Ornamental gardening, "stay-cations," and "backyard Living" are at an all-time high in popularity. It seems that, in our high-tech society, everyone wants to get "outside," reconnect with nature, and enjoy the simpler low-tech pleasures. Nothing is better than sitting in a backyard by a water garden and watching the birds and butterflies at play. Many different types of birds visit our garden on any given day and in the summertime the butterflies abound! They eat, play, nest and bathe. And in the process we (and neighbors that walk by our front-yard stream), get to enjoy the gifts of nature.
Backyard Ponds & Gardens Should Work with Mother Nature
Like ALL living things, these beneficial creatures need certain basic things to live and prosper: food, water, shelter, and places to raise young. If you provide these things, you will see your new friends moving in almost overnight.
Want to increase the number of birds and butterflies in your landscape? Here are some brief hints:
Plant some native trees, shrubs and flowers. Using the right plants will provide places for shelter, nesting and food & will add beauty to your landscape. The great thing is that many of the plants that shelter and feed the birds and butterflies are native plants. Most of these natives are long-lived, drought hardy, and insect and disease resistant.
Put in a living water feature. We must ALL have water to live. Your water feature can be as simple as a bird bath or as large as a custom re-circulating waterfall, water garden, or rainwater harvesting system. The main thing to remember is that birds like shallow water for bathing and drinking (2″ to 4″) butterflies like a “seep.” Think about your overall landscape design and get some water in the mix! As a bonus, your kids/grandkids will really engage with a water garden.
Put up some Feeders. Putting up a few feeders will almost immediately draw in some new visitors. Platform feeder are great for black oil sunflower seeds, fruit, bread, nuts, and more. Tube feeders and socks are great for black thistle (a Finch favorite). A large hopper-type feeder is great for general feeding and can be filled every few days with an inexpensive song bird mix. Suet feeders are great and you can hang or mount them almost anywhere. AND don’t forget the Hummingbirds! There are even Butterfly feeders that you can put nectar and fresh fruit in to attract and feed butterflies. Spread your feeders out a bit around your outdoor living/viewing area. It will give you multiple viewing opportunities and it will give the birds a bit of room to move around.
Put up some bird and butterfly houses. Some birds require housing to get their attention! Some birds are particular on the placement, color and construction of these houses, so do some research on the birds in the area and what they like. If you get it right, you will be blessed with some AWESOME birds that will eat their weight in insects and will thrill you daily with their beauty and grace. And don’t forget the butterflies! A butterfly house makes for a great conversation piece and is a really unique addition to your garden.
Want to help your environment and make your little critters healthier and happier? Think organic! Pesticides and other garden chemicals are VERY harmful to birds and beneficial Insects! It’s not easy being green, BUT it’s not that hard either. Try to use organic alternatives like neem oil, insecticidal soap, dormant oil and non-chemical fertilizers (or, better yet, compost). You will notice a difference in the quality of your garden AND in the quality of your life!
Enjoying the abundance of nature is awesome and it’s not all that difficult! In fact, if you do some of these things, you will see an immediate increase in the number of birds, butterflies and beneficial insects in your landscape. These beneficial creatures will make your flowers more beautiful, your vegetables more productive, and your Life more abundant!
How can I tell if I have frog eggs or toad eggs in my Phoenix pond?
To start with, both amphibians make up the order Anura in the animal kingdom, but there are some key differences in the critters themselves. You can tell most toads and frogs apart by the appearance of their skin and legs. Most frogs have long legs and smooth skin covered in mucus. Toads generally have shorter legs and rougher, thicker skins.
As to the eggs you might be seeing in your Phoenix pond, toads generally lay their eggs in very long strands of clear jelly, sort of like small black pearls in a long clear plastic tube (dish on right). Frogs, on the other hand, lay their eggs in a cluster that resembles a bunch of grapes (dish on the left).
Here's a little graphic on what you might see over the next few months after the toad or frog eggs appear:
5 Biggest Drawbacks to an Ecosystem Pond
Ecosystem ponds can be gorgeous and low maintenance. They provide hours of pleasure, while requiring only minutes per week of care. But they have their drawbacks and they’re not for everyone.
