How to make a mini wildlife pond

Posted By: Alexandra Campbell On: April 19th, 2015 In: Wildlife & eco

A mini wildlife pond will help wildlife in your garden. Water is essential for all creatures.

And helping wildlife is part of being an environmentally responsible gardener.

But how big does a pond have to be?

The Wildlife Trust says that you should have a minimum of 4-5 square metres of water, which would be a pond about 6ft across.

But the RSPB says that any water is helpful. Even a washing-up bowl is big enough to be a wildlife pond.

And the wildlife themselves seem to agree. In wildlife supporters Ian and Mo Parker’s garden, I saw a plastic bucket that had filled with rainwater. A frog has adopted it. Ian popped a couple of rocks in there, to help Froggy and his friends get in and out. He says it has been Froggy’s little mansion ever since.

bucket pond

An old bucket filled with rainwater is this little frog’s own castle…

How to make the perfect mini-pond

I bought a half oak barrel to use as a mini wildlife pond. You can buy them on Amazon here. I’m an Amazon affiliate so if you buy through links on this site, I may get a small fee. It won’t affect the price you pay.

I have spent the last six months researching how to make a mini wildlife pond properly.

The first thing I discovered is that oak barrels are not ideal for this purpose. Their high sides mean that wee beasties have trouble getting in and out of it.

Our terrace is stepped down from the garden, so the top of the oak barrel is accessible from one of the beds.

how to make a mini wildlife pond

Ways of turning everyday containers into mini-ponds for wildlife

Nothing else seemed simple, however. I initially felt overwhelmed by the amount you need to know.

Ponds must be in sunlight… but not such bright sunlight that the water will get too hot in a very small area.

Some people advise making sure that there is plenty of over-hanging vegetation for wee beasties to shelter in. Others say not to put ponds under trees or plants that shed their leaves.

I have been told that I need pond liners with different levels because aquatic plants need to be planted at different depths. Some people also advise adding a fountain or pond pump to keep the water moving.

You need certain plants in your mini-pond.

Firstly, you need oxygenating plants. You also need plants that stick up, such as irises or equisetum, so that young dragonflies can crawl up them.

Abbey Physic Garden pond

This is a mini-pond at the wonderful Abbey Physic Garden in Faversham. The sticky-out plant is equisetum sp, and is there so that young dragonflies can crawl up it.

Is there such a thing as a simple wildlife pond?

I was finally rescued from my dithering by The Urban Wildlife Gardener by Emma Hardy. It has good, sensible advice for ‘miniature ponds’, as well as other aspects of wildlife gardening suitable for middle-sized gardens.

Emma has had a mini wildlife pond in an old galvanized washing tub for several years. It’s attracted various kinds of insects and toads.

Like my oak barrel, her tub is high, too. She suggests placing stones or bricks inside, so that creatures can climb out. And to help them get in, arrange different levels of pots around the mini-pond container.

Her advice also includes choosing a container that is ‘water-tight, frost-proof and clean.’

Oh dear, that reminds me that I was told that oak barrels once used for whisky might still have chemicals that might leach into the water….I am beginning to think I should call this post ‘How Not To Make a Mini Wildlife Pond.’

The basic points are:

How to make a mini wildlife pond

If you stick to these principles, then you will help wildlife

It was time to stop agonising over it and Just Do It. I found a trio of wildlife pond plants in a handy kidney-shaped tub.

I also bought oxygenating plants. These are small plants that look like freshwater seaweed and have little weights attached. You just throw the oxygenating plant in the barrel.

The three wildlife plants came in their own basket and didn’t need more soil or compost. I balanced them on bricks to bring their height up. If you do need more soil or compost, you must use aquatic compost, not ordinary soil or compost.

Gravel, too, should be labelled as suitable for ponds.

I am concerned that the pond is in too shady an area, but it has nothing directly hanging over it. And I’ve found a piece of flagstone to balance on more bricks to create a platform for birds to stand on.

