At Alba, we like to encourage ecological responsibility and so we grow a number of plants suitable for wetlands. Wetlands can be a fantastic ecological area and we are glad that so many farmers and landowners are starting to realise the benefits of wetlands and reedbeds. ‘Wetlands’ describes the overall habitat land which is flooded for at least part of the year and supports certain water-loving plants and the associated fauna, especially birds. The ecological centre of a wetlands area tends to be reedbeds, with the added advantage that reedbeds can be used both as a bird habitat and natural sewage treatment. You do not need huge amounts of land to create wetlands or reedbeds – small areas of marginal planting around ponds can be make very effective wetlands for smaller species, or if you have quite a low planting density of wetland plants or reeds, then you will encourage more fish and invertebrates than birds – it just depends on what you want from your wetland.
Is my land suitable for a reedbed?
You would be surprised! All you need is some land which is quite shallow under the water, getting up to 300mm of water coverage in the spring – your reedbed and other wetland plants will struggle to establish in more than about 1m of water and will always want about 1/3 of the wetland plant or reed above the water. Reeds can establish if the water level remains just below the soil surface, but for best effect make sure that the reedbed area is partially under water so that it works correctly, but not so deep that the reeds cannot get to the air above the water. The perfect land for wetland areas and reedbeds is a nice, long ‘shelf’ under the water, perhaps made of clay or silt so that it retains water well. Wetland plants and reeds from buy-trees-online will establish best if you plants after the last frosts when water levels are about 5cm above the ground. Once planted, the reeds will actually spread in the shallow areas at a rate of about 1.5m per year.
How do I plan for a reedbed?
Well start by marking out your reedbed and wetland areas. As a guide for how to split up your wetland area by depth of water coverage:
Reedbed area (30cm to 1m depth) – Phragmites reeds and Cats Tail
Marginal Wetland Area (30cm to wet ground) – Marsh Marigold, Meadowsweet, Yellow flag Iris.
Wet Ground: Purple Loosestrife, Dogwood, Downy Birch, Aspen, Willows, Alders.
You might want to plan in some surrounding trees, for shelter and screening. Remember that newly planted wetland areas, especially reedbeds, are very tasty for ducks, geese and plenty of mammals, so think about trying to keep them away for the first couple of years – perhaps with a surrounding animal-proof hedge such as hawthorn.
Now that you have your wetland area worked out, look for very weedy areas – you light want to cultivate the land a little to get rid of weeds and give the new wetland plants the maximum chance of survival, though simply flooding the wetland area is often a better ecological answer.
For both reedbeds and wetland plants, plan on 4 reeds or plants per square meter. If you are planning on using a reedbed to treat domestic sewage, then plan on 2.5 square metres per person (10 reeds).
But How Do Reedbeds Work?
Quite simply! Most plants take up oxygen at the roots and emit it out the leaves, but reedbeds work the opposite way round. This concentration of oxygen around the reed roots (rhizomes) allows for a build-up of beneficial bacteria. It is those bacteria that feed on sewage passed through the reedbeds, breaking it down into harmless, natural compounds.