Dragonflies and Damselflies in Garden Ponds

By Christine Eirschele, taken from the July Issue of the Inland Empire Water Garden & Koi Society

How to Attract Beneficial Insects to Backyard Water Habitats

Garden ponds attract many beneficial insects. Dragonflies and damselflies will live in backyard habitats with water and native grasses and wildflower plantings. Dragonflies and damselflies eat small insects like midges and mosquitoes. Garden ponds will attract these beneficial insects when the habitat of ponds and plants nearby provide a place to find food and protection.

Habitat for Dragonflies and Damselflies

Dragonflies and damselflies prefer slow moving streams and lakes. Gardeners can encourage these beneficial insects to live in a backyard garden pond.

Dragonflies and damselflies rely on water throughout their entire life cycle. The larvae are coldblooded and nymphs live underwater from many months to years before emerging as adults. Adults hunt for insects over water and lay the eggs in water or on nearby plants.

Ideally, the pond should be 20 feet in diameter and located away from wind where more than 70 percent of the pond will receive sun, especially at midday. The best pond habitats will be at least two feet deep in the center but provide a variety of depths throughout. The deep water is a refuge from predators and more easily able to grow a variety of plants.

Garden ponds for beneficial insects should not contain water run off polluted with fertilizers. Small space gardeners can use containers the size of wooden half barrels to attract forktailed damselflies. Gardeners should provide the same features and use the surrounding ground around the container to grow more plants. Nymphs, sometimes called juveniles, will crawl up the plant stalks when they emerge. Until tall plants grow, add perching sticks such as bamboo stakes by sinking them in the middle of the pond.

Dragonflies and damselflies will bask on light colored flat rocks, placed at the edge of ponds. Of course, if a gardener wants to encourage breeding populations, add no fish to the pond.

Water plants and native wildflowers surrounding the pond will be used for laying eggs. These areas should not be mowed until later in the season. Choose appropriate plants from native shrubs, perennials and grasses, just as would be done for butterfly or hummingbird gardens.

Native Plants for Garden Ponds

Dragonflies and damselflies use sedges and rushes that rise up above water surfaces, providing a perch for adults. Equisetum hyemele, commonly called horsetail rush, reaches four feet tall and looks like bamboo.

Wildflower grassland planted near the pond will attract small insects, the food of adult dragonflies and damselflies. Grasses, such as switch grass, produce seed for birds and provide cover for insects.

At a pond’s edge plant Cephalanthus occidentalis, buttonbush, a multi-stemmed shrub reaches 12 feet tall. The glossy foliage with white petaled globe shaped flowers grows best in wet soils. Another is Ludwigia, marsh seedbox, for bogs or water gardens, a native with good fall color but invasive in some areas.

Identify Dragonflies and Damselflies

Dragonflies and damselflies are some of the oldest insects, from the order Odenata. Each is considered aquatic insects because of their dependence on water. The adults are carnivorous. Dragonfly bodies are larger. The wings are broader; when resting they spread out at a 180° angle from the body.

Damselflies have a daintier appearance. The smaller wings that taper at the base hug the body when folded back.

Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program

The National Wildlife Federation has a program to assist gardeners in creating sustainable habitats for wildlife in neighborhood communities. Become certified by applying to the Backyard Wildlife Habitat Program.

Judging from the daintier appearance, this is probably a Damselfly. Damselflies have smaller wings that taper at the base and hug the body when folded back. Dragonfly bodies are larger, with broader wings that can spread out at a 180° angle from the body when resting.