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.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

A guest writer today


This is the “all pond owners are not created equal” or, rather, “not the same” article, which proves that there is no one-way to install or maintain a pond. All norms are but suggestions from those who found it works for them. So, what about the pond owner in Michigan reading about the pond in Florida? Does the same hold true for both ponds? I have found that in the vast differences from one county, let alone state or country, to the next it is nearly impossible to have one rule apply to all.
I’ve learned in coastal and low-lying areas there is a water table that won’t allow a seven-foot depth to a koi pond. With a water table the water is constantly filling beneath the liner, creating leakage around bottom drain seams and stressing the liner. You need something called a French Drain to remove water as it rises. Or, simply, don’t dig so deeply to hit the water table. The problem is that we usually find out where the water is by digging into it. Does that mean it is always wet under there? No, it may be only during certain times of year, such as spring rains. And maybe this hole was dug in the natural water drainage area without knowing, and five or ten feet to the left would be drier. Well, the people with water beneath their property, and ponds, will need to adapt to suit their living environment. In the same way it is easier to plant trees and shrubs that are clay loving in clay ground rather than try amending the soil to accommodate loam-loving plants
. It can be heartbreaking to expend all that energy planning and planting just to see the plants die by the following year, or simply fail to thrive.
Generally, koi pond hobbyists believe in bottom drains and at least 4’ depth to a pond. They accept a vortex filtration system and bubble bead filter as the basic requirements. They add Ultraviolet sterilizers. This works great in New York and New Jersey. It doesn’t necessarily work in Atlanta, GA where the ground is rock-hard and pond owners need a jackhammer to excavate. It doesn’t work at all in Louisiana where they can’t dig a pond deeper than 2-3ft. but need to use Ozonators and other means to clarify their pond water due to unrelenting sun and heat.
Well, here’s where I come in. I am moving to Florida, from New York, and will need to build a new pond. I guess I will consider it culture shock to have a pond 3-4’ deep and 2’ above ground in order for my fish to have range of motion and vertical exercise and a chain-link-fence-type cover to protect from predators. I have been quite sheltered in the hobby for a very long time. I never considered using concrete as a liner before. I wonder why Floridians don’t use 45mil EPDM, or do they? [I mean, I don’t expect to harbor alligators and things that would hurt a liner, after all. Would you want an alligator for a pet… to keep with your koi??]
I checked out the land options and realize I may need to redirect the Fire Ants and misplaced sprinkler heads and check the local ordinances before I bring my fish down to the land of sun and flowers. What becomes very obvious is that I know absolutely nothing about building koi ponds in Florida. (And I want to keep the swimming pool for myself.) So, when in Rome… I need a koi club… badly!!

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

My Plants/Fish are Dying

Check the following possibilities:

Are grass clippings or other debris getting into the pond and decaying?

If you allow any organic material to decay in your pond, the ecosystem is thrown out of balance and fish and plants die. Remove dead or dying water lily pads and flowers. Remove any other dead or dying plants. Of course, remove dead fish immediately. Your pond could easily be crystal clear and the ecosystem could be out of balance. Be aware and check your pond at least once weekly. I also advise changing at least 10% of the water weekly.

Have you or your neighbors sprayed fertilizers, pesticides or insecticides?

With termite problem in New Orleans, most people have a pest control service to kill termites and other bug critters. Although post Katrina, the termites have evacuated, we expect them to return forthwith and spraying will begin anew.
Many folks hire horticultural companies who specialize in spraying the garden for every kind of bug, destructive or beneficial. Not only does this practice kill all the good bugs, it keeps butterflies and hummingbirds from visiting, it also can easily kill your pond.

Has the local government done any spraying nearby lately?

This is a problem here in New Orleans because we have mosquitoes and therefore we have a mosquito control program. They send trucks out to destroy mosquitoes. They swear they will not harm plants or fish, but I am suspect of any chemicals.

Is someone painting or scraping a house or car in the area?

Paint from the house, especially lead paint, can get in your pond and kill everything.

Has cleaning been done on surrounding driveways, decks or walkways and run off into the pond?

