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Field Notes: The A B C’s of Aquatic Plants

This is the time of year our phone rings off the hook from anxious pondmeisters who are concerned about the aquatic plant growth in their precious ponds. Some are wringing their hands, others have almost given up. Many have already tried to take care of the “problem” themselves by raking, pulling or treating the obnoxious plants with some weird herbicide or witch’s brew they heard about from a neighbor’s buddy’s friend’s pal who did it years ago and it worked for them.

If you plan to deal with runaway aquatic plants, you have to know what you are dealing with. Thus the need to understand the ABC’s of your underwater produce market.

Face it; most of us are woefully unprepared to cope with too much greenery. We have read and really do understand that some native plants are actually a good thing. But, when does a good thing become a problem?

When you think it is. That’s when.

That’s when you pick up the phone and call guys like me.

Never mind the pond’s fish population can probably withstand 40-50% coverage of the pond with greenery. Never mind you saw the plants as they emerged earlier this year. It wasn’t a big deal two months ago.

It is now.

Plants need three things to grow. I call them the “Big 3.” Plants need sunlight, food and the “right” temperature. There’s not much we can do about the temperature. When your water hits the low 50’s, algae grows. But, when it reaches the mid-60’s cattails shoot up like little green rockets. When water pushes into the 70’s algae slows but all the pondweeds grow like crazy.

Can’t do much about the food sources, either…unless you wish to pay big dollars to hire an excavator to dig up and haul off the top layers of pond mud.

That leaves us with sunlight. If we can block the sunlight off pond’s bottom, we can prevent plants from growing in the deepest water. That’s why most ponds end up with a ring of plants. Beyond the ring, sunlight can’t penetrate to the bottom.

That’s why some pond managers recommend fertilizer in the right situation. It’s also why some pros suggest pond dyes strategically in late winter or early spring months.

Oh yes, there’s a caveat. Some plants don’t need the mud to gain their supper. Coontail is a prime example. That little plant literally sucks the life out of the water, stealing nutrients better suited to plankton. Same with floating plants such as duckweed, watermeal and hyacinth.

Plants are generally categorized into three different sections, floating, submersed and emerged. Examples of submersed plants are pondweeds, milfoil and filamentous algaes. Emerged plants are cattails, creeping water primrose, lily pads, American lotus, arrowhead and such.

If you wish to deal with runaway plants, you must be able to identify them. If you don’t know what they are, send a sample to an expert or spend some time online. Texas A&M has an excellent website for plant identification at http://aquaplant.tamu.edu/ . So does the University of Florida. Look at http://aqua1.ifas.ufl.edu/cardlist.html 

Bob Lusk is the nation’s leading private fisheries consultant. He is also editor of Pond Boss magazine, the world’s leading resource for pond and fisheries management information. Check out more of his work at www.pondboss.com or contact Bob Lusk, the “Pond Boss” himself, at 903-564-6144. His books, Basic Pond Management, Raising Trophy Bass and Perfect Pond, Want One, may be purchased by calling 800-687-6075 or ordering online at www.pondboss.com.

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