Here are the 5 biggest drawbacks to having an ecosystem pond that we hear about:
There are bugs around my Phoenix pond!
Every living thing is attracted to water – including bugs. According to the University of Arizona, there are more than 13,000 identified species of insects in Arizona alone. Don’t worry, only about 8 of those species are problems that people try to control with chemical applications. Surprised? For more information, check out an interesting and fun read titled Insects of the Southwest by Werner/Olson.
Will my Phoenix pond draw mosquitoes?
Yes. And no. Yes, mosquitoes are attracted to any water source. However, most biologists agree that a well-built organic water garden is the cure for the West Nile Virus. Hungry fish will devour any insect that lands on the water. Even bees have to watch their P’s and Q’s. Just make sure that you don’t have anything else around your property that’s holding water where they could breed.
What can I do about the bugs around my Phoenix pond?
We recommend organic remedies, such as integrated pest management (IPM): good guys to eat the bad guys. Hummingbirds, flycatchers, western toads, dragonflies, and damselflies will automatically show up to most water features to help out with pest problems. If you have a pond, you can add mosquito eating minnows to take care of that annoyance. Pesticide chemicals do not discriminate between the “good guys” and the “bad guys.” They kill everything.
For more information on integrated pest management, you can contact the Master Gardeners at 602-470-8086.
Can I use a pesticide around my Phoenix pond?
If you must use an herbicide or pesticide, make sure there is no wind and that your application is accurate. We DO NOT recommend you spray any chemical herbicide or pesticide within 50 feet of your pond or water feature. Inform your service, if you have one, of this requirement. Yes, it’s true that the poison is harmless once dry; however, it will never dry out if it hits the pond water, and can cause catastrophic results.
You betcha! Many of our Phoenix pond clients enjoy their turtle pets! That’s the short answer. Turtles can provide hours of entertainment and education, and truly become members of your family. However, there are some considerations.
Types of Turtles for Phoenix Ponds
If it’s a non-native species, please remember that you need to be responsible about turtle ownership: it must remain contained, without the possibility of escaping from your yard into a natural riparian area. And since turtles do add a level of maintenance to your pond, be sure that you're okay with that decision. As long as you're fine with a little added maintenance, turtles are great pets!
There are many different species of turtles. Some are more welcome in Arizona than others. Please do your research before you get one. You can read more about turtles at www.azgfd.gov/turtle.
Phoenix Pond Design for Turtles
Your Phoenix pond should been designed in a way that would take good care of these pets. Proper filtration is a must! Turtles do add quite a bit more to the water, in terms of bio-load, than just goldfish and/or Koi. You will need a good biological filter, or better yet a constructed wetland filter, but at least some kind of regeneration zone. If you don’t have either of these, more bacteria treatments will be necessary to keep your water quality up to snuff. A basking island is also necessary for many species.
Turtles can also be somewhat destructive, and since they’re at the top of the food chain, this could mean wreaking havoc on your tidy pond. They have zero respect for what you may consider aesthetically pleasing. For example, if they’re swimming along, and there’s a lily pad in their way, they may simply munch right through the middle of it for no other reason than it was there, in the way.
Along with large Koi, we do NOT recommend adding turtles prior to the establishment of a healthy ecosystem in the pond. They are the most destructive and ammonia producing thing you can add to your pond. We don’t recommend them in anything less than a year old if things are going well in a well-designed and constructed Phoenix pond. You should plan on spending a couple of years building a healthy eco-system before you attempt to introduce turtles to the mix.
The depth of a turtle pond will vary a bit depending on the species, but should have a relatively large surface area (provides better oxygen levels in the water). Red eared sliders and some other turtles can handle a deeper pond, while some turtles prefer to be in shallower water, so again consider the natural habits of the turtle species when planning your pond. Try to have varied levels of water with slopes between them. A shallow area where the turtle can sit in the water with its head out of the water is desirable as well.
