Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Koi: Did you know?

Fancy, different colored carp are called "nishikigoi," which literally means "brocaded carp" in Japanese.

Koi is short for nishikigoi. The story is that the word "koi' was first used by Confucius in 500 B.C. King Shoko, from Ro, gave Confucius a koi as a gift when Confucius' first son was born because carp were considered a symbol of strength.

This seems as good a story as any other.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Building a waterfall

Building a Waterfall

Building a waterfall is either simple or difficult depending on the point of view of the builder. We want them to look natural, like they just started happening in the rocks of our gardens, never mind that we had to buy the rocks because we live where no rock has ever been found like New Orleans where I live.

The easiest way to have a waterfall is to use a weir. A weir is a box that collect water that the pump has pumped into it. One side of the box is lower than the rest and has a lip on it so water will go over it.
These can be effective when building a waterfall. Simply elevate them above your pond, usually positioning them level on the dirt you have dug out to make your pond, put tubing from your pump in the weir.When the weir fills up, a sheet of water will fall over the weir and into your pond. You can hide the weir with rocks so no one can see the plastic box. Also, if you have a biofilter, you can put it in the weir. As an aside, if you do have a biofilter and use lava rocks in it, put them in several mesh bags, not just one. It takes several strong men to lift just one bag out, so use at least three. I usually float some hyacinths or other floating plants in the weir to further camouflage the plastic box.

Another, and my favorite way, is to start with a semi level surface, slightly raised in the back, starting at the same level as your pond. From there build the waterfall using the same kind of rocks you used in your pond construction. Start with large, flat and thin rocks. You can’t build a waterfall with round rocks or little ones either. After you put the first large rock down, run a hose over it to make sure the water flows into the pond. If it does not, shim up the back of the rock. If you don’t start on a slight angle, water will fall off the back and drain your pond dry in a few hours. Next, stack two or three thick and chunky rocks on each end of the bottom rock. Those rocks can be as much as 5 or 6” thick. Make sure they are flat on two sides because you are going to build the rest of your waterfall on top of them. If you have two large flat rocks on the ground level, you need more chunky rocks to rest the second level on.

Next place the second level of flat, thin and large rocks on the chunks. Again run water over to make sure the flow is going in the pond and not over the edge. Continue making levels until you like your waterfall or run out of rocks. Make your waterfall as wide as you wish, remembering that you may need more than one pump.

I have found that the easiest way for me to build the falls is for me to be in the water and have a couple of strong helpers placing rocks for me.

The back of the falls is equally important. Shimming must be done to keep the angle toward the pond and proper placement of rocks is most important to ensure stability of the falls.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Repairing a preformed pond

Usually when a preformed pond springs a leak, it is where the pond has ledges. We tend to step on the ledge when we get in the pond and because we have not seated it properly in the ground (almost an impossibility), it cracks. Now what?
I know of no way to patch a preformed hard plastic pond. I have heard of folks using Bondo, but have not seen it first hand. Because they are impossible to patch and crack so readily, I recommend against using them. If you wish to use a preformed pond, go to a feed store and buy a horse feeding trough. Rubbermaid makes them, they have a flat bottom, no ledges, are virtually indestructible and are much much cheaper than the preformed pond you find at the big box store.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Concrete ponds

I get calls from folks with pond problems. Here's one I got recently. A woman has a concrete pond with a huge crack in it. She hired a local pond professional to repair it and he guaranteed the repair. Neither she nor I know what he did, but he did not fix it. He has been back to try again a few times, but has failed each time. He now wants more money to continue to try. I told her that in my years of experience, you never, ever guarantee the repair of concrete. Most of the time concrete cannot be repaired. Just look at our expressways to see how brittle concrete is.

Our ground is always moving, water comes up and recedes, concrete freezes and thaws. Sadly it is not plastic, it is pretty solid and eventually cracks. The ONLY way I know to repair a crack in a concrete pond and this is definitely not guaranteed is to scrape out the crack, get it clean and dry and then use Plumbers' Epoxy and mash it in the crack. Make absolutely sure you are wearing rubber gloves while using Plumbers' Epoxy or you will be wearing the epoxy for weeks.
Remember this is not guaranteed, but it's the best I know.
And if somebody guarantees a concrete repair, do not believe them. They have not had enough pond experience.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Pond vacuum cleaners

I get letters about pond vacs. There are some that work great, but they are not cheap, nor are they perfect. Most of the letters I receive are asking about a cheap pond vac.

There are vacuum cleaners sold at swimming pool places. They look like large swimming pool blue dinner plates with a large hole in the center and attach to a garden hose. The force from the water going through the garden hose pushes the debris into a net that you have attached to the top of the 'dinner plate'. They will rarely do any good because they are best at removing leaves, etc., not clumped up dead algae. I have tried replacing the commercial net that you get when you by one of these, with an old panty hose leg and it works better, but still not great.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Ponds in a Warm Winter

We had a cold snap a week or so ago and the entire upper half of the US was hammered with snow, ice, high winds and just horrible weather. Here in New Orleans, we had temperatures in the 20's and that is really unusual.
Up north, ponds froze over, fish were at the bottom of the pond in torpor and we all thought winter was here. Wrong. It is now back to the 50's up north, ponds are no longer frozen and fish are swimming around happily.

The big question is "Do we feed our fish?"

I think not. The temps will drop again soon. It is dicey to feed fish when the temps are below 55 degrees anyway. Their digestive systems slow down and they may well have some problems with food. Any left over food will just stay in the water and decompose, thereby fouling the water.

Monday, December 11, 2006

Plant parasites

Pond plants can be infected with so many parasites. And the best way to find them is to get fish or plants from the wild. If you have the courage to walk into the swamps for plants (and I would not), then please take precautions with your plant treasures when you get home. Roots of wild plants can house parasites, fish eggs, snails, crawfish that will create havoc in your pond. If one plant has spider mites of caterpillars, your entire plant collection can become infected.
If you must collect from the wild, quarantine your collected plants for at least a month before introducing them to your pond. I often put a tablespoon of chlorox in the water just to make sure the bad critters are killed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Winter pond days

When the temps are below freezing, or at least were last night, no one is out relaxing and enjoying their pond.
Check your water lily corms that you put in wet sand and then in plastic bags and stored in the garage. If they are mushy, throw them in the compost heap. If they are still firm, all is OK. You will pot them up in the spring. Until then, you can enjoy a picture of them.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

If your pond freezes

You woke up this morning and your pond was iced over. You forgot to throw a semi filled water jug in the pond last night and now you have no hole in the ice through which gases can be exchanged. Do not hit the ice with a hammer. The shock can kill your fish. Get a pot of warm water and set it on the ice. That will thaw the ice. Now go find that jug, put a couple of cups of water in it and put it in your pond, so you can pull it out tomorrow morning.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

In the 20s this morning

Good grief, it's cold for Southern Louisiana. My zinnias bit the dust, my mums are brown. The Louisiana Iris loves this weather and sticks up like the flag it is called in other parts of the world. My cassia is droopy but that's weight, not cold. The snaps, pansies and petunias are happy in their beds covered with a blanket of mulch so just their heads stick out. The pond looks lifeless with no water moving. The fish are at the bottom, not moving at all; it looks like they are barely breathing. But when the water warms they will wake up and be fine.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Here we go again

It's not even 40 degrees outside. And there's a wind, so it feel even colder. The pond is doing fine all by itself. I have removed the pump and tubing. Nothing will cause tubing to crack faster than sun and cold and we have both. One spring task I hate is having to replace cracked and leaking plastic tubing that usually can't be found until the water has been pumped out of the pond. The pump is cleaned and sitting in water in the garage. If a pump is stored dry, the seals are likely to dry out, crack and the pump will never work again. If you are at the beginning of winter, its time to tend to your pump and tubing. If you live in the American Midwest, let the tubing crack and stay inside until it warms up. It is too awful out there to worry about a few bucks worth of plastic tubes.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

It's cold this morning

Ponds are not frozen here, but at 40 degrees outside this morning, I have no desire to be outside tending to one. So today will be pictures of summers gone by.

Sunset in Florida

Sunset at Trail Ridge Road, Rocky Mountain National Park

Friday, December 01, 2006

Winter plants

Now that winter is here, you can liven up your pond with artificial plants until your real ones return in the spring.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Decorating the pond for the holidays

Have a great holiday, no matter which one you celebrate.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

We are still in the 70's here in New Orleans, so we still have water lilies blooming. I stopped feeding a month ago. I hear from the weather forecasters that our summer is coming to an end at the end of the week. Ah well, it has been a month when no heat, nor air conditioning had to be turned on.

Monday, November 27, 2006

just pictures

Water lilies from a pond I built several years ago.

