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?