The joys of a Florida pond


We love our pond and have added a border native plants at its edge to replace the turfgrass that used to dip right into the pond. I’ve planted ferns, black-eyed Susans, scarlet hibiscus and more. Plus native plants have also moved in. This photo is looking toward the little dock on the neighbor’s end of the pond.

We share a natural pond with our next-door neighbors. It’s not too large, about a tenth of an acre. It’s out front between our house and the front meadow. To see the layout of this part of property see my post on the meadow, “From lawn to woods: a retrospective.” We think it may be fed by a spring because the 2 big lakes in our neighborhood are spring-fed, but it’s not a strong spring. The water level fluctuates greatly in reaction to rainfall. If it gets too high, it overflows into a pipe and down a shallow, wooded ravine to the lake out back.

We have loved watching the birds that swoop in to fish. The pond supports a good population of blue gill, bass, and other native fish. Shortly after we moved in 10 years ago, the neighbor had allowed someone to deposit 8 koi and 2 albino catfish that had outgrown his koi pond. The catfish died a few years back, but we still have 4 or 5 of the koi.  The fancier ones with black and white scales are gone, but I don’t know if they were caught by a bird or what. The ones that are left are mostly orange.

We also have a good population of bull frogs, peepers, barking frogs, and others. We love the evening choruses that can be set off by any loud noise. Tonight, July 4th, they will be active as many of our neighbors set off fireworks.

pondice in winter11

In 2011,our winter was cold enough, long enough so we had a skim of ice on the pond. This doesn’t happen frequently–only twice in 10 years.

Florida’s weather patterns

Florida receives about 50″ per year, but it’s not evenly distributed. We have a 5-month wet season from June though October (aka hurricane season) when we receive, on average, twice as much rain as in the 7-month dry season, but of course nothing is certain when it comes to weather—back a couple of years, we received zero rainfall in October, which is one of our wet months. The pond responds directly to the rainfall—there is not much of a watershed, just our front yard and our neighbor’s. No storm drains or runoff from roads feed into the pond, but the ambient local water table is probably a factor.

Our winters here in northeast Florida are not harsh by any means, we generally receive 8 to 12 killing frosts, but in between the cold snaps it often heats up into the high 70s. So our soil never freezes and the bugs don’t die. This means that we can grow cool-weather vegetable crops right through the winter, but we have a hard time with crops like rhubarb and asparagus, which need cold soil. We can’t grow tulips, either. The temperature fluctuation also means that the pond rarely freezes—only twice in the 10 years


Our dry season in 2007 was severe enough that our pond was as low as we’ve ever seen it.


A green heron wades along the shoreline, looking for tadpoles, crawdads, frogs or small fish. These small herons are fun to watch because they often use tools to fish.


When the pond is low, and if the timing is right, we’ll do some muckraking. The muck in the middle is knee deep in places, removing as much of it as practical will prolong the life of the pond. Usually, we use iron rakes to pull out the un-composted leaves and other detritus into piles, and then shovel it into a cart or wheelbarrow. I like to use the old metal wheelbarrow, because there are holes in the bottom, so by the time it’s filled with muck, a good amount of moisture will have leaked out. I use the muck in moderation in the compost pile or to build up mounds in empty wooded areas so wasps and other critters have better access to it. When walking in the pond, I wear my dive booties for foot protection because they can’t get sucked off by sticky mud, they provide protection from sharp objects (and maybe snapping turtles), and they have a textured sole for reasonable (but not foolproof) traction in the slick mud.

Also when the pond is low, it a good chance to weed or trim back excess vegetation around the shoreline. In the 2007 photo above, the invasive torpedo grass (Panicum repens) was growing into the pond, so I pulled it all out and with only a few additional cleanups, it is gone from the pond. This invasive was introduced to this country in the late 1800s in a mixture of forage crops. In our case it was probably brought in with the original sod that the former owner had used. It’s still plentiful in the lawn areas, but I try to control it elsewhere.

