Ornamental Ponds

In-ground water features are wonderful for attracting frogs, toads, salamanders, and dragonflies, assuming you create wildlife-friendly conditions. It need not be elaborate or expensive. Click here for tips on making a pond frog-friendly.


Some plants that are sold for ornamental ponds are invasive species that are devastating our waterways. Below are native alternatives.

Caring for the life in your pond

An ornamental pond is an artifical system, but it can support a lot of life. However, the default maintenance procedures by pond companies will kill off that life when they drain out the water twice a year, remove all the detritus and scrub away the life-giving algae. You can instead require a different approach:

  • Hire a company that has a naturalist on staff who can oversee your pond care.

  • Do your cleaning in late January or early February, before the spring peepers start laying eggs in the water.

  • Remove the string algae but leave the slightly fuzzy green algae, which resembles sea grass waving in the currents. This is the breeding ground for other pond organisms, including the nymphs and nyads of dragonflies, the eggs of fish and various tiny organisms that are the food for many others.

  • Leave most of the leaves. Decaying leaves release tannin. If the water is clear enough to see to within a couple inches of the bottom, then the leaves are not a problem. If you do remove leaves, check each one for the larvae of dragonflies, damselflies, water beetles, etc.

  • Fertilize plants in pots early in the spring, except for lotuses that should wait until after blooming. Use a dibble to push tabs 3-4 inches into the soil.

  • Oxygenate - some kind of waterfall or bubbler is needed.

  • Add only native fish such as mosquito fish. You need a fishing license to gather them. Fish eat frog eggs, though, and are not necessary for a healthy, mosquito-free pond.

  • Don't clean in the fall. Put on a leaf net relatively early to keep out most of the falling leaves. Check it regularly, though, to look for birds or snakes caught in the netting.

When a new pond is created, it may take a year or so for the water to come into balance. Nutrients, runoff and light all affect it.

Remember: Ponds ecosystems do not live in isolation. Chemicals you use on your property will damage them. Amphibians breed in water but disperse into the surrounding land as adults. They need a fairly large area of naturalized landscape with dead leaves and logs to shelter under and native plants to provide the insects they eat.

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Pickerel Weed (Pontedaria cordata)

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Pond life depends on what happens in the rest of your yard

Spraying for mosquitoes in your yard will obviously kill the dragonflies and other pond life. Other chemicals washing down from the lawn are also damaging. A wide vegetated buffer is best.