Restoring Balance and Beauty to your Pond with Native Aquatic Plants

This article by Sandy Phelps was published in in the Hunterdon Master Gardener Newsletter ‘Roots & Shoots”. Sandy is a noted Landscape Designer from Hunterdon

Maintaining dense vegetation around a pond has a beneficial impact on water quality. Establishing aquatic plants along the water’s edge prevents erosion and controls the geese population. Thickly planted pond edges can reduce rain water runoff containing excessive nutrients that cause pond algae. Native plants will also attract insects like dragonflies that feed on mosquito larvae and help to control the mosquito population.

Pickerel Weed, Pontederia cordata, is an aquatic plant that grows 3 to 4 feet high but only 1 to 2 feet are seen above the water. Its creeping rhizomes help to stabilize pond edges while not obstructing the view. It has heart-shaped green foliage and violet-blue flower spikes that bloom all summer and into autumn. Its flowers attract and butterflies as well as dragonflies and damselflies that eat mosquito larvae. The dense foliage provides good cover for birds, fish and amphibians.\

Blue Flag Iris, Iris versicolor, is a 2 to 3-foot-high clumping plant with violet-blue flowers and yellow sepals atop sturdy stalks. It blooms from May through August. It has limited nutritional value and its tall, sword-like foliage is rarely eaten by wildlife and quickly forms a dense pond edging.

Duck Potato or Arrowhead, Sagittaria latifolia, has very strong roots that can tolerate wide fluctuations in water levels. It aids in filtering water with high levels of phosphates, thus, improving water quality. Growing between 1 to 4 feet high, this aquatic perennial has broad arrow-shaped foliage and small white flowers. Its name, Duck Potato, is derived from its underground tubers that are eaten by many species of ducks.

Pond Planting for Habitat and the Pond Edge

By William Young

The pond edge is a narrow band that, with proper planning, can be quite valuable to a land manager. It can filter excess nutrients entering the aquatic zone (Best Management Practices), protect the shorelines from scour and wave action, provide wildlife habitat, and additionally, on a golf course, provide challenge and interest to the golfer. At Charleston Springs Golf Course, the project ecologist, Ken Thoman, collaborated with the golf course architect to integrate american bittern (Botaurus lentiginosus), shollenberger park, petaluma, ca, photo © norris ‘bob’ dyer conservation practices into the course. Roughs are seeded to native grasses and forbs. Ponds are integrated into the course, with bulrushes marking the hazard. This became a “signature” on each of the four ponds on the course. Ken divided the pond edge into four zones; the plants are designed for bands of pond fringe, shallow (0-6″ deep), middle (6″-12′ deep) and deeper (12″-24″) ‘shelves’. The upper shelves are adapted to occasional flooding, whereas the lower shelf species are constantly inundated.

The shallow shelf consisted of species like Blueflag Iris, Sweetflag (Acorus spp.), and common three square (Scirpus americanus), which prefer, or can tolerate, a range of conditions in between saturated and flooded. Three of the ponds provide irrigation for the course in a unique system that circulates water in an open loop. Fertigation is used to deliver turf fertilizers in the minimum dosage necessary in liquid form via irrigation. The ponds, being at low points, collect storm water runoff from the 36-hole course, and the pond fringe, expanded to up to ten feet by a “no mow” zone, acts as a biofilter to treat runoff before it enters the pond. Most of this filtration is in the root zone through absorption, but microbes, fungi and bacteria further strip and breakdown nutrients.

The lower shelf species do the polishing and add dissolved oxygen to the water column—Pontederia, Sagittaria, Peltandra, Saururus, and Scirpus species. They help to shade and cool the water, and are great fish habitat. The design advantages of creating an aquatic system called for plants in clumps and gaps around each pond, and band was undulated and intermixed frequently, allowing nature to favor the best-adapted species. The littoral shelf (aquatic band receiving sunlight) width varied with the pond slope, from three to over twenty feet, with the wider band having a greater water quality effect. This made for a more naturalistic and diverse design. In less than two weeks after planting and seeding, the algae blooms were gone and wildlife rapidly began colonizing the ponds.

Highway Beautification is not just about Aesthetics

Reprinted with permission, June 2019. This article is by Michele S. Byers who is the executive director of the New Jersey Conservation Foundation in Morristown. She is a regular contributor to many publications.


Driving through a garden usually isn’t a commuter experience, but drivers on the Atlantic City Expressway will see colorful patches of native flowers along the sides of the highway.

