Water gardens and ornamental ponds add life and beauty to many Michigan backyards. They bring us peaceful scenery and provide homes for native wildlife. But some plants and animals used in water gardens can be devastating for the environment if they escape or are carelessly released. They are invasive species: non-native plants and animals that can grow out of control, spread disease, and out-compete our native species, ultimately destroying the diversity of life in Michigan’s aquatic ecosystems. Any non-native plant or animal has the potential to become an invasive species. Taking over, killing off native species, hinder our ability to enjoy the native waterways and they can cost billions of dollars each year to try and manage once they make it into our lakes, ponds, and rivers. Our best defense against these invaders is to never let them out. You can help keep invasive species out of the environment with these three simple steps. When removing unwanted plants or winterizing your pond, be sure to seal your plants in a bag in the trash. This ensures they won’t take root anywhere else. You can also donate any unwanted plants or animals to a local water garden store, or trade them with a well-informed water gardener. Choose the right location to set up your water garden and build away from other waterways. Just be cautious in the design of your water garden so they don’t have the opportunity to escape if we have heavy rains that can cause flooding. Ask your local retailer if they sell plants and fish that won’t harm the environment if accidentally introduced. Local garden centers and local retailers are very aware of what the proper plants are for a good Michigan water garden feature. Unfortunately, there’s the internet and interstate trade and you don’t have to go very far to find plants are actually outlawed or not even allowed to be brought into Michigan, but can be ordered online. Some of those sites unfortunately have disclaimers on them it’s the purchaser’s responsibility to determine if they can bring these plants into their state. So again local dealer, work with them, internet, do your homework buyer beware. Remember: any non-native plants or animals sold in stores could be invaders Releasing any aquatic organism into the environment is not an accepted practice and may even be punishable by law. Remember do not release, do not allow overflow, do not compost. Some safe alternatives include proper disposal in a sealed bag in the trash. Avoiding overflow by building away from waterways. Asking your retailer for advice and never assume a plant or animal is harmless. To prevent them from being released into the waterways where they can bring on a chain reaction of destruction in those beautiful waterways that we enjoy so much in Michigan. One person can definitely make a difference.