A lot goes into creating an aquascape that thrives. In addition to requiring knowledge of physiology, pruning, ecology, and lake or pond management, aquascaping also involves design and layout. The challenge is attaining a perfect balance between efficiently using scientific principles and creativity.
Originally, aquascaping referred to taking an aquarium and creating a managed aquatic environment. However, its meaning has been expanded to include the water feature world. In this context, it means water gardening or water features that create visual interest and add serenity to the space. It involves the techniques of setting up, decorating, and arranging different elements such as stones, driftwood, rocks, fountains, and aquatic plants in an aesthetically pleasing way.
Aquascaping the shoreline of a lake or pond dramatically enhances the health and beauty of natural and man-made lakes or ponds. There are many benefits to adding a natural buffer of native plants to lakes, and some counties actually require this type of riparian zone for stormwater retention ponds and other mitigation areas.
There are many plants that can be used along lake and wetlands shorelines in Florida, from arrowhead to water lilies. Lakes, ponds, and wetlands typically have multiple depths so we will introduce plant species appropriate to each ecosystem we are working with, later on.
Advantages of Aquascaping Lakes and Wetlands
Erosion control – Roots from plants hold the shoreline while offshore vegetation buffers against wave action.
Reduction of non-native invasive plants – A riparian zone that has an abundance of native plants makes it harder for exotic, invasive plants to take root.
Water quality – Plants filter surface water run-off from sources such as lawns and roads, taking up excess nutrients as they grow and spread.
Wildlife habitat – Numerous organisms live at the water’s edge for which aquatic plants provide food and shelter. A robust wildlife population will attract people to your lake.
Aesthetics – A well-manicured lawn is lovely, but too much lawn can make the landscape look one-dimensional and boring. Incorporating a variety of plants adds layers of visual interest to the scenery.
Florida’s lakes and wetlands can be the star of any property, if designed and maintained correctly. Here are some ways aquascaping is used to enhance and mitigate the Florida environment.
Golf Course Lakes and Ponds
Golf course lakes and ponds are a great example of using aquascaping to improve the overall quality of the waterway, and consequently the overall quality of the course. Planting the right aquatic plants improve the water quality and can help stabilize the soil.
Fountains and Aeration Systems
Fountains can increase aesthetic appeal, as well as improve the health of a lake, by increasing oxygen levels and the circulation of water. Their soothing sound adds to the beauty and peacefulness of a lake while helping improve water quality.
Whether created or preserved, wetlands and natural areas need diligent maintenance. In-depth knowledge of the many plants that create an inviting environment for the animals that reside in these areas and keeps invasive species at bay.
Aquascaping for Environmental Mitigation
In addition to aesthetics and maintaining the health of waterways, aquascaping can also be used for environmental mitigation. By absorbing excess nutrients, stabilizing the soil, and providing cover for fish and wildlife, the overall quality of the lakes and wetlands can be significantly enhanced.
Types of Plants Used in Florida Aquascaping
Aquatic plants play an important role in creating a healthy and balanced ecosystem in lakes and wetlands. Their most important function is as a natural filter to eliminate ammonia, nitrogen, and nitrates as well as other harmful compounds from the water. Without these plants, the water clarity of lakes and wetlands would be compromised by too many nutrients. The main types of aquatic plants include water lilies, marginal plants, floaters, submerged (also called oxygenators), and emersed.
Showy water lilies are often featured in ponds and lakes, making them a popular aquatic plant. In addition to their eye-catching qualities, water lilies offer shade and protection, keeping the wetlands nice and cool for fish and other wildlife.
The majority of marginals are perennials, meaning they return every year. Marginal aquatics offer valuable filtration for lakes and wetlands. As their name indicates, they grow around the edges or “margins” of a lake. They grow best in damp soil or in two to six inches of standing water.
Floating plants or floaters, as you might have guessed, float on the surface of the water. The roots dangle underneath the plant to soak up excess nutrients in the water. Floaters are excellent natural filters as they remove nutrients directly from the water instead of the soil as other plants do. Their flat leaves offer a stable surface for fish spawning.