Victoria water lilies at Oxford University in England.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

water lily pics

I thought I would brighten your weekend with water lily pictures I have taken throughout the summer:

Friday, November 24, 2006

Pond Letters

I have a plan for 2 ponds connected by a waterfall on the side of a steep
north facing slope. I have 2 different pond builders bidding on the job,
one uses strictly concrete and one a liner Aquascape system. While clearing
the site of grasses this weekend I noticed a gopher housing project going on
very close to pond site. Should I not even consider using a liner? Will
the rocks that completely cover the liner and weight of the water be enough?
Or could we line it with carpet or wire? I am learning a lot but didn't see
much about the darn rodents!


When I built our pond (3 yrs. ago-3,000 gal.) I put lots of chicken wire down
first, and then old carpet before I put the heavy duty liner inside. I
haven't had any problems with gophers or leaks :)

We have no gophers (that I know of) here in New Orleans, but the chicken
wire sounds good. Just a note of caution, though. The Aquascapes system does
not build the pond above grade and the rocks are a PITA when pond cleaning
time comes every year. Unless you are under a tree, you do not need a
skimmer and most probably don't need a biofilter either. Don't let them sell
you (for a great deal of $$) things you don't need. Concrete is most always
a bad idea because it isn't elastic, won't move with the ever moving ground
and will crack at some time, always sooner rather than later.

Gopher removal:

Unless you intend to tame the gophers, (burrowing North American RODENT according to definition in the dictionary) I think you should first check with Wildlife Commission to see if (1) you have rights to move them to a more suited environment, (2) if they are prone to mark their territory and return, (3) have the Animal Resque League (police) trap & move them to a m
Jore fitting area.

As far as construction of your pond, CONCRETE DOESN'T HOLD WATER! So, if this guy/gal doesn't tell you it will be painted with Elastomeric to wet seal, then two coats of Ramuc (black/blue/white) to fish proof..........RUN!

AquaScape Design doesn't work in Mississippi (differing opinion from manufacturers & some designers not in my area) without the addition of special blends of bacteria (8 or more strains targetting string algae). I also prefer UV lights (some like the natural approach/not me/too busy to mess with) to keep water crystal clear & as healthy as it can be. Add Magnitizer (RED one) to target string algae, with right formula of fish & plants. Also, N E V E R plant your vegetation in a rock bottom pond!!!

Weight of water and stones will not hold down liner if trouble comes.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

roofing material as pond liner

I had an inquiry about using roofing material as a pond liner. I looked it up online and found the following from a manufacturer of roofing material. I guess we can't get a better answer than this:

There is a difference in Pond Liner EPDM and roof grade EPDM.

Most roof grade EPDM is chemically compounded to be specifically used in roofing installations. Part of the mixing and compounding process usually includes the use of additives such as anti bacterial and anti fungicide agents that will prevent mold, mildew, fungus and other such growths from happening on a roof top. These are additives that the pondkeeper would prefer NOT to have in their pond liner, particularly in order to maintain the health and proper balance of the pond life.

EPDM Pond liners are proven fish friendly, and is a membrane which has no anti bacterial or anti fungicide additives used in the manufacturing process. In addition EPDM Pond Liners are practically talc FREE. Thus providing an enhanced performance of the sheet as a 100% secure and healthy habitat for all of your pond life.

If you are a roofing contractor and use roofing EPDM, then buy Roof Grade EPDM with all of the additives. If you need Pond Liner EPDM and would like to maintain a healthy pond environment, then buy an EPDM Pond Liner!

Remember, American Wholesale Supply Company (AWSC) wants your business and we will show you the best products, services and pricing on the net!

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Cheap pumps

Lots of us want to buy cheap pumps from a big box store. While they usually perform as expected, they don't perform as long as more expensive ones. Worse than that, they cost much more per month to operate. The more expensive the pump, normally, the cheaper the operating costs.

Electric costs are easy to compute. I am often asked how much it costs to run a submersible pump and if there is a difference between brands. I will use the example of a 100 watt light bulb and a utility cost of $0.08 per KWH. A KWH is a kilowatt-hour or, 1,000 watts used for 1 hour. A 100 watt light - .1 kilowatt or .1 KWH = less that 1 cent per hour.

• Find the actual wattage used by the motor. (If the actual amp draw is not available, estimate by using the full load amps plate.)

• Watts = volts x amps for single phase motors. The light bulb has an amp draw of 8.7 x 115 volts = 100 watts.

• Compute your cost per month by multiplying the KWH x 24 (hours used per day) x 30 (days used per month) x cost in KWH (to find the actual cost look at your last power bill and divide the total power charges byt KWH used).

Monday, November 20, 2006

Liner questions

Question: Can I use a cheaper liner than EPDM?

Pondlady sez:

The biggest enemy for any liner is the sun. I have never found a liner that does not crack and break after a season or two except EPDM. Replacing a liner is harder than building the pond the first time.
I have seen ponds done with kiddie pools and yes, they work just fine untl they crack. The preformed ponds that you can buy at big box stores crack just as fast. If you must use a preformed pond, buy a horse drinking trough. Usually they are made by Rubbermaid and last forever. I had one buried in the ground when Katrina hit, left it there for a year. When I retrieved it, it was fine. I now have in my new front yard.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Pond without rocks?

You can build a pond outdoors using no rocks at all. Use landscape timbers and stack them 18" high in any shape from a square to a rectangle to any other geometric shape. Use 16 penny nails to nail the timbers together. Line the inside with roofing felt as a cushion for you liner. Drop your 45 mil liner in, fill the pond with water. The liner is now sticking over the edge a few inches. Use a 1 x 4 to finish the top. You can use a 1 x 6 if you want to use it for a shelf for plants or rocks. If you want a waterfall, put one in one of the corners or build one in the middle. Looks great and is much cheaper than using rocks.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Make a tabletop pond

Building a tabletop fountain or pond is easy. First find a pretty pot. I usually use a ceramic one. Make sure it has no holes in the bottom. The easiest way to get a bubbling noise is to put a tiny pump in the bottom, fill the pot with round pebbles and turn on the pump.

If you wish to be a bit more elaborate, you can omit the rocks, put a couple of indoor plants like spaths or pothos in there, find some pretty larger flat rocks to cover the tops of the pots in the water, and then put a pump in. Make it as elaborate or simple as you wish. Plants around the pot make a beautiful backdrop for your indoor pond. If you wish to put a goldfish in it, be sure to include aquarium filtration and feed your fish, but sparingly. You will need to exchange the water occasionally so don't make it so large that you cannot easily manage to carry it.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Perennial of the year

Nepeta or catmint was just named perennial of the year. It's a member of the mint family and grows everywhere. There are lavender blue ones that are a great substitute for lavender plants that hate our summer heat and bad drainage. It has great grey green foliage and sprawls. Because of that sprawling habit, it's a great plant for next to the pond. It will drape over and look great.
It will also attract every cat within 10 miles. Use at your own risk.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Formal ponds

This is a huge formal pond in a courtyard of Trinity Episcopal Church in New Orleans. I did not build it but took care of it for years. One of the particular problems with this pond was the lime leaching out of the concrete. It was improperly sealed and the pot at the top had so much lime in it, there were calcium deposits on it that had to be removed yearly. It looked like it had the chicken pox. Since the pond was always planted and in use for ceremonies, I could not have it emptied and sealed although that would have been the best way to deal with the problems. I hauled a gallon of vinegar with me and poured it in the water weekly. That kept the plants alive and looking great. Of course the courtyard always smelled like a Caesar Salad.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

planting the rest of the garden

After you have built your pond, you usually want to tie the rest of your garden into your new room. You can use the same rocks that you used in the pond to make paths to other rooms, or out the gate. Soon your entire garden is a park.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Pond water layers in winter

In the cold of winter, you will notice your fish stay near the bottom of the pond. Why? Because the water is warmer and denser there. As temperatures fall, the water forms layers of water with the warmest layer at the bottom. With each temperature drop, a new colder layer is formed, but the bottom layer stays warmest.
The layering of the water helps the fish stay healthy, helps them absorb oxygen.
All of this assumes your pond is built below your frost line: That's the depth your soil or water freezes solid.

So do not keep your pumps running during the winter. It can kill your fish.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

bamboo and bananas

Down here in the subtropics of New Orleans, we love to plant banana trees and we love to plant bamboo. There are red dwarf bananas, medium sized bananas and the huge ones that produce fruits you can pick and eat. Each and every one of them is invasive and you will soon have banana trees sprouting all over your yard and your neighbor's. If you plant bananas close enough to your pond, they will sprout up through your liner. I have seen them come up through 45 mil EPDM liner, so beware of bananas.