I include this only because I was at my wit's end several years ago trying to figure out why I could not keep a client's pond healthy. After months of investigation, I finally asked a housekeeper if she was cleaning the surrounding patio. She said, "Of course, I scrub it and hose it down every day." OK, there was my answer. She stopped and the pond was healthy again.

Did someone feed the fish too much or the wrong thing?

Feeding goldfish is probably the biggest problem pond people have. All of you want to feed those poor fish. Those poor fish need to eat what is good for them; submerged vegetation, algae and mosquito larvae. Please make them work for their room and board. Koi must be fed and live in a pond with filtration.

Did you use a new concrete block to prop a water plant up? Use bricks or aged concrete blocks?

Lime can leach out of the concrete and quickly throw the pH into the stratosphere.

If any of these events have occurred, change the water immediately. Don't forget the dechlor.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

My Pond Has Turned to Green Pea Soup

Questions for the pondlady: I followed all the rules, did everything you said to do, Jan, but my pond is completely green. I couldn't buy all the submerged vegetation at once, so am buying it a little every week. Oh, and my grandkids feed the fish, but only when they come over.

PL answers: Add more underwater vegetation. Without enough the pond will turn green. The fish love to eat it and, the fish will eat it faster than it grows if you don't have enough. Without extra filtration, you must have 1 bunch of submerged vegetation per square foot of surface. If not, the fish will eat it all and you will be buying it every week forever. And it's a very expensive fish food.

And how often do your grandchildren come over?? And are they feeding those fish Poptarts? If those grandkids must feed the fish, chop up some cooked carrots, or green beans. And then feed them less than a teaspoon. This assumes the feeders visit only once weekly, not daily.

Excess fertilizer will turn the pond green. Stagger your fertilization schedule if necessary. Change 25% of your water weekly until pond clears.(Don't forget the dechlor.) Changing the water is important for the pond. And the veggie beds love it.

Monday, August 14, 2006

I built a pond, now what?

First of all, you need to realize that a pond is a living breathing organism that needs little maintenance if it is started properly. If you obey the following 10 laws, your pond will be happy and healthy and, in turn, make you the same.

1. You must have one bunch of anacharis (underwater grass) per square foot of water surface area. This serves as a natural filter and as food for the fish. It grows faster than the fish can eat it.

2. 50 - 60% of the surface of the water must be shaded with floating plants. Water lilies are great, as are water hyacinths, water lettuce or water poppies.

3. You must have fish to complete the balanced ecosystem. I recommend common goldfish. Do not put Japanese Koi in your pond. They will eat all of your plants...and they will do it quickly. If you have a koi pond, you have an outdoor aquarium and must treat it as such.

4. Do not feed your goldfish. EVER!! They will become too big for the pond and upset the ecosystem. You will have an overpopulation problem and eventually all of your fish will die. You may break this law, but if you do, you must have filtration in place.

5. Put in one linear foot of fish for each 25 square foot of pond surface area. If you have 100 square feet of pond, you may have 4 foot long fish, 8 six inch fish or 16 three inch fish and so on.

6. Do not allow turtles, crawfish, alligators, ducks, geese, dogs, raccoons or possums to swim in your pond.

7. Do not use chemicals!!! EVER! Add a dechlorinator when you first fill the pond and then when you add more than 10% water afterwards.

8. Do not worry about pH. It will take care of itself.

9. Remove any dead or decaying vegetation regularly so that ammonia does not build up and foul your pond.

10. Relax. Your pond will generally take care of itself. I recommend benevolent neglect as the best approach to pondkeeping.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

How To Build a Pond FINALE

How To Build a Pond: Completion

Remember that soil you excavated way back in step one and put it in a ring around the hole. Rake the excavated soil back toward the pond as backfill to cover up the liner that is showing above the ground. Gently grade it down and use it as a planting area.
Put dechlorinator in the water if you live where the water is chlorinated. Now you are ready for plants and fish.

How To Build a Pond: Landscaping

You may plant whatever you like around the pond. I use native plants as much as possible. I also try to use mounding plants so they will drape over the rocks and into the water. I like to have plants that creep around the rocks and partially cover them as the seasons pass. Soon your pond will look as if it has been there forever.

