Thursday, November 7, 2013

Preparing Garden Ponds for Winter and Spring Bulbs for Pollinators....

Hello All,

As promised my postings have increased and I hope that I can maintain some momentum throughout the colder months when we all spend a little more time inside!

Talking of the colder months makes us start to think about what we need to do now to get the wildlife through the winter. One crucial job that really needs doing now is making sure garden ponds and particularly wildlife ponds are kept safe for all the precious inhabitants that live in them.

I'll take you back to earlier this summer and the creation of the third pond in the garden. This was only a small pond built into the large expanse of rockery and sits next to the main seating and eating area at the top of the garden.

Only small but the new wildlife pond was built this summer and nestles into the rockery by the main seating area. Despite it's infancy it already homes frogs and Large Red Damselflies have been observed laying eggs on the plants! This means that we must protect this new habitat through the coming winter months...

So what needs doing to a small pond like this you may ask? 

Firstly I will clean out any old decaying weeds and leaves that have blown off of nearby trees and bushes. This is vitally important as if they are allowed to sink to the bottom of the pond they will slowly decompose and if the water freezes over there is a high chance of any wildlife under the ice being poisoned!

This does sound horrible but a few simple steps will help...

For most small garden wildlife ponds you can literally get down on your hands and knees and pull out the unwanted weeds and leaves. However in a bigger pond this may not be so easy and you may need the assistance of a long handled net, a long pole or even an old sweeping brush. If the liner is made of hard fiberglass material or similar then a garden rake is a very good tool for taking out these debris, but don't use sharp instruments if you have a flexible liner as the last thing you want is a puncture that will be difficult to fix!

If like me you also have a large and deep (10'x10'x5'deep!) Koi pond then you may need the use of a special pond vacuum similar to the one you can see here........      ALL POND SOLUTIONS    

You can see from the picture in this link that this really is a vacuum cleaner and you simply use it to dredge the muck out of the bottom of the pond. Most of these then allow you to return the filtered pond water back into the pond. This is an extremely useful bit of kit and worth investing in if you have a large pond with valuable fish.

Whatever method you use it is crucial that you leave the weed out on the side of the pond for a day or two so that any invertebrates that you have inadvertently removed can crawl back into the pond.

Now that you have a nice clean pond you need to protect it from any leaves that are still to fall and potentially end up in your pond starting the whole problem off again. There are several different coverings from plastic garden mesh to more elaborate custom made metal grilles that fit just under the water surface and bolt into place. All of these will protect from falling leaves and metal grilles will protect from Heron attacks also. My own choice is to use a rigid plastic plastic mesh on the two smaller ponds held in place by a few rocks but for my raised Koi pond I have opted to make my own removable covers made out of untreated wood and galvanized mesh as below...

Here are my custom fit homemade covers for the raised Koi pond. These protect the pond from leaf fall but are designed as three separate covers so that they can also be removed as required...

The beauty of these 'semi permanent' covers is they are sturdy enough to withstand Heron attacks also. This Heron landed on the side of the pond but couldn't fish out the fish....

The fish will also become really confident under this sort of protection and can still be enjoyed....

Also think about how you will prevent the water from freezing up and this is especially important on small, shallow wildlife ponds. You can buy low energy heaters that consist of an element surrounded by a buoyant material such as polystyrene that floats in the pond and keeps just small area of water clear from ice allowing room for the poisonous gases to escape. On my smaller ponds I literally cover half of the pond with thick marine plywood board, this prevents the water underneath from freezing and also adds protection to fish and amphibians that will have slowed down and become much easier for predators to catch in the cold weather. 

IMPORTANT: If your pond should freeze over never break the Ice by hitting it as the shock waves sent through the water could distress or even kill wildlife in the pond. Instead use a pan of boiling water sat on top of the ice to slowly melt a hole through. If you do nothing else float a small size football or similar in the pond that can be retrieved following a freeze to expose an area of open water.

Hiding places for amphibians and insects to hide in around the edge of the pond are also invaluable. Both of my wildlife ponds have loose rocks around the edges that provide perfect resting places for toads and newts to hide under...

