A man of many firsts

March 9, 2013

Well, here we are in the final stretch to spring. The days are longer, are clocks are about to jump an hour ahead, and the (hopefully) last winter storm has come and gone. As daffodils push up through heavy, wet soil many of us are finalizing our garden plans for the upcoming spring/summer. Always one of the most popular projects is a ‘water feature’ (a vague term that covers countless applications). From simple fountain to elaborate koi pond, all are considered water features. Perhaps this is due to the endless stream of backyard/garden makeover TV shows that represent water features as easy, fun changes to make in a few hours. Yes, maybe so with a team of plumbers to engineer, a fleet of labor, and expensive equipment to make it all run smoothly. The benefits of incorporating water into your garden design are all wonderful—the serene sound of water flowing over beautifully arranged rocks, feeling your workday stress melt away as you feed the beautiful fish, a sweet little frog sunning himself next to the fruit of your Memorial Day weekend labor. Water features are fantastic additions to a garden. But before you run off to buy pond lining, there are a few issues to consider that you’ll never hear about on ‘Yard Crashers’. After all, those serene moments could easily be stolen by dead fish, algae, broken equipment, or other animals who also enjoy a serene moment at your expense. The most important consideration is where your water feature goes. Obviously from a design standpoint location is important, but it is also important to consider existing plants around it. For instance, next to a vegetable garden is not the wisest location for a water feature. Many animals are drawn to vegetable gardens and may also be drawn to a new place to drink or fish. Or vice versa, the water may lure deer over who then decide to lunch in your vegetable garden. Also with new or existing plantings around the water feature it is imperative to consider the run of the plants’ roots. Many plants that enjoy wet conditions have invasive roots that will spread aggressively. This could interfere with how pumps and pipes function as well as damaging rockwork around the water’s edge. If you aim to keep fish in your water feature, carefully consider what kind of fish. It can be difficult to keep fish in a very small amount of water for many reasons. The immediate concern is not having enough oxygen in the water to sustain the needs of the fish. Second, if the area is too small, or shallow it will be more likely to freeze completely in the winter, which would kill the fish. Not only is it sad to lose fish, but can be a very expensive mistake. It is often recommended to start with goldfish or even better fish that are native to our area. Blue Heron and raccoons also present a common problem with keeping fish. It is not unheard of for a predator to clear a small pond of its’ fish in one night. Deeper water helps to solve this problem…of course a deeper pond also raises another risk of wandering children or animals. There are relatively inexpensive screens that can be purchased to go over small landscape ponds to protect the fish inside. A last and very important consideration is where the pump is. Often the primary thought in the placement of this equipment is keeping it hidden. Of course sometime inevitably something will happen and the pump will need maintenance or to be replaced, so keeping it accessible is crucial. I am not anti-water feature. I love them, and think the possible complications are far out-weighed by the beauty and pleasure they bring to a garden. Stephen Jones is an OSU Extension Master Gardener volunteer.