A Guide to Providing Habitat to Attract Dragonflies
All species of dragonfly need access to water. Many species of dragonflies, including the majority of the rarer species, depend on habitats such as lakes, ponds, rivers, streams ditches, marshes and bogs for survival. Dragonfly larvae live underwater from six months to seven years before before emerging to land as an adult dragonfly. As adult dragonflies, they use the water mainly for breeding.
Most dragonflies are particular about the ponds they’ll inhabit. They require shelter, sunlight, unpolluted water, emergent plants and hunting areas. If you’d like to attract dragonflies to your garden, it’s important to understand these requirements and invest the time to provide for them.
If you are attracting dragonflies to control mosquitoes, be sure that you do not also employ bug zappers. They will zap your dragonflies, but they are ineffective for zapping mosquitoes.
Dragonflies are quick to find new water sources, so creating a new pond in your garden may attract dragonflies with fast results. This guide will cover steps to managing your habitat to support a local dragonfly population, and creating a garden pond to attract dragonflies.
Dragonfly Pond Depth and Size
A pond that is ideal dragonfly habitat varies in depth. It should be shallow at the edges and a minimum of two feet deep in the center. Deep water is important for dragonfly nymphs. It offers them a protected place to hide from predators such as raccoons. Having varied depths in your dragonfly pond is also important because it will allow a variety of different vegetation. A pond that is 20 feet in diameter is the size the British Dragonfly Society recommends for attracting dragonflies. Although a 20 foot diameter is ideal, if it is not practical for your yard, you don’t necessarily need a large pond to attract dragonflies. Many people report success in attracting dragonflies by adapting plastic wading pools and wooden half-barrels. Whatever the size of your pond, be sure to locate it where it is protected from wind and will receive midday sun.
If you’d like to build your own dragonfly pond, you can find more information about how to excavate a pond, how to choose a pond liner, and how to install PVC liner for your dragonfly pond by visiting Sage’s Build a Frog Pond guide. If you’re not the building type, you can purchase a pre-made pond or Complete Pond Kit online, or at your local garden center.
Dragonfly Pond Vegetation
Dragonflies are strict carnivores, so neither the nymphs or adults need water plants for food, but underwater plants are a critical requirement for dragonflies. Underwater plants provide dragonfly nymphs with places to rest, places to hunt for food, and places and hide from predatory fish. Water plants that stick up above the water’s surface provide excellent perching places for adults.
Dragonflies don’t rely on specific host plants to nourish their young the way butterflies do, but some species of dragonfly use water plants as nurseries. They insert their eggs into the soft stems of plants. Pond vegetation is also critical for dragonflies because the nymphs crawl up the water plants when they emerge and make the transformation from water creatures to free-flying adult dragonflies.
The plants you surround your pond with are almost as important as the water plants in it. Never mow the border of your dragonfly pond. Let the grasses and rushes grow. Plant some shrubs within a few feet of the water to provide more perching sites. Buttonbush and seedbox are good choices for a dragonfly pond’s edge. Be sure not to disturb any wild habitat when you stock your pond with plants. Many garden shops and catalog suppliers now sell all kinds of plants for water gardens. Look for species that are native to your area.
Since it can take some time for pond plants to get established, you can place some perching sticks in the middle of your pond while you are waiting for your vegetation to grow above the surface of the water. Ordinary bamboo stakes, like the the kind you might use to stake tomato plants, work very well.
Dragonfly Pond Maintenance
Algae is a common problem in newly established ponds. The water often becomes an unsightly green after a few days. While your first instinct may be to drain the pond and start over, this only prolongs the problem. Once a pond is “balanced,” pond algae are usually kept at an acceptable level. A balanced pond is one in which the nutrients are at the appropriate level for the plants present. Excess nutrients and light are needed for algae. Reducing the nutrients and decreasing the amount of light entering the water will help reduce algae. Floating plants or those with broad leaves such as water lilies will help reduce the amount of light available for algae and compete for available nutrients.
Excessive plant growth, especially of free-floating plants, may be a problem. Periodically skim off excess growth of floating plants. Monthly, prune dying plant material. Clean out some of the decaying plant material that has accumulated in the bottom of the pond in the spring. Remember that a natural pond is not a swimming pool and too much cleaning can do more harm than good.
More Tips for Attracting Dragonflies
- Put some flat rocks near your dragonfly pond’s edge and around your garden. Some species are attracted to light-colored rocks, and they like to warm up by basking in the sun on rocks.
- If you want breeding populations of dragonflies in your pond, do not add fish. They will prey on the nymphs and eggs.
- Most dragonflies donÕt use polluted ponds. Make sure you donÕt spray herbicides or fertilizers near or up-wind from your pond. To replace fertilizer, try making your own compost. To learn more about composting, visit our guide, Composting.
- Make sure that less than 30 per cent of your pond is shade covered. Dragonfly larvae are cold blooded, so they need sunlight. Without enough heat, they are inactive and stop breeding, eating or escaping from predators. Adult dragonflies are solar-powered and need to reach a certain temperature before they can fly.
- Provide great hunting ground for your dragonflies by building a small wildflower grassland close to your pond to attract small insects.
Please remember, if you are attracting dragonflies to your backyard to control the mosquito population, be sure that you do not also employ bug zappers. These will zap your dragonflies, but they are ineffective for zapping mosquitoes.
Certify Your Backyard as a Wildlife Sanctuary
After you have followed Sage’s How-to Attract Dragonflies Guide and our other How to Attract Wildlife Guides to providing habitat to attract dragonflies and other wildlife to your backyard, you can certify your backyard as a wildlife sanctuary. As long as you are providing the four basics for habitat specified in the Sage How-to Attract Wildlife Guides, including food, water, shelter and a place to live, you qualify.
Along with a personalized certificate, you will receive a Backyard Wildlife Habitat sign to post in your yard. This sign is a great way to show your neighbors and community that you’re working to attract dragonflies and other wildlife and provide a natural habitat for the animals that visit and live in your yard. Your backyard will also be entered in the National Registry of Backyard Wildlife Habitat Sites.
For an application to certify your backyard as a wildlife sanctuary, please visit the National Wildlife Federation’s Application for Certification.