The use of loose rocks when building both of my wildlife ponds has created great habitat for overwintering frogs, toads and newts to hide under. Many invertebrates will also take the opportunity to overwinter here...

Also consider what hiding places there are in the garden as many amphibians will leave the pond and it's immediate surroundings, like this juvenile newt found hiding several meters away from the pond. In this situation a well place log pile can help...
Please do try to keep water available to birds that will now visit your garden. A small water feature such as this old sink can be a great way to provide water for them to drink from and of course bathe in. Being small it is also easy to keep ice free and maintained throughout winter...

I think that this is about as much as I will say on this subject now and I do hope that it has given you a few tips of how to get your own ponds ready for winter.

Moving on and looking forward to next Spring, I recently spent a whole day planting bulbs that I'm hoping will burst into flower next Spring and provide lots of nectar for early bees and other pollinators. 

A selection of a few of the several hundred spring flowering bulbs...

As our garden sits on the edge of moorland which consists of extremely low lying marsh grazing land it remains extremely wet throughout the winter. This wetness makes planting bulbs extremely difficult as they have a tendency to rot and this is why our Spring garden has been poor so far.

Despite this problem there are things you can do to maximise your chances of success such as plant using plenty of grit in the planting holes for extra drainage. Since we moved in nearly four years ago I have been adding organic matter, grit and sharp sand to the soil to try and improve it generally. Anything else added at the time of planting can only enhance what we have started to achieve so far.

Crocus is one of the best early pollinating flowers and I have chosen several varieties purely for their 'pollinating' abilities. I have planted these under the lawn alongside Fritillaria meleagris (Snakes Head) and here's what you will need and how I do it....

Because the garden is situated on wet and heavy clay I use plenty of grit when planting bulbs to help drainage and prevent rotting...
Good quality compost will also be required....

I then mix the compost and grit together in a big trugg at a ratio of about 50/50. If you have better soil then you may be better with a 70/30 mix or similar...

 Chop a square in the lawn using a spade and peel back the sod. I the put a layer of my compost and grit mix in the bottom of the hole and place the bulbs randomly on this mix....
 Once all the bulbs are in place I sprinkle a bit more mix around them and then gently replace the soil and repeat until I have used all my 300+ bulbs.

As you can see from the above this is a simple way to add bulbs into the garden in a natural way. As we don't mow the lawn during spring these bulbs will come up and mix with the clover and add some much needed nectar for early pollinators.

 Fritillaria meleagris (Snakes Head) are superb for naturalising in a damp meadow or lawn...

Here is a list of other spring flowering bulbs that I have added this year and I recommend for pollinators...
  • Crocus chry. Romance
  • Crocus chry Gypsy Girl
  • Crocus chry Advance
  • Crocus chry Snow Bunting
  • Crocus Sieberi Tricolor
  • Crocus Tommasinianus Whitewell
  • Crocus chry Cream Beauty
  • Anemone Coronaria
  • Anemone SR Mr Fokker
  • Allium SR Cowanii
  • Allium Sphaerocephalon
  • Fritillaria meleagris
  • Ornithogilum Umbellatum
Camassia is another interesting addition to a Spring garden and will naturalise easily in damp conditions. It will also tolerate dry ground in summer which makes it perfect for the garden here. I planted a few two years ago and last Spring they were visited by early Bumblebees so I have bought three different varieties to plant this year. This is a bit of an experiment as I want to see if any varieties are better than others at attracting pollinators! As well as the common variety I have added a white variety and another named Camassia Esculenta.

I've had some success with Common Camassia attracting Spring pollinators so have planted three varieties this year to see which is best for pollinators... 


 Well that really is about it for another post and I do hope that this has been of interest to you and given ideas of what you can plant planning forward to next Spring to ensure that we are all doing our bit for garden wildlife...

Please do continue to send me your comments and feedback as I am always pleased to receive them and will of course reply to all that are sent.

Best

Higgy

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