Building a Bog Garden for Turtles
If you have not figured it out by now, we like bog gardening. In Backyard Turtles Tour Two: The Bog Garden Turtle Pen and Backyard Turtles Tour Five: The Bog-in-a-Box Turtle Pen we show how we made small turtle pens that were small bogs. In this tour we will show you how we made a bog garden within a large turtle pen. This is not only good habitat for our turtles, it is also a way to make habitats for wild reptiles and amphibians.
We call this a bog and not a pond because it is more mud than water. At times the standing water will dry up completely. At other times the water will overflow and flood the surrounding area. In it we grow bog plants, lots of bog plants. The turtles are free to use it as they please.
The planning and preparation for this bog garden began the previous summer. The area was filled with large hostas which the turtles did not frequent very often. Before the hostas it was a strawberry patch until nearby trees shaded it too much for strawberries. The shade will benefit the bog plants that do very well when shaded from the hottest sun of the day. This location is also the lowest place in the turtle pen. In preparation for the spring project, the hostas were transplanted and the area leveled. We also started accumulating additional bog plants.
A bog will need a source of water which can just be rain water and a garden hose like our Bog-in-a-Box Turtle Pen. In The Bog Garden Turtle Pen we show how we tap water from a rain down spout. We also have two bogs which are filled twice a week with the backwash from our well water treatment systems. Condensation from an air conditioner could also be piped to a bog. This bog gets water from our turtle pond which is filled by rain water and a garden hose. When the pond is cleaned, all the dirty water flows into the bog providing it with rich nutrients (turtle poop). We call turtle enriched water "turtle dip".
For our convenience we placed a wood timber in the ground as one border of the bog so that we can stand on it when the ground around the bog is wet. It also provides a platform on which to kneel when working in the bog. Then we began digging the hole screening all the soil as it was removed. We would have liked to make the bog deeper, but digging deeper would put us into a layer of shale we did not wish to work in. The soil we did remove had been enriched with compost over the years and was suitable for placing in the bog.
We had a scrap of rubber pond liner which came in handy for laying out the hole. It was 10 feet long which is the width of the roll; the pond liner we purchase is 10 feet wide and sold by the linear foot. We dug the hole before we purchased the pond liner. We had dreams of creating a longer bog, but we were right to dig the hole first. It seems we are always working in spaces smaller than our dreams.
Installing the rubber liner was easy. We laid out the liner and nailed one edge to the timber with galvanized roofing nails so that the nails were above the normal water line but lower than the top of the timber. Soil and plants will cover this edge completely. Then it was a matter of filling it with the screened soil that had been removed from the hole.
The soil in the bog was tramped down to firm it but not pack it. After excess liner was trimmed off leaving just a few inches to be trimmed later, it was time to start filling the bog with water. There is no doubt where the water line is once it is filled. The liner can be adjusted by adding or removing soil behind the liner. All this work took place in April and needed to be done before our water turtles were brought outside for the season. Fortunately the weather was mild and dry so we were not held up by rain turning everything to mud. While the bog was filling with water, we brought some turtles out for a look. They quickly began checking out the new environment. With the heavy work behind us, the remaining fun could now be shared with the turtles.
There was no time to waste and we were having fun. We were anxious to start planting and landscaping our new mud hole. The bog plants were beginning to grow and we wanted to get them established before they became tall. The loose mud would not support tall plants. The hole had been contoured to include plant shelves around the edges.
Our store of bog plants included several containers with spike rush, bull tongue, and arrowheads, our first bog for sweet flag and bull rush, the plants in the Bog Garden and Bog-in-a-Box turtle pens, a bed of yellow flag holding on in a garden, and creeping jenny, sedum, and umbrella sedge growing as weeds in our gardens. None of them looked like much this early in the season.
Our mud was a soup of soil and water whereas most of the plants were thick masses of muck and roots. There was no need to dig holes for the plants. They were just placed and in some cases weighted down with round stones.
Being spring there were interruptions of rain. While we waited for things to dry out, our first plantings were becoming established. Some turtles were also using the pool.
About now you are probably wandering what we are going to do to hide the rubber pond liner. Besides being unsightly, it is a slippery slope for turtles and we do not want small turtles to lodge themselves behind the liner. Eventually the plants and soil will cover the edge of the liner completely. To speed this up and keep the rubber liner from washing clean, we covered the top edge with strips of cloth torn from old bath towels. The top edge of the liner was trimmed flush with the soil and a trench was dug sloping away from the liner. Half the cloth strips were then pushed down along the liner behind the plants and mud. The other half was laid over the top edge and into the trench. The trench was then back filled with the soil extending over the top edge and into the bog.
The final corner of the liner was covered by a brick path that canals water from the turtle pond to the bog. At the end of the brick path there are round river stones that will eventually be grown in with plants. That completes the construction of the bog.
Now that the construction and planting are done, it is time to watch the miracle transformation take place. You are about to see that it is not a pond; it is a bog. All the previous pictures were taken in April.
The only maintenance was to pull a few weeds and add some turtle dip from the pond when needed. Nothing is done to prepare the bog for winter except to remove any turtles lingering in the bog. Tinytwo, our snapping turtle, was the only turtle in the bog and he was not happy about being disturbed. Finding him was the easy part. In spring we will simply watch nature work its miracle.
In April we like to put our water turtles outside as early as possible. We would rather see them basking in the sun than hibernating in our basement. They can dig in and hibernate longer if they choose to. What you see in the next pictures is what you would see in the wild.
We should also mention that we recycle. Tinytwo does it, that mud on his back. When he is hungry he moves to the turtle pond where all the mud comes off. Other turtles using him for a perch probably help. Then when the pond is cleaned it flows back to the bog with the turtle dip.
During a heat wave the water in the bog averaged about 15 degrees cooler than the water in the turtle pond just 15 feet away. This means the turtles had a real alternative if they found the pond too warm for them. Their other alternative would be to bury themselves in the leaf pile which is between the bog and pond. Other than move into shade during the heat of the day, most of the water turtles did not move to the bog because of the heat.
What we did not see in our first year was worth waiting for. Remember this is a bog garden for turtles that we also get to enjoy.
So there you have it. You can use this technique to build bogs, ponds, vernal pools, wetlands, etc. The only cost was the rubber pond liner which has an expected life of 45 years. You don't even need turtles to have an excuse to build a bog. You just have to like playing in mud or wet sand.
Wow! We hope you
enjoyed this tour and are inspired to build your own piece of wet nature.