Dragonfly Gardening

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In recent years I’ve learned to re-define “garden wildlife” to include not only butterflies and bees, but also the host of other pollinating insects.  Recently, Christine Cook of Mossaics Ecological Landscape Design took me a step further.  She introduced me to dragonfly gardening.

Christine has been admiring and studying these intriguing insects ever since they would come and roost beside her when she was a girl working in her grandmother’s garden.  She was fascinated then by dragonflies’ brilliant colors, and their prehistoric appearance.  She’d watch as one of these creatures soared into flight and then returned to its perch to devour some flying insect it had seized – dragonflies, Christine told me, particularly favor mosquitoes, eating as many as 100 per day.   That alone would make them worth cultivating, in my opinion, especially as, according to Christine, attracting them to the garden is relatively easy.

The principal requirement is a pond, even a small one assembled from a kit purchased at a garden center or on-line.  Install this, and before filling it with water, line the bottom with separate zones of sand, mud, and gravel: this diversity of habitats will support the greatest range of immature dragonflies, or nymphs, which may inhabit the pond for just a couple of months or up to 12 years before emerging and flying off as adults.  Provide floating aquatic plants such as the native waterlily (Nymphaea odorata) and emergent ones such as pickerel weed (Pontederia cordata) and broadleaved arrowhead (Sagitaria latifolia).  These plants furnish opportunities for dragonflies to lay their eggs, and the plants’ sub-surface parts create havens for the dragonfly larvae.  Later the larvae may crawl up the leaves and stalks when they are ready to emerge as adults.

Encircle the pond, Christine advises, with large rocks that furnish roosting spots,  and a shallow ditch planted with moisture-loving species such as sedges and rushes, as some dragonflies prefer that habitat.

If you furnish these things, Christine affirms, your garden will soon be popular with dragonflies.  Which can spark a major spectacle: I remember one afternoon when the parking area at the edge of my yard became the locus for a kind of behavior Christine defined as “hill-topping,” a preparation for migrating to warmer climes in late summer or early fall.  Hundreds of dragonflies gathered to fill the air with flashing colors and glittering wings; I never seen a more fascinating display.

If you want to find out more about dragonfly gardening, you can listen to a free podcast I’ve posted of a conversation with Christine Cook at thomaschristophergardens.com/podcast.

 

 

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Thomas Christopher

My father was a compulsive tree planter, but it was my mother who taught me the finer points of gardening.

Her homeschooling was followed by two years in the New York Botanical Garden’s School of Professional Horticulture, and then ten years as horticulturist at an Olmsted Brothers designed estate on the Hudson River Palisades.

I’ve worked as a horticultural journalist for 35 years, contributing to publications ranging from Martha Stewart Living to the Journal of the Royal Horticultural Society and The New York Times.  My most recent book is Nature Into Art: The Gardens of Wave Hill, which is a tour of the lessons to be learned from that great public garden.  I’m currently focusing on my new podcast (at thomaschristophergardens.com) which features weekly interviews with leaders of environmentally-informed gardening.

My special enthusiasms include sustainable gardening, especially sustainable lawns;  heirloom chicken breeds; and recreating vintage New England hard ciders.

 

Contact Tom by email

3 COMMENTS

  1. Hello! This is a great and very helpful article. It is so interesting. I really love dragonflies, they are beautiful and such interesting creatures. I rejoice when I see when a dragonfly flies into my yard, it is always fascinating. but I didn’t know that they could be brought into the yard in such simple ways. I am glad that I found this article, I would like that in my yard such beauty flew. Thank you, I will definitely use these tips. Good luck!

  2. An insightful article Thomas, interesting to read about the different zones and not something that would ever have occurred to me, I guess one needs to be creating habitats with certain goals or fauna in mind and plan accordingly.

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