Phoenix Pond Maintenance with Turtles
Thirdly, with the bio-load that comes with having turtles, you should be adding some kind of bacteria/enzyme product on a regular basis to aid the micro-organism struggle to convert the nitrite and ammonia into plant food. This means that if you plan to be away for a while, you’ll need to enlist the aid of someone to do this while you’re gone so that you don’t come back to a big pea-green mess.
Outside of your Phoenix pond, turtles will want to dig into the soil for egg laying and over-wintering under plants. An area in which to forage, comprised of either a compost soil or sand next to the pond, is like heaven for turtles, especially for females looking to lay eggs. Therefore, be sure to have an area nearby where females can build a nest. This area may also serve as a basking spot.
If you’re considering a pond for your pet turtles, let us know – we speak turtle!
How Many Fish Can I Have in my Backyard Pond?
Attracting Birds & Butterflies to Your Garden Using a Phoenix Pond
Backyard living is at an all-time high in popularity. It seems that, in our high-tech society, everyone wants to get ‘outside’ and enjoy the simpler low-tech pleasures. Nothing is better than sitting in a backyard by a water garden and watching the birds and butterflies at play. Many different types of birds visit our water garden and stream on any given day, and in the summertime the butterflies abound! They eat, play, nest and bathe… and in the process we (and all of our neighbors who walk by our front-yard stream) get to enjoy the gifts of nature.
Living & Working With Mother Nature in a Phoenix Pond
Like ALL living things, these beneficial creatures need certain basic things to live and prosper: food, organic healthy water, shelter, and places to raise young. If you provide these things, you will see your new friends moving in almost overnight.
Want to increase the number of birds and butterflies in your landscape? Here are some brief hints:
Plant some native trees, shrubs and flowers. Using the right plants will provide places for shelter, nesting and food & will add beauty to your landscape. The great thing is, many of the plants that shelter and feed the birds and butterflies are native plants. Most of these natives are long-lived, drought hardy, and insect and disease resistant. For more information on exactly what plants to choose, contact the Arizona Master Gardners if you’re planning to do it yourself, or Harper’s Nursery for a professional design.
Put in a water garden. We must ALL have water to live. Your water feature can be as simple as a bird bath (which needs to be cleaned daily for health reasons) or as large as a custom re-circulating waterfall, water garden or rainwater harvesting feature. The main thing to remember is that birds like shallow water for bathing and drinking (2″ to 4″) butterflies like a “seep” (wet rock or ground). Think about your overall landscape design and get some water in the mix! As a bonus, your kids/grandkids will really engage with a water garden. For more information on water gardens, START HERE.
Put up some feeders. Putting up a few feeders will almost immediately draw in some new visitors. Platform feeders are great for black oil sunflower seeds, fruit, bread, nuts, and more -- remember to clean and replenish them often. Tube feeders and socks are perfect for black thistle (a Finch favorite). A large hopper-type feeder is great for general feeding and can be filled every few days with an inexpensive song bird mix. Suet feeders can be hung or mounted almost anywhere. AND don’t forget the Hummingbirds! There are even Butterfly feeders that you can put nectar and fresh fruit in to attract and feed butterflies. Spread your feeders out a bit around your outdoor living/viewing area. It will give you multiple viewing opportunities and it will give the birds a bit of room to move around.
Put up some bird and butterfly houses. Some birds require housing to get their attention! Some birds are particular on the placement, color, and construction of these houses, so do some research on the birds in your area and what they like/need. If you get it right, you will be blessed with some AWESOME birds that will eat their weight in insects and thrill you daily with their beauty and grace. And don’t forget the Butterflies! A butterfly house makes for a fun conversation piece and is a really unique addition to your garden.
Want to help the environment and make your little critters healthier and happier? Think organic! Pesticides and other garden chemicals are VERY harmful to birds and beneficial Insects! It’s not easy being green, BUT it’s not that hard either. Try to use organic alternatives like neem oil, insecticidal soap, dormant oil and non-chemical fertilizers (or, better yet, compost). You will notice a difference in the quality of your garden AND in the quality of your life! An organic, living water garden will naturally attract beneficial creatures to your yard for integrated pest management.
You Can Do It!
