It’s hard to beat the serenity of a natural pond. Whether it is a natural pond or a small man-made pond, the combination of stunning water plants and fish makes a fine centerpiece for any garden. Ponds are a complex ecosystem that need balanced care in order for plants and animals to survive in it. If you are planning on adding a small pond to your backyard, you will want to consider the placement above everything else.
The main ingredient for a successful pond is getting the amount of sunlight right. Too much sun can be disastrous for a small pond. Direct sunlight can cause the temperature of your pond to rise, which can be lethal for certain types of pond fish. Additionally, sunlight can also lead to algae blooms which will quickly turn your beautiful pond into a murky green puddle. Pond fish can even get sunburns! In order to avoid this, many people decide to site their ponds in the shade- but can fish ponds thrive in the shade?
Ponds do well in partial shade, but not full shade. A good rule of thumb is to place your pond in a spot that gets 4-6 hours of sunlight a day. Although some shade is important for fish comfortable and algae at bay, full shade can lead to other pond problems. There are many pond plants that need a moderate amount of sunlight to thrive. There are also plenty of pesky insects that thrive in shady water. A shade that is caused by trees and shrubs can pose other, more fundamental problems for ponds as well- the roots and leaves can be disruptive to pond digging and care.
Full Shade Pond Problems
The main issue with ponds that get full shade is that your options for pond plants will be very limited. Most plants need to get at least 4 hours of sunlight per day in order to thrive. Plants use sunlight to create nutrients and release oxygen as a part of that process- called photosynthesis. For ponds, this is really important because that oxygen gets released into the water, providing aeration for the fish. If your pond plants do not produce enough oxygen, the water will become stagnant. Fish can’t survive in these conditions, especially larger pond fish who require a fair amount of oxygen in the water.
Stagnant water isn’t just bad for your fish, it can also become a breeding ground for pests like mosquito larvae. Mosquitos can be a problem with any pond, as they choose still water bodies to lay their eggs. If your pond has an abundance of algae and bacteria from being stuck in full shade, this will lead to even more mosquitos who will use this as a food source. However, even the most aggressive mosquitos are easy to keep under control with water movement and mosquito-eating fish. Fish such as koi, least killifish, and minnows are common pond fish that will eat the larvae before they become a nuisance.
Pond Problems from Trees
A common complaint from pond owners is that leaves that fall from the trees tend to gunk up the pond. Some folks build their pond close to trees in order to provide their fish with some much-needed shade and don’t realize the added maintenance that this will incur. If you haven’t built your pond yet, but are considering a spot near a tree, take some time to consider whether you will be able to keep up with the leaf litter that will fall into the pond. It’s important that you are able to scoop out the extra leaves with a net because the leaves will decompose and can mess with the bacteria levels of your pond. Additionally, leaves can also clog filters and drains, and lead to plumbing problems in your pond. If you are working with an existing pond that already sits near a tree, there are types of netting and canopies that you can buy to prevent leaf litter from falling into your pond in the first place.
Tree roots can also grow to invade ponds- especially trees that love water such as willow types. If you are placing a pond near a tree, be aware that existing roots can cause just as much of a problem when you start to dig. Large roots can grow to be close to the diameter of the tree trunk and might need to be removed by a professional.
Shading Your Pond the Right Way
If a pond needs partial shade, but should not be placed near a tree, you might be at a loss at how to provide shade for your pond. How can you both prevent tree-related complications and make sure your pond is receiving adequate shade? Luckily, there are plenty of options for the shade that don’t require trees, or plants at all for that matter.
Sun canopies are swaths of outdoor fabric that are stretched over part of a pond in order to provide shade. These act the same way that an awning or sun umbrella would shade a patio. They come in a variety of sizes and can work for a smaller backyard pond.
If your pond is large, you will probably need to get fancy with the plantings around your pond. Cattails or other reed-type plants grow tall enough to cast a long shadow. Strategically plant them where they will block the strong afternoon sun, probably on the south or west-facing edge of the pond. You can also use fencing and screens to produce a similar effect, or use the placement of your house or garage to your advantage.
Floating plants are another great option for adding some shade to your pond. Large leaf varieties such as water lilies will form a canopy at the surface of the water. They will also act as a natural cover from predators, and give your fish a sense of security in their environment.
Shade Tolerant Pond Plants
If your pond is already placed in the shade, don’t worry! Focus on filling your pond with lots of shade-tolerant plants. Once the plants are established, they will begin producing oxygen that will prevent the water from stagnating. Some common shade-loving pond plants include:
- Water Lettuce- This floating plant does well in warm waters, and won’t start growing until the temperatures reach 60 degrees. The leaves grow in an attractive rosette pattern and is easy to propagate. It’s worth noting that in some parts of the United States, it’s considered invasive and is not allowed to be kept even in backyard ponds.
- Marsh Marigold can be grown on embankments or shallow edges of the pond. It is native to the East and West coasts of the United States and is very easy to grow. It sports sweet yellow flowers and grows around 8 inches tall.
- Water hyacinth is another floating plant that grows well and is banned in some states for being invasive. However, if you live in a place with cold winters to prevent spreading, this plant produces beautiful lavender flowers, making it a great alternative to water lilies in a shady garden.
- Eel Grass is a submerged plant that is a great oxygenator. It does best in deeper ponds and is native to Florida. It can grow very tall when left to its own devices and can make beautiful underwater meadows. If you try out this plant, be sure to give it a haircut once in a while!
Make sure the plants that you choose are rated for your zone, to ensure that they will survive the winter. Otherwise, treat them like an annual and expect to replace them every spring.
Ponds are a great addition to your landscape and are truly beautiful to behold. They are a great way to take your fish hobby outdoors, and can also benefit local wildlife as natural habitat- don’t be surprised if you find a few tadpoles in your pond come spring! Although ponds become relatively low maintenance once established, it’s important to consider how much sunlight your pond will get when choosing the best location. Ponds don’t do well in direct sunlight or full shade and do best with 4-6 hours of sunlight per day. It’s also a good idea to place your pond far enough from your trees so that leaf litter and invasive roots don’t become a problem.
Establishing plants in your pond is essential for it to flourish and grow. The plants provide oxygen that prevents the water from going stagnant and plays an important role in providing shade and coverage for your fish to keep them safe. Even in shady areas, there are plants that are suited for your pond- just be sure that you are complying with local rules and regulations regarding backyard plants. Shady areas are less likely to have algae problems than sunny areas, so if planned correctly it can be a great and low maintenance centerpiece for your yard or garden.
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