How to make a mini wildlife pond

Surround a barrel or bucket with other plants so that wildlife can climb in and out, and make a shallow area.

Dogs and wildlife prefer rainwater

Benji is delighted to have rainwater rather than tap water to drink from – don’t use tap water in mini wildlife ponds.

Sculpture fountain pond

This ‘sculpture’ pond belonging to Frances Beaumont has an invisible ledge just below the water line so birds can perch and the sculpture is a fountain that circulates the water.

But don’t try to stock your pond…

Next you need to get the wildlife into the pond. Asking other people for frogspawn, apparently, could transfer disease from one area to another.

Don’t have fish as they will eat the eggs and larvae…I’d no idea that creating a mini wildlife pond could be such an anxiety-inducing activity.

However, most people report that once you’ve built a wildlife pond, the wildlife find it quickly.

mini wildlife pond

Posy Gentles’ mini pond is very attractive but she hasn’t seen much wildlife activity in it. This may be because of the high sides or it may be The Fish. He is a goldfish who was found gasping on the pavement in one of Faversham’s main shopping streets. He was brought home to the mini pond, where he has lived very happily ever since.

One last warning…

Don’t forget that babies or toddlers can drown in a few inches of water. Protect them from the pond.

If you prefer seeing videos to reading blogs, see this video here.

I now peer at the barrel pond on an hourly basis to see if wildlife are attracted to it. So far…I’ve seen one little insect scudding across the surface. I think it was a mosquito….

I hope I haven’t put you off…water is one of the most important aspects of conserving wildlife.

There are more tips for helping wildlife in your garden this video here:

If you provide water in your garden, you’ll make a big difference to birds, frogs and all other wildlife. So do share this using the buttons below. Thank you!Save

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Wine barrel solid oak wood as rain barrel, planter or mini-pond

You can buy oak barrels to use as mini wildlife ponds from Amazon - just click on the link here.

I am an Amazon affiliate which means that if you do buy via links on this site, I may get a small fee but this won't add to your cost.

Wildlife Pond for patios attracts Frogs, Newts, Birds, Butterflies and Insects. Perfect for Patios and Small Gardens. Ideal Educational Gift.

Or you could buy a plastic pond with the different levels for different wildlife already created for you.

You could surround this with planting and pots.

Bermuda Cove Pre Formed Pond 84cm x 64cm / Pond Liner

This is a pre-formed mini wildlife pond - dig a hole in your garden and drop it, building up the soil in the appropriate places.

You could also drop it into a larger container to create levels.

The Middlesized Garden is a participant in the Amazon Associates LLC, an affiliate advertising programme designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.co.uk

18 Comments

  • R.O'Connor says:

    Hi there,
    I ‘m looking to put in a tiny pond 3’x2’ next to a wall in my back garden. Unfortunately it is the hottest part of the garden but I simply cannot site it anywhere else. Do you have any tips to counter the heat of Summer. Many thanks

    • Can you put any shade over it? Such as a parasol or canopy? Small ponds do overheat if they’re sited in sunny positions. It may also help if you surround it with pots so that the sides of the pond aren’t directly being heated by the sun if it’s a raised pond. And if it’s not raised,the pots and plants in the pots should help provide some shade. Hope that helps

  • Heidi says:

    Hiya,
    I’ve bought a teeny pot, 36cm diameter and about 20 cm deep plus 2 pond plants and filled it with rain water. I’m really worried that it’s too small after reading other comments and scouring the internet. I’ve also put in some tadpoles as I desperately need frogs to gobble up my slug problem and also now worried that the container is too small. It’s only day 1 but I’m a worry wart and would hate for any living creature to die coz i got it wrong! Do I need oxygenating plants for such a small pot? I don’t think I can have a pump also as it’s too small so is that also going to be a problem??? Any advice would be great.
    Thanks
    Heidi

    • It sounds as if it may be a little small, but I have known frogs be quite happy in buckets. If you can find a larger container, that would probably be better, but if not make sure it’s not standing in direct sunlight, as the water may heat up. It’s also important to make sure that smaller containers don’t dry out. And also make sure that wee beasties can get in and out. Even if frogs don’t enjoy it, birds and insects will appreciate the water source.