Water features provide habitat

There is a sheltered swing seat out by the edge of the pond, which I should sit in more often, because when I do, there is always some wildlife to observe. The mosquitoes are not a big problem around the pond because of all the frogs, tadpoles, and dragonfly naiads. From dragonflies, birds, frogs, fish to turtles and crawdads, there is so much going on in this ecosystem. With no poisons used in our yard or the neighbor’s yard, it is free to host all these critters. (BTW, the house next door is on the market!)

If you are not blessed with a natural pond, it’s worthwhile to add one for the amazingly rich habitat it creates. Don’t skimp on the size. Build the largest one that you can afford and that will fit in your landscape—you can add plants and other stuff later. Remember this will become a working ecosystem so be prepared for surprises—pleasant and unpleasant.


We don’t often see them, but crawdads live along the shoreline hidden amongst the leaves.


We love all of our turtles. We have mostly Florida cooters and mud turtles (one of each are sharing the basking log we installed in this photo), but occasionally we’ll see a wicked-looking snapping turtle.


Tadpoles gather in shallow water to avoid the bigger fish, but then they are easier prey for that cute green heron in the photo above.

This black & yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) hunts for prey at the edge of the pond.

This black & yellow garden spider (Argiope aurantia) hunts for prey at the edge of the pond.


Soft rush (Juncus effusus) has planted itself at the edges of the pond. You can see 3 of the koi, and if you look closely, there are also 3 circular areas of light bottom where the bass have made nesting areas.


Royal Fern (Osmunda regalis) occurs naturally at the edges of the pond. The cinnamon ferns tend to occur in more upland locations.


This white-lined sphinx moth (Hyles lineata) larva is a hornworm that feeds on plants in the evening primrose family. The coloration of the worm is variable and this brightly colored individual has been infested with parasitoid cotesia wasp larvae (Cotesia congregata). The wasp larvae will feed on the worm. It’s a larvae eat larva world at the edge of the pond! In the background of this photo, you can see our pond swing.

We hosted a 30" gator in our pond for a couple of weeks in May this year, but by the time the gator hunters came, he had moved on.

We hosted a 30″ gator in our pond for a couple of weeks in May this year, but by the time the gator hunters came, he had moved on. We were happy that he avoided getting caught this time.

Woodduck2012b 600

A lone wood disturbs the reflections in the pond in 2010.

Trouble in paradise

Our pond was attacked a couple of years ago and we had to take action, because *things* were not going to get better in the pond without intervention. See part 2 of my pond adventures.

© 2014, Ginny Stibolt. All rights reserved. This article is the property of Native Plants and Wildlife Gardens. We have received many requests to reprint our work. Our policy is that you are free to use a short excerpt which must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Please use the contact form above if you have any questions.

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  1. Ellen Honeycutt says

    Ponds are an awesome way to bring more wildlife into your life. Add to that the fact that you can use some really cool water-loving native plants and it gets even better. Beautiful pictures!
    Ellen Honeycutt recently posted..Our Own Spireas

    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Thanks Ellen. Yes the native plants are key to making this pond a good habitat, plus they are so beautiful.

  2. suzanne dingwells says

    Ponds add such a rich layer of diversity to any landscape, thanks for the tour, Ginny. Looking forward to part two, and learning about your interventions. I can’t have a pond, but I did just put in a bird bath, and even that has been a huge attraction for neighborhood beasties of all kinds!

    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Yes, even a birdbath will attract wildlife. Yes, part 2 will cover what we had to do to save our pond.

  3. Jennifer Swan Hopkins says

    Hi – oh I am so glad I found you! What a lovely sanctuary you have.

    We have a very large natural pond that is fed by run-off and it runs off across other people’s land to the Hillsborough River. (We are in Zephyrhills, zone 9.) We found out it too is very affected by rain amounts! Oh my goodness, suddenly it is full to over-flowing! I wish I could share pictures with you. Our yard even un-planted is like a 6-acre park.