Bamboo comes in hundreds of different kinds and is beautiful. We love bamboo as much as we love banana trees. There are clumping and non clumping kinds of bamboo. Each is invasive. The difference is that the non clumping kinds will take a little longer to send a shoot up through your liner. And bamboo is much harder to get out of your yard, neighbors yard and for that matter, your neighborhood, than bananas. Bamboo is persistent and must be watched daily for new shoots and that's hard to do when the only way you can see a new shoot is when it has popped its little head through your brand new liner. The way to contain bamboo is to surround the plant with metal that is three feet deep and completely surrounds the root system. That's a mighty deep hole to dig.

So CAUTION! Do not plant either of these plants near your pond or you might be patching your liner.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Sacred Pond

This is the largest pond I ever built. It is on the grounds of American Aquatic Gardens in New Orleans and is now called "The Sacred Pond." It has changed over the 15 years it has been there. The planting is huge now and has changed the look of the watefall. The pond and most of the plants survived Katrina.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Baby Goldfish in Winter

Generally speaking, baby fish will survive a winter in the pond if they are an 1 1/2 inches long or longer. Most of the time they are still blackish, grayish, brown, so you can't find them if you are trying to catch them to bring inside. Next spring they will be orange and you will think they magically appeared during the winter.
Just make sure there is a hole in the ice so toxic gases can escape and oxygen can get in.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Building a rain garden

What on earth is a rain garden? It's a garden supported completely by rain. It can be nothing more than a garden of native plants in a shallow low spot in your garden, or it can be huge terraced areas in cities to catch and retain storm water rather than sending it straight down a storm drain to pollute our drinking water even more.
Use rain water to top off your pond after filtering it through gardens in the yard.

Oh, and a rain garden makes a great addition to the beauty of your garden.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Birds need a drink

Turtles sunning themselves in the Big Branch Wildlife Reserve in Lacombe, Louisiana.

Another great way to give birds a drink in the winter is to pound a nail in the bottom of a bucket or pail. Put a small rope or short piece of cotton in the hole to act as a wick. Fill the bucket up with water and hang it over a tree branch. You might want to hang the bucket up first before you fill it with water. Fill the bucket daily.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Ponds, birds, butterflies

As soon as water is in your pond, you will start noticing birds, butterflies and dragonflies arriving to check out the new resort in the neighborhood. Dragonflies are usually first and will be buzzing your head as you build the waterfall. When you begin planting in and around your pond, the butterflies arrive. Give birds a special place to have a bath and a drink. Make one end of the pond very shallow, about 3 to 5" deep and turn it into a bog garden. You can put rocks there for bird perching and maybe some smaller pebbles for tiny bird feet to stand on while bathing or drinking. If you put plants in the pebbles, your bird resort and pond garden will also act as a filter for your pond. The birds will flock (pardon the pun) to your yard. If you put feed out in the winter, you will make your feathered guests even happier. Make sure the bog area does not freeze. You can do this by using a de-icer.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

swamp photos

The Buckeye butterflies were playing on the wild ageratum in the Big Branch Wildlife Preserve over the weekend.

A monarch attracted to the wild ageratum

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

More pond questions

Is it ok to leave the water fall on during the winter MOS.? My husband thinks that if it freezes, the rocks around the fall will break, I'm pretty sure that we left on last winter and it did ok.

Pond lady sez:
It can be dangerous in many ways to leave the waterfall running. The pump churns up warm water from the bottom and the fish are hibernating there. That can kill your fish.

If you have any ice/freezing, you can greatly shorten the life of your pump.

Reply from yesterday's questioner re water level dropping:

Found the leak. It's behind the water fall, can't get to it. Know we'll have to wait until the Spring, I'll just keep adding water to it.
Thank You

Monday, October 30, 2006

Pond Questions


Got a question, my skimmer box keeps emptying out by itself. Is it supposed to do that?, I have noticed that lately. It never did that before, until after I cleaned the pond back in June.
Thank you.

Pondlady sez:

First of all, turn off the pump, fill up the pond and let it sit for a day. If the water stays at the same level, you have water escaping somewhere.

Turn the pump back on. Check to see if there is a tiny dripping off the waterfall. You are losing water somewhere and that's the most likely place.

Maybe your pond has settled and the water is going over the side? This does happen over the years.

Or you could have a small liner leak....very rare, but possible.

To find out what is happening, either remove the pump from the skimmer box and put it in the pond. Run it without water going through the skimmer. If it works without losing water that way, you probably have a leak in the seal where your skimmer is attached to your liner. That happens often.

If you don't want to remove the pump from the skimmer, use another pump in the pond. Turn the one in the skimmer off and run the other one. If you don't lose water, you know the problem is with the skimmer.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Using Pots in the Garden

You can use most any container for plants in the garden. For me the key is using different heights of plants or pots. The great thing about pots is that they can be moved until you are pleased with the effect. It's just like moving furniture.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Overwintering Tropical Water lilies

To those of us who live in the Southern part of the US, winter rarely arrives and overwintering water lilies is far from our thoughts this early in the year. Even when we do think of it our choices are two: Hope that we do not have a hard freeze and most of the time we don't, or even if we do, chances are it will not last long enough that the tropical water lilies will be lost. And even if they are, chances are a neighbor's won't be, so we can get a start. I know, I know, we are lucky, BUT you are not having to wonder how you will make it through one more day of the intense heat that August heaps on us, while knowing that September is just another name for August and October is more of the same.

So to you who have to concern yourselves with freezing weather, here are some tips for overwintering those expensive tropical lilies.

First of all stop feeding them about 6 weeks before the first frost. You have already stopped, right? Even here in New Orleans, I recommend ceasing feeding in October so the lilies will be dormant for the colder months. If we continue to feed them, chances are we will lose them even in a mild freeze because the tender new growth will be damaged.

One way to overwinter lilies is to drop the pot to the deepest part of the pond, remove the leaves and just forget them until spring. In the spring, remove them from the pond. If the corms are mushy throw them away. There should be many corms in the pot, so you will not lose your lily. Just pot up non mushy corms. Pot them up, put them back in the water and start feeding when the leaves reach the top of the water.

This method works about half of the time.

As the days shorten and the weather cools, the leaves will become smaller and smaller, turn yellow and die. When the leaves are gone or almost gone, remove it from the pond. Take it out of its pot and rinse off the soil. There will be tubers all through the soil, among and beneath the roots. They will be about the size of walnuts, hard and dark brown. If they are mushy discard them. Cut or break them apart...usually you can do this with your fingers, and put them in a warm place to dry. Let the dry for a few days.

Then get some play sand or builder's sand, dampen it and fill a resealable plastic bag with sand about halfway. Put the corm in and fill the bag the rest of the way. One corm per bag, please. If you label the bags, you will remember what they are. Seal them and store in a cool, dark place where the temperatures are between 50 and 55 degrees. When spring arrives, pot them up and feed when the leaves reach the top of the water.

This method will work about half the time.

The surest way to overwinter water liles is to buy hardy varieties. Their flowers do not shoot above the water like the tropicals and the colors will not be quite as dramatic, but they will overwinter anywhere.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Planting in SW Florida

A guest writer today, Michael Spencer ASLA, MSA Design, Inc

Regarding plant material that works in SW Florida, there are several good sources of information. Don't ever buy materials from Home Depot/ Lowes unless you know the material; while I frequently buy new plants there, I am careful about the natural ranges. These stores buy in bulk for the Southern part of the state, and material that works in Orlando [Azaleas, for example] will not work in Naples.

The best thing by far is to develop a relationship with a knowledgeable local person. This can be a neighbor or even a sales person at Lowe's, if you find the right one.

There are also books at Barnes and Noble that can help. Look for books by Pamela Crawford, Robert Haehle, or Gil Nelson.

There is also daves
for some advice, but again screen the advice.

By far the most important thing is to understand your soil conditions and amend as needed. Really. Don't waste money on plants until you have tested the soil; this is free at the Extension offices in Collier, Lee, and every other county in the country. We have an alkaline soil, mostly, that is very low in organic matter. You should amend the soil to 18" deep in the areas around the pond where you want rich plantings. Don't skimp on this. Period.

Don't make the mistake of thinking that if it is native it just works. This is not true, especially in the kinds of visual gardens that we want around our homes and around our pools.

DO prepare a plan. You need this before you buy your materials. When you do your planting plan, you do NOT need to know the plants you want to use [yet]. You draw your plant and you indicate where you need bed lines, where you want a small plant with blue flowers, where you want a big juicy tropical plant, etc; in short, a conceptual plan helps you frame the design. Then you can look for specific materials that match your concepts. Perhaps you want to use Philodendron, or Alpinia, as your tropical accent, for example. Once you start naming plants, the choices for adjacent plants can be made in terms of size or color or textural contrast. It starts to fit together like a glove. After you know your materials you can shop for the best prices.

Do not think about planting without irrigation in southwest Florida. And do not think that an irrigation system is necessarily 'anti-xeric'; it is assuredly not. A properly design irrigation system will give you a rich garden with the minimum amount of water usage.

