Ponds and water gardens are becoming increasingly popular and can add a feeling of peace and tranquility to any landscape. A water feature need not be large to provide a place for small animals and birds to congregate, and offer the spirit and essence of water in the midst of an otherwise low water use landscape plan.
The best place to locate a pond or small waterfall is where it can be seen and heard from the porch, patio or house. Half barrels, large pots, or a pre-formed pond liner and small pump are all that are needed to get a water feature started.
Choose a level spot that will receive partial sun year round, adjacent to a water supply and electricity. Ponds holding less than 50 gallons of water, and less than 24 inches deep usually do not require fencing or special permits for installation, but it's always best to check local codes.
A water feature can be nearly sterile, much like a swimming pool or hot tub, requiring regular maintenance, cleaning and the addition of chemicals. Water conditioners, purifiers and pump filters are available where pond and fountain supplies are sold.
It is also possible to make a pond or water garden a natural feature, ecologically balanced, reflecting the ebb and flow of the seasons. With a little regular monitoring, a natural pond will take care of itself.
Small mosquito fish will nibble at algae and eat mosquito larvae. Tadpoles and snails will help keep algae and mosquitoes at bay, as well as feasting on fish waste and decayed plant material.
Although beautiful to look at, larger fish such as koi make it more difficult to keep a small pond balanced due to the amount of excrement, which can upset the nitrogen balance in the water and add to algae growth.
Providing hiding places for fish will prevent them from being easy prey of cats, birds and raccoons. A strawberry pot turned upside down anchored with a rock or water lily pot, or several rock ledges around the edge and beneath the surface will give fish good places to hide.
Water plants occur in three different groups, each serving a specific purpose. Floaters such as water lilies, water hyacinth and water lettuce shade the surface of the water and subdue algae growth. Oxygenating plants grow mostly submerged, taking up carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen. Tiny bubbles can be seen clinging to the surface of their leaves. Marginal and bog plants offer aesthetic appeal, camouflage the edges of the container and extend the water feeling into the air or splash zone of the waterfall or fountain.
When installing a water feature, it's best to put in the water, start the pump and let the water condition itself for three or four days before adding plants or animals.
Treated water contains chlorine, which can be harmful to wildlife. A pond will attract birds, particularly if a shallow, gravelly spot without too much turbulence is available to them for resting, bathing and drinking. Dragonflies are attracted to reeds and rushes, and toads and frogs may find the pond for spawning. An amphibian ramp, made up of a pile of rocks with a tilted one reaching from the surface of the water to dry land will give lizards and toads an escape route if needed.
For additional information regarding ponds and other water features, check at local nurseries or on the web at Lilypons Water Gardens, www.lilypons.com or Van Ness Water Gardens, www.vnwg.com.
September brings cooler temperatures and preparation for fall in our high desert gardens. Vegetable gardeners interested in extending the growing season still have time to sow seeds of salad vegetables such as lettuce, spinach and radish for harvesting later in the fall. Spinach will over-winter in many areas if covered with a thick layer of straw to protect from hard frosts. Watch night time temperatures and pick frost tender vegetables before first frost.
Spring flowering bulbs are available in nurseries, and should be purchased now while the selection is good. Store in the refrigerator and plant after day time temperatures drop to 70 degrees or so.
Dig up iris and other hardy perennials that have finished blooming and need dividing. Add well rotted compost and a balanced fertilizer to the hole, trim plant tops and replant smaller, healthy plants.
As flowering plants decline and garden vegetable plants stop producing, cut into small pieces and place in compost pile. Discard diseased plant parts, or weeds that have gone to seed.
Keep large trees and shrubs watered deeply every two weeks or so, if there is no rainfall. Healthy plants will withstand winter cold and are less susceptible to insect infestation than water stressed plants.
Barb Bourscheidt is a longtime resident of Payson, a member of the Rim Area Gardeners and a participant in the Gila County Master Gardener program. She serves on the board of directors of the High Country Xeriscape Council of Arizona, and she researches and writes articles on the subject of water conservation through creative landscaping and climate-appropriate gardening techniques.