Enjoying the abundance of nature is awesome and it’s not all that difficult. In fact, if you do some of these things, you will see an immediate increase in the number of birds, butterflies, and beneficial insects (like dragonflies and damselflies) in your landscape. These beneficial creatures will make your flowers more beautiful, your vegetables more productive, and your life more abundant!
Who let the frogs out?
Now that song's stuck in your head. ;-) If you have a Phoenix pond, you may be hearing, and even seeing, an increase in frog and/or toad activity. We’re taking this as a good sign that the weather is starting to change to Fall! And we’ll probably be seeing egg sacks and tadpoles a little later on in our Phoenix pond, as well.
We are lucky enough to have endangered Lowland Leopard Frogs in our Phoenix pond, which migrated to our property during a particularly heavy monsoon season about 14 years ago from the Agua Fria River bottom. Because they’re endangered, it is illegal to transport them without a special permit from the State, even from one Phoenix pond to another. This species has declined in abundance and distribution across its range in the United States, so Arizona Game & Fish keeps a tight rein on it. They make a lovely purring-type sound, and are actually fairly shy about showing themselves.
What most people have in and around their property and Phoenix ponds are Sonoran Desert Toads, which are the largest western species of toad, and considered to be one of the more aquatic of the southwestern toads. They dig into the dirt and hibernate during the dry times to avoid desiccation, and then come hopping out during wet and humid seasons. Desert toads make a distinctive sound, like a child’s short screech, and some people find this rather annoying. If you’re one of them, don’t sweat it, the toad season doesn’t last long, and they’ll be dug back into their hidey holes as soon as it dries out again. They won't even hang out in a living Arizona pond year-round.
One amphibian you DO NOT want around your property and Phoenix pond is the Bull Frog. They eat native wildlife species like birds, small mammals, dragonflies, butterflies, lizards, frogs, turtles, and fish – pretty much anything smaller than them that they can catch. We’ve even seen a photo of one with a bat wing sticking out of its mouth. They are prolific reproducers and considered highly invasive, and can travel 8 miles in one season to seek a new habitat. Their sound is VERY loud and annoying, and even your neighbors will know you have one around. If so, get rid of it – permanently. And if you’re the adventurous type, this is the species used for culinary frogs legs.
A Well-Built Phoenix Pond is Cure for West Nile Virus
Most biologists agree that a well-built backyard pond, stocked with fish, is the cure for the West Nile Virus. As a matter of fact, a common lawn uses more water and requires much more maintenance effort than an average backyard pond, and generally adds chemical compounds to the ground water and pollution to the air – not to mention the noise pollution to the neighbors from mowing & blowing. For a landscape feature which provides nothing beneficial to native wildlife (unless you consider pigeons and grackles to be desirable wildlife), many, if not most, lawns regularly hold enough standing water to breed thousands of mosquitoes. Well, that's not good!
Fish Devour Mosquitoes
We live next to a modern water garden (backyard pond) full of hungry fish, and any mosquito who would dare to visit is immediately eaten in a piranha-like feeding frenzy. The same holds true for midge flies and most other small flying insects. In fact, just to reach the water, an insect must dodge a gauntlet of dragon flies, damsel flies, and fly-eating birds, frogs, toads, and lizards!
Mosquitoes will generally only lay their eggs in still, stagnant water, such as an empty bucket or an upside down Frisbee left out after a recent rain, or even a pond with no circulation or hungry fish. If the mosquitoes lay their eggs in your well-built backyard pond and the mosquito larvae hatch, the fish in your backyard pond will consider them a treat and pick them off the water's surface with great gusto.
Phoenix Ecosystem Ponds Feed the Good Guys
In addition to being terrific integrated pest management, time spent in our garden is time spent being entertained by Mother Nature’s army of bug-eating creatures, who are all here for the same reason: a healthy, organic water source! Sustainability of a clean, healthy, backyard pond is a function of construction material, technology, and proper installation techniques.
If you already have a pond and need some mosquito-hungry fish, Maricopa County Vector Control will give them to you for FREE.
If you’re interested in what else you can do protect your property from mosquitos, see tips given by Maricopa County Vector Control.
If you need a well-built backyard pond, call us today! 623-572-5607. You can check out our work in person any time you'd like.
