An essential element in wildlife gardening is to provide access to clean water, which is a necessity for drinking, bathing, and even reproduction for some wildlife species. In addition, managing your use of water in a sustainable way maintains groundwater levels, while controlling the flow of rainwater across your property protects streams, rivers, and watersheds.
Droughts are particularly hard on wildlife. Many species can meet their need for water from natural sources such a dew on grass, rain drops on leaves, puddles, and ponds. But during a drought these sources of water vanish from the landscape, making access to clean water a crucial part of their survival.
It is easy to plan your wildlife garden to attract many species of wildlife to a variety of water features.
Usually when we think of how to add water for wildlife to our gardens, what immediately comes to mind is birds at birdbaths. And the birds sure are fun to watch as they splash around in these features.
You need to find a bird bath that is no more than 2-3 inches deep, and that does not have slippery sides, which can prevent birds from being able to get out of the birdbath.
You will also need to clean the birdbath out several times a week to prevent the spread of disease, as well as to keep any mosquito eggs from hatching.
Watching the birds line up at your birdbath can provide hours of entertainment for you and your children.
But birdbaths alone do not provide water for many other species. For example, where will the frogs and toads lay their eggs? Where will butterflies gather to extract minerals from puddles? And what will birds drink in the winter?
Providing Water in Winter
Access to clean water is especially important in winter, when natural sources have frozen over. There are several ways to provide water for wildlife in winter:
- Put out a shallow pan of warm water every few hours
- Purchase a heated birdbath
- Use a shallow heated dog bowl with stones or a brick inside to keep the water at the right level for birds.
- Place one on a stump for the birds and bats.
- Place several at ground level for frogs and toads as well as for dragonflies.
- Fill one with sand and compost for butterfly puddling.
One of the best things you can do for wildlife (and your viewing pleasure) is to install a pond in your wildlife garden. A wildlife pond imitates the natural ecosystem, and is home to frogs, toads, salamanders, dragonflies, and provides water for birds, bats, and other wildlife.
One cautionary word here: when you go to the pond store, they will try to sell you all manner of things that you don’t need like pumps and filters and fish. Remember that these stores are in the business of selling things. And those fancy koi can be very hard to resist.
But your goal is to provide habitat for your local wildlife. Put those koi in your pond and you will have no dragonflies, no frogs or toads, and no salamanders because they will eat the eggs and nymphs. They are predators of every form of wildlife you want to attract. Your objective is to mimic as closely as possible a pond that you would find in nature.
A natural pond has no pumps or filters, and definitely no fish, especially not koi. What it does have is a complete ecosystem in balance with nature. And that is what you want to achieve in your wildlife garden.
Because of our quest for constant development and suburban sprawl, many of our natural ponds have been filled in, drained, and paved over. This means that many frogs, toads, and salamanders are struggling to survive.
Ponds that they have used for generations no longer exist, leaving them no place to lay their eggs. There’s nothing quite like the sound of the spring peepers calling for a mate in the early spring, and it would be an immense loss to lose those sounds.
You can make a huge difference for wildlife by installing a pond in your wildlife garden. Soon it will be full of tadpoles, dragonfly nymphs, and more as your neighborhood animals discover this oasis.
When we think of wildlife in the garden, we tend to focus on the birds, butterflies, frogs, and dragonflies. These are beautiful visitors to any wildlife garden. They are big and beautiful and they are quite visible due to their size. But they are only a tiny fraction of the animals that will make their homes in your landscape.
All of these larger forms of wildlife are dependent on a much smaller (in size) group of organisms: the insects, worms, nematodes, fungi, and other species that live in and above the soil. These animals also need water for their survival.
A rain garden is an excellent addition to any wildlife garden because it will create habitats for so many of these unseen but essential species in the food web of your ecosystem garden.
A rain garden is basically a shallow depression which you dig into your soil, and then fill with plants that can tolerate very wet seasonal conditions. These emergent plants provide food, water, and shelter for insects and soil organisms.
A good place to install a rain garden is at the base of your downspouts. Every time it rains, the rain garden will fill up and the water will then slowly seep into the ground, recharging local aquifers and groundwater supplies.
Adding a rain garden to your wildlife garden not only provides water and habitat for wildlife, it also acts as a filter to remove toxins as rain water makes its way across your property.
Green roofs provide wildlife habitat, keep your home warmer in winter and cooler in summer, last much longer than traditional roofs, and help to manage the flow of storm water across your property in an environmentally friendly way.
Green roofs also protect local waterways by filtering toxins, preventing stream bank erosion, and diverting storm water that would otherwise cause flooding.
Sustainable Water Use
When we add to our gardens those practices that protect the environment, we are helping not only ourselves, but also helping to protect wildlife.
It is easy to practice sustainable use of water by stringing together several of these water features like links in a chain.
Overflow from your green roof can be directed from your down spouts and into rain barrels or directly into your rain garden, which will then flow into your wildlife pond.
This not only adds water to your garden for wildlife, it protects the environment and our fragile ecosystems. It’s a win-win for all involved.
This article is part 3 in a series. You can find the others here:
- Ecosystem Gardening Essentials for Wildlife
- Ecosystem Gardening Essentials: Provide Food for Wildlife
- Ecosystem Gardening Essentials: Provide Shelter for Wildlife
- Ecosystem Gardening Essentials: Provide Safe Places for Wildlife to Raise Young
How do you provide water for wildlife in your Ecosystem Garden?
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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