Water Gardening 101 – for the Southwest

Many of us humans like to be near water, to hear the sound of it moving, to daydream and watch the sunlight ripple on little wavelets….


Don’t feel guilty if you want a water feature – be it fountain, pond, or pool – in your garden. Xeriscape principles embrace both water features and lawns – just place either (or both) of them in the “hydrozone.” The hydrozone is the area close to the house that you use the most.

The easiest water garden uses no pumps or expensive set-up. I started with an inexpensive kids wading pool, added water, added some 10 cent goldfish to eat mosquitoes, and then added plants. Lots of plants in my case.

Recovering from winter frost and snow, by midsummer this spider plant shades the entire pool.



Placing Plants in Water Gardens

The plants do not sit on the bottom of the pool, instead they are on bricks or blocks so that only the bottom one inch of the pot is in the water. This way, plants that like ample water, like mint, get all the water they want, and I don’t have to run out six times a day in the dead of summer to water them. The benefit of this system is that the aggressive plants, like mint, can’t take over the garden. You can also grow houseplants in your water garden.


I use plastic pots. I used to worry about painting my pots white so the plant roots didn’t get too hot. They even have lovely vivid colors of spray paints for plastic now. Over time I discovered that white, black, orange, or purple – the plants all did fine because the roots had all the water they needed.

Potting Mix

I use cactus potting mix. It is porous, so plants don’t get waterlogged, and has nutrients for growth. Put a piece of window screen over the holes so the soil stays in the pot.

Dragonfly larvae live in the muck in the bottom of the pond, eating the critters you don’t want anyway.


Pond Care

Resist the urge to keep a spotless pond. The scummy muck in the bottom can be become home to baby dragonflies! The larvae look like bug-eyed monsters, but they munch on mosquito larvae and other things you don’t want.

Do treat string algae as soon as you see it! Think pernicious weed, and get rid of it with the algaecides they sell in the big box stores. Follow directions! I used too much and killed all my fish. Just enough kills the algae but not the fish, snails, dragonflies, and red-spotted toads that live in my ponds.

Adult dragonfly zip around the yard, eating any mosquitoes, flies, and other insect pests.


I never did add any snails, they just showed up – brought in by water fowl, or on the toads? A great blue heron stopped by one week to eat my fish, and another time some raccoon. Deer and coyote jump the fence all the time, and the javalina stare wistfully through the fence at the wealth of water and lush plants.

A water garden can provide a cornocopia for life in your yard, along with a place to grow water-loving plants, and a place to sit and let your mind wander.

The 10 cent goldfish have grown over the years. They show up for feedings in moments.

Soule-Jacqueline-writerIf you live in Southeastern Arizona, please come to one of my free lectures at Western National Parks Association Store or Pima Public Library. After each event I will be signing copies of my books, including “Month-by-Month Guide to Gardening in Arizona, New Mexico, and Nevada” (Cool Springs Press). The book contains some more information on water gardening. Note- the link is to Amazon and if you buy the book there I will get a few pennies.
© Article is copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

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