But They're so Cute!
Even the cutest of wild critters can be detrimental to your Phoenix pond! During your normal pond maintenance, be sure to check around the waterfall and skimmer areas for rodent activity. Damage can happen over time right under your nose! They dig in and start tunneling around under the rocks and dirt, and can undermine equipment and plumbing, wreaking all kinds of havoc along the way.
Rodent Damage to a Phoenix Pond
The result of rodent activity in a Phoenix pond can be anything from the mild annoyance of having to re-stack the rock or add some larger rocks to keep them at bay (in the early stages), to having to completely tear apart and rebuild your water feature (if left unchecked). We've see this all the time because folks aren't checking around the whole feature. Because we use a flexible system to build Phoenix ponds, this is a fixable issue; however, it can be time-consuming, and thus, somewhat costly.
Walk the Whole Walk!
We know it's more fun to view your Phoenix pond from your patio or sitting area, but once in a while take a little stroll around the whole thing to check the back end, too. Just like you walk around your house occasionally to check for termite trails, right? If you don't do that either, it's another thing you should consider doing on a regular basis, because prevention is a lot easier (and cheaper) than infestation!
Look at that Escargot!
Okay, yes, it's an old joke! But some people don't think snails in their pond are too funny. Snails that originate in an aquatic environment do not survive in the desert outside the pond. The aquatic snails feed on algae and dead plant material (pond detritus), and are therefore considered a beneficial critter in that environment. There are very few varieties that feed on living aquatic plant material, and we only rarely see these varieties. If you do see them, they will most likely be eating your water lilies.
What should I do about snails in my Phoenix pond?
Don't worry about the pond snails. They are pretty much relegated to life inside the pond. AND it's great fun for young children to hunt for them in the rocks and plants -- it's an activity that can keep them busy for hours!
If you have snails in your garden, on the other hand, the Master Gardeners can help you out here, because those are a nuisance.
Concern about bees is something that we hear A LOT when it comes to backyard pond maintenance. With the Africanized bees and the Honey bees inter-breeding, there have been a lot of scary incidents on the news. Most of those, however, are due to someone interfering with the bees in some way, whether intentional or not. That being said, it's always a good idea to use some caution when dealing with a potentially dangerous situation.
Why are the bees in my pond?
Can I make the bees leave my pond?
Most bee hives simply want to be left alone to do their thing. When it comes to bees around a backyard pond, remember that the bees are there to collect water, one drop at a time, to take back to the hive to cool it. And what better water than a living, all-natural backyard pond? Can you blame them for wanting the best they can get?
A bee is programed to do a specific job for the "collective," and no more. Guard bees do their job within 100 feet of the hive, so those are not the ones collecting water from your yard. The bees at your pond are specifically genetically programmed to get water to the hive, post haste, without detour. The only way they sting is in self-defense.
If bees are fetching water from your pond, you can talk to them (we think they like it), or even pet them (Paul does, but most people think he's nuts, go figure). But don't scream at them, they don't understand. And never molest them or hold them up -- they have blackbelts in beejitsu! ;-)
If they are collecting from a spot that is inconvenient for you, such as right next to your sitting area, you can discourage this pretty easily. Another bonus of having a ecosystem backyard pond with natural rock & stone! Wait until there are no bees around (typically after dusk). Wash the rocks down in the area to remove the pheromone left behind by the bees to guide others to that particular spot. Then re-arrange the rocks to make it a less attractive landing space. If this doesn't work the first time, try again until you get it right. They will get the hint and find another spot, preferably further away from where you want to sit and enjoy your water feature.
Bees are an integral part of our global ecosystem, and we recommend living in harmony with them whenever possible. However, if you have a hive on your property, or your neighbor's property, have it removed by a professional.
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Barbi Holdeman, co-owner of The Pond Gnome, enjoys sharing their 17+ years of education & experience with you! She writes about Phoenix Ecosystem Pond Installation, Pond Maintenance, Wildlife around the Pond, Koi and Goldfish in the Pond, and the Pond Lifestyle. If you enjoy what she writes, please share it!