Be aware of micro-climates and sun patterns. Our sun here is brutal beyond belief so be sure you understand it.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Newstead Abbey pond

The gardens at Newstead Abbey in England, where Byron wrote are some 400 years old and incredibly beautiful even in October when this picture was taken. The ponds and streams were incorporated into the garden seamlessly. In America, we only began taking our ponds seriously within the past 25 years. I think that the idea of ponds for decoration started in China about 700 AD when emperors began keeping goldfish as pets. Now we can all have as many goldfish as we wish, royal or not. And if we continue to garden, ours will become 400 years of beauty as well.

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Decorating the pond

Have you ever thought about decorating your pond for the holidays. You can put a cinder block that you have spray painted black in the water and put a scarecrow or a witch or a pumpkin on it. You could change the decorations for each upcoming holiday. Use rope lights in the plantings around your pond.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Pond spitters

The spitter in the pond is a great way to get water sound with a small pump, thus saving electricity costs. The small pump used to power the spitter uses much less than the larger waterfall pump. The downside is that a wind can blow the water out of the pond and your pump can be dry in a couple of hours. If there is a strong wind blowing, just unplug your pump.

Monday, October 23, 2006

To build a waterfall

Yesterday I spoke of building two separate ponds rather than try to build a multi-level pond. This picture is an example of a multi-level pond, not separate ponds. I had a hill to build on, which is uncommon in South Louisiana, so I could easily make different waterfall levels. But I did find with these falls, about 10' tall altogether, that to make a dramatic sound, I had to use a separate pump in each level pumping water up to the next level and back down in the same never ending circle we are used to.
By the way, I had to stand on one group of rock to build the higher one. You know I had to have confidence in my building abilities.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Two level pond

We had a small space to work in, very small. In order to add interest to our small space, we built a two level pond. But look closely. It is not two levels, it is two separate ponds, each with its own pump and tiny waterfall. Two level ponds are difficult to build as each pond must hold water at exactly the same level. When you lower one spot, even a little, you may be able to see liner. If the two level pond is not done exactly right, the bottom can pump the top dry, water will spill over the bottom and you can have a real mess on your hands. If you are inexperienced in pond building, do two separate ponds and no one will ever know.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

Pond in a Sugar Kettle

Here in Louisiana we grow sugar cane. In long ago days, the sugar was extracted by hand and the resulting liquid was put into kettles, sometimes as large as 8 feet across. Horses or people then walked round and round the kettle pulling or pulling a large mixer to turn the sugar into syrup. Since this method is no longer used, we have many huge cast iron kettles around. Some people have turned them into ponds. Gotta be one of the great recycling ideas. It is so popular that you can now buy fiberglass 'sugar kettles' and have a pond that you can move and care for easily.

Friday, October 20, 2006

Pond letters

Dear Jan,

I just started digging out a spot for my water garden.
I got it about a foot deep before it started to rain.
It has since filled with rain water, about 10 in deep.
it's been almost two days and it still has 4 in of water in it. I was planning on using an epdm liner, Do i need to put a drainage system under my pond, so the rain water doesn't lift it out of the ground?

ps can goldfish live in a mud hole?

Pondlady sez:
Goldfish can probably live in most any water. I know that there were goldfish in my abandoned pond post Katrina that lived there for over a year with hardly any water in the pond, no pump, but much anacharis. But I would not recommend keeping goldfish in a mudhole or in an abandoned pond.

It sounds like you are near sea level, so I would not put a drain in because ground water will come up through the drain.
Be sure to make your pond at least 4" above grade so the ground water will be pushed down and stay where it belongs.

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Please, please keep a bottle of dechlor on hand. If you never need it, that's wonderful, but here's why you need it. You turn the water on to top off your pond. It's going to take a bit of time, so you decide to fold the laundry while you are waiting. The phone rings. You chat with your friend for a few minutes. Then you remember you have to get some bill payments in the mail, so you hop in the car to drop them off at the post office. While you are out, you decide to pick up a few things at the grocery store and pick up the dry cleaning. In the cleaners, you talk with the clerk about the weather for a few minutes, get back in your car and see you need gas, so you stop to fill up the tank. You get home and for the life of you, you can't figure out why the driveway is flooded.
Suddenly it dawns on you. You rush to turn off the water and see your fish lying at the bottom of the pond not moving. If you have dechlor in the house, you can probably save those fish.
Whew, aren't you glad you have some?

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Pond Pump Killers

The pond pump uses an impeller, a small reverse propeller, to take in water. If a pump burns out, most of the time, it is the impeller that gets clogged, makes the pump work too hard and burns it up. Most pumps have a safety mechanism built into them that shuts the pump off when it gets too hot and lets it run again when it cools off. So if you notice your pump working intemittently, know you have a problem. UNPLUG the pump and check your impeller immediately. It is usually on the bottom behind a screen that you can easily detach. Chances are you will find gunk in there. It may be too late to save the pump, but it is worth a try. Wash the pump with a strong hose stream from the outgo end. That will help get the junk loose. If you can't get to the impeller with your hand, use a screwdriver to start it moving again, much like you use a broom handle in your garbage disposal.

To keep junk out of the impeller, protect it with a pump prefilter and clean it often.
Most pumps come with a prefilter, often a small cylinder filled with foam rubber that screws on the impeller end of the pump, other times, the pump will arrive already in a box of foam rubber. Pondmaster pumps, a favorite of mine, arrive complete with a black box and layers of prefilter material.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Pond pumps

We rarely consider utility pumps as pond hobbyists, but I think it is useful to know they exist and wen to use them. When I was actually doing field work, I used to clean 200+ ponds yearly. To get this done quickly and efficiently, I used a bright blue, squatty Little Giant pump

These pumps have a cast iron housing and will suck up solids up to 2" in diameter and at 4000 or so gph, they can empty a pond in short order. You must be careful or they will suck in fish. I would never use them as a regular pond pump because they use much electricity, but for pond cleanouts. Nothing can beat them. They are tough, and reliable but really heavy.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Around the pond

My pond is built, now what? Until we landscape around the pond we have nothing but a rock pile. I try to use soft plants, plants that mound up and trail over, often into the water.

There certainly are no set-in-stone rules about what to plant around the pond. For low maintenance and to keep the raccoons out, use asparagus fern. For a tropical feel, use Russellia, variegated ginger, giant bird of paradise. For an Asian feel, use juniper prostrata and an ornamental grass like purple fountain grass. If you are in the shade use ferns. If you love the ferny look but are in sun, use dill, yarrow, and other herbs. Ornamental potato vine works well in sun or shade, so does bleeding heart vine. Let it trail over the waterfall.

Cannas can work in the water and out for a great broadleaf look. Louisiana Iris can also work in and out for a strap leaf addition.

The picture above shows how many plants work around the pond. This was my pond in New Orleans after a very long time of no maintenance. Somewhere back in there, a water flows.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Above ground ponds

I built this pond at the end of a driveway in front of the back porch. I talked for a long time to convince the client not to build a pond on the driveway, but could not talk her out of it. So on the driveway, it went. I used cinder blocks for a strong wall, dropped the roofing felt in it and then the liner. After filling it with water, I started covering up the cinder blocks with Arkansas Moss Rock. For what it is, it turned out OK. I put lots of soil in between the rocks, so I could tuck plants in there.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

It's getting cold!

Even down here in New Orleans, it's getting chilly. Mornings are down in the 50's and afternoons are reaching the 80's. I know that sounds warm to you Northerners, but we know that winter is coming, or for some of you, it's here. Time to stop feeding your fish or maybe you already have.
Some of you take your goldfish and koi inside for the winter. If you do, make sure you have adequate filtration and aeration in your inside tank. And just as important make sure it is large enough for all those fish. Don't forget that the fish, because they are most likely in a smaller amount of water, need to have the filter cleaned more often than when they were outside I doubt you have a tank the size of your outside pond in your house, so be sure to keep that filter clean. And never, never turn the pump off. Fish are oxygen breathers just like we are, so make sure they have enough to breathe. If you see fish gasping for air at the top of your inside tank, they are not getting proper aeration. If your power goes out, you must make sure the fish tank water is moved sufficiently to keep oxygen dissolved in it. Just think, if your house heating system goes out because of loss of power, you can keep warm squeezing the turkey baster in the water until the power returns.

Friday, October 13, 2006

More about pumps

There are so many kinds of pumps for the pond: Electric motor driven, magnetic drives, solar driven. There are submersible pumps; we use them most often, but sometimes the same pump can use used out of the water. It's called an in-line pump.

