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For decades, wetlands got a bad rap. They were associated with diseases, and they were drained or filled in. They were destroyed, both for development and agriculture. In 1984, it is estimated that over 50 percent of the wetlands of the US had been destroyed.

However, it is a new day with a new respect for nature, and it turns out that natural wetlands were performing all sorts of eco-systemic functions. They are, of course, habitats for all sorts of creatures, big and small. But, they also help to prevent erosion, mitigate flooding, and clean water.

While our backyards can hardly recreate the expansive wetlands that once were, we can begin to create micro-systems that perform some of the same functions as full-fledge wetlands. Plus, they are much more fun than cultivating more St. Augustine or Kentucky Blue.

Making a wetland in your backyard can be an interesting and useful experiment that can benefit your property and the wildlife around it.

Source: Texas Parks and Wildlife/Youtube

What is a Wetland?

While many of us think of wetlands as constantly underwater, that isn’t the case. Any area that spends a month or so completely saturated during the growing season can be called a wetland. They don’t have to be covered by water all the time, though there can be areas of it, such as ponds or shorelines, that are.

On a large scale, we think of wetlands in terms of marshes, swamps, and bogs.

  • Marshes tend to be at the edges of bodies of water and specialize in growing reeds and wetland grasses.
  • Swamps are similar to marshes, but the flora is composed more of trees and shrubs, woody rather than herbaceous.
  • Bogs are shallow ponds that are covered over with a thick carpet of plants, so much so that the water isn’t always apparent visually.

Source: This Old House/Youtube

Why Should We Build Wetland Gardens?

Wetland gardens are valuable puzzle pieces in our landscape mosaic. All animals and plants need water, so it is always good to have around. Wetland gardens provide valuable resources for beneficial animals like bees, butterflies, and birds, and they are homes to others like salamanders, toads, and frogs.

But, wetland gardens offer other value to a property. We have to direct our rooftop and hard surface runoff somewhere, and a wetland garden makes that runoff a benefit rather than a detriment. That’s good for flood-prone areas. Having a moisture-rich landscape can also add to fire resistance, benefitting fire-prone properties.

Plus, wetlands filter water, naturally cleaning away pollutants it may be carrying from asphalt, concrete, and other surfaces. Thus, introducing wetlands to a landscape adds clean water to underground reservoirs.

Source: VT Green Infrastructure Collaborative/Youtube

Where Should We Put Backyard Wetlands?

The other benefit of building a wetland garden is that, when placed properly, it can eliminate problems with the yard. The best location for a backyard wetland is the low spot in the yard, the one that gets the wettest and remains wet the longest after rain. Instead of fighting, use a wetland garden to appreciate the moisture.

Another obvious good option for backyard wetlands is surrounding a garden pond. The pond is a constant source of water, and the wetlands around it can handle the overflow during storms. Even better would be a garden pond put into the low part of the property with wetlands surrounding that!

Source: Gardening Australia/Youtube

How to Build a Wetland Garden?

The first puzzle piece of a wetland garden is the wet. We want the landscape to stay saturated. Low spots in the lawn are generally already the stopping point of the natural drainage of the property. To help, we can look for more runoff—gutters, driveways, potentially graywater—to direct to the wetland.

Then, we need to think about the plants. Wetland plants are different than what we normally grow in lawns and gardens. They tolerate—and need—the high moisture levels. So, we have to plan accordingly. There are lots of beautiful choices for a wetland garden.

  • Wet soils, in terms of herbaceous plants, are good for cattails, bulrushes, cardinal flowers, jewelweed, swamp milkweed, and rose mallow.
  • Trees and shrubs that like wet soil include American pawpaw, red maple, redbud, willow, spicebush, and yaupon.
  • Ponds can be beautified with water lilies, American lotus, duck potato, and arrow arum, to name a few.

Finally, we want to add good habitat features to invite the wildlife to enjoy our wetland creation. Adding other natural components that animals can use for homes, such as rockeries and rotting logs, can attract frogs, lizards, garden snakes, and so on. Raised landing spots and perches are great for helping out birds, bees, and butterflies. Ponds and pools can also be good for other passing wildlife in need of a drink.

Seriously, doesn’t a wetland garden in the backyard sound like an amazing place?

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