Friday, March 30, 2007

Tiny pond

I call this the tiniest pond I have ever done. It is simply a casserole dish balanced ecologically so the water will not be stagnant.

Now I can hear all of you saying, "What about mosquitoes? What about West Nile Virus?"

We use mosquito fish to keep those biters gone.

The fish have a large appetite, and one female can devour several hundred mosquito larvae per day. They reproduce rapidly and are unlike other fish, they bear live young. Each female can produce three to four broods in her lifetime, and each brood can vary from 40 to 100 fry.

Birth usually occurs during the warm spring and summer months. When the young are born, they are active and immediately swim for the nearest cover. Though they are only about 3/8-inch long, they will soon feed.

Sounds wonderful, doesn't it? Well, not quite.

Mosquito fish have negative ecological impacts anywhere they are introduced. They compete with native species of minnow for available forage or harass those competitors until they die. They have been especially devastating in the American Southwest interacting with a wide range of threatened or endangered fish species.

Many states are using the fish for mosquito control. As always, I wonder if the cure will be worse than the disease.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pond Conversation Overheard

Pre Katrina, my office overlooked our front yard where the pond was. One unusual New Orleans day when we could have our windows open, I overheard the following conversation:

Man and woman, probably husband and wife, looking at the pond and waterfall:

He: "I wonder how 'he' did that. Where is all that water coming from?"

She: "Silly, the water is coming from the garden hose. Anyone can see that. What I wonder is where is it going? I'd hate to pay their water bill."

And these people reproduce.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Wild Plants

Spring is arriving quickly in all parts of the country and we want our ponds to look great. So we are starting to replace plants that didn't make it over the winter.
Some of who live near bayous or swamps are tempted to gather some from local waters, bring them home and pot them up.
If you gather plants from the wild, you will bring in parasites and diseases. If you must harvest from the roadsides and swamps, first of all, be careful. Critter live in those plants. Sometimes those critters don't like humans invading their territory, so if you must wade in the swamps, wear sturdy boots and gloves. Many of those critters like to bite, scratch, sting or otherwise make us not want to bother them ever again.

Second, check local laws, it may be illegal to take home wild plants where you live. Or it may be illegal to own the plants altogether because of their invasiveness.

Third, put your plants in a washtub or bucket of water with a cup of so of clorox in it. Leave them there for a week to ten days. Some people say that the plants should be in quarantine for up to a year. That will kill any parasites or other bugs that may have found their way home with you.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

One way to overwinter a pond

Dear Jan,

I have successfully overwintered a "temporary" pond in an 18" deep, 8 foot diameter plastic kiddy pool (plants, fish and all) in a minus 40 (oops that's celsius, not sure in farenheit?) winter. (Because we were moving and I had to dismantle my larger pool before winter). I did this by dropping a stock tank heater (with a metal guard to ensure that the plastic edges didn't melt) into the pond. It keeps the water just above freezing and keeps a hole in the ice, even in the coldest weather. I didn't keep track of what it did to my electric bill because I knew I needed it, so the pond wouldn't freeze solid. Then I built a raised pool (it was three feet deep but most of it was above ground except for the deepest parts in the centre) and I continued to use the stock tank heater with a lot of success. Everything survived through the winter. I purchased the heater at the local farm supply store.

The only problem with this idea might be the cost of running the heaters, but it certainly is something to consider for next winter.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Pond Filtration?

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 simple 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 mesh bag. Just be sure to protect your pump intake so lava rocks do not get into your impeller.

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 and leave no available carbon dioxide 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.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Fish question

I get emails with questions. I try to answer the best I can. This is an example:


My next door neighbor had a mosquito killing mister sort of system installed that sprays ULD HydroPy-300 two times in the am and two in the pm.

Within days our gold fish began dying. Our water tested great for fish conditions. I couldn't find anyone local to test the water for pesticides. There is approx. 80ft w/some trees between their system and our fish pond. I did take note that we lost more fish after a couple of particular windy days.

