Gardening: Adding a new dimension with water

A water feature, large or small, adds a whole new dimension to the garden. As water is one of the necessities of life, a water feature could lure wild creatures into the garden. The style, and size of the feature determines the creatures that will come to visit.

Running water adds a restful sound that can drown out many of the neighbourhood noises and it is attractive to birds.

A small table fountain in a sitting area will add the sound of running water but it won’t likely be big enough to attract attention from wild creatures. Larger fountains, ponds, stream or water walls that are incorporated into the main garden are more likely to have visitors.

Water features are rarely maintenance free.

Water levels must be maintained and areas that build up algae should be cleaned. Bird baths and small fountains should be scrubbed regularly, rinsed with a light bleach solution and allowed to dry to let the bleach dissipate before it is filled with water. A clean fountain is much more pleasing to the eye, nose and is safer for the creatures that use it to drink and bath.

More often than not, a pond or stream is part of a complete environmental package to entice creatures into the area. Part of the pond must be shallow enough to allow birds of all sizes to bath. If the pond is too deep, rocks can be put into place to make the area shallower.

Bees and butterflies will approach the shallow edge of a water body or very wet sand to gather water for the hive. When the edges are too steep, the insects fall into the water and drown.

Both a shallow pond and a shallow edge are found in traditional birdbaths.

Plantings around the edge of the pond or water feature serve more than one purpose. They will look attractive but can provide hiding places, shade, homes, resting areas or food depending on the inhabitants.

In smaller ponds it is necessary to remove all debris regularly. If it is left in place the water would soon be foul. In larger ponds removing all fallen leaves, dirt etc. is detrimental as well as impossible. When left in place and the debris provides a home for many creatures.

While the water lily is best known water plant there are many other plants that thrive in the water. Typically, the plants are divided into three sections: marginal, submergents and deep water/floating leaves.

Marginal plants are found around the edge of ponds. They thrive on the edges and shallow water up to approximately 18 inches (46 cm) deep. Hardy marginal plants grow and multiply on the edge providing habitant for many creatures. This area is best left intact and cleaned in the spring.

Sumbergents live under the water with an occasional tip showing. These plants absorb nutrients through their foliage and give off oxygen. While the plants will feel weedy when people walk in the pond, they are very important in keeping alga in check.

Deep water and floating plants are put together as their leaves float on the surface absorbing sunlight keeping the light and heat from penetrating the water. Pond Lilies and Water Lilies are just a few of the plants that have roots on the bottom of the pond and long stems which allow their leaves to reach and float on the surface. Pond Lilies and hardy Water Lilies can over winter in the pond if the water does not freeze to the bottom.

The most common native floating plant is duckweed. If left unchecked the duckweed will turn ponds green which means it is often confused with algae. Duckweed sinks overwinters on the bottom of the pond.

Tropical floating plants such as: water lettuce and floating hyacinths are readily available in garden outlets. They thrive in warm ponds but do not do well in larger, deeper ones where the water is cooler.

Adding a water feature to the yard can be as simple or as complicated as desired. As long as there is a shallow pool with shallow edges, expect to see a bird, bee, butterfly or other insect having a drink or bath.

Linda Tomlinson is a horticulturalist that lives near Rocky Mountain House. She can be reached at your_garden@hotmail.com.

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