The Grumpy Gardener – There’s A Frog In My Soup or An Ode to Pond Life




One of the best ways to attract wild life to the garden is to install a pond – for in any good-sized garden, pond life is definitively an asset.

Welcome to the pond life in your garden. (Credit Mike Alexander)

Yes ponds do create some initial work and indeed require ongoing effort, but they more than repay that with the quantity of life they support and the incredible diversity of creatures they attract.

They also establish an environment for a wonderful array of plants that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to grow.

For me, however, their great attraction lies in the various bugs and amphibians they bring with them all of whom seem to have some sort of inbuilt pond-finding GPS.

One of my clients has a small pond that in just a few years has attracted resident frog and newt communities as well as dragon flies, lace wings and water boatmen. The client has become an ardent frog spotter and spends much of her time trying to sneak up on the green orchestra that dives for cover every time she gets too close. The sound of frogs croaking noisily to one another is one of my all time favorite sounds, along with owls hooting and corks being pulled from mature bottles of red wine.

The same client recently asked me to clean out the pond as the bottom was layered with black silt and decaying leaves. I managed to dissuade her by explaining that frogs and tadpoles are a lot like teenage boys. They thrive best in a dark murky environment where they can sleep, watch video games and escape from prying eyes. Unfortunately they don’t mature into the wonderful, house proud clean and tidy creatures that human males eventually become.

Ponds are best cleaned in late autumn when local residents are least active. Even then, I suggest you only do this every few years rather than annually, though it should be said that I am one of those gardeners who prefer a thriving little ecosystem to a rigidly neat one.

So if it’s really time to deal with the pond life here’s how to do it. First of course drain the pond. Do this using a pump or siphon it out but leave some water at the bottom as this dark sludge harbours all the raw material for future pond life. Scoop this out carefully into buckets or into a holding tank before giving the pond a final scrub down. Plants that need it can be divided or re-potted before being returned to the pond, along with a layer of the precious sludge.

Refilling is best done with rain water which you hopefully have safely stored in water butts – no shortage of it this summer either — though tap water can be used if nothing else is available.

One common problem with ponds is the almost inevitable arrival of a small floating plant known as duck weed. There are several varieties of this of which Lemna minuta and L.minor are the most common. These tiny plants, each of which looks like a little bright green leaf, have an amazing capacity for invading ponds and other areas of still water. Left unattended they can quickly cover the surface area so that your little oasis eventually takes on the appearance of pea soup. Though they are one of the smallest aquatic plants, each one has the capacity to give birth to a daughter plant every day so that one plant and its daughters can produce 17 500 plants in a fortnight.

This nuisance is classed as an alien invader, though as it exists on every continent apart from Antarctica, quite who started the invasion is difficult to tell. Carried by visiting birds or on other plants it is highly likely that if you have a pond you will have to deal with the problem at some stage.

There is no chemical magic bullet here and I have found that a sieve attached to an old broom handle and used simply to scoop as much of it as possible off the surface every week during the warmer months is the simplest if rather time consuming solution. The captured scoopings can be added to the compost heap so there is at least some benefit from what is a never-ending seasonal battle. Larger ponds may need to be brushed with a floating boom though I am happy to say I’ve not yet had the pleasure of trying that.

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Previously – click an image below
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Grumpy Gardener

Our Grumpy Gardener has been gardening professionally in France for more years than he cares to remember and before that in Africa and the UK. Today he happily shares his expertise with French News Online readers. Your gardening questions are welcome and while they may not be individually answered, they may form the basis of future monthly columns.

Writer: Mike Alexander
mike@mikealexander.fr
Follow Mike on Twitter 

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