Saturday, August 12, 2006

How to build a pond part 4

How To Build a Pond: Rock Placement

After the pond is almost full, place the first layer of decorative stones or bricks around the sides overhanging by about 2 inches. Wait until the water is almost to the top!! If you start placing rocks before that, the water will pull the liner AND your rocks in the pond and you will have to start over. So go eat lunch while the pond is filling up. You may pile the rocks one or more layers thick depending on how high you wish to raise the level of the pond above ground level. If the ground is uneven or lower on one end, you will put a second layer to level the pond. Water is always level! You will need about one ton of 1" - 4" flat veneer rocks for a 6' x 10' pond. I use Arkansas Moss Rocks which, here in New Orleans are pricey - $.30 a pound. I suspect if you are near the source, they are not as expensive. If you build a waterfall, you will need more.

How To Build a Pond: Placing the Final Rocks

When you get one or two layers of rocks on top of the liner, stand inside the pond, grasp the edge of the liner and pull it toward you on top of the bottom layer of rocks about six inches. Put another row of rocks on top. Make sure no liner is showing through the cracks-cover cracks with thinner rocks. Finish filling the pond. Now the water is above the surrounding ground.
You have built your pond slightly above the level of the rest of your yard so that it will not collect runoff from surrounding areas. Also the water above ground level gives the pond enough weight to keep it in its place when the water table gets high. And the bottom layer, (now under water) not only looks great and completely hides the liner, it also serves as a hiding and spawning place for fish.

Friday, August 11, 2006

How to build a pond part 3

Level the bottom for placement of plants. Clip off any protruding roots and smooth the sides and bottom well. Cover all exposed surfaces with 15 pound roofing felt, which serves as a cushion for the liner.

How To Build a Pond: Calculating the Size of the Liner

Length of the liner = the overall length of the pond plus twice the maximum depth plus three feet.
Width of the liner = the overall width of the pond plus twice the maximum depth plus three feet.

How To Build a Pond: Liner Placement

Open the liner and spread it across the hole. Pleat or fold the liner as the pond begins to fill up with water to make the bottom and sides as smooth as possible.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

How to build a pond, part 2

How To Build a Pond: Getting Started

To build your pond, you will need the following:
A shovel, maybe two if you can get help to dig
A rake
14" 28 gauge roofing flashing
1/2" PVC pipe cut into @ 2' pieces
15# roofing felt for underlayment
Pond liner, pump, hose clamps, tubing for waterfall

How To Build a Pond: Digging The Hole

When digging, do not break the edges of the pond. They hold your decorative rocks and if disturbed during the digging process, may break down due to the weight of the rocks. If the sides of the pond are soft, you must reinforce them as you see in the picture. I use 28 gauge roofing flashing and support it with PVC pipe stakes.
Dig almost vertically to 14" inches. Place the excavated dirt in a ring about one foot away from the outer edge of the pond. You will need it later to finish off the pond. Install flashing, hold in place with PC pipe. Crimp top edge of flashing toward the outside of the pond so sharp edge does not penetrate liner.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

How to Build a Pond

This will be the first of a series on how to build a pond. Photos will be included with each step.

There are many kinds of garden ponds. When you are designing your pond, you must consider your lifestyle. Is it formal and therefore you'll want a formal pond, a rectangle, circle or other regular geometric shape? If this is the case, usually the pond is built from concrete or gunnite and might be covered with masonry or tile both in and out. The formal pond usually holds a fountain or statuary. Sometimes it is a reflecting pool with no fish or vegetation and needs to be treated like a swimming pool. Other ponds are informal with rocks or boulders placed around the pond. A roaring waterfall or trickling stream might be the moving water feature rather than a formal fountain.
This pond might also be chlorinated, but most have vegetation, fish and are treated as a balanced ecosystem. The pond must fit the lifestyle of the owners.

