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Wetland Requirements and Plant Lists


Size: The size of a pond or wetland is variable. Ponds are generally less than 20 acres in size and can be as small as eight feet across and one to two feet deep. Wetlands tend to be on a larger scale, because of their topography and purpose for water retention and filtration.

Light: Full sun (six hours minimum) is recommended. However, very shallow ponds may heat up, if in full sun, causing stress to plants and animals. This factor is especially true in small, manmade or pond “kits.” Additional floating plants can help to keep the pond cool.

Water: Water levels in artificial ponds may need to be monitored, especially during times of drought. Additional water may need to be added to maintain plant and animal life. In naturally occurring ponds and wetlands, rainfall and snowmelt is usually sufficient. Often these bodies of water are also spring-fed.

Elevation/Topography: Natural ponds and wetlands most often occur as lowlands or depressions. Manmade or artificial ponds may be placed in any somewhat level area. A slight incline might be added or used to make the pump’s circulation of water more interesting.

Soil: Ponds are characterized by silty loam and clay soils, while wetlands often have a combination of silt, clay, loam or Houghton muck.

Plant Materials: The plants characteristic of ponds and wetlands include moisture-loving plants, some of which are totally submerged, partially submerged, float on the surface or favor the shoreline and commonly include algae, grasses, sedges, rushes, water lilies and forbs. All plants should be carefully selected and evaluated for wildlife attractiveness. Plants that are adapted for erosion control may be of benefit for shoreline plantings. Plant plugs are preferred over seeds for ease of establishment and better results. As plants mature and seed fall occurs, the pond/wetland landscape will fill in. See plant list.

Planting and Maintenance: In ponds, submerged and emergent plants are often contained in pots filled with clay soil and topped with several inches of pea gravel to hold in the soil. Marginal plants can be tucked in among the surrounding rocks at the edge and even do well in a few inches of water. Floating plants are merely scattered on the top of the water. Wetland plants are planted in moist soil to a depth that is about one inch below the crown and tamped in. Excess growth of floating plants may occur. Periodically skim off excess plant material. Also, monthly, prune dying plant material. In the spring, remove decaying plant debris that may have accumulated in the bottom of the pond.

Special Considerations

Wildlife: Select plant materials that are especially attractive to a variety of wildlife species. Also, adding a water feature (fountain, spray, drip) to your pond is very inviting to wildlife.

Safety: Check local safety and building ordinances for restrictions and permits. A fence may be required for the specific depth and size of your proposed pond. Also, determine if unattended children may have easy access to your pond or wetland.

Pesticides and Other Chemicals: Avoid use of pesticides or chlorinated chemicals around your water habitats. Also, be alert to possible drift from nearby spraying as this can be fatal to aquatic animals and plants. Do not fertilize native plants.

Algal Blooms: Algal blooms can often be a problem when ponds are first established until a balance between the amount of plants and animals occurs. Additional plants (especially submerged plants, which are oxygen generators) and snails or fishes may be added to help with algae control.

Winter Care: Your manmade pond may not be deep enough to allow for overwintering of animals or plants. If so, animals should be moved to a deeper pond, if possible, and plants can be brought indoors, allowed to dieback and overwinter in a cool, dry place.


Grasses, Sedges and Rushes

​big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)
bluejoint grass (Calamagrostis canadensis)
cord grass (Spartina pectinata)
dark green bulrush (Scripus atrovirens)
fox sedge (Carex vulpinoedea)
hairy wild rye (Elymus villosus)
pointed bloom sedge (Carex scoparia)
prairie dropseed (Sporobolus heterolepis)
rice cut grass (Leersia oryzoides)
switch grass (Panicum virgatum)

Trees and Shrubs

American basswood (Tilia americana)
American larch, tamarack (Larix decidua)

black chokeberry (Photinia melanocarpa)
black willow (Salix nigra)
buttonbush (Cephalanthus occidentalis)
dogwoods (Cornus spp.)
eastern cottonwood (Populus deltoides)
elderberries (Sambucus spp.)
hackberry (Celtis occidentalis)
hawthorns (Crataegus spp.)
meadow-sweet (Spiraea alba)
New Jersey tea (Ceanothus americanus)
pussy willow (Salix discolor)
red mulberry (Morus rubra)
river birch (Betula nigra)
sandbar willow (Salix interior)
swamp white oak (Quercus bicolor)

wild black currant (Ribes americanum)
winterberry (Ilex verticillata)