Though the wildflowers are beautiful, it’s not all about appearance. The wildflowers are new habitat for New Jersey’s struggling insect pollinators, like bees and butterflies, which are declining due to habitat loss and pesticides.

In an ecological version of roadside assistance, the South Jersey Transportation Authority, which runs the Atlantic City Expressway, recently planted 35 linear acres of native wildflowers along the highway. They’re also adding native trees and shrubs. 

“We’re trying to do our part,” said Nick Marchese, the Transportation Authority project manager who runs the Roadway Environmental Advancement Initiative (READI). “I’ve already seen that the bees have increased.”

That’s not all. Plans include installing more than 120 bird houses, bat boxes and osprey nesting platforms along the Expressway to help South Jersey’s native species. Culverts under the highway have been enlarged to provide safe crossings for animals like deer, raccoons and possums. Bee boxes and butterfly houses are up, and there’s even a hummingbird garden under construction at a Hammonton rest stop.

The initiative started in 2011 with the planting of colorful annuals in patches along the Expressway. The flowers were pretty, but Marchese and his colleagues soon realized that native plants support birds, bees, butterflies and other insect pollinators. 

In 2016, the Transportation Authority went native with perennials like black-eyed Susans, butterfly weed and coreopsis. They supplement the natives with easy-to-grow annuals like cosmos. 

And instead of planting ornamental cherries, the Transportation Authority now plants native trees and shrubs like willows and dogwoods. 

Natives cost more initially, but they pay for themselves over the long run. 

The plantings also soak up stormwater runoff, helping to prevent highway flooding and filtering out pollutants. The root systems of the new plantings prevent topsoil from eroding into streams and other waterways. 

The READI program has a strong educational component. Marchese regularly visits elementary schools to talk about the importance of pollinators and the plants they need to thrive. 

Marchese hopes to keep expanding pollinator and bird habitat along the Expressway in the coming years. “The more you do,” he observed, “the more you can see what can be done.” 

Original article: Michele Byers Highway Beautification.

Invasive Plant Species

Last edited 2019

By Hubert Ling

As explained in the movie “Jurassic Park” contained within the coils of DNA is one of the mightiest powers on earth. Coded with a simple alphabet of A, T, G, and C is the power to kill billions of organisms, change the gas concentration of the atmosphere, and yes even destroy the whole earth with a Nuclear Winter.

By carelessly shifting around organisms, with their awesome genetic potential, we have caused major ecological disasters. Gone is the most important tree in the Northeast, the American Chestnut, our premier landscaping tree, the American Elm, and gone are huge tracts of productive fresh water marsh. Now these marshes frequently contain extensive acreage with monocultures (only one species present) of purple loosestrife or lesser celandine.

Cornell ecologist David Pimentel has estimated that alien species annually cause $138 billion dollars of damage to our US economy; an estimated 50,000 alien species of insects, plants and other pests now crowd our shores. In 2011 alone, the US Department of the Interior will spend $100 million to attempt to alleviate some of the harmful effects of invasives but that amount has done little to control the problem. 

The basic problem is that all organisms have been programmed with a reproductive capacity that can easily outstrip all available resources. This humungous genetic potential is generally held in check by competition with dozens if not hundreds of other organisms, which also have the similar genetic potentials. With so much competition, no one organism takes it all; generally each organism takes only a small share of the total resources of land, water, minerals, light etc.

In addition to direct or indirect competition for resources, disease agents control population growth of any one species. If any one organism grows very well, very large populations develop of that one species. These large populations are very susceptible to attack by disease agents, which include fungi, viruses, and bacteria. Disease agents spread rapidly when their hosts grow close together. 

Thus, in any community a dynamic balance is maintained, where populations often ebb and surge but monocultures are rare and populations whose numbers have dwindled are under less stress and eventually recover. Native plants in any given area have adapted to all the other organisms in a given area and genetically diverse ecosystems are generally maintained.

A different scenario takes place when an alien species is transported to a new area. Although direct competition with similar species is still a problem, the new kid in the block may have no natural pests and diseases. Thus, large stands of monocultures can occur. It is generally accepted that one plant species will support 10 species of animals. If one species takes over 99% of a given habitat dozens if not hundreds of species are lost from that area and some populations are stressed enough that extinction is possible.