After the style is determined, we must know the type of pond to be installed. The koi pond is a special type of pond and needs much filtration, must be deeper than most other ponds, is treated like a very large outdoor aquarium and must be taken care of like one. The filters must be cleaned regularly, the koi must be fed daily, and most of the time, there is no vegetation growing because the koi will eat it....and they will eat it FAST. If goldfish only are placed in a pond, the maintenance is less, but only if the goldfish are not fed. If they are fed, the fish will grow larger than the pond can support, keep having babies and sooner or later there will be a fish kill. To have a balanced ecosystem and therefore the least maintenance, the goldfish must survive in the pond with existing vegetation, working daily for their room and board.

So after the style and type of pond are determined, the location is the next most important factor in pond installation. I always recommend the pond be as close to the viewing area as possible. The pond/bog plants move in the breeze, the waterfall makes a delightful noise and the fish are colorful to watch. If the pond is in a far corner of the yard, chances are the owners will not enjoy it as much as if it is near a den or kitchen window or even a bedroom window that can be left open in good weather. I usually determine what room of the house the owner spends the most time in and decide the location from there.

So before installing the pond, at least three things must be decided:

After these decisions are made the rest is easy!

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

This is why we have ponds

I was going to start a series this morning on How to Build a Pond, but I looked outside and saw this. I usually don't like Canna's because they look so ratty so much of the time. But they are a great pond plant, they love to have wet feet. I have low spots in my yard. No, I have a low yard altogether, so the Canna is a great plant for me. I can put up with their overall rattiness to have the great broadleaf plant that loves the sun AND the wonderful flower that said, "Hi" to me this morning. So I got the camera so I could share the Canna with you.

Jan, the pondlady

Monday, August 07, 2006

The dog days of August

In New Orleans, August is longer than any other month. The temperatures easily reach the mid to high nineties. Lows are night are often in the eighties. The people suffer, the animals suffer, the garden suffers and the pond is unhappy as well.

The fish lie in the cooler water of the deepest water. Even the water lilies droop. If a water lily is going to get attacked by bugs, now is the time. Usually bugs can be sprayed off with a strong burst of water from the garden hose. Sometimes they need to be sprayed with a mixture of water, oil and dish soap. Always pinch off the damaged pad. Don't worry they will quickly grow back. And remember they still want to be fed twice monthly until their winter dormancy period. Here in the South, that starts in October. If you are farther north, (and most everyone is), when the nighttime temperatures start to reach 55F, the lilies quickly go dormant. Stop feeding them then and prepare for winter.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

My blue pot

I have pictures of my new garden bed. It is so tough to take pics of a new bed. Everything is so new and raw and sprawled out. The new plants are not filled in, their leaves are willy nilly, but we try anyway and get the best picture we can. At the very least, it gives us something to look back on when we are wondering why we didn't think before we planted those philodrendons that will get so very big they will consume the entire bench before long. And why we put those thorny roses next to the pot when the pump that's pumping the water through the pot needs tending and we are fighting rose bushes. We gardeners are like that, aren't we? We plant with abandon and don't think ahead very well. At least I am. I'm sure all of you plan for months and months, make elaborate designs on paper. I shop for inspiration and slap unplanned, but available plants into the ground just about like old New Orleans natives make Gumbo....and just hope everything gets along and looks nice.

Hope everyone is surviving the heat of August.


Friday, August 04, 2006

Rainy day

And the rain arrived just in time to give my new plants a good soaking. I have a quasi pond in the front yard...a cobalt blue pot with water entering a hole at the bottom and flowing over the top. It is gorgeous, but without plants around it, it was naught but a rock pile. So now there are 2 philodendron selloum, 3 canna lilies, 3 vareigated sweet flag, 3 dwarf oleanders, a crape myrtle and nearby, 3 Knock Out roses and butterfly plants, not buddleia, but not milkweed either. Monarchs love them and eat them down to their stems. I never liked roses until I found Knock Out roses; they changed my mind. They do well here in our hot, humid climate and it seems as if they never stop blooming. I shall have pics tomorrow if the rain stops. Oh, and I put my trademark bench near the pot...a large rock perched atop two blocky rocks. Not too comfy, but from afar it looks like magic.

