If you have a pond on your property and want to create habitat for wildlife, then this article is for you.

There are all kinds of plants and animals that use freshwater environments. In this article we’ll talk about an opportunity to improve freshwater habitats for wildlife through the establishment of vegetation using the method of live staking. January is the best time to establish native shrubs using live stakes, and we are happy to provide site-specific advice for anyone interested in doing this.

The Importance of Vegetation for Wetland Habitats

Plants provide food and shelter for wildlife. In wetland habitats they provide shade, keeping the water cool during the summer and providing places for amphibians to hide from predators. Leaves fall in the water and sink to the bottom where they help build an organic layer for aquatic plants to grow in. The food web starts with plants, which provide food for insects, slugs, snails, birds, and tadpoles. In turn, those species provide food for predators. Getting plants to grow in and around your pond is an essential part of creating habitat for wildlife. Some benefits of functioning wetlands include mosquito control (by providing the right conditions for mosquito predators), erosion reduction, carbon storage, clean water, and wildlife viewing.

Live Staking in January

Live staking is a method for establishing shrubs directly on-site from hardwood cutting. Timing is important for live staking to be successful. Cuttings must be taken when the donor plant is dormant in the winter. We have found early January is the best time of year to start plants from live staking. This is an easy and cost-effective method for native plant propagation, but it only works for some species and in the right place. Wetland loving shrubs staked in places with wet soils are where this technique can be applied with success. There are four native shrubs we recommend as being suitable for live staking: Pacific willow, Hooker’s willow, red-osier dogwood, and pink spiraea.

Biologist Rob Underhill harvests live stakes of Hooker’s willow.

Instructions for Live Staking

Stakes should be about 1 metre in length, and 2-4 centimetres thick. The best stakes are cut from two to three year old vigorous growth, often straight shoots growing quickly from low on the plant. For Pacific willow, Hooker’s willow, and red-osier dogwood, you can often find nice stakes of the desired thickness. The stems of pink spiraea however, only grow about 0.5-1cm thick, so just find the thickest ones possible. Stakes can be cut at a 45⁰ angle at the bottom to help stick them into the ground, and to keep track of which end is the bottom (that’s important). In the case of pink spiraea, push the stakes into the ground as deeply as possible without breaking the thin flexible stems. For the other species, the stakes should be hammered into the soil to half their length or more.

Live stakes should be 2-4cm thick and up to a metre in length. Vigorous two or three year old growth makes ideal stakes.

Site Selection

The four species recommended grow in wet places with seasonal flooding. The location you stick the cutting in in January should be flooded, and ideally the site stays moist all year round. For pond edges, the ideal staking location is between the winter high and summer low water marks. Ponds with low sloping sides are much better for wildlife than ponds with steep sides because they provide a broader range of conditions for different types of plants to grow.

A wetland on Mayne Island with low sloping sides that provides habitat for plants and animals.

Sourcing Live Stakes

Stakes are not available for sale, and there are no public places when you can harvest them on Mayne Island. If you have a wetland site where you want to try live staking, please contact us and we will do our best to help source some stakes for you. Our hope is that with successful restoration of the many man-made ponds on Mayne Island, we will have a robust supply of stakes for future use. In the meantime, local supply is limited, and we are sourcing from a larger wetland site on North Pender Island.

If you have a wetland or wet forest you are interested in restoring or conserving, contact us for a free consultation. You can also check out this recording of an event about wetlands and live staking on Mayne Island, or read more about our local amphibians here.


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