Humans are responsible for almost all of the invasive plant and animal problems. Many of our problem invasives were (and often still are) planted as landscape plants in New Jersey. These include: Norway Maple, Japanese Barberry, Asian Bittersweet, English Ivy, Mimosa, Wisteria, Japanese Honeysuckle, Bugleweed, Bamboo, Day Lily, Purple Loosestrife, Tansy, and Dame’s Rocket.

Only a relatively few commercially important plants such as Teasel, which was used in colonial days to raise the knap on woolen garments and spearmint, show much of a tendency to persist and multiply in the wild. We should probably include in this short list the important pasture clovers: White Sweet, White, and Red as plants which have become so common most people would think that they have been here forever. 

Other plants have escaped local and federal projects: Multiflora Rose (previously used as crash barriers along highways, Crown Vetch (still used to stabilize steep hillsides, and Russian and Autumn Olive (used for wildlife habitat support).

We will probably never know how most of the alien plants arrived here. Many may have arrived as contaminating weed seeds along with seed stocks. It is very probable that the following list of plants arrived by that route: Common Mullein, Moth Mullein, Buttercups, Spotted Knapweed, Ox-eye Daisy, Queen Ann’s Lace etc.

This list was first issued in 2003. Since that time the list has doubled! If immediate vigorous action is not taken by almost everyone we will lose the war against invasive plants. 

What can you do to help? Plant only native plants! How would you feel if you started a several billion-dollar problem such as Purple Loosestrife? Definitely avoid plants in category 1 – High Risk and category 2 – Moderate Risk and support legislation to restrict these plants. Join the Native Plant society or other conservation groups: New Jersey Invasive Species Strike Team –,  New Jersey Department of Enviroment Protection – Invasive Species Council –,   National Invasive Species Council –,   Smithsonian-,   Nature Conservancy –

Listed below are problem invasive plants for NJ. These lists are not complete and we would like additio

What Are Invasive Plant Species, Anyway?

WHY do we need a definition because we nationally need to “pull together” and one accepted definition would allow us to do that smoothly? Let’s begin by calling them weeds. Everyone has a definition for a weed similar to a plant out of place. With this definition we call a dandelion in your front yard, a weed. Beyond this simplistic definition most States have defined noxious weed lists.

A noxious weed is one that has been determined by the State to be detrimental to agriculture, your health, or the environment. If your State has purple loosestrife on their list that means the State would fine you if you do not remove it.

An invasive plant species is certainly a weed, not only out of place, but also out of its country or region of origin. It is an introduced plant species that is aggressive. The Norway maple in your yard would fit this definition. It might or might not be on your State’s noxious weed list. Kudzu, knapweed, star thistle, and mile-a-minute vine fit also. The definition used by the Executive Order 13112 is “an alien species who introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”

No sweat, you say! Then legally I do not have to do anything about an invasive plant species. Wrong! Any State Department of Transportation who used federal funding, must avoid the planting of “known invasives” (State noxious weeds) or lose funding. Also each DOT must include an analysis of invasive species and future management on any new project during the NEPA process. If you care about the future value of your neighborhood your local nature preserve or park, wildlife habitat, biodiversity or any other environmental or esthetic characteristic that adds up to your quality of life, you also care about invasive species.

The impacts of invasive species, plants and animals alike, which leave their competition behind in their place of origin, tend to out-compete native plants where lands have been disturbed. When they displace native plants and animals they lower diversity, reduce hunting and fishing potential, change the aesthetics of a habitat, lower the value of recreational and agricultural property, crowd out endangered species, replace forage value, diminish wild rice crops/ forest crops, and on it goes.

Plants known as undesirable, exotic, alien, weed, pest, opportunist, biological wildfire, nonnative, nonindigenous, and biological pollution, are terms used over the years. We now call them invasive plant species. They are introduced from another country or region of our own country, leaving behind their competition and displacing vegetation know to exist before European settlement. The Australian native tree, Melaleuca has become a pest plant in Florida. The United States native tree, Black locust has become an invasive in Germany. There are many such examples. Black locust has become a weed in regions of the U.S. to which it is not native (the southeast Appalachians region is its origin). Improved global mobility in general increases the risk of unwanted plants.

