Frog Pond

mintgum(5)March 30, 2009

Years ago we had a natural pond/bog in the field behind our yard. It was a depression about 30 feet lower than our yard that collected water and wildlife aplenty. And trash sadly enough... regardless I loved visiting when I was a kid. Sitting for hours watching the water swirl with life and catching tadpoles, frogs, the rare mudpuppy, and salamanders galore (all of which I faithfully returned). Sadly they filled it up to pack storage units and high density housing on the lot.

Still a bit devastated and forever longing to hear that glorious chorus of Chorus Frogs, I've been plotting a pond of my own for the back yard.

I'm a bit lost on how to pull it off. I want the pond to be the best possible habitat for frogs and other amphibians.

It would also be nice to attract dragonflies, especially as their offspring eat mosquito larva. I'd like to keep the mosquito population down, but I've heard fish and dunks can adversely affect frogs and tadpoles...

I'd also like to keep as native as possible, though the desert-like area wouldnt be conducive to water plant runaways. We live in the eastern half of Oregon that ends up with a climate more like Idaho. Hot summers and zone 5 winters.

Some water movement would be nice as well. A short waterfall/stream movement would be nice, but would adding a pump be bad for the critters? What if the pump was well caged?

Any ideas for plant species, habitat considerations and building tips would be welcome! Also, has anyone built for the frogs before? Any design ideas?

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I've built amphibian ponds before, so I'll share with you what I've learned. First you do need to look at frogs in the wild.

First as far as frogs go, they will breed in about any flooded area or fishless pond. The bigger frogs like leopard frogs require deeper water than smaller frogs like spring peepers and cricket frogs. If you put fish in the pond, then you have a fish pond and that's rather useless to most amphibians.

Second the water source can be natural rainwater but you'll probably need some tap water from time to time as well. Tap water has to be treated to remove chloramine in most areas. Unlike chlorine (what they used when you were a kid) it does not outgas in 24-48 hours. I use Amquel water condition, but check with a local fish shop to see what they recommend for your area.

The pond has to have gently slopping edges so it doesn't become a death trap for clumsy amphibians like spotted salamanders. If you has a steep drop what happens when the water level drops while you're gone for the weekend? If it has rock overhangs, then it's definitely a death trap for a wide variety of species. The best way to avoid those problems is to use a high grade rubber pond liner and dig the hole so you can create gently slopping edges. You can then use some sand and old carpet to pad and viola, throw in the pond liner!

You can add water movement with a solar powered fountain or you can run power to the pond and hook up a variety of filters and such. I always try to pick filters that won't suck little amphibians into the filtration system though (those kind will clog anyway).

I put some tree leaves (make sure they are non-toxic)at the bottom of the pond for hiding places and ad a variety of non-invasive plants. Also around the pond if you can place a couple of old logs, rocks, and plants it will provide hiding places for the adult and baby amphibians. Be careful if you mow around the pond, walk around the edges first or you may mow over very small amphibians. Ponds look great and are a really cool way to help amphibians.

    Bookmark   March 30, 2009 at 12:06PM
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Thanks for the reply! Fish are out and I'll definitely pay attention to gradient. The carpets a really good idea. Also the water treatment. I haven't heard about the chloramine.

On the leaves, do you know any that are poisonous off the top of your head? And it may placed near, though not directly under, a maple tree. Should I plan for it somewhere else or are maples ok?

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 5:49AM
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newyorkrita(z6b/7a LI NY)

There is a pond forum here on GardenWeb. Go there. I put in a small stocktank pond last year and posted there lots. Very friendly folks there and very helpful.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 1:48PM
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As far as I know maple leaves should be fine. You want to stay away from certain leaves like choke cherry/cherry,black walnut,black locust, hemlock, and a variety of smaller plants can be toxic. After everything is setup leave the goldfish in there for a couple of days and if it dies then you know something isn't right for the frog eggs/tadpoles! Mostly if you treat it like a fish pond, except with gently slooping edges, no fish, and maybe a little more in the way of hiding places then you should be good to go. You'll be doing a lot to help amphibians, with a good breeding pond and some hiding places they can survie in suburbia.

    Bookmark   March 31, 2009 at 6:16PM
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Thanks! At the risk of being redundant maybe I'll re post this on the pond forum and see what the thoughts are there.

    Bookmark   April 1, 2009 at 5:32PM
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novice_2009(zone 6b)

I don't have the money or time to build an actual pond, however, the field across from our house floods some when it rains. We've had frogs come up to our house. There's also a small spring on the far side of the field. I see herons stopping buy to do a little fishing sometimes. However, I'd like to entice the frogs closer to my house and garden. Wonder how i could do this on a very limited budget?

    Bookmark   April 6, 2009 at 2:05PM
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novice 2009

I had three containers(3' black plastic @ Lowe's) for water plants next to each other for the last few years. Each had at least 1 frog but there may have been more. I don't know what type or whether they migrated or the eggs were in the water plants that I purchased. I think that if you provide a water source, you will get wildlife. Good luck.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2009 at 10:37AM
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novice_2009(zone 6b)

Thanks rookie. I might consider a small plastic water garden, i'll have to check the prices. Perhaps i could just bury one of those black plastic containers in the yard by the garden and see what happens.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2009 at 12:41PM
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You can get a small preformed pond at places like home depot for next to nothing. Just make sure to pile some rocks or a log on one end so the thing doesn't become a pitfall trap for clumbsy animals. If you want the frog eggs and tadpoles to survive, you will have to treat the tapwater in most parts of the US with something like Amquel (sold for pet fish) and avoid any chemical/soap residues. If you ever need to clean the pond or rocks due to disease (lots of dead frogs) you can use regular old bleech (not the stuff with special smells or anything, just regular bleech that says safe for disinfecting water) and make sure it dries completely before putting it back out.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2009 at 12:09AM
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novice_2009(zone 6b)

Not a big fan of bleach. How bout grapefruit seed extract?Much more natural, won't kill beneficial insects/animals.
I checked Lowes, 2 expensive. thinking about burying top of a garbage can for a frog pond.I want 2 recycle things and not spend a lot of money, u know?

