Just Add A Water Garden To Your Home

Photos by Randy Stern
Photos by Randy Stern

Want a suggestion on how to elevate your backyard? Add water.

Not just watering your lawn and garden. Just add a water feature to create a new atmosphere to your sanctuary.

Having a water garden adds many benefits to your home. Getting there takes a lot of work and planning. We asked Jan Schreier of the Minnesota Water Garden Society for a bit of help for us to understand how we get from a plain yard to something amazing and beautiful.

What kinds of water gardens are there for you to develop your yard with? “There are many water features common here,” Schreier said. “From very large “swimmable ponds” which use natural plants, bogs and filtration to keep the crystal clear rather than a sterile pool with chlorine, to smaller water gardens that includes plants and fish, to ‘pondless’ water features that have moving water, but no standing water or fish, to even smaller “container gardens” that can sit on a patio or porch with a few water-loving plants.”

Before you have an idea of what water garden you want to develop, you have to plan your water garden. According to Schreier, the first thing you want to do is to “check with your local city ordinances as they vary greatly.  Most cities consider if your pond is more than 18” deep, it falls under the same ordinances as a swimming pool. If you are digging a pond, be sure to contact your utility company to mark buried cable, electric and gas lines.”  

Schreier also explains that ponds are “normally filled with water from your tap which could be either treated water or well water.  If your tap water contains chlorine or chloramines and you want to keep fish, you must treat the water before introducing your fish.  But because the water recirculates, this only needs to be filled once, with occasional additions for evaporation if we don’t get any rain.”  

When you are planning your water garden, think of the benefits one will give your property. “Primary benefits are a great focal point for the yard,” said Schreier. “It attracts tons of wildlife to enjoy helping birds, pollinators, reptiles, amphibians and even mammals.  (Especially during periods of drought and heat like we are having now). The sound of moving water is great calming influence on people, helping to relax and enjoy life.”

Schreier also explained the having a water garden creates a “waterfall effect”, where “negative ions are released into the air when water collides with itself which gives people the feeling of being refreshed and revived.  Because water features use recirculating water and doesn’t need fertilization, it is much better for the environment than lawns.”

As you create your water garden, there are some “do’s” and “don’ts” of doing so. First off, “do your research,” said Schreier. “Check with city codes, and check for buried utilities before you dig.  Talk to people with experience to avoid common mistakes and make maintenance easier.”

However, as Schreier will point out: “Don’t skimp on the following: Liner and a Quality Pump. Remember it is twice as much labor to replace a liner than it is to build a new pond in the first place because you have to take everything out, put the new liner in and then put everything back in.  Moving rocks is VERY labor intensive.”  “

Schreier also explains that “anywhere you dig and build up soil will settle.  Having extra liner along the sides of your pond will enable you to lift that liner, tuck some soil or rocks underneath and then replace the liner rather than removing large boulders or trying to patch additional liner to the old liner.  The pump is also important as you want to run the water 24/7.  This is what keeps the ecosystem in balance.  For the same amount of flow, quality pumps run far less electricity and last far longer than cheaper pumps.  Sump pumps are not made to run 24/7 and tend to break down in a year or two under those conditions.”

Once you have built a water garden, you have to maintain it. As Schreier says, “maintaining a water garden can be easier than maintaining a lawn or flower garden if it is built right.  What we strive for is to build a mini ecosystem that takes care of itself.  The correct balance of plants, fish and moving water is very low maintenance.  Primarily some cleaning out in the spring of all the fall foliage and debris, and kick-starting the ecosystem with beneficial bacteria helps before the plants grow up to take care of the filtration for you.”

What about maintaining your water garden during our wonderful winters? “Winterizing depends on many factors,” explained Schreier. “Small features like containers should be emptied to avoid cracking the container with freeze/thaw cycles.  Water plants can be brought inside as houseplants or buried under a pile of leaves/soil or dropped to the bottom of a deeper pond (three feet deep is sufficient in MN).  Pond with fish should have an area that is at least three feet deep and the addition of an aerator or heater will keep an opening in the ice to exchange toxic gases that can build up. Some people have stock tanks in basements or heated garages and take their fish inside.”

There are plenty of resources available to you. The Minnesota Water Garden Society is a local resource that should be your first stop before you consider putting one in your yard. They also have a Facebook group you can join to get ideas, as well as to share what you’ve accomplished. You can have your questions answered there, too. There are other resources, including Koi clubs for those who put those precious fish species in your water feature, and professionals who can actually do the work. Just make sure to check their references before you contract with one.

As LGBTQ+ homeowners and property caretakers, we always put in more love and effort into our lawns and gardens. That is why we consider water gardens as one way to elevate the property. Even giving it greater value.

If you have always dreamed of adding something soothing to your yard, just simply add water – and a lot of character – and relax.

Website: www.mwgs.org
Facebook Group: www.facebook.com/groups/mwgsmemberspond

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