Nothing sets the mood quite like water in the garden. The faint sound of trickling water can draw one to a private oasis where flashes of light shimmer over the arching flanks of koi. Sunlight dancing on the spray of a waterfall or fountain releases diamond-like glitters of light. Moonlight on the surface of a pool of water creates an aura of mystery.
Don’t feel guilty if you want water in your desert yard. Xeriscaping is low-water landscaping — it isn’t no-water landscaping. The seven principles of xeriscape state that you should place any water features in the “oasis” portion of your yard, in the area that is most heavily used.
A water feature can be a fountain, pool or fish pond. To ensure that any water feature you opt for will be a long-term source of joy, some planning is needed. A poorly placed water feature can turn into a source of constant irritation. Worse, a poorly installed or improperly maintained water feature can damage your property and reduce home value. Consider the following six points as you plan your water feature.
Water source. How will you add water as it evaporates? What about excess water? What will happen if a heavy monsoon rain floods your feature? If you have a splashing fountain will the splashes land where they won’t harm your home?
Electricity. If you desire flowing water, you need some sort of pump. This means electricity. For safety’s sake, do this right. Water and electricity do not play together well!
Cleaning. If you have a pond or fountain, a swimming pool or bird bath, the algae will come. Tiny algal spores are carried around the world on wind currents. Spores can live for decades without water, until they land in your water feature. You will have to decide what level of cleanliness you desire for your water feature.
Work. How much maintenance do you want? An elaborate setup will require more maintenance than a low-tech solution. Also if you DIY, how hard do you want to work installing your feature?
Wildlife. It is a desert out there. Water is scarce. In a drought year, thirsty critters will go to amazing lengths to get water. Coyotes leap over walls, while mice and bunnies burrow under — and snakes will follow them. This is not to scare you, just to remind you that we live in the wild west and to be prepared.
Mosquitoes. Permanent water can too easily become a mosquito breeding ground. This can be countered with the use of mosquito killing chemicals, regular draining and refilling, or mosquito-eating fish, including ten cent goldfish from the pet store. There are also water features engineered to exclude mosquitoes.
Once you have solved these six issues, at least on paper, it is time to go shopping. Water features can be found for under $50. The prices climb into the thousands for a custom built feature. The supplier can help you determine what kinds of pumps and filters might be necessary.
You may not realize until you install it, but even the smallest burbling fountain can help mask many of the background sounds of life that occur even in quiet neighborhoods. Adding a water feature to your yard adds movement, soothing sound and an enchanting focal point to your landscape.
Jacqueline Soule has been writing about gardening in our region for over three decades. She will be signing her latest book, “Southwest Fruit & Vegetable Gardening” (2014, Cool Springs Press, $22.99), in the Authors Pavilion and for the Arizona Experience Store at the Tucson Festival of Books March 14 and 15. More at www.gardeningwithsoule.com.