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Water Gardens

by Karen Marquardt

Water gardens are an asset to any yard. Adding water to your garden can attract wildlife, make soothing sounds and provide great visual appeal. There are a variety of ways to add both flowing and still water to your yard, from the simplest bird bath to the most complex pond and waterfall arrangements imaginable.

The first step in choosing any water feature is determining what you want, what purpose it will serve, and what size you would like. The scale of the water feature is probably the first decision you should make. A simple bird bath is enough for many folks; it will attract birds and add a focal point in your garden. Expanding from there are container fountains and ponds, disappearing streams and waterfalls, ponds, waterfalls and streams. The purpose of the water feature should also be considered. Do you want a fish pond, a cheerful fountain, a fantastic water garden, a waterfall to block road noise, a feature to attract birds and wildlife or just a quiet lily pond? Are you going to DIY or hire someone to build it for you? Other considerations are budget, placement, maintenance, style and scope.

One of the biggest mistakes that people make with ponds and waterfalls, is locating them too far from the gathering places in the yard. While placing a pond at the back of your lot might make a nice focal point, it does not maximize your enjoyment of the water feature. Most pond elements are meant to be enjoyed up close; smelling the lilies, seeing the fish swim by, and listening to the burble of the flowing water. This means the best location is usually closer to the house or patio. My pond is just off the patio; I can see the birds playing in the water from all the windows in the kitchen and family rooms!

Once you have decided, it doesn’t really end there. Most people start small and end up scaling up. I started with a small container pond and a few goldfish, now I have three small ponds, a bog garden, stream and waterfall. At the small end are bird baths, small free standing fountains and other container gardens. These small garden elements can be just as attractive as larger elements, and can add a great deal of charm to a yard. Larger ponds, with streams and waterfalls just expand the options. The variety of fish and plants expands with larger ponds, as does the budget and maintenance issues.

One of my favorite things about my pond is the visitors it attracts. I have had all sorts of birds from painted buntings to great blue herons visit my pond. On a couple of quiet evenings we have even seen screech owls bathing in the waterfall. We always have toads, frogs, dragon flies and bees. Other visitors include deer, raccoons, possums, and even a fox! The only unwelcome visitors are the ones that eat my fish!

Mosquitoes can be a problem in ponds, particularly if there is not adequate flow and maintenance. I scoop leaves and other organic material out of my pond regularly, make sure the pond and bog have good water flow and keep plenty of mosquitofish. Mosquitofish are native to Texas, and can be purchased inexpensively at pond specialty stores, but mine came from a stream, in a bucket, caught by my kid. They breed easily, and now I have hundreds! My bog and pond are heavily planted, and mosquitoes still come in from outside my yard, so I also use Mosquito Squad’s all-natural barrier spray. It can be sprayed directly over water without harming the fish, and it allows me to be a little sloppier with bog maintenance. Dragonfly and damselfly larvae also eat mosquito larvae, so a good ecosystem with fish, plants, and insects naturally keeps mosquito breeding at bay. You can also use mosquito dunks in your pond, but I have never needed them.

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