Landscaping Ideas: Creating A Backyard Wetland

Published: 19th January 2006
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A miniature wetland on your property can offer similar benefits that natural wetlands offer. A mini-wetland can even help replace the valuable natural functions of wetlands that may have been lost during your area's development.

What is a wetland? Simply any area in which water covers the soil or keeps it saturated at least two or three weeks out of the growing season. They are commonly found wherever water collects at a rate faster than it drains away. Some are swamped year-round while others only hold water for short-lived periods each spring. The majority of wetlands are underwater less than a month during the summer. Wetlands with grasses, cattails, and similar vegetation are referred to as marshes, and wooded wetlands, with shrubs and trees, are called swamps.

Who wants a swamp in their backyard, you ask? Well, a wetland in your yard will store, filter, and clean runoff water temporarily from your roof and lawn. It will supply a home for some fascinating friends; from butterflies and bees to salamanders, toads, frogs, and birds.

How long soil is wet establishes which wetland plants will grow best. Plants like cattails, bulrushes, jewelweed, and the lovely cardinal flower do best with alternating wet and dry periods, and survive flooding as long as most of the leaves are out of the water. Water lilies and pond plants grow well in a permanently flooded pond.

Most wetland plants do not require standing water to grow successfully, and will survive even in an area that appears dry during most of the growing season.

Starting a wetland in your yard could be as easy as planting wetland plants in an existing wet spot or drainage area, or may require the effort needed to install a pond.

You can create a wetland in any level area and make it suitable for most wetland plants by digging a wide, shallow hole, lining it with plastic, refilling it with soil, and adding water. Here are a few tips to get you started:

1. The sides should slope down gradually to the deepest area.

2. An irregular shaped wetlaand will look the most natural. Long curving wetlands will fit nicely into an existing landscape plan.

3. Line the hole with sheet plastic. Use heavy objects such as round stones to hold the sheeting in place.

4. If you're in an area that has a high annual rainfall, puncture the liner in several places with pen-sized holes halfway up the sides to supply drainage. This will let keep the soil from staying completely waterlogged for long periods.

5. Covering the edges of the plastic liner with soil will hide them and also hold it in place.

Carlo Morelli is a contributor to, where you can read tips about landscaping during times of drought and xeriscape landscaping.

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