They all do the same thing. An impeller (sort of a propeller in reverse) sucks water in one end and blow it out the other. We use them to power our waterfalls, make our spitters or fountains work or just aerate the pond. In terms of expense, motor driven is most expensive, usually costing about a buck a day to run 24 hours, mag drive a bit less and solar, of course, costs nothing. The solar technology is just now coming into its own, so those pumps would be my choice. Oase is making a line of solar pumps that has a 2 year warranty, a year more than most pumps

I will try one next time I need a pump.

Remember, you can always click the title of the blog post to get to my web site.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

How much does it cost to run a pump?

Electric costs are easy to compute. I am often asked how much it costs to run a submersible pump and if there is a difference between brands. I will use the example of a 100 watt light bulb and a utility cost of $0.08 per KWH. A KWH is a kilowatt-hour or, 1,000 watts used for 1 hour. A 100 watt light - .1 kilowatt or .1 KWH = less that 1 cent per hour.

• Find the actual wattage used by the motor. (If the actual amp draw is not available, estimate by using the full load amps plate.)

• Watts = volts x amps for single phase motors. The light bulb has an amp draw of 8.7 x 115 volts = 100 watts.

• Compute your cost per month by multiplying the KWH x 24 (hours used per day) x 30 (days used per month) x cost in KWH (to find the actual cost look at your last power bill and divide the total power charges byt KWH used).

Generally mag drive pumps

are cheaper to run and of course, solar pumps

cost nothing at all.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Pond electricity

If you have a



in and around your pond, you must connect your cords into a GFI outlet. Some folks call it a GFCI. It is a Ground Fault Interrupter and has the capacity to cut off power instantly if it gets wet. If you are in the water or holding the cord when water comes in contact with electricity, you will realize the GFI was the best thing you had installed. Most construction codes call for them, but oftimes outside outlets do not have them. And in older homes, you won't find them either. If the GFI happens to get wet accidently, you must push the red button on the outlet to reset it. Have your electrician install them whenever water is near. You won't regret it. Water and electricity don't mix. Ever!

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Cooling down

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting
For the past three days, I have awakened to cooler weather. Don't tell me fall has finally arrived in New Orleans. Now we are forced to do the fall pond tasks we have been putting off. Clean that pump filter; it needs it. Cut back those plants before the water is so cold you can't stand to put your hands in it. Use a net to get the debris out of the bottom. Leaves are turning color now and will fall into the pond in a few days. Put netting or some other cover over the pond to catch them. It's easier than getting them out of the water later.

Here are some great tools to help you get those jobs done


Monday, October 09, 2006

A quick fish note

Fish can get sunburned. Don't let that happen by providing shade for them to hide under. It also is cooler in the summer and gives the fish a place to hide when predators arrive.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Fall color

Here in the South, if we are lucky enough to survive the summers, we can have color in our gardens and around our ponds throughout the fall and winter. I like to use snapdragons and petunias. Pansies are great as well for reliable and exciting color throughout the winter. Don't forget, pansies love blood meal. Put about a teaspoonful in each hole before you put the plant in. If we want to take a chance on no freezes during the winter, and that's a fairly safe bet in these days of global warming, we can take a chance on pentas, impatiens and begonias.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Overwintering Pond Plants

Here in South Louisiana we don't have to do much to our aquatic plants in the winter. When they start looking ratty, I cut them back to just above the water line. If you live where it freezes, do the same thing. They will return in the spring, happy and healthy. Water lilies are different, of course. If you live up north and have hardy lilies, remove the leaves and make sure the lily does not freeze solid. I would do that by dropping the lily to the very bottom of the pod. It will come back in May or June.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Finding pond leaks

Sometimes liners do get punctured. Raccoons can leave holes behind after their nocturnal dinners out. Sometimes statues fall in the pond and can puncture the liner. Around here Katrina shoved trees through liners, but they were easy to find. Other times, it's just a good old fashioned mystery.

A friend told me that he finds leaks in swimming pools by slowly pouring in fine sand and watching where it goes.
I would definitely try that if you have decided that you have no waterfall leaks, no tubes or connections are leaking, or your skimmer, if you have one, is not leaking at the liner penetration. It is indeed a great idea if you live where you are not below sea level. Pouring food coloring or a bit of milk in will do the same thing.

Here in New Orleans, we are below sea level, so we rarely lose water from a liner leak. If we have a liner puncture, we have to find where the ground water is seeping in, not where pond water is seeping out! Here's how I do it. I empty the pond. Totally. I have been known to take a hair dryer so I could dry the liner completely. Now look around. If there is water coming in, you have found your leak. If you stilll cannot find it, put the garden hose under the liner and turn the water on. Watch until you see water coming up through the liner. Aha, there's the leak.

Leaks are easily patched with a sticky tape that is much like the stuff you use to patch a tire. You can usually find it in big box stores.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

All ponds settle

Probably the biggest problem I ran into while building ponds was water leakage. What pond builders, whether professional or do it yourselfers, fail to realize is that ALL ponds settle. How much depends on where in the world you live. Here in New Orleans I have seen ponds settle as much as 15" over several years because we live in a swamp. When you are building your pond, elevate the sides as much as possible so the inevitable settling does not cause major problems any time soon.
One of the earliest problems with pond settling is water leaking off the back or sides of the waterfall. If your water level drops quickly and for no known reason, turn off your waterfall and fill up your pond. If the water level has not dropped the next morning, you know water is leaking from your waterfall. Usually it is a simple matter to find the miscreant rock and straighten it out. Even if you do have to call someone to move rocks around, you have saved yourself some money by troubleshooting the first part of the problem.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Pond color in the fall and winter

Sunset in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

I am starting to plan my fall garden, while most of you are weeding and mulching, getting ready for a long winter. We rarely have freezes here in New Orleans, so we don't have to plan for that. We just put different plants in the ground.
For you lucky southerners, here's how to put color in your pond in the winter when the water lilies are dormant. Put a painted cinder block in your pond. (I use one painted black so it doesn't show.) Put together a color pot of pansies and snaps or petunias and snaps and put it on top of the cinder block so the bottom of the pot is not or is just a half inch or so in the water. The cinder block should be level with the top of the water or just barely under it. You can leave the pot in the pond or you can change it out to suit you. I put in chrysanthamums now and poinsettias for December. I will do 3 - 5 color pots to make the pond really pop.

Just because the season is drab does not mean the pond has to be.

Monday, October 02, 2006

The Fall Pond

Sunset in Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

The pond in autumn is such a beautiful part of the garden. It shows us, even if we live in the South that the seasons are changing, the plants are reacting to longer nights and shorter days. The new water lily leaves are getting smaller and smaller and there are fewer of them. The fish spend more time at the bottom of the pond just floating there getting ready for winter and their long sleep. Everything tells us that the garden wants rest now and aside from cleaning out pond debris, our maintenance is nearly non-existent.

If your pond is under a tree and leaves are falling, you must remove them before winter sets in completely. They will decompose; the toxins will build up under the ice and kill the fish. Some people put a net over the pond to keep the leaves out. Do not throw visqueen over it because that shuts off oxygen to the fish.

Friday, September 08, 2006

A fish out of water

When it is cold outside, we often need to net just one fish out of the water and no matter how hard we try we can't do it. We often end up cold and wet and covered with pond scum because we tried so hard to reach just a little bit farther. Why on earth would we need to know how to get fish out of the pond? Sometimes fish have some sort of disease and treating the entire pond is almost impossible, but treating a few sick fish is economically feasible.

Pour warm water into one end of the pond. The fish will come toward the warm water and right into the net you have conveniently placed there.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Pump use


I have heard that a pump will keep the water clear. How big should my pump be? Must it run all the time?

Pondlady sez:

A pump will never keep the water clear. A pump moves water and provides oxygen for the fish if you feed them and the pond is overpopulated. If you have a natural ecosystem there will be no overpopulation and therefore you will not need any pump if you don't wish to have one. Most folks like them because we all like the sound of moving water and waterfalls.

You ned a pump that circulates all the water once per hour. Most people run the pump all the time, but it is not necessary at all. You can run the pump on a timer or when you are outside to enjoy your waterfall.

No pump has to be turned on all the time unless you feed your fish or have koi.

And if you live in a climate where you have freezing weather, turn the pump off in the winter. Most pumps do not function well in freezing water. If you are worried about your pond freezing over, throw an empty plastic gallon jug or several in the water during the freezing weather. In the morning, remove the jug and there will be a hole in the ice so gases can move freely during the day. Be sure to put that jug back in the water when the freezing weather returns at night.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

More aquatic plants

I want to spend more time with submerged plants. They are the engine that makes the pond run properly. After submerged plants, I will talk about floating plants, marginals and emergents.

Submerged aquatics generally grow completely submerged. They are sometimes rooted in the pond bottom and sometimes float freely.

This is the anacharis or elodea we talked about yesterday. It is the most popular and widely used. It is invasive, but not as bad as hydrilla.

This is hydrilla, another underwater grass.

