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On sultry summer days, Mike Smart likes to sit in his Lewisville, Texas, backyard and watch the many insects that visit his water gardens. His favorites are the dragonflies that hover over the ponds, stopping to rest on the wide variety of native plants he has growing.
"Water gardens are a great addition to the native landscape," says Smart, an aquatic plant ecologist for the Army Corps of Engineers and director of the Lewisville Aquatic Ecosystem Research Facility in Lewisville, Texas. "Ponds allow you to plant aquatic natives, broadening the ecosystem in your backyard and attracting wildlife that rely on ponds and other water sources for survival," he says.
It makes sense that native aquatics are gaining visibility as water gardening becomes more popular, says Steve Stroupe, co-author of the book, Plants for Water Gardens: The Complete Guide to Aquatic Plants. He is a sales representative for several companies serving the water gardening industry and owned and operated a wholesale aquatic nursery for 12 years.
"Water gardeners would be surprised to find that many of the marginals they already grow in their water gardens and in boggy areas are natives," says Stroupe. "There are also native floating plants like (some) lotuses and (some) water lilies."
Besides being a positive addition to your backyard's ecosystem, native aquatics also beautify the landscape, according to Smart, whose favorite aquatics are the arrowheads (Sagittarias spp.) such as bull tongue, which has pretty white flowers. "Though aquatic natives are often more limited in their color choices - white and yellow are most common - they have a simple, enduring beauty, and many make a dramatic statement."
Smart says that native aquatics help gardeners simulate a more natural ecosystem and are used in many cases as an alternative to non-natives, which can be aggressive and invasive. "A lot of pond gardeners use the non-native water hyacinth for its ability to uptake nutrients and keep the water clean, but there are native alternatives that can do the same and won't take over the water garden such as frog's bit (Limnobium spongia) and water hyssop (Bacopa monnieri)." BUILDING NATIVE PONDS Creating a native aquatic ecosystem in your backyard is not that complicated. The basic fundamentals of building a pond are the same, no matter what plants you grow. There are three basic pond types to choose from: a container water garden, a lined pond, or an earthen pond. Each has its pros and cons.
Container Pond: If you're short on space, a pond in a pot is the way to go. Despite their size, small water features can have a large impact, and their portable nature allows you to place them in just about any location. To create a container water garden, choose a pot of any desired size that is watertight, or seal it with a multi-purpose sealer. If the pot has a drainage hole, fill it with a plug and cover it with a layer of epoxy. Once dry, it will provide a firm seal.
You can create a still, container water garden, or add a small submersible pump and fountain head and kick back and enjoy the relaxing sound of water.
Lined Pond: A durable plastic liner can be buried below the ground or left above the surface. The liner prevents the water within it from leaching into surrounding soil. If there are nearby trees, their roots are not at risk of getting too much underground water and developing complications from fungal disease. Such ponds also can be easily drained for cleaning and maintenance.
For those items that need their roots in soil, you generally need to plant in containers with this type of pond. In many ways container planting is preferable, because it keeps aggressive plants in check. Such ponds also often have built-in planting pockets that help create a natural look. You can landscape around the pond with paving, loose stones, plants, or decking.
Earthen Pond: These ponds are actually excavated out of the earth. They tend to be very natural-looking and can make a good spot for local wildlife. Creating these ponds is labor-intensive, requiring a great deal of excavation. Keeping earthen ponds filled can also be a challenge if you live in a climate that experiences drought at various times of the year. They are also much more difficult to drain, and plants will grow in the substrate, rather than containers, making it harder to control weedier species that take up residence.