Ponds are an enhancement to our environment providing beautification, aquatic and terrestrial habitat, recreational opportunities, water storage, and more. Pond owners can obtain additional benefits by introducing a native plant buffer around the pond. To an uninformed eye, tall plants around a pond may give an unkempt appearance and partially impede views of the water; however, native plants provide an important service by protecting the aquatic ecosystem.
Why are natural, unmowed or rarely mowed native plant buffers beneficial?
• Native plants have long strong roots which help to stabilize the shoreline of your pond. This prevents erosion and the accumulation of sediment along the edge of the pond.
• Within the water, small fish will find vital cover under plants that hang over the edge of the shore. Flourishing vegetation attracts desirable wildlife and insects, like dragonflies and various birds, which feed on mosquitoes. The buffer also serves as a barrier to deter pets, livestock, and pests like the Canada goose from entering the pond.
• Buffers can help filter trash as well as leaves, grass clippings, fertilizers, and other debris that can cause excessive nutrient spikes. If the pond receives runoff that is heavily laden with nitrogen and phosphorus, nuisance vegetation and algae can grow causing water quality problems such as foul odors, low dissolved oxygen levels potentially leading to fish kills, and harmful algal blooms which are unsafe for people, pets, and wildlife.
• Excessive surface runoff can contribute to sediment build up. This decreases the water holding capacity of the pond and accelerates the need for dredging, a costly expense best avoided.
What is an optimal buffer? Three to five feet from the shoreline is desirable with maximum vegetation height of waist high. A mix of plants, grasses, and forbs provides the greatest wildlife habitat diversity and meets the needs of wildlife on a year round basis. Never plant woody vegetation on the dam or spillway because it may damage the structure and attract burrowing animals. Be on the lookout for invasive species, both terrestrial and aquatic, which can appear quite fetching but leaving them unchecked can be disastrous.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources has details on Ohio’s invasive species at ohiodnr.gov/invasivespecies. To maintain the health of the buffer, it is recommended that it be cut to no less than 18 inches, especially during the cooler season and to collect the clippings so they do not add nutrients to the pond. A wealth of information on how to manage your pond for long term enjoyment and productivity, including native plant buffers, can be found in the Ohio Division of Wildlife’s Ohio Pond Management Handbook, available on our website.
Underway now through Sept. 28 is the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District’s annual fish sale for those who have a new pond and for those who wish to restock an existing pond. Available for 2018 are largemouth bass, bluegill, hybrid bluegill, channel catfish, shellcrackers, yellow perch, fathead minnows, and triploid white amur. The Ohio Pond Management Handbook and fish sale order form can be downloaded at www.delawareswcd.org.
If you wish to expand your knowledge of invasive plants, consider registering for the Delaware County Master Gardeners’ “Invasive Plants Workshop” planned for Sept. 15 from 9 a.m. to noon. Registration information is at delaware.osu.edu.
Remember to follow Delaware SWCD on Facebook and Instagram!
Bonnie Dailey is deputy director of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. For information, go to www.delawareswcd.org.