Although water gardens may seem like a luxury in drought-stricken central Texas, at our place they have become a reliable and critical source of water for a lot of our wildlife. Birds are particularly vulnerable to a lack of water and after only a few hours in 90+ degree temperatures without a water source, little ones like hummingbirds quickly perish. Later we saw deer licking almost non-existent morning dew off of leaves and rabbits coming right up to the house to drink out of water buckets, such boldness and desperateness was heart breaking to watch.
After finding numerous birds that had obviously died from heat and thirst, we decided it was imperative to provide a water supply for our winged and four-legged friends as well as the frogs, toads and snakes whose populations have taken a huge hit with the drought and subsequent fires, such as the devastating Bastrop County fires and the impact it had on the Houston Toad.
One of the biggest challenges when building the water garden was to be sure to always prioritize water conservation. In addition, we wanted to create a pond that emulated a natural pond as closely as possible. Fish were introduced to help manage the mosquito population.
A shallow pond covering a large area will quickly lose water. Sunny locations will obviously help accelerate the evaporation and encourage the growth of algae. Therefore, when selecting our location, we decided to go with an area that could most easily be described as a breezeway between two buildings on the property and then built a bridge over the pond. This kind of approach offers several advantages in that it is enjoyable, enhances the beauty of your property, is an asset to wildlife and yet easy to maintain. A few key elements include:
1. A very deep and narrow channel covered by the bridge provides protection for fish from predatory birds.
2. The covered roof helps cool the area and slows evaporation.
3. A shallow, shaded area with easy access from the side provides access to birds and other smaller animals.
4. Growing plants along the edge of the pond can both help shade the pond as well as provide access for lizards, geckos and similar reptiles while also helping cool the water and limit direct sunlight. River ferns, lilies and irises work well for these applications.
5. Whenever possible, plant evergreen plants, or plants that freeze back and regrown the following year are best. Deciduous trees and plants can result in a lot of additional debris in the water that may increase the amount of upkeep required by humans.
6. Locate the pond is a low area so that when it does rain any run-off can be retained. Berming can also help with this effort.
7. Incorporate water plants such as hibiscus, pickle relish and horsetails to give dragonflies and damselflies a place to rest. Be sure to include fast replenishing plants for food for fish, but also check with you county extension agent to make sure the plants you are using are not invasive and/or detrimental to natural waterways.
8. You will want some means of circulating water. Be sure to select a pump with a biofilter and a UV light to help kill algae, but it's best to keep the flow from the pump as discrete as possible. Trickle it down a small wall or make a water fountain that sprays water gently just a few inches above the water to minimize evaporation.
Do you have a water garden photo or story you would like to share? Let us know.