Water Features in a Southwest Landscape

Many people are drawn naturally to water. They willingly spend vast sums of money to purchase a home overlooking an ocean, lake, or stream. Lacking a nearby ocean, many desert dwellers add a water feature to their landscape. Don’t feel guilty if you want a water feature. Xeriscape is low-water use landscaping. It isn’t waterless landscaping, nor does it preclude water features. Xeriscape principles say put your water feature in the part of the yard you use most.  If you do want a water feature, consider these five points.

A burbling fountain is a nice addition to the xeriscape.

What is your 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 desire flowing water, you need some sort of pump to move the water with. This means electricity. How is it getting to your water feature?

Decide before your start how many chemicals you wish to add to your water feature to keep it looking clean.

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. They can live for decades without water, until they happen to land in your water feature. Decide ahead of time the level of cleanliness you desire for your water feature.


It’s a desert out there. Water is scarce. In a drought year, thirsty critters will go to amazing lengths to get water. My neighbor has a friend whose cousin saw a javelina climb a chain link fence. Urban legend or not? Ideally, site your water feature where animals cannot fall in and drown. If that’s not possible, consider leaving a section of wood floating so that animals can rescue themselves.

Mosquitoes require still water to lay their eggs and survive as larvae.

If you have quiet, unmoving water, it can become a mosquito breeding area. This can be countered with a pump to keep the water moving, the use of mosquito-killing chemicals, or mosquito-eating fish such as inexpensive “feeder” goldfish from the pet store.

Once you have solved the above issues, at least on paper, it is time to go shopping. You can find water features for less than 50 dollars. The prices can climb into the thousands for a custom-built feature. Starting small and graduating to something larger is always an option. Perhaps the easiest water feature or water garden to start with is a large decorative pot with no drainage hole. Place two or three different water plants and some “feeder” fish in the pot and sit back. Six months later, are you still enjoying water in your garden? Then go for a bigger one!

Moving water will deter mosquitoes.

Still concerned about mosquitoes? Southwest Gardening is offering free short course “Mosquito-Free Gardening.” A longer course (for a fee) also includes an extensive section on mosquito-repelling plants and comes with a PDF of the plant list. Once you enroll, the course and list are yours to keep.

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