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Water Gardeners and Businesses Concerned About Invaders

Water Garden

Imagine connecting with earth, water, and air through your own backyard water garden… bright orange fish glide past fuchsia water lilies; Siberian irises dance against a leafy green backdrop of dwarf bamboo.

This fantasy can be yours along with an unfortunate reality – aquatic plants purchased through catalogs, over the Internet, and from nurseries commonly arrive with unexpected company. These can be unrequested species or even invasive species (see “Mail-Ordering Aquatic Plants can be Dangerous” ).

To help prevent water gardens from becoming vectors for aquatic invasive species (AIS) introductions, Minnesota Sea Grant sponsored a research study and outreach project in collaboration with the Minnesota Water Garden Society, the Department of Natural Resources, and the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association.

The research study consisted of surveys of plant purchasers and nursery and landscape businesses in Minnesota during 2004. Results show that the majority of plant purchasers responding are “seriously concerned about the threats posed by AIS,” and that most of the businesses are “willing to provide education about AIS to customers.”

Seventy people responded to the online and print survey of plant purchasers. The questions focused on awareness of aquatic invasive species, the sources of their aquatic plants, gardening practices, and educational opportunities. Although most respondents were unable to correctly identify invasive species of concern in Minnesota:

  • 91 percent were seriously concerned about the threats posed by aquatic invasive species
  • 86 percent were willing to pay more for aquatic plants that were free of hitchhikers
  • 56 percent buy their plants at local retail outlets
  • 7 percent purchase plants or animals over the Internet.

For the business survey, researchers conducted face-to-face interviews with representatives from 37 nursery and landscape design businesses. Results show that:

  • 95 percent were willing to provide education about aquatic invasive species to customers.
  • 75 percent wanted educational materials to train employees about risks and proper protocols for eliminating hitchhiking plants and animals
  • 67 percent detected unintended plants or animals in shipments
  • 57 percent were seriously concerned about AIS
  • 25 percent had a process to prevent customers from receiving unintended plants
  • 15 percent had a process to identify or eliminate hitchhikers in their plant receipts

Responding to these concerns, collaborators developed educational products with the input of focus groups. As a result, this past summer 40 Minnesota businesses received thousands of tip cards, plant sticks, plant tags, and posters. The primary message of these materials – Do Not Release – reached water gardeners without limiting their legal choices or diminishing economic opportunities for nurseries.

Participating nurseries were very positive about the new materials and how they raised the aquatic invasive species awareness of employees and customers. One nursery commented that the materials were particularly “useful during the busy season” when they didn’t have time to discuss AIS issues with customers. Tip cards were the most popular item.

Because two-thirds of the nurseries said they would be willing to purchase aquatic invasive plant information materials for the 2006 growing season, more of the educational materials will be produced this winter. Interested business owners we aren’t already in touch with can contact Barbara Liukkonen to purchase some (liukk001@umn.edu or 612-625-9256).

The materials and their producers (Barbara Liukkonen of Sea Grant and Eleanor Burkett of the University of Minnesota Extension Service) recently received the 2005 Excellence in Educational Materials award from the Minnesota Community and Natural Resources Association.

For PDF versions of the aquatic invasive species materials relevant to water gardens or to download a PowerPoint presentation for water gardeners and Master Gardeners visit: www.seagrant.umn.edu/exotics/ais_wg_materials.html.

Funding for the activities came from a grant to Minnesota Sea Grant from the National Sea Grant College Program for Preventing New Introductions of Invasive Aquatic Plants from Water Gardening and Shoreline Restoration. Project collaborators include: Michigan Sea Grant, the Minnesota Water Garden Society, the Minnesota Nursery and Landscape Association, the Minnesota and Wisconsin Departments of Natural Resources, and landscape and nursery retailers represented by Hedberg Aggregates, Inc.

By Sharon Moen
December 2005

Return to December 2005 Seiche

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