They look much alike, but if hydrilla is allowed loose in any fresh water anywhere, it will become a nuisance that will have to be dealt with by governmental authorities. If you see any anywhere for sale, please do not buy it.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006


We talk about needing submerged vegetation in almost every post, so let's see what it looks like:

Elodea canadensis, sometimes called Anacharis (a former scientific name) is widely known as the generic pond submerged vegetation.

In Louisiana we use primarily anacharis for our submerged vegetation. It filters the water, it survives on fish waste and it serves as fish food. Anacharis is the reason we do not need to feed our fish and the reason the water stays clear with no artificial filtration.

Elodea (anacharis) is native to North America and is banned in some states because of it's invasiveness.

The American anacharis lives entirely underwater with the exception of small white flowers which bloom at the surface and and look like somebody threw popcorn all over your pond.

It likes to have some shade and will turn yellow and die when in complete sun.

Please use anacharis responsibly. When you have too much, just compost it, do not throw it in any nearby body of water.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Enlarging your pond

One pond regret most people have is they made their first pond too small. So they now want a bigger one.

If you must make the pond bigger, get a new liner. Don't try buying another piece of liner and attaching it to the first piece. You cannot seam a liner successfully in the field. You just can't, so don't get frustrated AND lose money by trying. My method of dealing with the client who wants a larger pond after building the first one is to install a second pond abutting it with a rock wall between the two. I reinforce the walls with 28 or thicker 14” roofing flashing staked up with 1/2” PVC pipe. Doing that insures no collapse of the dividing pond side. Each pond has it’s own pump, it’s own liner, plants, fish etc. Our eyes are fooled because it looks as if there is just a wonderful bridge over the pond when indeed the ‘bridge’ is a divider between two ponds.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Good morning

Today is Sunday. The weather in New Orleans is beautiful for a change; low humidity with the high temps. The pond is behaving well. The lawn is mowed. Life is good.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Fish eating critters

Here in New Orleans, lots of critters eat our fish. Raccoons, egrets, herons, cranes all tear through our ponds, eating fish and having a water lily salad with their sushi. As much as we might want to shoot egrets after losing a prize koi or goldfish, it is illegal. It does, however, seem to be perfectly OK to shoot humans and we do it daily, reducing the human population by at least one daily. But I digress.

Years ago, a client of mine was at his wit's end. Egrets were dining daily on his goldfish. This man was a sensible, middle aged guy, a successful and caring OB/GYN who cured, not harmed living things. But he had had it. One day, he got a shotgun and shot at the egrets while they were enjoying dinner. He missed the egrets. But he did manage to puncture his liner, mangle his lawn furniture and his neighbors fence. Luckily he was not caught by the local law enforcers; I don't think they would have understood.

Soon after, I talked him into Gator Guard, a pretty effective way of scaring birds and other critters away.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Bottom rocks

Many folks and one large pond building franchise advocate covering the bottom of the pond with rocks. I think they do this for two reasons. 1) They can charge much more money to build the pond and to clean the pond yearly, and 2) Some really believe that it will help the ecosystem. During my eighteen years of pond building, I never put rocks on pond bottoms, and in all of the ponds I built and maintained, I never, not one time, had green water.

Each and every time I saw a pond bottom covered with rocks, I groaned because I knew that I had to charge the customer much more money to shovel those stones off the bottom to clean the pond. I usually talked them into not replacing them with the promise that next year's cleaning would cost about half as much - because it took half the time and work.

If you think rocks look nice and don't mind the extra cost of cleaning or the extra work of doing it yourself, by all means put them there. But trust me, you do not need them.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ponds in the shade

Putting a pond in the shade means you give up water lilies, but you get to plant so many lovely plants around the pond and in the water.

Try Taro (A large elephant ear like plant, but very tropical), or Umbrella plant. I think that it will grow anywhere you put it. As an aside, be very careful if you live in the subtropics, do not plant them close to your house in the ground. I had to break the bad news to a homeowner that the umbrella plant she had lovingly put next to her sunroom had broken the foundation of her house. You may also want to try some indoor plants and take them in during cold weather. Any of the spaths love to have their feet wet and all of the philodrendons.

Some shade tolerating water lilies have been developed. Check your local aquatic nursery for availability and hardiness in your area.

Around the pond you can plant ferns of any and all kinds, gingers and Chinese Fan Palms can back up the waterfall.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Leaking liner?

Finding the leak:

Chances are your liner is not leaking at all if you are losing water. Evaporation is usually the cause of slowly lowering water levels. If the water level falls significantly overnight, you are most probably losing it because water is falling off the back of a waterfall or if you have a fountain, the wind has blown the water out of the pond. Or if the water is falling from too far up, it is splashing out. Check all of these things before you suspect a leak in your flexible liner.

If you have finally determined that your liner is leaking, your biggest problem is finding the leak.
Most liners have some sort of patching material, much like patching a tire, but until you find the leak, you cannot patch it. I have found that pumping the water out of the pond and then running water under the liner is the best way to find that ‘unfindable’ leak. Here in New Orleans, the water will come up through the hole when I get water under the liner. I know it is a pain in the neck, but I have yet to find a better way.

At least when you have found the leak, the patching of it is a piece of cake.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Questions and a great hummer

Dear Jan,
I live in Memphis, TN. I am considering putting a
pond in my back yard---possibly this weekend if I get real energetic!!!!!
My question is this, my neighbors across the street purchased a preformed
pond, another friend of mine has a liner type---do you know if one is better
than the other? Also, my backyard slopes from my back porch down to the
fence, I was wondering if this could also pose a problem--I was considering
placing what I would call the "top" of the pond at the top of the slope---please help--don't want to make any major mistakes.

Pondlady sez:

Use a liner!!! A preformed pond is a major hassle and will
never look right. You cannot get it level...ever, so the top will always show. Even if it is level for a moment, leave it alone and it will shift out of level. And it is more expensive in the long run.

Having your pond on a slope is a great idea. Remember you will not have to dig as deep, if at all, depending on the angel of the slope, on the higher end of the slope and you will have to pile up more rocks on the lower end to make the pond level.
That way the pond is level and liner doesn't show anywhere.

Don't forget that water is ALWAYS level. Although we are short on sloping ground in New Orleans, I, occasionally, have found some and a pond build on a slope looks great.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Questions to the Pondlady

We have recently put a pond in our back yard, a fairly large one! We
did this because our older son loves to play with all kinds of critters
(Water or Land). At first we had a crystal clear pond, that is, liner,
rocks, water, pump, and filter. Once we put the plants and fish in, what a
green soupy mess in a matter of days. I got information from our local nursery
and he recommended a powder to clear the water. I am reading your page
and you say no chemicals. Well I don't know if the chemical worked or if
I got enough information off line about plants and fish and got lucky and
combined a good combo. Now this guy is recommending a UV light to keep
the water clear- What do you think? Also you say no turtles because
they will eat the fish ---oh no!!! My son is putting turtles in on a
daily basis and we do have a missing fish. I can't understand why it
would have eaten a large fish and not the baby ones. Is there any way
to have the turtles and fish? Maybe if we keep minnows in the pond. Any
advice would be appreciated, I want to have a pond that is clear and
enjoyable with great color. Any opinions on goldfish(fantail)? Thanks
for listening and I hope to hear from you at your convenience.

PL answers: Wow, lots of questions. First of all, you are on the right track. As far as the UV goes, I have installed them, but if we keep our ponds balanced, we don't need them at all and it is just one more than that needs to be watched and replaced. The turtles will eventually eat the plant material, probably much faster than the fish. My guess on the missing fish is that a visiting bird had a great sushi dinner that night.

Minnows are great. They will keep the mosquito population away, although your pump will do that just fine. Mosquitoes will not breed in moving water.

A fan tail goldfish will be great. I would wait until the pond is a few months old before introducing any expensive fish. I also advise against feeder fish because many of them are sick when you buy them. After all, they are used only for feeding larger fish. If they are sick, sometimes they can introduce a disease to the other fish and you will lose them all.

You seem to be doing fine. Just remember, a pond thrives on benevolent neglect.