Floaters provide habitat and food for fish and wildlife and reduce shoreline erosion. Floating plants such as spatterdock work well in Florida lakes and wetlands.
And last, but certainly not least, submerged plants. These plants are under the water, although they sometimes bloom plants that grow primarily below the surface of the water. Some are rooted in the bottom sediments, and some are free-floating. Factors such as light, water clarity, pH, temperature, nutrient availability, and sediment stability play a role in where submerged plants will grow.
Submerged plants also provide habitat for fish and wildlife, increase water clarity, stabilize shorelines and sediments, affect nutrient cycles, and more.
Since both native and non-native plant species can reach nuisance levels, professional management of aquatic plants in Florida is extensive. Too many submerged aquatic plants can adversely affect recreational boating, swimming, and fishing; fish and bird populations; commercial navigation; and flood control.
Emersed plants have roots that grow in water-saturated soil or submersed soil near the shoreline. Their stems and leaves grow above the water. Although these plants prefer to have their roots submersed, under adverse conditions they can grow in exposed, damp sediments. Some emersed plants have large leaves and big spikes of flowers, such as arrowheads and fire flat. Others are grasses, sedges, and rushes.
Emersed plants provide habitat for wildlife, provide food for waterfowl, and reduce shoreline erosion,
Ideal Florida Aquascaping Plant Species
A variety of native plants used along shallow lake and pond banks and shorelines in Florida bolster the soil and create a beautiful aesthetic. The plants below are native Florida perennial species that can withstand variable flooding and benefit from full sun exposure.
Pickerelweed – This is a fast-growing plant that can quickly cover large areas. It blooms from spring to summer and each spike of violet-blue flowers last one day. It is a food source for ducks, provides cover for birds, swimming mammals, insects, and amphibians, and attracts butterflies.
Arrowhead / Duck Potato–Arrowhead grows mainly in swamps, ditches, lakes, and stream margins. With its distinctly large arrowhead-shaped leaves and delicate three-petaled, white flowers, this is excellent ornamental that provides shoreline erosion protection. It is also an excellent source of food for waterfowl, mammals, and butterflies.
Fire Flag / Alligator Flag – Reaching up to 9 feet in height, this plant grows in wet ditches and swamps. Long stalks with large, simple leaves are some of fire flag’s most distinctive features. Multiple small, purple flowers with three petals attract butterflies while the long stems provide cover for birds.
Southern Blue Flag – This tall wildflower features pale, green sword-like leaves that grow in flat vertical fans. It is found along the shoreline of ponds and streams. It’s striking deep blue-violet flowers with white and yellow markings grow on long stems and attract butterflies.
Golden Canna – As the name suggests, this native plant features showy yellow flowers. It grows in wetlands and at the shoreline of ponds and lakes.
Sand Cordgrass – This large, bunch-forming grass can grow up to 6 feet tall. The entire plant is brownish-green, however, it looks greener in the summer and browner in the winter. Birds feed on its seeds.
Horse Tail – Dark green with jointed stems, this fern-like evergreen plant reaches a height of three feet. It grows in the sandy soils of floodplains, lake edges, and sloughs, providing food for mammals and waterfowl.
Spatterdock (Cow Lily) – This plant occurs in lakes, ponds, and slow streams. It’s floating, heart-shaped leaves are attached to long, fat stems. The yellow flowers are half-opened at the water’s surface. Waterfowl feed on Spatterdock seeds.
The White Fragrant Water Lily – With smooth leaves and fragrant, white flowers that bloom from spring to fall, this plant provides a stable surface for successful fish spawning. Ducks and mammals feed on its seeds and stems.
The Yellow Water Lily – A more robust plant, the yellow water lily often crowds out the white fragrant water lily. It is dormant in winter and mammals and turtles feed on the leaves.
Florida’s lakes and ponds usually have several depths. The team at Lake and Wetland Management can introduce the right plants for the right places. We know that every lake is different and we can develop a custom solution for your aquascape and mitigation program.
If you are interested in learning more about our aquascaping or our other services, such as algal control, shoreline restoration, and more, contact us today at 855-888-LAKE to request a free survey.