Jan, your erstwhile pondlady

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Questions with no answers

After 17 years in this business, there are questions that stand out. Remember when a teacher told you there is no such thing as a dumb question. That teacher was wrong wrong wrong.

Here's two questions I have gotten, and not just once either, but several times.

The only answer is a silent look and a quick change of subject. And sometimes a biting of the tongue to stave off gales of laughter.

Customer: " Jan, my pump is running slower and slower. I have several houseguests and wonder if it is because they flush the toilets more?"

Jan has no answer.

Customer: "Jan, my water level is dropping about an inch a day. I think I know why tho. My dog drinks out of the pond. Could that be it?

Jan has no answer.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Swim Bladder Disease


I have some fairly good sized gold fish in my pond..all of which appear
healthy. One in particular, about an 8 incher, will occasionally float on
the surface, almost flat on its side. Thinking "oh no, I've lost one," I
go poke it and it will wiggle slightly. After another poke or two it will
take off like it just woke up or something. Is this something normal? There's
no apparent disease or fungus anywhere on the fish and no cloudy eyes, etc.
I am relieved when it shoots off but am wondering if its sick and will
turn up dead one of these times.
Any thoughts....


It's called swim-bladder disease and it isn't fatal but it also is not
curable. I was just at a show in Oregon over the weekend talking to the
goldfish judges and other experts. They say they have kept fish for a
very long time with it as long as they are able to eat. The fancy
goldfish (Ranchu, Oranda, and other big-bodied Chinese varieties) have
about a 5-year life span anyway. Not all will get this problem, but it is
prevalent in the larger species because of their breeding.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

need help with updating my pond

Hi Jan,

I am 53. I have a pond that is approximately 6' y 8', 24 to 38" depth, with a small 3-4'waterfall that I have enjoyed off my deck for now over 11 years. We originally put it in ourselves, with a simple bucket filter with the pump, lava rocks and bio-balls. My waterfall is leaking now (younger daughter tried to repair but broke a critical rock), and the pond liner is old. I am also having difficulty with pulling the huge bucket in and our of the pond. I don't have a drain in the pond, which some people say is critical. Many of my original plants have expanded beyond their containers. I used to have Koi, but I live less than a mile from a Heron preserve (Chatfield Resevior, in Littleton, Colorado. I now live alone, so things must be easy. I know I should not get it fixed without replacing the near-out-dated liner. I don't know how big a pond needs to be to have an out of pond filter, or whether I truly need a drain I'm a single Mom with two girls in college, and I'm worried about people taking advantage, but I would love for my pond to continue to prosper for many years, with greater ease in me caring for it. Can you help with these questions? I am willing to increase the pond size somewhat. Can you recommend any companies in my area that are honest and reliable. I would also love to re-introduce Koi, but if there isn't a sure fire way to protect them, without diminishing significantly, the aesthetics of my pond, I am all ears. We had no problems till 5 years ago when run-off with rivers was high, and then the Herons hit all ponds in this area. The problem is: they never forget. I could use your help.

Hi Denise,

Congratulations for keeping that pond going for 11 years. Many liners fail before that long. You are right re doing any repairing without replacing the liner and that is one expensive task. Every single thing has to be removed just to get to the liner. So it is more expensive to replace the liner than it was to build the pond to begin with. Here in New Orleans, it would be several thousand dollars to do what you want. If you want to replace the liner, be prepared. I would look for a reputable company through the Colorado Water Garden Society...the oldest in the country. They should know someone.
I might think about rerouting a hose to the waterfall rather than doing the liner replacement. If you want an out of pond filter, they are pretty easy to install...usually behind the waterfall. There are filters from a few hundred dollars to combination UV light and filters for many thousands. I would not worry about a bottom drain.....if the pond needs cleaning, that can be done for not much money. No matter what you do, you take a chance with already know that you would be opening a new sushi bar for your nearby herons.
There is a product called alligator head about 34" long with bright yellow eyes that works well here in the south. I wonder if Denver herons would recognize an alligator? Maybe. You could try. It might be a genetic memory.