Have fun and don't name those fish.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Liners and leaks

Liners and leaks

I get many dozens of calls and e-mails yearly from folks who are panicked because they think their liner is leaking. Perhaps 1% of those calls are truly liner punctures or tears. And that can usually be traced to the family dog or a neighborhood raccoon. The rest of the time, the losing of water can be attributed to other things. The biggest culprit is the waterfall. Even if we start with a waterfall where all of the water being pumped over it is falling into the pond, invariably there is some settling of the rocks because of all that weight on the ground and a few drops of that waterfall water can sneak right off the back or the side of the fall. If you are losing water, turn the pump off, fill the pond up and watch it for 24 hours. If no water is lost, you know that somewhere between the pump and the waterfall your water is leaking out. A second culprit is wind. Some of you have fountains or water features that spray out water. If there is a wind and the fountain is turned on, water will blow out causing a drop in the water level of the pond. Probably one of the other main causes of water loss is splashing. The width of the water must be twice as wide as the water drop is high, eg. If the pond is 3’ wide, the water cannot drop from more than a height of 1.5 feet. If it does, no matter how slowly it drops (And I have seen it regulated to a trickle), some water will splash out. It only takes a few drops and the water level drops significantly.
If the pump is attached to plumbing fittings, check all of those fittings for leaks before calling for help. If the liner is penetrated in any way, with a skimmer device, an electrical connection, an overflow or level regulator, check those penetrations. No matter how good the caulking job was, sooner or later the seal will break and you will lose water. I recommend never penetration the side or bottom of the liner, no matter if it is flexible or rigid plastic, concrete or gunnite or CIM. No matter what, you can conceal the wires that must run from the pump more easily than you can make the inevitable repairs.
While I am on the subject of liners, I always choose flexible plastic or rubber. It is easier and lasts longer. Concrete always cracks. Yes, always!! The preformed shells can never be level, but even if they are leveled for a minute or so, they will be out of level shortly and will drive you nuts trying to keep the liner from showing. And if you are using a flexible liner NEVER try to attach two pieces together. Many folks try; no one has ever succeeded. If you wish to have an oversized piece, the manufacturer will happily seam two pieces together free of charge before they ship it to you.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Summer in the City

It’s summer in New Orleans. And that means it’s hot. And the humidity is so high, you need gills to breathe. While tending an Oriental Garden that I have tended since 1989, I find a peace that smoothes all of the rough edges of life. I feel and smell rain coming. I know that I will not finish my work in the garden. But the plants need to be washed; so does the air around them. As the wind signals the rain’s approach, the temperature drops. I lay on the dense pennyroyal that I use as a ground cover and close my eyes to feel the weather change. The smell of the pennyroyal promises excitement and newness. First, I feel the barometric pressure dropping, it allows me to be lighter, to feel the air changing around me. And then the smells of change start. I can smell the Gulf of Mexico flying in on hummingbird wings, the salt settles on my skin, I can taste it on my lips. I can smell a fishy smell, a smell of sea creatures older than time. As I let myself ride on the wind, I can sense a communion with the water that is riding in on southern clouds. I can feel the air that had been over South America a short time ago, reaching New Orleans and bathing me in foreign connections and somehow they did not feel foreign at all. I can smell the oneness that the wind brought with it. I can hear it whisper, no, not whisper, more like insistently talk to me--”We are one, we bring you pieces of yourself that you have scattered in the past. We bring you back to yourself.” When the first giant drops splash on my forehead, I feel refreshed. I wonder if I might stay in the pennyroyal, being massaged by its leaves, its scent being released by my weight and the rain while it drank in water. It welcomes me, asks me to enjoy the rain with it and I quietly breathe thanks. The rain is brief, about 20 minutes or so--like so many summer showers here. The air is clean afterward, the garden is bright, I dry quickly while watching the steam rising from the boulders so carefully placed as to look natural. All of our senses are tingling--mine and the plants together, a communion of trust, beauty and peace.
Once again the garden refreshes my spirit and tells me of my place in the world.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

A guest blogger today

MIchael Spencer is a landscape architect in Florida  and several days ago we learned that selling goldfish and koi is illegal in Maine; that discussion led to several comments of which this is one.

I think I might come down on the other side on this discussion about legal goldfish- reluctantly- and here is why: yesterday I saw an escaped Iguana crossing the road. He was a beautiful creature, sure, about 3' long, maybe 6" at the crest of his head. In some places around here they have reached 6' long and are eating turtles [traditional alligator food], ducks [same], and dogs and cats. Seriously. There is now a marine version living on the barrier islands that gets even larger and is breeding unchecked with no predators.

And everywhere I look, we are inundated by Australian pine, Brazilan pepper, and maleleuca [another Australian import from the 1900's designed to 'dry up the everglades'!]. These trees have a devastating effect on the local flora. And they are only the largest examples.

Our lakes are full of a fish called Tillapia, a fish served in restaurants, originally from South America, and now rapidly displacing bass [so you can see this really makes some people mad]. It is moved from lake to lake by birds, where eggs attach to legs.

It is true that Florida's benign environment attracts lots of immigrants. But it is also true that every clime in the US shares the same basic climate with areas of the earth that are many hundreds of times larger and that teem with plants and animals unique locally and a hazard when introduced.

In the ornamental plant world, great care is taken with propagation. In the case of desirable plants that cannot be made sterile, they are simply made unavailable by the commercial growers. We used to use a plant on the beach [Scaevola] that was beautiful and easy to propagate. But it shaded out the natural beach plants and then we suffered dune damage. Now, that plant is not available.

Can Koi survive in the wilds of Maine? Sure. They live outside in Japan, right? And in Maine? And even if a few die, many will survive. Goldfish, I dunno. We don't have any ordinances on these fishes here in Florida and I wonder why.

So the best thing for all of us- all of us who are nature lovers- is to behave responsibly. And realize that the water you toss out just might contain eggs.


Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Plants and Fish

For a garden pond to be successful, it must contain both plants and fish. Not only is this an optimum esthetic condition; but a balanced biotope with interactions between plants and fish will ensure proper water conditions, reduce insects, especially mosquitos, since the fish consume their larva, and plants will greatly reduce the development of algae.

Plants and fish benefit each other in two ways. First, fish and plants contribute to the successful functioning of the nitrogen cycle. As the waste products excreted by fish are released into the water, they are converted to ammonia and then to nitrites and nitrates by nitrifying bacteria. Nitrates are a food or fertilizer for plants and algae. As they are absorbed, plants and algae become a valuable food resource for fish, thus completing the nitrogen cycle.

This ongoing biological cycle ensures healthy pond life. It is important to realize that if plants are not thriving, algae will take over and the water will become murky.

A second important way fish and plants complement one other is through the process of photosynthesis. Fish require oxygen for their existence and they release carbon dioxide. Plants in turn require carbon dioxide for their successful existence and emit oxygen. During sunlight, plants will consume the carbon dioxide released by fish and in turn emit oxygen required by fish.

A constantly functioning nitrogen cycle and photosynthesis are the key components to a successful and beautiful garden pond. The most beautiful type of pond plants are lilies. Water lettuce and water hyacinths are also excellent additions to the pond and submerged plants such as Hornwort, Vallisneria, Sagitarria, Cabomba and Anacharis are also excellent. The ideal pond fish are common or hardy goldfish.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Rich Sacher, a guest blogger

Tropical Water Lilies
by Rich Sacher, Owner, American Aquatic Gardens, New Orleans, La
(Zone 9 Directions)

Tropical water lilies are very easy to grow and their blooming season in New Orleans is from May 1st until a killing frost in December. They come in a wide variety of colors, including some varieties which bloom at night. A well-grown plant will have several flowers open every day of its eight month blooming season, and each flower lasts three days.

Water lilies must have a minimum of five hours of direct sunlight in order to bloom heavily; the more sun, the better.

Water lilies requre a minimum of six inches of water over the soil level in the pot; larger lilies can take 8 to 10 inches depth of water. Water does not have to be circulated and quiet fountains will not harm the waterlilies.

Any heavy garden soil is suitable, but no peat moss, bark or other floating materials should be used.

If you have fish in your pond, cover the soil of your waterlily pot with heavy pieces of broken slate, sand or pea gravel so fish cannot dig up the plants.

Green water is often a problem in full sun and well fertilized plants; do not use chemicals to control the algae--it will kill your lilies. Instead, encourage a healthy growth of submerged plants like anacharis one bunch per square foot of surface area, which will help starve out the algae. Some floating hyacinths or water lettuce will also help, but watch they do not get out of control.

To keep the pond looking good, remove yellowing leaves and spent flowers every week. If an individual lily spreads too much, you can remove the outer ring of leaves to reduce the overall size of the plant without affecting flowering. If aphids appear, hose them into the water each morning to provide food for your fish. Caterpillars can be picked off by hand.

•Treating for Aphid Infestation
The following technique can be used to treat water lilies for aphid infestation without harm to your fish. Aphids and many other garden pests can be easily controlled with an inexpensive, homemade insecticide--according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

This recipe was developed after entomologists at the Agriculture Research Center in Phoenix, Arizona, discovered that a spray of soybean oil protected cotton from aphids and whiteflies. Home gardeners should mix one tablespoon of dishwashing detergent with one cup of cooking oil. When pests strike, mix one to two and one half teaspoons of the detergent oil mix with one cup of water. The detergent causes the oil to emulsify in the water. It can be sprayed on the water lilies every ten days. Besides aphids, the mixture works against whiteflies and spider mites. It has been successfully tested on eggplants, carrots, lettuce, celery, watermelon, peppers and cucumbers. It tends to burn the leaves of squash, cauliflower and red cabbage.

