Florida may be surrounded by saltwater, but there are thousands of freshwater systems (both natural and created) in the form of lakes, ponds, and wetlands scattered across the state. These seemingly insignificant water bodies play a rather significant role in our state’s environmental issues. They provide flood protection, water purification, and fish and wildlife habitat. In residential neighborhoods, they can even increase property values by added aesthetic appeal.
There is a large disparity in the design of many man-made freshwater systems. The majority will have some type of turfgrass growing all along the banks, right down to the water’s edge. This is common because it’s easy to maintain and properly managed turfgrass acts as a filter for pollutants, reduces erosion, and allows a view across the water. Yet, there are other options.
Aquascaping is the planting of aquatic and wetland plants to enhance or restore the function of a freshwater system, whether natural or man-made. Although this process is only an imitation of nature, the benefits are tremendous.
The key is to identify the slope of the shoreline and choose plants according to their tolerance of water depth. There are four identified planting zones in a freshwater shoreline, although there may be fewer depending on the actual design of the individual water body. If you have the opportunity to design and build a small pond on your own property, consider one that is irregular in shape, since it will have a greater shoreline area and offer more wildlife habitat than a round or rectangular pond.
The deep zone has a water level that ranges between 90 cm and 150 cm deep. Many plants suitable for this zone may be completely submerged year round. Examples include spatterdock and water lilies. The mid zone ranges 15 cm to 90 cm deep and may include plants like arrowhead, maidencane, pickerel weed, and soft-stem bulrush. The shallow zone can have standing water as deep as 15 cm, or can have exposed up to 15 cm above the water level. Many plants for this zone must tolerate periods of complete exposure and partial submergence. Examples include sand cordgrass and blue flag iris. The shallowest zone is known as the transition zone and remains exposed all year, with soil ranging 15 cm to 45 cm above the water level. Salt grass and cordgrass are examples of plants tolerant of this zone.
Because Florida has an abundance of native and exotic, non-invasive aquatic plants, it is not at all difficult to beautify the shoreline of a pond or small lake. Utilize a variety of plants that will look natural, add color, texture, and fragrance to the landscape, provide better defense against invasive species, and offer food and shelter to wildlife. Avoid exotic plants that are invasive or have invasive potential. The University of Florida’s IFAS Assessment of Florida’s Non-Native Plants (http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu/assessment/) offers recommendations about plants based on the north, central, and south regions of the state. The IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (http://plants.ifas.ufl.edu) also provides lots of useful information to get you started.
The final consideration with aquascaping is maintenance. As with any garden or landscaped area, maintenance is necessary to keep away weeds and unwanted invasive plants. Hand-pulling unwanted plants is the best option to maintaining around your pond, although a few chemical herbicides are available for homeowners to purchase in retail garden or hardware stores. If you choose to use herbicides, read all labels carefully. Make sure that the product is labeled for use in or near water bodies, follow all instructions for use, and wear the proper protective gear.
For more information about aquascaping and other Florida-friendly landscaping practices, contact your local county Cooperative Extension office or visit http://FloridaYards.org.