    When we purchased our home in January, our pond was very overgrown and nothing but spatterdock. We are working on it, but I really want to install shore plantings like yours with native flowers, grasses, bushes, and trees. The cost of doing this is daunting though. Any resources for cuttings, division sharing, etc.?

    Creating a natural wonderland in and around our pond isn’t our only issue though… our yard needs help, too. We need to make our entire place into a wetland sanctuary I think!

    I just posted this on a site called “Garden Web”:

    We purchased our 6 acre home in January of this year (zone 9, Zephyrhills, FL). We have come into July realizing we have 90% of our yard under water during the rainy season. Even where there isn’t standing water, our yard squishes. Remember though, in the dry season, it is a normal, dry yard.

    HELP! What can we plant besides willows, river birches and cypress? Our thoughts were to build up great mounds of earth, to plant things, but we can only do so many of those.

    I wanted butterfly gardens, raised bed veggie gardens, meandering paths – but am faced with a very wet reality. Any swamp gardeners out there who can lend suggestions/plants? I am not opposed to going mostly native but am not finding helpful ideas by doing a search on the internet.

    Soggy-Bottom Baby
    Thanks for any help/direction you can offer!

    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Dear Soggy,
      First of all join your local Florida Native Plant Society Chapter. (The Nature coast chapter serves Pasco County Chapters usually have native plant raffles at their meetings and also regular native plant sales. They also run field trips to local wild areas so you can learn more about what occurs naturally in your section of the state.
      Find out what’s invasive on your site, so you can get rid of that first. You don’t have to do everything at once—divide your project up so you don’t overwhelm your budget or your energy level.
      Next month, I’ll continue our pond adventure. Stay tuned!

  4. Maureen Labadie says

    Unlike Soggy-Bottom Baby I am on a high sandy ridge covered with hickory and oaks around the outside perimeter but with a sandy area about 1/2 acre long by 1/4 acre wide in the middle. I’d love to start a pond here as we have plenty of sand to move to form a berm surround. I’ve been told a flow-well is the only way to make this idea work. Being able to swim in it would be perfect. Have you seen natural swimming pools? I can just hear the county going crazy now! :( Thoughts.?

    • Ginny Stibolt says

      I like the idea of using plants and gravel to clean the water of a swimming pool instead of harsh chemicals, but I have no experience with this set up. I’ve seen the articles as well. Our pond is not set up for human use, just human enjoyment while the wildlife make themselves at home.

  5. Jennifer Swan Hopkins says

    We actually built a “swim pond”. Ours had a liner and was approx. 25′ x 35′. One end had the biofilter, filled with plants to help keep it clean. At the other end was the swimming hole, at about 4.5 feet deep. We had a pump and filter system to keep the water circulating. Ours was surrounded by a high enough berm that absolutely no run-off could get in. This is essential for safety reasons. You don’t want to swim in your neighbor’s Round Up or whatever they are broadcasting in their yard.

    We did not end up swimming in our pond, but we could have. We opted to get koi and sunfish, who were joined by various frogs, toads and our resident black snake. We enjoyed the wildlife continuously which worked out very well. Our pond was one of 25 finalists in the This Old House Makeover contest in 2013. Here’s a link showing the pond right after it was finished, it actually matured and looked even better by the time we sold our house in Feb of 2014:,,20700211_21325155,00.html

  6. Jennifer Swan Hopkins says (the other link didn’t paste correctly for some reason, sorry!)

    • Ginny Stibolt says

      Your pond is beautiful. Congrats on being a finalist–well deserved. I hope you’ve inspired others to add a pond for all the pleasures.
      Ginny Stibolt recently posted..6 reasons to use pine needle mulch in edible gardens



  1. Managing a natural pond says:

    […] month I wrote about how much we have enjoyed our front pond in The joys of a Florida pond, but in 2011 the whole surface of the pond had become totally covered by a noxious invasive with a […]


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