Should a Garden Pond Be in the Sun or Shade

  • By: Rob
  • Date: December 3, 2021
  • Time to read: 7 min.
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If you’ve been dreaming of a clean, beautiful garden pond with a thriving ecosystem, you’ve probably got a lot of questions. Most likely, those questions have to do with size, what kinds of fish you can have, and what kinds of plants you can grow. But be careful- you might be overlooking a very important factor in pond health- shade.

While garden ponds can definitely survive in direct sun, they thrive in partial shade. A regular garden pond should have about 5 hours of sun a day, with a few hours of shade thrown in. It’d be best to find a place where your pond will receive morning sunlight and afternoon shade- to prevent overheating.

But why do garden ponds require so much shade? Does it have to do with the fish living in them, the plants, or something else? and what can happen if your garden pond is getting a little too much sunlight? In this article, we’ll answer all these questions and more and, hopefully, hit on whatever worries you may have about garden ponds and sunlight.

Why Garden Ponds Thrive in Partial Shade

With a garden pond, everything is about balance- it’s a perfect example of the kind of yin and yang that keeps the universe in check. Too much sun, and you’ll be getting out-of-control problems that could completely ruin your garden pond. Too little sun and your plants will be suffering.

So what is the matter with sun? Why is there a such thing as ‘too much sun’ when it comes to a garden pond, and how can that be avoided?

The problem with the sun lies in a funny little phenomenon called an algal bloom. An algal bloom is when you provide an overly fertile environment for algae to grow, and it takes over your entire pond, filching oxygen from the plants and fish that need it.

Algal bloom can totally destroy a pond environment and cause problems that even some of the most skilled gardeners will have trouble fixing. You can do maintenance to keep up with the algae- removing a sufficient amount from time to time- but with such a warm, wet environment, you’ll be finding it hard to keep up.

When you provide your pond with partial shade, it gives it a little while to cool down. A cooler environment, while still being hospitable to algae growth, is not the algae hotbed that a steamy warm pond would be.

If you really want to prevent algal bloom, you can adjust the depth of your pond as well. Allowing for a 3-foot depth in your pond will give it a reservoir of cool water, which will cycle around the pond and cool down warmer, shallower waters.

If this isn’t an option, just position your pond somewhere where it will get sun in the morning and shade in the afternoon. This will drive up temps and get the plants and fish the warm water they need in the day while keeping them cool and preventing algal bloom by morning.

Why Garden Ponds Need Sunlight

While algal bloom is a constant danger for your pond, and you’re going to need to provide it with at least a little shade, you’re also not going to want to cut it off from the sun. You’ve still got plants you want to grow, after all.

Not to mention, a garden pond is an ecosystem that needs sunlight to thrive, just like any other. If your garden pond isn’t getting enough sun, your plants will shrivel up and become rather pathetic due to a lack of photosynthetic activity.

Plus, a sunny garden pond at midday is the perfect place to retreat after a long day at work. We know that aesthetic arguments aren’t really necessary when we’re talking about proper ways of building ponds, but why even build a pond if it’s going to be shady and gloomy all day?

Seeing the sun glint off a pond in the July noontime is a sight many country guys and gals will remember from their childhoods, and if you’ve just moved into a more rural environment or want to bring some of the rural world to your suburban backyard, you’ll love getting this brand new experience that will stick with you for a lifetime.

If your pond is big enough, you might even consider building a bit of a sand bar for wading. A sand bar is a sandy area running from a certain distance into your pond all the way out to the shore. Wading into the water in your sand bar is a great way to warm up your feet since the water will trap a lot of the heat from the sun.

Think of it as a mini hot spring for your tired, aching feet.

Can You Build a Garden Pond in Full Sun?

Yes, you can build a garden pond in full sun. The algae just might get out of control.

You might also want to consider cleaning a pond with too much algae, although some algae is a good thing and will help with the cleaning process, find out more on when should I clean my garden pond here.

The good thing about a garden pond in full sun is that even though your Algae will be growing ferociously, other plants will be taking advantage, as well. From lily pads to cattails, whatever greenery you have decorating the sides of your pond will benefit enormously from full sun exposure.

In fact, full sun can provide a huge advantage for a larger garden pond. For smaller garden ponds, though, it can be a curse.

Learn more on how small can a garden pond be here

If you want to put your garden pond in full sun, make sure it’s big and deep, providing plenty of room for plants to grow and temperature to diffuse. You’d also be smart to keep it away from any high-nitrogen fertilizers, which are like candy for algae.

If you follow these steps for building a garden pond in the sun, you could have a large, thriving pond that can house fish, plants, and all other manner of quaint little creatures. Sitting out on the shore of a sunny pond can be the biggest joy in a gardener’s life.

What About a Shady Pond?

We’ve talked a lot about sunny ponds and partial-sun ponds, but is there any advantage to having a shady pond?

You’ve likely seen them out in the wild, so you know that it’s possible to keep a shady pond- but how good is it for keeping fish and plants happy? As it turns out, they’re not so bad, either- but for different reasons.

In terms of garden ponds, shady areas play a better host for small ponds than big ponds. It’s not that a shady spot will kill all the life in your big pond. It’s just that it will somewhat defeat its purpose.

If you would like to read more on how small can a garden pond be, check out that article for all your information.

Usually, when we host big, expansive ponds in our backyards, it’s because we want them to be productive. Many gardeners have dreams of nursing a sustainable fish population and a sunny bank with lots of cattails growing on it- in other words, an eatin’ pond.

But when you put a large pond in a shady area, you’ll find that cattails and other plants have a lot of trouble growing. You won’t be getting much algae, but with a deep enough pond, you wouldn’t really have had to worry about that in the first place. 

You might want to know more about how deep should a garden pond be, check out that article to get all the answers.

Shady areas are, however, perfect for smaller ponds. Since you likely won’t have enough space to grow cattails or other edible water plants in your small garden pond, your goals will mainly pertain to keeping fish and smaller water plants happy.

While your lily pads may struggle to get enough sunlight, eventually succumbing to the shadows, your fish will be doing fine, so long as you have the pond stocked with enough food for them to eat. The algae will mostly stay out of your pond, considering the cool temperatures, and you won’t have to do nearly as much maintenance.

Not to mention, shady areas can even form microclimates in the wintertime, meaning that if you live in a chilly area- somewhere up north- you’ll be able to keep your garden pond warmer than you could even in full sun! This will be enormously helpful if your pond isn’t as deep as it could be and your fish need somewhere to escape to during winter.

Keep in mind, though, your pond will inevitably freeze over during the winter if you live in a chilly northern climate. Having a microclimate area won’t prevent that. Pond-owners who want to prevent fish-freeze have to give their fish a reasonable depth to retreat to when the water freezes over. We recommend at least three feet or more, just to make sure they’ve got a very spacious retreat down at the bottom and can continue their business unhindered.

All in All

All in all, you can have a garden pond in the shade, partial sun, or even full sun, you’ll just have different challenges and advantages that arise. For the best possible pond environment, give your pond partial sun, with sunlight in the morning and shade in the afternoon.

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