Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries, Ask Mary Stone, New Jersey Garden blog

Inconsistency over Pond vs. Lake

view of a lake in the fall wiht assorted gold brown and orange leaves

Hello, fellow readers, It never occurred to me that there is an inconsistency of what defines a pond versus a lake; if I may share a walk in the woods, that leads to the curious question.

golden leaves covering a forest floor

A carpet of gold at Lodestar Park, Fredon, NJ

After our weekly volunteer sing at the Karen Ann Quinlan Home for Hospice on Friday, I enjoyed a walk in the rain at Lodestar Park in Fredon, NJ. There’s something serene about walking amongst raindrops. Especially when a drizzle hits your face, feeling like kisses from heaven.

Beyond the hayfield trail, I made a right onto the Nature Trail, which meanders through the woods. The golden carpet of fallen leaves covering the path was soft to walk on. I stopped to listen to the raindrops’ cadence, taking in the miracles of the cycle of life—the rhythm of nature, the change in seasons.

The distinction between a lake and a pond is not standardized. 

There’s a small pond where an informational plaque stands. It explains that “the technical distinction between a lake and a pond has not been universally standardized,” which piqued my interest. Aren’t ponds shallow and small compared to deeper and larger lakes? But I suppose everything is up to interpretation, and research proved so.

a small white sign describing ponds with a pond in the backgroundI came upon the term Limnology – “the study of the biological, chemical, and physical features of lakes and other bodies of freshwater,” per Oxford’s dictionary. In the late 18th to early 19th centuries, limnologists defined a lake as deep enough to have two or three water layers in varying temperatures, called thermal stratification. Ponds, on the other hand, are shallow enough to have rooted plants along the bottom throughout.

But today’s limnologists understand that nature has no exacting categories. There are deep lakes and ponds, shallow lakes and ponds, and other differences.

view of a lake in the fall with assorted gold brown and orange leavesHow ponds and lakes are formed.

The park plaque explains, “A depression which collects and retains a sufficient amount of water can be described as a pond, and a variety of geological events causes such depressions.” We all learned about the ice age and the impact of glaciers in school.

Ponds and lakes can be human-made or made by critters, such as beavers here and alligators elsewhere. During summer droughts, fires can cause a divot that fills with water after the dry spell ends. Temporary ponds after snowmelt or rainy seasons are called Vernal Ponds, vital spots for amphibians to breed.

Sometimes, names are changed from pond to lake when real estate is involved. A “Lake Front Home” seems to fetch a more significant price tag. However, ponds add beauty to a landscape and benefit our wildlife.

What are Pond-less waterfalls?

A long-time client in Denville, NJ, wants to add a water feature. Stephanie is all about allowing critters to have their share. Much to my chagrin, she’ll look the other way when deer nibble rather than use deer spray when needed, especially during their fall feeding frenzy. “It’s Nature’s way of pruning,” Stephanie says.

A traditional pond is not feasible because of the elevations and the proximately of a beloved oak tree. Instead, we’re planning a pond-less waterfall. A water reservoir and pump buried into the garden will rotate the water down a stream we’ll build with indigenous boulders and pockets for native plants.

Pond-less waterfalls will not sustain fish, aquatic insects, and water plants, as described in the park’s plaque. But Stephanie gleefully considers how “the birds will adore it, and the deer will have a place to drink.”  Plus, it will be a draw to important pollinators like dragonflies and butterflies. Beyond that, she’ll enjoy a babbling stream’s serenity and soothing sounds. I like to think the wildlife will, too.

Garden Dilemmas? (and now on your favorite Podcast App.)

Link to a previous column about the  Safe Havens of Vernal Ponds 

There’s more to the story in the Garden Dilemmas Podcast:

More about pond-less waterfalls – DIY a Backyard Waterfall


Mary Stone, owner of Stone Associates Landscape Design & Consulting. As a Landscape Designer, I am grateful for the joy of helping others beautify their surroundings which often leads to sharing encouragement and life experiences. These relationships inspired my weekly column published in THE PRESS, 'Garden Dilemmas? Ask Mary', began in 2012. I dream of growing the evolving community of readers into an interactive forum to share encouragement and support in Garden and Personal Recoveries - seeking nature’s inspirations, stimulating growth, weeding undesirables, embracing the unexpected. Thank you for visiting! Mary

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