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  • Writer's pictureJefferson Landscape

Amphibian Ponds

Do you have a large yard? Are you looking to do something different from the neighbor’s lawn with plants and trees and the occasional bocce ball court, arbor, or fire pit? Of course, those yards are terrific and often follow their function insofar as landscape designs go. Perhaps you would like a pond but live abutted to a wooded area overrun with racoons and therefore don’t want fish. Still, the idea of an amphibian pond is interesting.

Our construction practices often times change the natural hydrology and put riparian systems (the boundary between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems), under great stress as we continue to invade a myriad of ecosystems in order to make room for ourselves and our human neighbors. In California, riparian systems provide habitat for 83% of the amphibians. Many amphibian species are permanent residents of the riparian zone, while others are transient or temporal visitors.

One Could Argue It’s Our Duty to Replace the Amphibian Habitat

Natural wetlands, marshes and the associated riparian habitats are the most biologically diverse habitats on earth. More species of plants and animals are associated with riparian ecologies than any other type of ecosystem. By adding (or re-introducing) an amphibian pond you’ll be helping to preserve a natural biodiversity that is essential. Our growing awareness about the environment and sensitivity about our effect on proximate ecosystems has resulted in the tendency toward creating sustainable landscape solutions. Thus, it’s easy to see why an amphibian pond makes sense for today’s environmentally-conscious consumer.

Have the pond blend in with as many of the surrounding natural elements as possible. This will both give it natural features and help benefit its ecology. Lining it with rocks won’t look natural. However, the odd mossy boulder here and there, patches of occasional gravel, maybe a large log lying partly in and out of the water, and using aquatic plants will. There’s a great biological benefit to water and its relationship with living and material components. A shady location is best for less evaporation. Some sun is good, but not so much that it encourages algae growth.

Although there’s an underlayment material underneath the liner to protect it, and a liner to hold in the water (as with Jefferson Landscape and Design’s Pond EcoSystem), it’s completely hidden from site. The idea is to dig an area out gradually toward its center with an inner circular shelving for plants and three or four holes along the berm for bog plant water filtration. Creating a runoff area by building the earth up around 9/10th of the pond in the form of a pathway surrounding it (maybe with pea gravel) and leaving the last 1/10th low; that last 1/10th will then act as an overflow runway to accommodate heavy rains. This will also keep the integral parts intact.

You don’t want any kind of fish in an amphibian pond because they eat dragonfly larvae and frog eggs. The more dragonflies the better! Besides, amphibian ponds are shallow, so they really aren’t great environments for fish. Find out what turtles are native to the area and have them move in! (General rule: for every three turtles you introduce, one will stay…and if you’re lucky, one will return.)

Unlike the Pond EcoSystem we install for goldfish and koi, once the liner is in and formed with its shelving and bog areas, we spread a few inches of soil over liner before the water is introduced. The superfine particles suspend in the water making it cloudy for several weeks until it achieves a natural balance. However, the natural balance of micro-organisms cannot be achieved if you “clean” the pond with pumps, filters and chemicals. The bog plants will help with water filtration and sand can be placed over the soil on the shallow parts of the “beach” to help keep the water from getting too murky when critters and deer wander in and out for a refreshment under the moonlight when no one’s around.

At least one section of the pond should be 18”–24” deep to protect certain animals (like frogs) from weather extremes. The shallow, shelved areas are good for basking invertebrates and tadpoles, and can be the most diverse and abundant area of a pond. An ideal pond is about 13’ x 21’ but can obviously be smaller. If the area needs it, gravel can be put down along the edges with sand over it to keep the soil from washing in a heavy rain.

Several companies sell dragonflies online in the United States. Since dragonflies eat mosquitoes and other insects, they help gardeners and outdoor enthusiasts. This is FAR better for the environment than using pesticides. Dragonflies are simply beneficial. Attracting dragonflies to your yard helps them and you. Even if you don’t buy dragonfly larvae, you will attract them by putting plants in and around the pond. Plants, both submerged and floating, add oxygen to the water and remove carbon dioxide. They provide hiding and resting places for nymphs and are used as incubation chambers; some species insert their eggs into the soft stems. Tall plants that stick out of the water provide places for adult dragonflies to perch and scan for food or mates.

Azolla is a floating pond plant. There are many aquatic plants to choose from. Moss, Carex, Prunella Vulgaris, Canna Lilies and native plants are all wise choices. If the amphibian pond is in your back yard proper, then perhaps more of what you already have in your yard.

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