Water gardeners beware: Keep nature and your landscape separate

Safely add water features to your yard without adding risks to the environment.

Water gardens can be the focal point of a landscape, but without precautions they can be a source of aquatic invasive species. Photo credit: Paige Filice, MSU

Water gardens are a wonderful landscaping feature that add peace and serenity to many of our backyards during the summer. However, tending a water garden requires many important considerations, including which species to put in the garden and what to do with them when they grow too large or are no longer desired. Many popular aquatic plants and animals sold are not native to Michigan and it’s important to handle and surrender them responsibly. Non-native species threaten the rich diversity of native species in our lakes and streams and can disrupt the ecosystem, causing long-term and irreversible environmental harm.

Tips to reduce the risk of invasion

  • Inspect and rinse any new plants to rid them of seeds, plant fragments, snails and fish.
  • Build water gardens well away from other waters.
  • Seal aquatic plants for disposal in a plastic bag in the trash.
  • Give or trade unwanted fish or plants with another hobbyist, environmental learning center, aquarium or zoo.
  • Contact a veterinarian or pet retailer for guidance on humane disposal of animals.

Learn to safely add water features to your yard without adding risks to the environment with this new video. Developed by Michigan State University Extension and the Michigan Department of Agriculture and Rural Development (MDARD), the video features pond maintenance and plant selection recommendations, as well as interviews with MSU Extension educators.

Safe water garden techniques include trading or giving away unwanted plants and animals or returning them to a retailer. Releasing them into lakes, streams, detention ponds or storm drains is not an acceptable practice and is punishable by law, not to mention it can harm the environment. When deciding where to place your water garden, build it away from other waterbodies. As MSU Extension Master Gardener educator Linda Whitlock points out, “Be cautious in the design of your water garden so species don’t have the opportunity to escape if we have heavy rains that cause flooding.”

Purchasing appropriate plants and animals for your water garden can also reduce the risk of harm to our natural lakes and rivers. John Stone, MSU Extension educator, recommends working with local retailers because, “They are very aware of what the proper plants are good for a Michigan water garden feature.” If you prefer to shop online, beware that some plants and animal species are prohibited in Michigan. According to Stone, “Some sites claim it’s the purchaser’s responsibility to determine if species are outlawed.” So, make sure to use due diligence when buying plants and animals from online retailers.

RIPPLE education campaign. It teaches Michigan retailers and residents about proper inspection and disposal techniques to keep non-native plants and animals out of Michigan’s lakes and streams. To learn more about invasive species and to report sightings in the wild, visit www.misin.msu.edu.