  • Alice says:

    Thank you for such a helpful post. Im planning on setting up a mini pond to encourage more toads into the veg plot since the family of hedgehogs seems to have deserted us. And the slugs think its party time (providing them with beer traps hasn’t helped!)
    Interesting that people disagree that ponds can be small. When I was much younger I made a tiny pond in my parents garden with the idea of getting fish. Before I had a chance to convince my parents that our 4 cats wouldnt use it as a self serve sushi bar, it was filled with wild life. Stayed that way for years.
    I plan to use an underbed storage box thats wide and fairly shallow. Will fill with pebbles and some larger stones, add some weed, maybe a plant and fingers crossed some passing toad will call it home…
    Thanks for the inspiration! Love your blog!

  • wendy says:

    Hello,not had any luck with my little pond,it’s a large plant tub I put in the ground last year and is in a sunny spot,had plants in a rocks,my sister gave me some tadpoles.I’ve emptied it out as the only thing in there was algae,and green water,think tadpoles died,because saw 1 or 2 last month not seen any since! Dont know what to do with it,left it empty!

    • Did you fill it with tap water – that could be a problem…it’s difficult to say why some small mini-ponds flourish and others don’t, but it’s worth doing for the birds and pollinating insects even if you don’t get any frogs or toads. Birds and insects need a bit of shallow water so if you can wedge a plate or tray just under the water level, that might help. Or you might find that if you just leave it, it will fill with rain water and whatever wants to use it will do so.

  • Gillian Spendlove says:

    Two years ago we made a small, shallow pond in our small garden. Just dug a hole and lined it. We saw a couple of frogs in the first week and perhaps three or four last year. This week we now have frogspawn. I worry that it’s not a tidy looking pond such as those I see on some sites. But we have dragon and damsel flies, a variety of beetles and lots of different tiny beasties. I too worried about plants, algae, water quality etc. Why worry though? The wildlife love it. Got half a barrel to sort tomorrow now.

    • That sounds lovely. Hope the half barrel turns out well – ours is now a year on and the sparrows jostle to bathe in the shallow area we’ve created by adding a flattish drip tray (from a large pot) just under the water.

  • K says:

    Hi
    Do you know if one can use water collected in a water butt to fill a barrel pond?

  • Naomi says:

    Hi, I have a similar barrel which I would like to turn into a pond. Some of the planks on mine are a little loose and I am concerned it will not be watertight- have you lined yours and if so what did you use?

    • When I bought mine, I was advised to make sure it was always full of water, or the wood would shrink which would make the planks loose. They do look loose but aren’t. I think perhaps the best thing would be to fill it and see what happens as the wood may swell and make it water-tight, but if not, I think a trip to a garden centre for a liner would be a good idea. If you do get a liner you might be able to make different levels (needed for little creatures to get in and out). Good luck, hope it goes well.

  • Stephanie Wolfe says:

    Last year I emptied out 3 ft of soil from what had been a pond and then lined it with a butyl liner. I filled it with tap water and then added oxygenating weed both from a friend and from a garden centre. It attracted wildlife almost immediately and a year on we have frogs, insects, especially bees and birds using it. I do top it up with tap water when the level drops but make sure not to add more than 1/4 approx of the water volume with tap water. You can always do a little and often. The two small water lilies seem to be enjoying it.

  • Trish Byrne says:

    Hi There,
    My daughter brought home some frogspawn about 7 years ago and we hastily turned our hippo shaped sandpit into an impromptu pond. We have frogs and tadpoles ever since!! All we did was ensure there were rocks at the edge for froglets to climb out and a few rocks in it as well. We put no aquatic plants in it but I am researching about moving it to another container as the hippo isn’t pleasing to the eye…. my advice is just do it!!

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