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Green Landscaping: Greenacres


Wild Ones Handbook


"A backyard without a stream now seems to me as lifeless as a living room without a hearth." -

Michael McKeag


Creating A Water Garden 

Creating A Water Garden
by Annette Alexander, Native Plant Enthusiast

In planning a water garden, first consider the safety of small children, check local regulations, and call the digger's hotline to locate buried utility lines. Do not disrupt existing valuable habitat -- especially intact wetlands.

Follow the design rules on pages 12-14, paying particular attention to grade. For instance, if you have a heavy clay soil and expect to create a pond without a liner, use a low area where water collects naturally but doesn't receive surface run-off from roads, parking lots and fertilized areas. Observe drainage during and after rainfall. Determine which direction to aim the pond's overflow.

If you'll need to supply your pond with water, locate it within reach of a hose. If your water contains chlorine, aerate it while filling and allow it to stand for a week before adding plants or fish. If your water contains chloramine, use filtered water or collected rainwater instead.

The sound of a stream spilling into a pond will attract species of birds that would ignore still water. Moving water is easily created by circulating water with a submersible pump. A fine spray or mist is also an attraction, particularly to hummingbirds. If you'll be using a pump, allow for a weatherproof electrical outlet adjacent to the pond and conduit running to your power source.

A pond needs at least five hours of light a day for plants to thrive and lilies to bloom. Locate your pond away from large trees to avoid excessive shade. In addition, digging into tree roots may damage the tree as well as your back. Decaying vegetation in the water depletes oxygen, so skim out any leaves that do blow in.

Now that you've found just the right spot, experiment with the pond's size and shape by laying out a hose to represent the pond's edge. 

Your pond need not be deeper than 1 to 2 feet, unless you're planning to stock fish. A 4-foot-deep center well protects fish from predators and gives them a better chance to over-winter. In areas with very cold winters, you'll need to use a heating coil (such as those made for horse troughs) or your fish will need to be relocated to indoor tanks. Minnows are excellent mosquito larva eaters. Goldfish are bottom feeders.

Materials for pond liners include flexible synthetic rubber (EPDM), PVC or polypropelene (purported to be kinder to aquatic life). While many kits offer a liner of 10- to 12-mil thickness, experts recommend 30 mil if you plan for your pond to have any permanence. To prevent puncture, put a protective underlayment between the ground and your liner. You can either buy underlayment for this purpose, use old carpeting, put down a bed of sand or use a 1/2-inch-thick layer of newspaper. As the newspaper slowly decays, it actually forms a watertight substance called gley.

Concrete contains chemicals toxic to aquatic life. Scrub concrete ponds with muriatic acid and rinse thoroughly. New concrete continues to leach lime for up to a year, so monitor water pH levels (testing kits available from pond suppliers).

A lined pond should have a free-form shape. Gradually sloping, rocky sides provide niches for plants. If predators (i.e., raccoons) are a problem, steep sides will help protect fish, but then you'll need to provide emergent stones or deadwood elsewhere in the pond to provide wildlife access. A log connected to the shore will serve as an escape route for small mammals that fall in and would otherwise drown.

Hide the pond edge as Nature would. Lay a branch at a curve and train a vine along it, then change the pace with sedges and rushes blending into stones that provide shelter for emerging amphibians. Hiding places for fish include: sunken drain tiles, rock piles, or flowerpots or brown plastic milk crates turned on their sides (top the crate with stones for camouflage).

Follow the advice of native species pond books and wetland nursery experts when making decisions about plants and their density. Each type requires a specific location in relation to the surface of the water -- some need their crowns just above the surface, others well below. Including oxygenating plants will improve water quality. Be sure to include vertical plants (as opposed to all water lilies) for emerging dragonflies to climb.

You may pack your plant roots in soil and then tie up the rootball in burlap. If using pots, line them with a permeable fabric to prevent the soil's leaching out, then cover the soil with a layer of pea gravel to keep it in place. Or you may put soil into the pond bottom and plant directly into it. In any case, be patient about learning how your pond will stabilize itself. Then sit back and enjoy watching all the activity that's bound to follow.

For more information, we recommend the book Pond Life by George K. Reid.


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