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Private Pond Stewardship: The Privilege and Responsibility of Healthy Vegetation Management

By Dr. James K. Leary, UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants (CAIP) Assistant Professor

Did you know that over 18% of the land surface in Florida is open water?  According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, we have close to 8,000 named freshwater lakes that are at least 20-acres in size, in addition to thousands of ponds that are at least one acre.  If you are a resident of Florida, chances are you enjoy the benefits of living near water that is teeming with plants and animals of all shapes and sizes.  It is this connection with nature that makes this great state magical.

Ponds are most admired as a habitat for fish, waterfowl and reptiles that can offer ample recreational and experiential opportunities in fishing, hunting and observation.  Ponds may also have more practical purposes such as crop irrigation and animal hydration in agriculture or stormwater retention in residential and suburban environments.   Many of these ponds are engineered specifically to meet the demands for these necessary services.

Aquatic plants have many different growth forms including emergent – which have their leaves exposed to the ambient air and roots established in the sediment underwater; floating – which have their roots floating in the water column; and submersed – where the entire plant is underwater. It is this incredible diversity of plant habitat forms that allows a single pond to be home to a broad range of birds, reptiles and mammals.

Aquatic plants are a keystone component to healthy pond ecosystems.  They absorb nutrients, clarify the water, add oxygen and provide habitat for the aquatic food web. Unfortunately, many pond owners want their water feature to be clear, plant-free and have a white sand bottom. But, we need to remember that this is not natural and will be difficult or impossible to achieve. Therefore, it is important to encourage the health of native plant populations to preserve the function of the pond. In addition, be cautious with lawn fertility. If a significant amount of fertilizer washes into the pond, it can create an algae bloom and blocks the sunlight and eliminates the submersed plants. If you feed fish, do so wisely as this also adds significant nutrients.

Unfortunately, Florida is also home to a large number of bad-acting (invasive) plants. If introduced to a pond, they can quickly take over and exclude the native plants. If this occurs, it can be tempting to apply a DYI mentality to correct the problem. But, maintaining a healthy pond can be very complicated and can take a lot of knowledge and skills to become an expert.  In this situation, it is recommended to seek consultation and/or expert service to ensure the ecological health and environmental quality of your pond are in balance.  Below are excellent online resources to be informed on the intricacies of pond stewardship.

Links to useful information on pond management in Florida:

 

This blog post was written by Dr. James Leary, faculty member with UF/IFAS CAIP. Questions or comments can be sent to the UF/IFAS CAIP communications manager at caip@ifas.ufl.edu.

Follow UF/IFAS CAIP on social media at @ufifascaip. Read more blogs like this one on the UF/IFAS CAIP blog.

UF/IFAS Center for Aquatic and Invasive Plants. Turning Science Into Solutions.