    Bookmark   April 10, 2009 at 10:42PM
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Although an overhang all the way around the pond could trap some of the residents it is always a good idea to put a heron safe area in your pond. Perhaps an overhang with a ledge under it for sitting. Frogs can breath in the water, toads and others need to have access to the surface to breath.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2009 at 12:40AM
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We used treated 2x4's and thick black plastic to build a shallow pool to put containers with young trees in so they wouldn't dry out in our dry weather. Fortunately, this year we are getting our normal amount of rain and frogs laid eggs in the pool and we have tadpoles. You could probably do something with the black plastic so long as it's not too steep. When I saw the eggs, I put some bricks and rocks near the edges so they can come out when ready. There's a little carpenter frog in the pool as well so I assume the tadpoles will be carpenter frogs, but I won't know for sure until they start coming out. Earlier this week the water level was dropping so I refilled it with water from my rainbarrel since my plants didn't need it. I also bought some algea flakes to feed them as there isn't a lot to eat in there. They make short work of those flakes.

I didn't intend to have a frog pond, but since I sort of do, I'll do what ever I can to help these little guys make it. At last count, I only had about 12 toads around my house where I used to have so many I had to watch where I walked at night. I'm hoping this wet weather will help them out.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 11:20PM
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cjc45(9 Mount Dora FL)

My mother built a pond out of a child's wading pool that she got at a discount store. The leaves in the bottom covered up the garish design and the plants around the edge soon grew into the water covering the bright blue edge of the pool. A small pile of rocks provided an escape route for squirrels, etc. She also had a very active compost pile where she would harvest small worms to feed to her frogs. The frogs would swim over to her whenever she went to the side of the pool. It lasted for many years before springing a leak.

    Bookmark   June 11, 2009 at 11:57PM
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Midwesternerr's advice is right. Another de-chlorinating product is "Ammo-Lock". It also helps remove ammonia from the water (caused by lots of tadpoles pooping).

I use a pre-formed stiff pond liner, rather than a flexible one, to stand up to tree roots and punctures better.

To avoid trapping little critters in the pond:
One can also use water plants and thin, flat rocks for "ramps" to let young emerging frogs/toad and salamanders. I have a potted water willow in my small pond and the roots grow out 8-10" from the edge of the pot. The top of the pot is just above the water level, but little critters can climb out of the water via the floating/partly submerged mat of roots. Then they can walk up and exit on the little ramp I have bridging the willow pot to the pond edge.

I have 2 other 'ramps' in other parts of the pond and I try and keep it full. Most emerging frogs and toads can climb the smooth plastic sides without ramps...

You can get an inexpensive pump filter for small pond pumps. The one I use is essentially a plastic box around several layers of foam filter. The pump body and water intake goes inside the box, and water passes through 5-6 layers of the foam material before entering the pump. The filters/distance means even tiny critters do not get sucked into the pump. You can remove and clean it easily without disturbing the tadpoles.

I recommend letting algae grow on the sides of the pond. Tadpoles eat a lot and they love munching algae. I also bring duckweed to the pond - it helps provide food, oxygen and clean the water (tadpoles poop a lot of nutrients). Besides the water willow, I have Pickerel Weed, and Lizard's tail in pots in the pond.

You can supplement your tadpole's pond food with lettuce (they like Red Leaf Lettuce the best, but larger tadpoles can eat Romaine). They also LOVE daylily petals.

Every now and then, especially when it's about to rain cats and dogs, I let out a few inches of water from the pond. This gets rid of some of the "old water" in favor of new.

Be sure there is some shady, leaf-litter habitat near your pond. Ideally connected to larger expanses of such habitat. If the pond is in a sunny area surrounded by mowed grass, the emerging frogs and toads will have a long "death march" to safety.

Finally, even if you do not have frogs/toads in your yard now, you can transplant tadpoles or tiny toads/frogs from elsewhere. But be sure to get them from ephemeral wetlands if you live in suburbia - Bullfrogs, Pig Frogs, Pickerel Frogs, etc. need larger water sources. Or get tiny toads as they emerge from their nurseries elsewhere.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 3:21PM
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Below is a photo of part of my backyard artificial pond from a couple of summer ago.

It has duckweed and some floating plants that are native to this area (whose name escapes me). You can also see a piece of Red-leaf lettuce I had to give the tadpoles, since there were so many of them they ate a lot of the Duckweed.

The floating eggs visible in the photo are Narrow-mouthed Toad eggs. They eat lots of ants!

The photo does not quite show the matted roots of the water willow and the ramp on that end of the pond...

The reddish ramp is a cut-in-half flowerpot I made a ramp from. It is very popular with emerging frogs and toads. I have the water pump's water stream landing on a corner of this ramp, to aerate the water.

The rocky ramp is also a popular "loafing area" for emerging tadpoles - they like to scoot in and out of the water there.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2009 at 4:14PM
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