Give your garden pond a Spring cleaning

Dick Warner shares his techniques for Spring cleaning your garden pond.

Cleaning out the small pond on my patio is a spring job and one that I don’t really enjoy. It involves taking out dead leaves and other detritus from the bottom of the pond by hand.

The reason it’s a spring job is that I leave it until the pond water has warmed up enough to prevent my hands going numb with cold after about five minutes.

I’ve developed a technique. When I first started doing it I just dumped the rubbish into a bucket and emptied it into the compost bin. But then I noticed that there were a lot of animals living in the detritus and, as they were water animals, I was condemning them to death by putting them in the compost.

So now I use a large garden sieve or riddle placed over a narrow part of the pond.

The rotting leaves get placed in this and left for an hour or so and the little animals wriggle down through the coarse mesh and drop back into the water.

There are humane reasons for doing it this way but there are also practical ones.

The animals are important contributors to the ecological health of the pond. One of the principal ones is asellus, which has the rather unappealing English name of the hog louse. Asellus is a sort of aquatic wood louse and it eats rubbish.

It’s quite omnivorous in its tastes and I’ve even known a group of them to eat a complete dead goldfish. Having this sort of street cleaner in the pond is quite useful. In addition juvenile asellus are eaten by the fish.

I got to the deepest part of the pond, which is only about 60cm or 70cm, plunged my arms down over the elbows and got a good double handful of dead leaves.

As I was bringing it up I felt something wriggling and as I prepared to dump the leaves into the riddle a frog jumped out of my hands.

I’ve learned a good deal about frogs since they colonised the pond. The text books say that their amphibian lifestyle means that they only spend a couple of weeks of the year, in the breeding season in early spring, living in water and that the rest of the year they are land animals hunting through damp vegetation and then hibernating.

They also say that the breeding season is the only time they croak. I’ve found there are exceptions to both these rules.

My frogs return to the pond when the weather is extreme. The thermometer on the patio that day was giving an air temperature of 21 degrees in the shade. The frog had found this unpleasantly hot and returned to the bottom of the pond to cool off. They do the same thing when the weather is very cold.

They also croak, quietly and intermittently, throughout the summer.


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