Do you think their system is what is killing our fish? The company that installed the system said there is no way their system had anything to do with the fish dying. However, the neighbor agreed to cut off the system for a few days and the fish stopped dying.

I would bet the ranch that the mister killed your fish.
I don't know the pesticide they used in the mister. Do you have a local cooperative extension or local agricultural college in driving distance? Is there a private lab
in town? Anytime there is spraying done, the pond needs to be covered. This can happen when gardeners use pesticide sprays, when grass cutters are there. Even when you or a neighbor is sanding a house prepping it for a new paint job, do at least a 50% water change just for safety's sake.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

The Shade Pond

Ponds in the shade are prettier than in full sun, I think. There are some aquatic plants that won't do well, of course, just like any garden. Water lilies need at least 5 hours of sun daily, so most likely they will live, but not bloom in the shade pond. Good aquatics for the shade pond are Taro, acorus, umbrella grass, egyptian papyrus and calla lilies. In fact, Callas will not grow in the sun, so the shade pond can have 'the perfect flower for every occasion.' Surrounding the pond can be broadleaf plants that will not tolerate sun, like philodrendon selloum, although I do not recommend it because of it's ability to send out a root into the water and then take off and come up through your kitchen floor.
You can have ferns and other plants that make the pond a woodland masterpiece.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Plants and Fish

IF YOU HAVE KOI, DISREGARD THIS POST! Koi eat plants, all plants, all the time. You can screen off your koi or your plants, but if you allow the koi access to the plants, you will have larger koi and fewer plants.

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.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Pond Depth

Dear Pond Lady,
We live in Pennsylvania and it does get pretty cold here in the winter. We are planning to build our first lily pond this summer, and haven't a clue. The info we've gotten from you, so far is the best of any we've seen.

Pondlady sez:
In the South, we recommend that the pond be 18” deep. This depth is ideal for plants and fish. In the north, the pond must be deeper because your weather is colder and the pond can freeze solid. Your pond's deepest point should be below the frost line. That the depth where the ground freezes solid in the winter, and therefore, so does your pond.
I always recommend that you get in touch with your local extension service, university, or aquaculture organization to find out the optimum depth in your area.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Potting up Plants

Pot up all the plants in heavy potting soil or anything with
vermiculite or perlite in it. That stuff will float all over the water and is almost impossible to net out. Then cover the top with sand or pebbles, so the soil won't float out. Most aquatic plants want to have about 1" of water over the tops of the pots.

When you pot up a water lily, put the water lily corm in the pot so the top of the corm sticks a bit out of the sand or other medium. Start feeding the lilly when the leaves reach the top of the water. The water lily wants to be at least 6-12" below the surface of the water.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

My pond looks like pea soup

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.

Friday, March 16, 2007

How big should my pump be?

I often get asked how big a pump has to be. I generally use as big a pump as I can afford to get maximum sound from the waterfall without splashing water out. But all you need is a pump big enough to circulate the water once per hour. And just a reminder, water can fall 1/2 the distance of the width of the water it falls into. If the width is too small or the height of the waterfall is too high, the water will splash out and your pond will splash itself dry overnight.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Don't buy a cheap pump

If you are putting goldfish or koi in your pond, you will need a pump. Going to the nearest big box store for a pump will get you a cheap one, for now. Over the year, if it lasts that long, it will cost you more in electricity than the pump cost you. As a general rule, the cheaper the pump, the more expensive it is to run.
I have found after almost 20 years of buying pumps that it pays to buy from a recognized pond supply store and buy a recognized brand name. Quality pays and it will pay you in the long run to get a good pump. I have stocked the brand names that I have used and depend on. The last thing I wanted was a customer calling me to say his pump had failed and his fish were dead. So I soon learned what brands I could count on and which ones I could not.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Pond Pumps

There are hundreds of pond pumps to choose from. Which one to buy? Inline? (What does that mean?). An inline pump is placed out of the water, a submersible one goes in the water. You just learned something.

