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 garden.com
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.