Water in the Garden
Yesterday was a big day at the birdbath. Every evening, I can generally count on the song sparrows to go for a dip, but the temperature was high enough yesterday that lots of folks came out for a splash in the pool.
We have two birdbaths. One is a shallow plastic dish perched on top of an upside-down ceramic pot. The plastic is filled with small stones to reduce the water level. The whole assembly is within the "cutting garden" bed... we've had to give the beds names so that we can be sure of which one we are referencing, even on our .25 acre lot. The second, more used bath is at ground level.
A ground level birdbath must be sited very carefully so that the birds don't become dinner for various predators, but it is definitely worth the effort. Cover should be close but not too close, or the birds and other small things can't see when trouble is headed their way. If they feel safe, they will come...in bunches.
Our ground level bath brings the cats, the squirrels and many, many birds. Bluebirds, doves, cardinals, robins, sparrows, towhees, finches--all have been down for a drink or to otherwise test the waters. Yesterday, a robin was really hunkering down and enjoying himself when he was interrupted by a brown thrasher. He popped out of the bath really quickly (I probably would too, if I were faced with that beak) and retreated a couple of feet, obviously upset that he had not been able to complete his bath.
The thrasher proceeded to have a drink and splash a bit, but in moments, the robin was back, trying to get back in. The trasher stuck his beak in the robin's direction and made him back off--they danced back and forth like this for a few minutes...and then the thrasher gave up and left. Our robin popped back into the bath and got himself happily and thoroughly soaked. So happy!
Birdbaths are not the only water in the garden, of course. We occasionally pull out a standard sprinkler--especially if we're starting new seed--and we use the hose to water in new plants. The most effective water management we've got, however, is our micro-irrigation system.
These things are really, really easy to set up. I've got ours set up with hose ends so that I can hook up a standard garden hose to them when its necessary and let them rip. I begin with a standard drip line that is essentially a 1/2 inch hose with drip valves every 12 inches. At one end I attach a hose connection, and the other end of however long I want to make gets bent over on itself with a figure-eight type fastener. We have two of these setups in the "meadow" area of the yard--one uphill of the path and one downhill. On the uphill, the standard drip line makes loops around the spicebush, mountain laurel and oakleaf hydrangea but otherwise meanders from the black walnut over to the deep shade of our ferns without too much interruption. The downhill drip line is just one big meander.
Drip irrigation, what happens with the standard drip line, delivers just drops of water at the roots of the plants. Placed under the mulch as ours is, you wouldn't even know that the "hose" was there. [
An uncovered example is shown at left.
] If you need extra drips (moisture-loving plant, for instance), you can punch holes in the line with a tool that comes with starter kits and pop in extra "buttons." Different buttons that produce different flow rates allow you to really customize your irrigation to your plants.
The other type of micro-irrigation is composed of different types of sprayers. Some of these are very low profile, and, like the bare drip system, are designed to put water just at the roots--keeping evaporation to a minimum. These and other sprayers are attached to the main 1/2 inch line by means of 1/4 inch line with barbed plugs. You decide where you need one, punch a hole, plug with a barb, push on the 1/4 line, attach the sprayer--and you're done with that fitting. While our downhill drip line is strictly drippage, our uphill line makes use of a number of different sprayers in order to keep all our different plants happy.
The benefits of drip irrigation are many--no water on the leaves means you can water in the evening without encouraging disease. But micro-irrigation with miniature sprayers can have some benefits, too. One benefit is an increase in bathing opportunities for cardinals. They really like a fine spray and will come to your irrigation on a schedule if you follow one. Just give them time to learn what you're doing. As someone who pays for city water, I like to cut consumption where I can--but I'll leave it on a little longer if one of those red fellows shows up!
Photo above left: this micro-spray keeps our ferns and foamflower happy when it isn't indulging cardinals.