When I started building ponds you went to the plumbing supply store and bought a sump pump, swimming pool blue in color, threw it on the bottom of the pond with some hose attached to it, ran it over your waterfall and that was it. Suddenly the pond craze caught on, rather like the hundred monkeys phenomenon and companies started making pumps. So now we can have mag drive pumps, pumps with oil, pumps without oil, solar pumps (my personal favorite.), pumps with filters, without filters, and everything in between.

Pump rule number one: Your pump must turn over your water every two hours. That keeps sufficient oxygen in the water for your fish. If you are using filtration, it also pushes or pulls all the water through the filter every two hours and keeps your pond cleaner.

Pump rule number two: Don't buy a pump that is too small or one that is too big. A pump that is too large will suck your fish in, send them through the impeller and over the waterfall as gefilte fish. Not what you want.

Friday, March 09, 2007

So you're going to build a pond

Spring is coming and you want to build a pond. You have just the spot in your yard....or do you? Before you buy a shovel, let's have a look around your garden and decide where to put your pond.

You want it where you can see and hear it, not back in the corner by the shed because there is an empty space there. Even if it means moving a garden bed or rearranging it, put your pond where you can enjoy it. Put it next to the patio, so you can see your fish, smell your water lilies and listen to your waterfall. Make sure that you can hear your waterfall if you decide to open a bedroom window at night. Let the sound of the waterfall lull you to sleep.

Remember, your pond will be the focal point of your garden. Ponds, by their nature, force every eye to see them. The aquatic plants wave high in the breeze, the goldfish swim lazily, shimmering in the sunlight and the watefall produces either a gentle trickle or a roaring water sound. Consider all these things before you start digging the hole.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

Pondless Waterfalls

Not long ago, I wrote a blog article about pondless waterfalls and why I did not like them. (Because the pump was underneath all those rocks.) I got an email questioning my thoughts and offering another way of building the pondless waterfall.
Justin Berkey, address, etc., below turned me on to the vanishing water method of building the pondless waterfall. If this thing works the way it claims to and I see no reason why it would not, it would make the pondless waterfall something desirable and wonderful for our gardens.

Info from:

Justin Berkey
Filtrific Company
Advertising Manager
Phone: 800.906.0604
Fax: 425.482.9559

Monday, March 05, 2007

pond Plants, arrowhead, pickerel

Two of the broadleaf bog plants are Arrowhead (Sagittaria japonica) and Pickerel rushes (Pontederia cordata). Both of these rushes bloom and stay in bloom most of the summer and even into fall. As with all bog plants, they must have wet feet. If used in the pond, make sure the top of the pot is about an inch below the surface of the water. Each of these plants grow tall, tall enough to be a speciman plant either in the pond or in a bog garden.
I tend not to use them commercially because they are soft plants and stems will break with rough handling. If one of your stems breaks, just cut it off and new stalks will grow almost before you can jump out of the way.

These plants need no more fertilizer than the fish waste provides. When they grow out of their pots, just cut the excess off. They can be invasive in some climates, so always check with your local extension service before ordering and never plant them in a local waterway. Keep them contained in your pond.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Plants, but not for the pond

We drove to Big Branch National Wildlife Refuge in LaCombe, Louisiana to see if spring was really here. It is! The camellias, magnolia soulangiana and azaleas are splashing the grounds with color. Of course, I took pictures.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Pond Plants, Cannas

Ah, the magnificent canna, often called canna lily, is not a true lily at all, but a relative of gingers, bananas and heliconias. They have huge broad leaves that can be green or variegated with red, yellow or orange. The flowers are equally gaudy, bright yellow, red, orange and I love them all in the pond.

They need at least 6 hours of sun daily and more than anything else, love to have their feet wet. Contain them in a pot in the pond. Keep the top of the pond about an inch below the water and do nothing else.

I usually cut them back hard when they get ratty looking. I also remove all the overgrowth where the plant leaps from its pot. You may put them in the ground, but you had better like them, because you will have them forever.

They do get a leaf roller, but seem to avoid it more when they are in the water. Use them with abandon: They will reward you with huge splashes of color, either foliage or blooms.