Enhance your outdoor living spaces with a water feature

Wildlife sightings, soothing sounds, and scenic beauty are just a few benefits from having a backyard water feature.

For decorative purposes.
Photo by Paige Filice, MSU Extension.

Incorporating water features into a landscape is relatively simple and can bring nature up close and personal. Water features come in a variety of different shapes and sizes and can be as small as a container pond on a deck or as large as a constructed water garden with waterfalls and fountains. If you are considering installing a water feature or already enjoy one in your backyard, below are some helpful tips to ensure that it is functioning at its best.

Place water features where you will enjoy them most

Water features enrich outdoor living spaces with their beauty and sound. A pre-formed pond shell is easy to install, and a small pump can create a cascading waterfall for added interest. Water gardens should be placed close enough to enjoy but far enough away from the house so that they do not adversely affect dry basements, septic systems and drainfields, or water drainage from a property. A low spot that collects water may be a tempting location to place a water feature, but these areas are challenging to build in and the water quality of the pond can suffer from large amounts of runoff. Water gardens should be placed well away from other bodies of water and should not be able to flow into natural ponds, lakes, or rivers.

Caring for plants and fish

Plants and fish can be added to container gardens and ponds. When adding plants consider their size when they reach maturity. If your plants do become overgrown, they can be thinned by removing plants too close to each other. These plants can then be given to neighbors or other interested individuals.

Adding fish to a pond requires a higher level of maintenance. Like an aquarium, water gardens with fish need attention and monitoring. A variety of tools are necessary including extra filtration, feeders, heaters, aeration, and electricity. When choosing plants and fish, consider asking for native species. There are many native plants including white water lily, pickerelweed, and marsh marigold that can add immense beauty to a water garden and are also environmentally beneficial. Native sunfish species such as pumpkinseed are also suitable for most ponds.

Don’t let it escape

Many fish and plants commonly sold for water gardens are not native to Michigan. Popular non-native water garden plants and fish can grow quickly and are environmentally hardy, but these characteristics can also lead them to be invasive if they escape and end up in lakes and rivers. If let loose into the wild they may reproduce and have long-lasting and detrimental impacts on native ecosystems. It is important for water garden caretakers to be aware of the risks associated with aquatic invasive species and to never release plants, fish, or other animals into natural waterways.

To prevent invasive species introductions from water gardens, Michigan State University (MSU) Extension created the Reduce Invasive Pet and Plant Escapes (RIPPLE) program. MSU Extension works with retailers, hobbyists, and local Cooperative Invasive Species Management Areas to increase awareness of invasive aquatic organisms available in the water garden trade.

A version of this article originally appeared in the May 2022 issue of the Lakefront Lifestyles Magazine.

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