Purple Loosestrife, an invasive species found in most, if not all, 50 states could easily be the poster child for the invasive plant species. It represents them well in terms of costly impacts, spread strategies, and life history that allow it and other invasives to cause economic and ecological impacts across the nation. An example of spread that is repeated over and over across the country is at the Montezuma refuge in New York. In 1965, an impoundment was created. This disturbance aided the introduction of purple loostrife. By 1968, less than 5% of the biomass of emergent-aquatic vegetation was purple loosestrife. Ten years later, 90% of the desirable aquatics were displaced by purple loosestrife. Much was learned about the impacts of this invasive plant on wildlife habitat as a consequence.

Reprinted from Greener Roadsides, Volume 8 No. 4, fall 2000.

For more information, contact Bonnie Harper-Lore, Federal Highway Administration, Office of Natural Environment, HEPN-30, Room 3240, 400 Seventh Street S.W. Washington, D.C. 20590, (651) 291-6104, fax (651) 291-6000, e-mail: .

Last edited April 17, 2002

Another Tree in Peril

This article, without the photos, was published in Gardener’s News. Hubert Ling, NPSNJ horticulture, is a regular contributing writer to Gardener’s News. Photos by H & M Ling

Our native Eastern or Canadian hemlock is in trouble and as usual people are to blame. The immediate culprit is the hemlock woolly adelgid which is a small fluffy white bug which proliferates in such numbers that they can actually suck a tree dry. In fact the bugs are so efficient that the southern Appalachians may lose most of their hemlocks within the next 10 years. The adelgid was accidently brought to the US from Asia in 1924 and started expanding rapidly in the hemlock’s southern range in the 1960’s. A project is underway in the Great Smokies to save the largest trees. In their northern range hemlocks are doing better but infection is common in NJ. Thus unless you want to be faced with repeated pesticide treatments you might want to delay planting hemlocks until better adelgid control methods are developed. 

The woolly adelgids can be treated with pesticides containing imidacloprid or dinotefuran but complete control is still difficult. The US Forest Service is currently conducting a study attempting to control them with a natural predator Laricobius nigrinus beetles. The study will be completed in 2019 and hopefully we will have an efficient weapon to combat this plague. 

violetEastern hemlock, Tsuga canadensis, is our largest eastern evergreen tree. Given good conditions hemlocks can live over 500 years. The record height is 174′ and the largest diameter has been recorded at 5′ 9″. Generally most trees top off at about 100′ with a 2-3′ diameter. The needles are flattened, blunt tipped, and about ½” long. Small trees grow fast and are bushy but they do not make good Christmas trees since they drop their needles quickly. The cones are light brown and petite, only about ¾” so they fit well in miniature Christmas decorations. 

Hemlock wood is light and soft. It is used for general construction and pulp for paper manufacturing. It is also used, after treatment to prevent mold attack, for railroad ties since it holds spikes well. Hemlock bark was once important as a source of tannin to preserve leather.

No parts of the tree are poisonous to humans but being conifers hemlocks have the same resinous products as other evergreens which deter insects and larger herbivores from grazing. However, some outdoor rugged individuals actually enjoy hemlock tea. This is not the same hemlock tea which Socrates took which comes from two plants of the carrot family and is deadly. These very poisonous hemlocks Circuta maculata and Conium maculatum are both found in NJ. They are relatively small, herbaceous, water loving plants which look similar to Queen Anne’s lace, the wild carrot. Be sure you do not confuse these two poison hemlocks with wild carrot or wild parsley; this is a mistake you may only make once. Fortunately woody evergreen trees and plants in the carrot family are easy to tell apart. 

Paleoecology studies have determined that Eastern Hemlock was one of the dominate trees in the southeastern US forest about 10,000 years ago. From careful analysis it was determined that the population crashed about 5,500 years ago. The cause of this crash is unknown but pathogens or climate change probably contributed to this phenomenon. Later the population recovered somewhat but never rose to the previous peak. One might wonder if hemlocks might again throw off this current plague of woolly adelgid given enough time. 

Hemlocks naturally grow in cool moist areas where temperatures do not rise above 95 °F. They do not do well in droughts, full sun, or strong wind. For this reason they are frequently found in ravines near sources of water and in the southern US they are generally limited to mountainous regions. 

Propagation is by cuttings, which must be treated with rooting hormones, and by seeds which should be stratified for 3 or 4 months. Over 300 cultivars of Eastern Hemlock have been developed; most of these are bushy dwarf forms. The graceful, lacy branches are produced in profusion and make a beautiful winter display if only the woolly adelgid problem can be solved. 

Visit some mature hemlocks at Tillman’s Ravine, Stokes State Forest