by Kathy Biggs

If you're thinking of building an informal pond, then you should consider the joy Wildlife Ponding provides: all the beauty and mystery of a more formal goldfish/koi pond or a water garden, with less cost plus the satisfaction of knowing that you are also enhancing the planet Earth not only for we humans, but also for its other inhabitants as well.

Don't get me wrong, I love Koi. I frequently visit my friend's pond to admire hers, but there is also a special satisfaction in researching what is native to an area and watching it thrive. And then the `treasure hunt' of seeing what critters it will attract. We've had a fox, over 40 species of birds, dozens of dragonflies, and frogs galore come to live in our pond. To go to a list of the animals that have visited our wildlife pond, click on this true saying: If you build a pond, they will come!

A Wildlife Pond essentially is a pond planted with native plants in order to attract wildlife. Sometimes I'm asked, `Should I go collect frogs or caddisfly larva, etc. to get started?' The answer is "NO!". The way to attract wildlife is to provide habitat for them. Without the correct habitat, animals won't have the essentials to survive or enjoy themselves in your pond.

We only introduced one animal species to our pond, and that was the fish, and as of the year 2000, I am no longer advocating their use. What we have are Gambusia, a native fish that at maturity are about the size of a minnow. You may know them by their common name: mosquito fish. Here in California you can get them free through the Mosquito Abatement Agency. They have completely controlled the mosquito population (in fact we have less now than before we had the pond!). We like to `pretend' they were little trout fingerlings! BUT, after a few years, we have come to realize that not only are they eating the mosquitoes, but also the Tree Frog eggs and the dragonfly eggs/larvae. Therefore I now recommend that before trying mosquito fish, you give 'mosquito dunks' a try. They are a floating 'donut' of a certain bacteria (Bt) that ONLY infects and kills mosquito larvae. It is NOT the same as the Bt that is strayed on foliage to control budworms and will not kill caterpillars or dragonflies or other critters. You can buy/order them thru many pond/gardening supply shops/on-line sites.

So how do you create a wildlife pond?

The steps are simple:

1. Choose to give a priority to wildlife.

2. Design your pond with a shallow beach area (so animals may enter and exit easily).

4. Research which plants are native to your area.

5. Build your pond.

6. Provide areas of sunlight and shade; deep & shallow areas of water.

7. Furnish a transition from pond to yard with a bog &/or planted beds adjacent to the pond.

9. Use the same techniques of covering 2/3 area with floating plants and 1/3 of bottom with underwater plants as normal to control algae.

9. Don't be too fastidious about cleaning.

To find out what plants are native to your area, check out the Native Plant Society, go to the library, use the Internet, &/or ask your local pond nursery person. We were able to collect almost all of our plants along roadside ditches, thereby keeping our costs to a minimum. Never collect plants in a park or on private property without gaining permission first. Never take a plant that is not abundant at the site. Many of the common pond plants are native Americans, many more are native to North America. The closer the native region of the plants you use to your pond, the more wildlife you will be able to attract.

A few examples of native American water plants are Arrowhead, Blue Flag Iris, Water Calla, Horsetail, Cattail, Lizard's Tail (lots of tails!), Lobelia, Marsh Marigold, Pennywort, Pickerel Blue, Creeping Water Primrose, Water Forget-me-not, Parrot's Feather, Monkey Flower, Indian Rhubarb, Cardinal Flower, Golden Club, Water Cress, Water Plantain (Alisma), and many others.

Common plants used in bogs and around ponds that are American natives include Douglas Iris, Dogwood, wild Ginger, Leopard Lily, Penstemon, Sword Fern, Five-finger Fern, Deer Fern, Foxglove, Trillium, ...I could go on for pages!

So, if you think you would enjoy having a pond that attracts wildlife, is beautiful, contributes some replacement for our dwindling wetlands, provides hours of entertain- ment, education and relaxation, costs less to build and maintain than a koi pond, then please do consider a wildlife pond.