In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
May, 2014
Regional Report

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Lilies and goldfish add splashes of color to water gardens.

Water Gardening in the Desert

Water gardening in the desert is coming into vogue. Desert dwellers are beginning to realize the many tangible and intangible benefits a water feature provides in our relentlessly arid climate. Water conservation might not spring to mind as a benefit, but in reality, swapping turf for a carefully planned, naturalistic pond can reduce overall water use. Even better -- pond maintenance is less time-consuming than the obligatory mowing, fertilizing, aerating, and other chores that lawn upkeep entails.

A water source creates an urban wildlife habitat for all sorts of creatures. It attracts aquatic birds and colorful dragonflies that otherwise would have no reason to stop by your yard. Ponds are magical places for children to develop a love of nature. Toads, turtles, snails, and fish become well-observed friends.

The sound of water soothes and refreshes the soul. On a more practical note, it masks the sounds of traffic and neighbors. Water features can be designed to produce a trickle or a roar, to combat whatever bothersome noises need covering.

Questions to Ask Yourself
Like any other garden or landscape feature, it pays to start with a good plan. First, determine why you want a pond or water feature. How will you use it? Is it for noise abatement? Do you want to look at colorful fish? Is it part of a backyard wildlife habitat? How much time do you want to spend on maintenance? How much do you want to spend? These answers will help you choose how elaborate you want to be, whether you want a pond/stream combination or a self-contained half-barrel.

Next, determine the best location. Most ponds are placed in full sun without tree canopies overhead that will drop litter into the water. However, a shady locations beneath trees can work if you're willing to spend a little more time regularly skimming the pond surface clean. This will prevent a build-up of organic matter that can translate into excessive algae growth. Is there a slope to the land that will cause run-off during a thunderstorm? What about wind exposure?

What is the traffic pattern from your house to the pond? What views are available? Do you want to see the pond from a particular window? Hear it from the back patio as a "mystery" destination? Or do you want to step outside and see the pond front and center? What is the view from the pond itself as you sit relaxing nearby? Spread a length of hose or rope in the configuration of the pond and leave it for a few days. Place a chair nearby. Move the hose about between possible locations.

Safety and Other Issues
What safety issues are involved? Is your garden accessible to young children? Even a shallow pool or water-filled container can present a risk to unsupervised youngsters. Where is the nearest water and electrical source? Does your municipality have any zoning regulations related to ponds? If you dig a hole in the ground, what will you do with the removed soil? Are there any tree roots that might be damaged by installation or that will grow into the pond?

Although it is sometimes more exciting to just dig right into a garden project, if you spend a little time answering these questions, you'll be well on your way to creating the perfect watering hole.

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