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Water gardens, 4 tips to create one that is beautiful and functional

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Water gardens, 4 tips to create one that is beautiful and functional

Are you a modern gardener? One who plants and nurtures your own garden space with an eye to enhancing the biodiversity in your community? It has taken a few generations, but now we are at a point where we have torn up our property deed, figuratively, and replaced it with a consciousness of the impact our outdoor activity has on nature, up and down the street.

If one of your garden goals is to maximize the attraction of beneficial insects, songbirds, butterflies and hummingbirds: Welcome.

The most impactful addition you can make to your garden is to add still water. A half barrel, a pond or any small container filled with water and “managed” will attract amphibians, dragonflies and many more helpful critters in the local environment. Here are some top tips for still water features in the garden:

1 | Amphibians.

When you are successful in attracting frogs, toads and salamanders to your water garden, you have achieved a very special level of success. These creatures breathe through their skin and as such are very sensitive to environmental changes and pollution. Nurture them by not disturbing your water garden too severely each spring. Provide habitat by placing water plants in it.

Locate your water feature in part sun. Ideally, about 60 per cent of the surface of the water should be shaded. You can provide shade using a nearby tree, water plants that float and by planting broad leaved water lilies that produce leaves up to the surface of the water.

2 | Avoid raccoons and mosquitoes.

The two objections that we hear most, where water features are concerned, are “I don’t want raccoons” and “I don’t want to encourage mosquitoes.” To avoid raccoon problems, design your pond with sides that slope steeply downwards, about 50 cm deep. Raccoons can’t (or won’t) swim and are unable to swipe the fish out of your pond if it is steep enough.

Mosquitoes are easy to manage. Just put some goldfish or koi carp in your pond. Mark has a 10-by-10-metre pond and he has about 30 small fish that do the job very nicely. You can have too many fish, though, as they create a carbon-rich environment that encourages algae growth.

3 | Butterflies and dragonflies love ponds.

Especially where water lilies and other broad-leaved plants sit on the surface of the water. These flying insects do not use bird baths to either drink from or bathe. They are both “top heavy” and prefer to drink from water droplets on the surface of water plants or in mud, which can occur at the margin of your pond. Note that dragonfly nymphs live in still water for up to four years before they mature into flying adults – another good reason not to clean your pond too thoroughly each spring.

4 | Marginals.

The plants you establish around your pond are as important as the ones that you place in it. They provide cover for egg laying and drying post for emerging dragon flies. Consider native marsh marigolds, water iris, tall water forget-me-nots, hibiscus and Joe Pye Weed (a butterfly magnet).

When you build a garden pond, we recommend using a butyl pond liner as it will not break down as PVC will over time. The pond cavity should be lined with sand and a layer of polyester fibre that acts as a buffer against the existing soil.

Once you learn these basics and design your water garden, you’ll see it can literally become a living, breathing yard feature you can be proud of and enjoy for years to come.

Mark Cullen is a Member of the Order of Canada, and provides gardening advice to more than two million Canadians each week. Ben Cullen’s specialty is food gardening. markcullen.com; Facebook @MarkCullenGardening and Pinterest @MarkCullenGardening.

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