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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - June 08, 2012

From: Oriole, IN
Region: Midwest
Topic: Rain Gardens, Water Gardens, Erosion Control
Title: Plants for a pond edge in IN
Answered by: Anne Bossart

QUESTION:

Hello, I live in Southern Indiana. I care very much about reinforcing native plants for my region & not planting anything invasive. I had a pond built last year & need some suggestions for native Indiana plants that would grow well along steep banks & also be good for the water & ecosystem. I want to take great care to insure I do not plant any invasives. Can you please offer some suggestion? Much gratitude!

ANSWER:

A new pond is the perfect place to plant natives and re-create an ecosystem that will provide widlife habitat and promote biodiversity.  You have probably already noticed lots of winged, footed and slithery visitors.

It is easy to find plants native to your area by doing a Combination Search on our Native Plant Database.  Simply select Indiana, the plant type you are looking for and the soil and light conditions. The database will generate a list of plants that fit those constraints with links to detailed information pages with images.  You can further narrow your search for size, bloom time & color and leaf retention.

When you are choosing plants, you will want plants that tolerate water for the edge, but those that need less for further up the bank.  You will also want plants with fibrous root systems like grasses or those that spread by stolons to stablize your steep slope and prevent erosion.

You don't mention whether your pond is in full sun (in the center of your yard) or nestled in part shade.  If it is in full sun, you will want to put plants in it like water lilies (or other floating plants) to provide shade and cover for fish and to prevent the growth of algae.

You say you would like to avoid planting invasives.  If you restrict your palette to plants that are native to your area and plant them in conditions that are similar to where they occur in nature, you shouldn't have or create a problem.  Keep in mind though, that there are some native plants that are, by nature, vigorous spreaders that might seem invasive!

Visit the Landscape for Life website; it is filled with information and instructions you will find helpful.  Go to the section about water and read about making a rain garden.  Many of the plants that are useful for rain gardens would be good choices for your pond. An internet search for "rain garden" will yield many sites with information and even plant lists.  Even if the list is not for your area, there are many plants with very broad native ranges that would be common to yours.  For instance this article is published by a group in Canada, yet many of the recommended plants are also native to Indiana. Also this list, published by the Brooklyn Botanic Garden lists plants by area. Simply copy and paste their names into our database for information and images.  You can cross reference these lists with one that you generate.  A Combination Search for herbaceous plants, sunny and wet conditions lists 75 plant choices.

Here are a few favourites from that list:

Acorus calamus (Calamus) 

Aruncus dioicus (Bride's feathers)

Asclepias incarnata (Swamp milkweed) (this ia a monarch butterfly magnet!)

Eupatoriadelphus fistulosus (Trumpetweed) (this one has "found" its way to my pond on it's own)

Lobelia cardinalis (Cardinal flower) (hummingbirds love this)

Repeat the exercise searching for shrubs and grasses.  You'll find the plants you are looking for to hold your steep bank by carefully reading the description.  When you read "This shrub, which often forms thickets on riverbanks and islands, can be weedy or invasive in the northeast." in the description for Amorpha fruticosa (Indigo bush) you know it's a candidate.  Remember that the plants further up the bank don't want soil that is wet all the time, just periodically.

 

 

 

 

From the Image Gallery


Sweetflag
Acorus americanus

Bride's feathers
Aruncus dioicus

Swamp milkweed
Asclepias incarnata

Joe-pye weed
Eutrochium fistulosum

Cardinal flower
Lobelia cardinalis

Indigo bush
Amorpha fruticosa

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