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Gardening: Butterflies, Birds, and Frogs

How to Help Creatures Weather the Drought


The water allotment notices are in the mail, and the suspenseful anxiety is becoming shocking reality. Gardens will change and maybe suffer even. Plants may be stressed and make partial or full recovery when water becomes available again (keep doing that rain dance). Some unseen, but important, residents in gardens, however, may not be able to weather long dry periods without some extra consideration.

Insects, both beneficial such as predator lady bird beetles and decomposing frontrunners like earwigs, as well as jewels of the garden, butterflies, need water, too. Normally, they would sip quietly and unseen under the shrubs or on the dewy grass, but as landscapes transition to much drier sites, there will be fewer of these mini watering holes to visit. Birds are no different, although a bit more evident as they zip or flutter through the garden. Not only do they need a drinking fountain, but they will be healthier and happier if they can also take a quick splash to reduce the insects riding piggyback under their feathers.

These creatures are essential partners in the balanced ecosystems that gardens should be modeled on. The great news is that their requirements for water are very small. Insects need just a shaded, boggy spot to land and sip. Bury a plant saucer in the soil and fill with mulch that has many different particle sizes. Keep it just moistened so that the tiniest hoverflies can find a footing, while the long-legged (relatively, of course) butterflies and moths can straddle a tiny puddle to slurp up their refreshment.

Birds do want just a bit more surface and depth, but that same kind of saucer can be left out for them to sip and splash. Place these containers at the edges of the garden where the visitors can feel safe from predators approaching from at least one direction. Sitting them near perches that can serve as lookouts will also allow the thirsty to linger a little longer.

Some of the most endangered creatures on earth are amphibians, and in the urban landscape, frogs make up most of that class. As creeks dry up and the surface area of freshwater lakes shrinks, the native frogs will find it harder to reproduce. As anyone who has ever had an artificial pond can attest, if water is available, frogs will find it. The smallest water feature (as long as it is not chlorinated or otherwise sanitized) will soon be mating grounds for frogs. Their life cycle in the water is not very long as most of them will move off into the surrounding shrubbery as soon as they are big enough. But the sound of their froggy chorus in the spring is just another reward. No need to dig a big in-ground pond, either. There are a multitude of decorative, or at least functional, containers that can support a small water garden. A few plants will provide cover for the hatchlings and a point of interest in the garden.

As with all water features, if the water will not be continually flushed and replaced, mosquitoes will also find it and lay their eggs. The shallow saucers can just be dumped (to water some other thirsty plant, perhaps) and refilled, but larger-container water gardens should include some small fish to keep the mosquito larvae under control. Humans are using most of the water resources, but animals are suffering, too. Lend a hand in easing their stress.

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