•Over-wintering Tropical Water Lilies
Tropical water lilies are perennial by nature, and they will go dormant as the weather becomes cold and days grow shorter. In New Orleans, they will often bloom until mid to late December, at which time the plants are already becoming smaller and slow growing.

You should stop fertilizing the lilies is mid October, because by starving the plants at the end of the season, they are more likely to form some small, very hard and durable tubers which survive the dormant period much better than the large fleshy root of the main plant.

These small tubers can be broken off from the parent plant and rinsed clean of soil; they should be stored in damp sand for the winter at a temperature of 50 to 55 degrees. These tubers can be planted out in the pond in mid-April, when they will begin to sprout new leaves by the middle of May. (Plant them in rich or fertilized soil, one half inch below the soil surface, and place them in a shallow area of the pond with 2 to 4 inches of water over the pot.)

If you have a greenhouse, you should move your waterlily to a small tub or temporary pond inside. In this case, do not disturb the roots; allow the plant to continue growing until it becomes dormant and leave it in the pond until new leaves come up again the spring. Once the plant is growing again, it can be divided if necessary and repotted in fresh solid for the growing season. This method almost always ensures the survival of the plant if the temperature never goes below 55 degrees in your greenhouse.

Those persons who are fortunate enough to have a large natural pond will find that just leaving the lily in the pond through the winter is the best method; this is especially true if the pond is fed by artesian wells, where the water temperature stays above 50 degrees no matter how cold the winter nights might be. This allows the plant to go dormant, but the temperature is warm enough to prevent damage to the tubers.

If the water temperature of your pond goes below 45 degrees for a number of days during the winter, then you will need to move the plant or tubers indoors for the dormant season, because temperatures below 50 degrees may result in the death of the tubers.

Since winters in New Orleans are so unpredictable, I would guess that most people would have about a 50 percent success rate if they just let their lilies in their ponds through the winter. The determining factor is temperature; how cold does it get and how long does it stay cold.

So if you enjoy a challenge, try one of these methods of over-wintering your lilies. Or, if you want to be more laid back about it, you can do nothing at all and take a chance on Mother Nature. You should win about half the time.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Do I need a filter?

I know a knock out rose has nothing to do with filtration, but it was so pretty in my garden this morning, I wanted to share.

If you have Koi or if you feed your goldfish, you MUST have filtration of some sort. There are many filters on the market from a plain sponge type to biofilters with UV lights. I have used them all and find that the very best is a biofilter installed outside the pond with a UV light installed in conjunction with it. (A UV light is not effective with blanketweed or String Algae.) So if you are going to feed those fish or have Koi, think about using this filter. The downside of these bead filters is the cost. They can run to $4000.00 with the flick of a fish's tail. There are cheaper ones that work just as well, but it's more work to keep them clean and running properly.

If you wish to build your own filter, it is quite simply using a container of some sort and filling it with some sort of filtration medium like lava rocks, sand, gravel, etc. I use the coarser material at the top of the filter (where the water goes in) and the finer material at the bottom. Much of the time lava rock or bioballs are sufficient. You must get the water into the top of the filter- pretty easy if the fliter is in the water and suck it out of the bottom with the pond pump. This can be accomplished with a simple tap that attaches to the intake of the pump. You can also just put the pump in the bottom of the container, and put the lava rocks or whatever filter media you use in a mesh bag and not have to worry about a tap of any kind. Your cost just went down to the cost of the media plus the cost of the mexh bag.

If you do not feed your fish, you need no filtration at all. BUT you must provide natural filtration. The best way I have found is to use anacharis as a submerged plant. The anacharis grows faster than the fish can eat it, so the pond becomes a natural ecosystem. And you must keep about 50-60% of the top of the pond covered with shade. You can do this with floating plants like hyacinths, water clover, water poppy, parrots feather or water lilies. If your pond is in the shade already, you do not need so many floating plants.

Many chemicals are sold that promise a clear pond if you add the chemicals. Some of the time they work. For the most part they do not. They kill algae. The dead algae sinks to the bottom where there is then no available oxygen for the other plants. They die and so do the fish because there is no oxygen for them to breathe. If you do not use chemicals, this problem can be avoided before it starts.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Algae Bloom

An algae bloom is normal when the pond is brand new. If you are patient and the pond is properly balanced, you may not have one, but don't be dismayed if you do. If it lasts more than a week and you absolutely MUST be rid of it because your mother in law is coming to visit tomorrow, there is an emergency procedure you can do right this minute and your pond will be clear by tomorrow. This is not a permanent fixture in your pond, nor is it the universal panacea for algae, but it will get that pond clear so you can show off your brand new handiwork to your visitors.

Do not use any of the algaecides that are available commercially. Most of them severely decrease the oxygen level in the pond and that will kill the fish. Remember that anything that will kill algae will kill other plants. Fish will tolerate green water--they will not tolerate toxic (albeit clear) water. If you have consistently green water use more submerged vegetation (Anacharis) and make sure at least 50% of the water surface is covered with floating vegetation to provide shade. This floating vegetation can be water lilies, water hyacinths, water poppies, etc. And stop feeding those goldfish.

If you must get rid of your green water fast use a temporary mechanical filter. I use a large black pot that a plant has come in--10" or bigger I also put a few more holes in it than just the one on the bottom. Be sure the holes are on the bottom of the pot or whatever container you use. I put 2 inches of foam rubber in the bottom of the pot and suspend it over the surface of the water. I usually use a lawn chair or upturned 5 gallon bucket. Next I run the hose from the pump over the top of the pot so the water runs through the foam rubber. I hold it down with a brick. This makeshift filter looks awful and must be cleaned every 2 hours or so, but it will clear up your pond in a day or two for the cost of the foam rubber. You can tell when the foam rubber has to be taken out and cleaned because the water will start running over the top of the pot. The finer the foam, the more often you must clean it, but the faster your pond will get clear. You must keep an eye on this jerry-rigged set up and continue to clean the foam rubber or your pond will not clear up.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

My Anacharis Keeps Dying

If you have a concrete pond that has not been properly sealed or is new, lime will leach out of the concrete. Empty the pond, scrub it with vinegar or a mild solution of muriatic acid (one part acid to 4 parts water). Refill, test the pH. (It should be around 7.0). Let the water sit for a day or two and test again. If the pH remains about 7.0, you may replace your anacharis.(Don't forget the dechlor.)

Anacharis likes to be in the shade. If it is in full sun, it may turn yellow and die. Shade the pond with floating plants and emergents. Use water hyacinths if they are legal in your state. They are legal to own, but illegal to sell in Louisiana. They were imported in 1884 to help keep the bayous clean. They do that indeed, but they now completely cover the bayous and are considered a noxious weed. So if you do use them in a tropical or subtropical climate, please throw them in a compost heap when they multiply, not in any other body of water. You can also use water lilies or any other floater that can provide shade for your pond. Some people build an arbor to keep the pond in shade for part of the day.

Make sure you have one bunch of anacharis per square foot of surface area of water. If you have less, the fish may be eating it faster than it grows. This is most important. I know anacharis is expensive, but if you buy it a little at a time, it will cost much more because you will have to keep replacing it.

Anacharis acts as filter, catching and holding suspended material in the pond. With anacharis your pond will stay balanced and crystal clear with no other filtration.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Do I need a pump?

Many people believe a pump will keep the water crystal clear. A pump will never keep the water clear. A pump moves water and provides oxygen for the fish if you feed them and the pond is overpopulated. If you have a natural ecosystem there will be no overpopulation and therefore you will not need any pump if you don't wish to have one. A pump will also ensure that you will never breed mosquitoes. I generally suggest that folks have pumps for that very reason. And now that we have reliable solar pumps, lack of electricity is no longer an excuse. Most folks like them because we all like the sound of moving water and waterfalls.

If you have a waterfall, use a pump that moves each hour at least as many gallons as your pond holds. I use a 4300 gph pump, tee the output into two hoses and have great results. Generally, we leave pumps on 24 hours daily, but no pump has to be turned on all the time unless you feed your fish or have koi. You can set your pump on a timer and have it run only when you are outside to enjoy it. With electricity costs rising these days, a timer, available at most big box home improvement stores, might be just the thing to keep those costs down.

And if you live in a climate where you have freezing weather, turn the pump off in the winter. Most pumps do not function well in freezing water. If you are worried about your pond freezing over, throw an empty plastic gallon jug or several in the water during the freezing weather. In the morning, remove the jug and there will be a hole in the ice so gases can move freely during the day. Be sure to put some more jugs in the water when the freezing weather returns at night. There are also deicers available. They keep a hole in the ice day and night.