Planting Water Garden Plants for Wildlife

Planting for Wildlife

A wildlife pool must be more carefully planned and planted than any other water feature. This may seem surprising, since the most successful examples look as if they have occurred naturally, growing in a seemingly unruly, but controlled, manner. Achieving this completely natural look demands an understanding of the plants and their behaviour, as well as their overall appearance.

Planting for Wildlife While attracting wildlife is a priority, it should not be the overriding factor when choosing plants. The majority of plants that are normally recommended will provide a haven for most wildlife, and if there is a particular insect or butterfly that you wish to attract, you can include specific plants at strategic points.



To some extent, the method of planting will determine the type of planting arrangements that you can make. Using baskets may not be the most natural way of growing wild plants, but it provides the best option for efficient management of the feature. If you insist upon growing plants directly in soil on the floor of the pool and along the marginal shelves, then no matter what planting combinations you begin with, by the end of the year, they are likely to bear little resemblance to your original scheme and may simply be a tangled mass. In some circumstances, especially with large water features, this may be acceptable, but it is difficult to live with in the domestic wildlife pool.

Visually, it does not matter which plants are arranged next to one another, provided their growth rates are compatible, for most wildlife plants are of less striking appearance than their cultivated cousins. Thus, the possibility of strident colour clashes is remote. The arrangement of the plants is also of little importance to the wildlife that will inhabit them, for insects and other creatures will home in on their favourite host plants wherever they are.

It is important to contain fast growing rhizomatous plants as much as possible, although with some of the taller kinds, like the reedmaces, baskets are less than ideal. These plants grow quite tall, and it is common for individual examples in baskets to be blown over by the slightest breeze. When reed-mace is considered desirable, plant a bold stand, rather than a single container. Place three baskets in a group and allow the plants to grow through the lattice sides into each other to create a solid mass. This will not only look better, but also produce a very stable arrangement.

The same can be done with phragmites and the bur-reeds, or sparganium. Grown more conventionally, they are not easily controlled. Although phragmites and reedmaces are often excluded from wildlife pools because of their stature and invasive tendencies, they should be carefully considered for their winter value. Few other aquatics, except perhaps the water plantain (Alisma plantago-aquatica) can create winter interest in the water garden with their dried seeding heads or wind dried foliage. There is much that is stark and beautiful about the brown heads of reedmace, delicate tiered filigree of water plantain, and the rustling bustling foliage of phragmites on a bright winter’s day after a modest snowfall.

Spring and summer pleasure is the priority, however, for it is then that insect life is at its most active. Intersperse plants that provide colour with the more mundane reeds and rushes. Select flowering highlights that extend across the season so that a range of blossoms is available to insects for much of the time. Marsh marigold (Caltha palustris) starts the parade, followed by yellow flag (Iris pseudacorus) and the flowering rush (Butomus umbellatus). All can be grown successfully in containers.

In any adjacent boggy area, begin with primulas. Although native to Asia, Primula rosea and Primula denticulata are early nectar plants that make attractive and colourful additions to the spring garden. Other primulas follow, including Primula japonica and Primula pulverulenta, all much loved by bees and a variety of insects. To conclude, there is Primula florindae, which often flowers into the early autumn. There are primulas for everyone, but if you do not like the brightly-coloured examples, select the more subtle shades. Primula bulleyana, Primula japonica ‘Postford White’ and Primula florindae all blend nicely with other wild looking bog garden foliage.

Associate primulas with moisture loving ferns for good effect, allowing the creeping sensitive fern (Onoclea sensibilis) to scramble in and around them and create an apple-green foil. As each primula comes to the end of its flowering time, it can quietly slip back among the sensitive fern’.s foliage. The same kind of planting arrangement can be created by combining the yellow musk (Mimulus luteus) with the sensitive fern.

The purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria) makes an interesting combination with meadow-sweet (Filipendula ulmaria) and its double form, ‘Fiore Pleno’. The meadow-sweet usually starts flowering ahead of the loosestrife, but when they come together, they are most effective, producing contrasting flower colour, stature and foliage. As meadow-sweet declines, the loosestrife continues, extending the season of colour and providing ongoing sustenance for the local insect population.

Autumn is a dull time in the water garden, but it can be greatly enhanced by the water dock (Rumex hydrolapathum), the foliage of which turns crimson or rusty red with the shortening days. Its seed spikes are beautiful in their starkness, making this a plant that should hold centre stage at that time of the year. Plant it where its autumn colour will be reflected in the water, surrounding it earlier in the year with scrambling mounds of water forget-me-not.



