath. Watching a bird having a bath is one of the funniest and most enjoyable things. When birds have a bath they can get quite excited, and tend to forget themselves for a few minutes while they are soaking and cleaning themselves. It is important to provide a safe environment around your bird bath. See our bird bath blog on where to position your bird bath.

Why not have a browse through our range, choose some seed and a table or station and see what happens. We would love to see your photos of the birds that visit your garden and perhaps even start keeping a diary of what type of bird visited when. We have lots of helpful guides to encourage wildlife, which plants are best for wildlife an ideas on wildlife habitat.

Bird tables and baths

Bird tables and baths

 

Wendie Alexander

I have worked for Thompson & Morgan for nearly four years. In that time I have learnt lots about gardening, but consider myself very much a novice. I have started growing veg on a colleague’s allotment and also growing windowsill seeds such as Salad Leaves and Rocket. I love gaining more knowledge about horticulture and am lucky enough to work here.

RETURN OF THE MICE

I’m so excited! (Sad middle-aged woman, doesn’t get out much.) I’ve bought a large heated propagator and David has fixed up my smaller ones so I now have 5 on the go! The perennials must be quaking in their boots as I have been prowling around, secateurs in hand, eyes narrowed, snipping off as many non-flowering shoots as I could find. I have even dug out (haha, no pun intended) some (stale) organic rooting powder and added vermiculite to my potting compost to give them the best start in life.

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

Still looking lush & ricinus still growing

First though I had to clean the greenhouse and covert it from summer to autumn function: Everything out, chillies, tomatoes and cucamelons harvested, plants composted (that’s a lie, they will be composted, but by the council, am ashamed to admit I don’t have a compost heap – I AM NOT A REAL GARDENER). Plant food, seed tins, storage boxes and general detritus out, staging and flooring swept. Someone please tell me why it is only now that the curcuma bulbs have sent up new growth, stuffed as they are into a dark corner, as no amount of encouragement during the summer had any effect?
So there I was pottering about when out of the corner of my eye a creature, at first thought a frog, threw itself against the greenhouse door before beating a hasty retreat to safety. As I suspected, the mice are back! Small burrows are appearing in the soil of the raised tomato trough, surrounded by straw and bird seed. (You have to admire their tenacity; they have gnawed a serrated circle and a mouse hole through the lid of the plastic storage bin – he who dares wins, I say.) In honour of their return I have even bought a small resin statue of a mouse.

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

My shed (not really!) & St. Michael on the Mount

It’s all change on the patio too. I got bored waiting for the begonias to die down so I pulled them up to dry their corms for overwintering. Turfed out the spent soil as mulch onto the back of the dry border where the cornus go to die. Crammed T & M Jonquilla daffs into every pot: Martinette, Pipit, Pueblo and Green Eyed Lady. Don’t think I have bought enough! Must have more, more, more! Breath…………..Without the colourful annuals the patio has transformed from exotic terrace to shady glen; the ferns really come into their own at this time of year, and I’ve added T & M  Blechnum brasiliense Volcano to the mix, which has been growing on in the greenhouse since The Triallist’s Open Day, waiting for its new home. Sadly most of the heucheras have come away in my hands, their roots eaten by the dreaded vine weevil (Note to self, try nematodes next year, the chemical drench lied.) I’ve put all five FUCHSIA fuchsiaberries together in one huge pot in the hope that they will establish and make more of an impact next summer, as they never really got going this year. More sun I think.

Talking of sun (good link, huh!) David and I did actually manage to have a holiday last month after all. We went to stay with our old friends-&-neighbours who have moved to Manaccan, a village – in the middle of nowhere, sorry B & P – on the Lizard peninsula in south Cornwall. (And just as fellow blogger Amanda found with her bedfellows in hospital, one of the first people we were introduced to was a keen gardener who buys from T & M and reads the blogs!) First thing I noticed was how echium are growing en masse in Bob’n’Patti’s garden, so much so that their gardener pulls’em up like weeds! They have a patch of ginger 6ft tall and 5ft round and perennial aeoniums the size of dinner plates. All of which they inherited from the previous owners.

Trebah - September 2016

Trebah – September 2016

We visited Helston Museum, one of the largest folk museums in the South West, with a vast social history collection dating from the 18th to the 20th century. My attention was naturally drawn to the gardening exhibits, some of which looked eerily like the contents of my shed, the implication being that I too am a relic!
Tremenheere Sculpture Gardens could have been on Madeira, if it wasn’t for the tell-tale view of St Michael’s Mount in the bay. Trebah Gardens was a revelation! A grand colonial style whitewashed mansion sits on the brow of the hill, overlooking the panoramic sweep of Hydrangea Valley, full of blue hydrangeas, towering palms, gunnera, tree ferns (also growing like weeds)  and towering bamboo, as it slopes down to the sea. You could be forgiven for thinking you were in some sub-tropical paradise. It reminded me of a tea plantation (not that I’ve ever been to one you understand but I have watched Indian Summers).

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

New T&M bidens still flowering its head off! & LGS Best Small Back Garden 2016

Having visited RHS Hyde Hall in Essex shortly after our return (needed another horticultural fix before the winter) I was bowled over by the swathes of grasses and prairie planting. All three gardens are breath-taking in their scale, but completely contrasting in environmental conditions and planting styles. England certainly punches above its weight when it comes to its wealth of different terrains!  (My uncle used to say I had swallowed a dictionary when he read my A level essays.)
So back at Chez Broome autumn has taken hold, but nobody has told the hanging baskets! The new T&M bidens is having a late flush (know how it feels) although for some strange reason the flowers are all white this time, instead of pink tinged. Petunia ‘Crazytunia Mandevilla’ and Minitunia calibrachoa ‘Crackerjack’ just keep on going so I just keep on feeding. The lime green, black and caramel coloured foliage of ipomaea are going for it in the shade so I’ll just leave them all to it!
Oh, and reader, we won: London Gardens Society Best Small Back Garden 2016. How about that!

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