Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Gardening for Wildlife: Water

Water is a critical element in any wildlife garden. Food may be widely available, but water is often scarce, especially in the dry summer months but also during winter, when many water sources are frozen.

Even a simple bird bath like mine will help provide water. I made this one from three terra-cotta pots of increasing sizes glued together with silicone sealer, and a terra-cotta saucer glued to the top. I left it unadorned to blend in with the earth tones of the woodsy garden, but one could paint such a bird bath or decorate it with mosaic tiles. In addition, I have a ground-level bird bath which is simply a large plastic saucer meant for planters that I keep filled with water. A stone in the saucer gives birds a place to perch and bathe. The bird baths dry out quickly in the summer so I have to remember to keep them filled. I also have to remove the ice on freezing days.

Garden ponds are a good option for people with sufficient room and funds. A crystal-clear, sparkling pond looks lovely, but if you want one that will attract aquatic wildlife, let at least some debris accumulate in the bottom, and grow emergent plants in the pond. Also, don't plan to raise hungry fish, which will gobble up amphibian eggs and aquatic insects. If you're lucky, you may have dragonflies, frogs, or salamanders laying eggs in the pond. If possible, secure a concrete drain tile or similar protective structures to the bottom of pond to give your water creatures a safe haven when raccoons come looking for food.

Rain gardens are a less expensive option that can provide a small marsh or a pond, fed by runoff from your roof or a steep driveway. Rain gardens are located in a sunny spot at least ten feet from your foundations, in a place where the downspouts empty. The garden itself is constructed by leveling the spot and digging a hole several feet deep. The excavated soil can be used to build a berm around the hole if needed for leveling. The hole is backfilled with soil mixed with a lot of compost, peat moss, or other organic matter. A trench may be needed to direct water from the downspout into the rain garden. Plant the garden with marsh plants which love to have their feet wet. A rain garden may have standing water during your rainy season, and may dry out during hotter weather, so native plants that are adapted to your local weather are the best choice. Many of these plants will support butterfly populations. In addition to helping wildlife, rain gardens give runoff water a place to go besides the gutter and sewer system. For detailed instructions on constructing rain gardens, see the Rain Gardens of West Michigan website.

So get creative. Where can you incorporate a wildlife-friendly water feature in your garden?

The entire Gardening for Wildlife series:
Gardening for Wildlife: The 4 Element
Gardening for Wildlife: Food
Gardening for Wildlife: Water
Gardening for Wildlife: Cover
Gardening for Wildlife: Nesting Sites

1 comment:

robbinscabin said...

Thanks for the Wildlife 101 class! I've learned a ton of new information that sounds easy enough to try this spring. Thanks again!