Guide to Different Types of Ponds (Natural, Man-made & Fish)
For centuries, ponds have been utilized for all manner of things. Many ancient civilizations, such as the Egyptians and Romans, used ponds to farm fish to feed their vast populations. Some spiritual societies, like the Buddhists, have ponds outside of temples for bathing as well as spiritual cleansing and reflection. Nowadays, most ponds, whether man made or naturally occurring, are typically used for either fish, wildlife, plants, decorative purposes, or all of those things. They can range in size from a few hundred gallons and only a few inches deep to spanning several acres and reaching many meters in depth.
Regardless of the type of pond or its desired purpose, all ponds have the potential to provide a safe haven for plants and wildlife as well as a calming aesthetic, and we’ve listed the most common types of ponds (and their most defining characteristics) below:
Different Types of Man Made Ponds
1) Fish Ponds (Koi & Goldfish Ponds)
Fish ponds are among the most popular artificial ponds, as they can be constructed and maintained to host all manner of fish for decoration and entertainment. Because different fish species have different needs, maintaining a fish pond constitutes a fair amount of work and upkeep, including monitoring pH levels, nutrient levels, dissolved oxygen content, temperature, and water hardness to name a few.
Equipment also has to be installed and then cleaned regularly to ensure a healthy environment for the fish and keep everything in proper working order. Fish can produce a great deal of waste, so a hardy filter will be necessary, plus possible manual removal of fish and plant waste. A pump will also be needed to help aerate the water. If you incorporate plants into your pond (which is recommended to provide oxygen, shade, and shelter for you fish), you’ll also attract valuable pollinators and possibly other wildlife as well!
2) Wildlife Ponds
As covered in our article on wildlife pond maintenance, ponds worldwide have disappeared by an average of 50% due to human activities. As such, man-made wildlife ponds have become invaluable and often lifesaving resources for wildlife. Many species of waterfowl depend on them for stopover points during migration, salamanders and frogs need them in order to spawn and raise young, and other wildlife like songbirds, deer, and rabbits depend on them for a quick drink during dry, warm weather as well as a place to forage on tasty and nutrient rich emergent vegetation.
Wildlife ponds tend to be larger than fish ponds, as they are generally geared toward helping to support a wide array of species, both plant and animal. These ponds, though typically artificial, don’t require as much upkeep as fish ponds, and as such don’t need as much equipment like filters, pumps, or vacuums. In fact, so long as nutrient and pH levels are kept in check, these ponds don’t need much of anything at all – it’s best to leave things as undisturbed as possible, so nature can do its thing and allow this pond to really be a sanctuary for wildlife.
3) Mini Ponds/Bowl Ponds
Mini ponds are quite small and can be made out of something as simple as a bowl, preformed plastic, pot, or a barrel that’s been cut in half. Due to their small size, they can be portable and are suitable for use indoors, in small gardens, on patios, or really anywhere – this is particularly handy if you’d like a pond aesthetic, but live somewhere such as an apartment where having a typical pond isn’t possible.
They’re also an excellent fit if you’d like a water feature but lack the experience, funds, or even just motivation to take care of anything substantial, as mini ponds require minimum maintenance. These can range in size from a small soup bowl to a large meter squared ceramic urn. Truly tiny bowl ponds are limited in terms of vegetation, but anything around 50 centimeters in diameter or greater can truly become miniature ecosystems. Dwarf water lilies, water lettuce, hornwort, taro, and soft rush among others are all well suited to these miniature ecosystems, and can beautifully complement each other and the water. From time to time you’ll likely need to trim back the plants (no more than about 75% of the surface should be covered, otherwise the water will not get enough light and can become a prime area for algae and water quality issues), if it the pond is outside and you live in an area with cold winters, it will need to be moved indoors. You can check out our full guide to the best plants for mini ponds and container ponds here: 10 Best Plants for Container Ponds, Bowls, Tubs & Patios (Updated)
Due to its small size, neither of these should present much issue! If outdoors during the spring and summer, you may have visitors such as salamanders and dragonflies discovering your pond and visiting it regularly.
4) Swimming Ponds
Swimming ponds can vary but are usually a bit of a hybrid between a swimming pool and an actual pond. Oftentimes, they will be lined or may even be held within an actual pool structure, but will also contain some plants and perhaps even fish. Since the pond is used for swimming, you’ll really have to be on top of maintenance to ensure there aren’t any organisms such as leeches or an overabundance of algae that could harm you or anyone else swimming in the pond.
In addition, because the pond also contains plants and possibly some fish as well, you won’t be able to use chemicals such as chlorine to keep it clean. Rather, you can conduct some research and choose plants that are particularly adept at filtering pollutants and adding oxygen. These plants could be placed either along the edge of the pond or along the bottom, where they’ll be mostly out of the way for swimming. You could also use salt to keep the water balanced and clean, but then you will only be able to have plants and fish that are adapted to saltwater environments else they will die.
Different Types of Natural Ponds
1) Ephemeral Ponds (Vernal Ponds)
Ephemeral ponds are those that are formed in the spring by melting snow and increased rainfall. They usually dry up within a few months, but despite their short lifespan they are depended on by a variety of wetland species, like frogs, salamanders, jewelweed, and water crowfoot to name only a few.
Mammals and birds will utilize them for drinking as well as hunting much needed food that is otherwise scarce when exiting winter.
2) Kettle Ponds
Kettle ponds are often quite old, formed by retreated glaciers that carve depressions (sometimes over 100 feet deep) into the ground. A portion of the glacier detaches and becomes embedded in the ground, where it gradually melts and forms a pond with rich glacial sediment.
They are most often found in open areas like savannahs and prairies, typically near mountains. They are exceptionally ecologically important – the Prairie Potholes region located in the western United States and southern portion of Canada, for example, is one of the richest and most diverse wetland ecosystems on the planet. In fact, about a third of North America’s waterfowl nest here, and about half visit it as a crucial stopover point during migration.
3) Spring Fed Ponds
Spring fed ponds are, obviously ponds that are formed by underground springs as they flow up to the surface into some form of depression. These are often very clean, mineral rich pond systems, due to the natural and thorough filtration that is conducted by underground springs as they pass through soil and rock.
You can find a variety of species at these ponds that may not exist in other areas. For example, salamanders, dragonflies, and various plant species may set up residence near spring fed ponds, as these species are generally pretty intolerant of pollution and spring fed ponds are quite clean. However, there likely won’t be much life in the pond itself due to the cold spring water.
4) Meadow-Stream Ponds
Formed by streams and rivers as they carve out sediment, meadow-stream ponds are typically found in lowland meadows and grasslands. The ponds are formed as a part of the stream, rather than separate from it – rather than being perfectly still, these “ponds” are often just very slow, deep pools in the stream.
They typically have muddy bottoms, and are depended on by species like salmon, roaming ungulates such as elk, a large variety of micro and macroinvertebrates, birds, and just about anything else found in the grassland ecosystem.
5) Mountain Ponds
Formed by melting snow, water runoff, and shifting rock, mountain ponds exist only in mountainous regions. They can exist at the base of mountains, or sometimes be formed in overhanging ledges on the mountain itself after rock has fallen off and gradually filled in with water. They’re very unique ecosystems, often home to species that are rare or even extinct elsewhere.
For example, Hanging Lake in Colorado is one of the most well-known mountain ponds (its definition as a lake or pond is contested, as it’s fairly small in size) in the U.S., and is home to the rare and highly protected cutthroat trout. It’s found near the top of the mountain and literally hangs over the mountain face to overlook the canyon and forest below.