Aquatic Plant PrimerAquatic Plant Primer 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?
By Bob Lusk
In another two months our phone will begin to ring from anxious pondmeisters who are concerned about the aquatic plant growth in their precious ponds. I can hear it now, just like we've heard it for years. "I've got this moss in my pond, and we can't fish, our trolling motor gets locked up, and that green junk smells terrible." Some are wringing their hands. Others will have almost given up. In years past, 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.
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 in the year. It wasn't a big deal two months before. It will be in a few more months.
Now, and in the next few weeks, is the time to deal with aquatic plant life. Don't wait until it is a problem. However, 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.
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, the algae growth 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 the 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—right about now.
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 its essence of life out of the water, stealing nutrients better suited to plankton. The same goes for 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 algae. 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://aqual.ifas.ufl.edu/ cardlist.html.
The last part of today's "ABC's" is to give you a brief idea about ways to deal with or treat runaway aquatic plants.
You basically have three choices. Physical removal. That really means hard work. Essentially, physical removal entails dragging the stuff to shore and disposing of it via a variety of tools. There are rakes, cutters, and all kinds of homemade devices used to literally pull plants out of the water. Oh yes, there's another physical method—drawing the lake down during the dead of winter to allow nature's cold to freeze shoreline plants and hopefully kill them. The second method is biological. Your choices are limited, based on the type of plant you are trying to manage. Microbes may work on algae. Barley straw can work on some types of algae, too. Grass carp, or white amur, might be a choice, depending where you live. Each state has laws directly related to the use of grass carp. Plus, grass carp are not a cure-all for all types of plants. They are limited by what they can actually eat. Soft, fleshy lips on the front of their mouth aren't set up to eat coarse plants such as cattails. Nor can they eat filamentous algae, simply because they can't bite it. In recent years, tilapia have achieved recognition in their ability to eat and manage algae.
And, some states are learning about specific insects that eat certain kinds of plants, but the biological jury is still out about that little concept.
That leaves the third method. In today's fast food world, people tend to lean toward a fast fix—herbicides. The chemical market blossomed many years ago and people understand there is an herbicide for pretty much every plant on Earth. Don't misunderstand me, I am not opposed to using EPA approved herbicides that have a short half-life and don't disrupt the ecology and biology of any pond. But, before you run down to the local feed store and buy up a shelf of the seller's favorite product, study and understand the consequences.
Each of the three methods of dealing with runaway plants is a temporary fix. It's like mowing the lawn. While there are products that can and will eliminate certain species of plants, don't forget the "Big 3." Whenever the right temperature, food, and sunlight all come together, something will grow.
The only permanent fix is to eliminate one of the Big 3.
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