But even the safest, non-toxic chemicals can be dangerous to birds, other wildlife, pets and children. Not to mention other people that will directly or indirectly come into contact with them. Here are some tips to avoid chemicals when possible, and how to be extra safe when you determine they really are necessary.
Water’s A Nice Part of Any Garden, but It Usually Means Extra Maintenance
It doesn’t matter if it’s a container garden on a deck or terrace of a full-blown landscape. I like the sight and sound of water and I like watching the birds, bees, butterflies and most other creature that is attracted to water.
Water makes a garden a complete little ecosystem.
But algae to mosquitoes and other problems can sneak up on the smallest birdbath and the most extravagant water garden. (We’re not talking swimming pools or spas with chlorinated water which are a completely different subject.)
An Ounce of Prevention
In past quotes (some of which we link to below), we’ve discussed that changing water regularly, adding pumps (moving water a supply of oxygen is less likely to have problems with mosquitoes or algae) and cleaning pumps, bird baths and fountains as soon as you see a hint of algae makes your life a lot easier, and more pleasant.
Here are some other things you can do.
- Add pieces of copper to the water body in an area where it can’t be seen and where the patina won’t leave a stain you don’t want.
Depending on what you size of water feature, the natural oxidization or “patina” of aging copper greatly reduces algae. It’s a natural and harmless chemical reaction. You can add small pieces of copper pipe, or copper disks or sheets from craft stores.Basin of stand-alone fountains (the out of sight part) are good places to hide them. There is always the chance that the patina may end up on your water feature and while this can be cleaned, sometimes it’s hard to remove without using Lime-Away or other mineral stain removers.
- Change Water in Birdbaths and Fountains Regularly
Birds will tend to drink in fresh water, and do less pleasant things from dirtier water. Even so, “accidents” will happen. We always regularly find droppings and food in or near most of our fountains and birdbaths.Technically: all birdbaths should be freshened every other day or so for the happiest and healthiest birds. At the minimum, empty the water and thoroughly rinse every week or so. The more birds, the more often you’ll need to do it, especially if you use a lot of bird feeders.
- Get Rid of all Unnecessary Standing Water
Whether it’s gathering at the top of a tarp somewhere, in buckets, or even in trays beneath plants, standing water attracts mosquitoes. That’s one reason why water wigglers and birdbath fountains are popular: mosquitoes rarely if ever lay eggs in moving water. (Read our post Tips to Reduce Mosquitoes Without Pesticides for ways to reduce standing water in which mosquitoes breed.)
Act Fast When You First See Algae
The picture below shows how quickly a small algae problem can get really ugly really fast. (Luckily, cleaning it up isn’t so bad — How to Clean Solar Water Fountains or Birdbath Fountains on how we cleaned this fountain out in less than 20 minutes.)
If you see a tinge of green in your fountain (or algae on your pond pump), you can bet that that there’s a lot more where you can’t easily see.
While taking things apart isn’t always fun, it’s a lot less unpleasant to do so before the algae gets as nasty as what you see below. Thorough cleaning with mild detergent (we used Dawn dish washing liquid), cleans just as well as harsh chemicals but you will need to do a bit of scrubbing with a soft brush after soaking what you can in hot soapy water.
When You Think Chemicals Really Are Necessary
If you have a lot of money invested in water garden or fountain equipment, there may come a point where you feel you need to use chemicals to protect your investment.
Your choices of chemical treatment vary depending on what the fountain is used for: water or stones only, plants, or plants and fish. There is the balance between what will protect non-living things and what will kill or damage fish and plants.
Remember: odds are that all sorts of living creatures use your water features. I’ve seen birds, squirrels, frogs, salamanders and even deer in backyard water features. (Not to mention adult homeowners and kids.)
Top Rules for Chemicals
- Always Read Product Descriptions and Packaging Carefully
Most products should clearly state what they can, and cannot, be used for. Is the chemical safe for your type of water feature.For example, most fountain or pumps used in water gardens or for birds can be damaged by chemicals developed for pools or spas. Chlorine can not only fade colors, it can erode some metals.
Similarly, treatments should clearly note if they are safe for plants and/or animals.
- Follow Instructions Carefully: Less IS More and Usually Safest
Since water evaporate, and it can can evaporate extremely fast in the sun or during warm weather, NEVER use more chemicals than the package says.
When the water evaporates, the chemicals stay behind and can become quite concentrated.We recommend that you use LESS treatment than the package states, unless you are using a one-time cleaner. Odds are that in a couple of days the water levels (even if it rains a little bit) are going to drop and the concentration of chemicals will quickly become far stronger than you could imagine.
- Natural Enzymes: Are They Really Safe?
We sell mostly natural enzymes, which are generally believed to be pretty harmless. However, last year ornithologists started writing a lot about baby bird defects that are believe to be linked to high concentrations of “all natural” additives. (The verdict is out on the reliability of the data, as many of these products haven’t been around all that long.)
Bottom Line: Natural Does Not Mean Non-Toxic. Heck, Poison Ivy, Ebola and feces are “natural.” Natural doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s good for you or any other living things.
- Dispose of Unused Treatments and Empty Packages Properly
Just as you shouldn’t throw old medicine in the trash, or most newer light bulbs, batteries, electronics, paint or paint thinners, you should be careful disposing of any water treatment and containers. Often, they are considered “Household Hazardous Waste” and require special handling. (Please see our post Staying Green with Solar Lights After the Glow is Gone, which talks about disposal of household hazardous waste as a larger discussion of how to dispose of old light bulbs, batteries and even components of solar lights once they’ve all seen better days.)
- Feeling a Bit Lazy? What Goes Around Comes Around
If you think using extra will save you time, throwing stuff away irresponsibly every now and again is okay (because everyone does it), remember that what goes around comes around. What goes into your lawn and garden will eventually end up in your tap water.
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