Apart from its appearance as a gem of the countryside, the wildlife pool should become a focal point for all manner of creatures. In addition to the aquatic life and those creatures that depend upon the plants and associated fauna as, a food source, mammals will come to the pool to drink. Birds will also enjoy bathing in the margins, although whether this should be encouraged is questionable, as they sometimes carry pesticides on their plumage, especially in country areas. Even a small quantity of such chemicals can cause devastation to fish if it gets into the water. On balance, while it may be pleasing to watch birds enjoying themselves in the pool, if you live in a rural area, it would he a safer option to plant the pool margins heavily and place a bird bath somewhere else in the garden.



While fish dine predominantly on aquatic insect life, they do benefit from some green matter in their diet. Several species enjoy grazing on filamentous algae and the foliage of certain submerged aquatics. The starworts, or callitriches, are savoured, along with the softer-leaved pond weeds like Potamogeton crispus. At one time, Crassula helmsii was thought of as a good food plant, but in recent years, it has become unfashionable, as it has escaped into the wild and colonized many open areas of water, choking out native species. If you can be sure of keeping it in your pond, there is no doubt that, as a food plant for fish, it will be difficult to surpass. It is also good for ensuring water clarity.

Fish enjoy a number of the submerged aquatics with finely divided foliage as well. These provide a suitable place for depositing spawn and act as a nursery for fish fry. The milfoils, or myriophyllums are the most favoured, but the bristly-leaved hornwort is also much appreciated.



Apart from fish, there are myriad other aquatic creatures that enjoy living among submerged plants. Many of the water snails deposit their eggs in the tangled foliage, and tiny aquatic insects find sanctuary among the masses of leaves. If these become enmeshed with filamentous algae, aquatic insects will he well protected from even the most ardent of preying fish. While excessive algae should not be encouraged, a small quantity is not objectionable and will create an even more refined habitat.

Floating foliage is important for many creatures. With the exception of ramshorn snails, all the pond snails enjoy eating fresh waterlily pads. The more vigorous nymphaeas are rarely troubled by this, for although they may look rather unsightly with their chewed leaves, they should be strong enough to cope. China mark moths take pieces of floating foliage as well, their caterpillars pupating in little shelters constructed from pieces of waterlily pad. Caddis flies do similar damage, although they do not take such large pieces of leaf. They also gather little stones and other pond debris, sticking it together to create little, mobile tube-like shelters in which the larvae live. Mining midges chew a tracery of lines across floating leaves, which eventually rot and crumble, then fall to the pool floor where other life intervenes.

The foliage, flowers and seed of marginal plants make the major contribution to life outside the immediate aquatic environment. However, their spreading roots, like the long dangling roots of some of the larger floating plants, provide cover for insect life and sometimes a place for fish to deposit their spawn. The submerged parts of the stems also provide useful perches for dragonfly larvae.

Most marginal plants are suitable habitats for invertebrates, the various crowfoots, or ranunculus, and spearworts being acknowledged as among the best. Amphibious bistort (Persicaria amphibia) is ideal as an insect habitat, but also produces good wildfowl food in its seeds. The rushes, or schoenoplectus, are also good sources of wildfowl food, along with the bur reeds and lesser reedmace.

Nesting birds appreciate the Norfolk reed, or phragmites, as well as the greater reedmace (Typha latifolia). The latter provides fluffy down from its crumbling, thick brown poker heads in the spring, after winter storms have battered them into submission. The reeds offer a wonderfully secure place in which to build a nest.

The blossoms of almost all popular aquatic wildflowers attract insect pollinators, bees being particularly fond of water mint (Mentha aquatica) and scrambling freely among the pouting flowers of yellow musk. Inspect any open blossoms around the wildlife pool and you will find a menagerie of insects, all intent upon finding succour. Ultimately, their activities lead to fertilization and the production of seeds: miracles of regeneration and food for other wildlife.



Choosing plants to suit the requirements of wildlife and to present a pleasing picture is the primary aim when creating a wildlife pool, but it is important to realize that, on occasion, minor adjustments may have to be made for practical reasons. Unlike manicured pond plants, many native aquatics do not respect boundaries and may take on an unexpected dominant role, or they may become regressive because of some quirk of water or compost. For most of the popular varieties, even when planted into an unrestricted earth-bottomed pond, management can be assisted by the arrangement of plants.



17. March 2011 by admin
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Water Gardening/Water Features | Tags: , | Comments Off on Planting Water Garden Plants for Wildlife


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