Monday, April 30, 2007

My goldfish are brown!

Most goldfish are born black/brownish. That 's because their mommas will eat them if they can find them, so being in camouflage is a survival tool. Most of the fry turn orange/yellow, but some stay black/brown. When you see tanks and tanks of gold goldfish in the store you are seeing them with the dark ones culled out.

After your fish spawn for a few years, you may find that the surviving babies, now grown up, are black/brownish, so,you may want to start over again. But, if you have named your babies and have become best buddies, and want to stay in contact, give them to a friend or relative.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Help, my pond is leaking

I had to share my flower garden as of 10 minutes ago. The New Orleans spring garden makes it allmost worth it to live here.

Now on to the leaking pond:

Chances are, if your water level is dropping fast, you do not have a hole in your liner, so relax. Now that you are relaxed, here's how to find that leak. Turn your pump off. Fill your pond up. Tomorrow morning have a look at it. If the water level is where you left it, the water is falling off your waterfall and ending up on the ground, not in your pond. Your rocks have settled or some critter has knocked them around. Turn the pump on again and you will find that leak right away. Put the waterfall rocks right and your leaking problems are over. Now wasn't that easy? And you saved the cost of a trouble call to a professional.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Garden Design

William H. Frederick, a garden designer, states in a recent Horticulture magazine, "The greatest way to destroy a good garden is to come home with a plant in hand and have no idea where to put it." He once kept a plant in a greenhouse for 15 years because he couldn't figure out where it would fit in.

So what does that make the rest of us? We buy plants that strike our fancy and, if need be, change the design of the garden to accomodate it. And would we have it differently? I do hope not. If we didn't experiment, how would we learn that Artemesia makes a great hedge, that pentas looks great most everywhere, that vegetables and herbs can indeed be used in the landscape. So can 'found objects', 'garden junk', old farm implements and I used old windows once that I made look like a folding screen. That they were falling apart only added to their charm.

Experiment, people. If we don't do that we will be doomed to staying in the same rut whether it be gardening or life.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Pond Disasters

Most pond disasters are caused by the pond owner. They are due to a lack of pond education or just plain stupidity. I had clients who did not know how to reset a GFI, clients that did not listen to me and used every chemical they could find to get clear water and in doing so, killed every plant and fish in the pond.
But most of all, I had clients who did not keep an extra bottle of dechlorinator in the house for those times when they started to top off the pond and left the water running.

One of my long term clients, a well known politician here in New Orleans, turned his water on and then left town for the weekend. Flooded his yard and flooded the entire street corner. When the water was threatening the neighbors front doors, somebody called me, suspecting the pond had somehow fallen apart. I drove over and turned off the water. And charged him a whopping service call just because he deserved it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

How to build a waterfall

No, not this one, a waterfall for your pond.

When building a waterfall, stacking the rocks with spaces between them makes the falls louder. There is a echo effect. If it's done properly, waterfall noise can wake up the neighbors. Just be careful that the water coming over the falls ends up in the pond, not on the ground or you could pump your pond dry in a few hours. Most of the dangerous drops in water level are caused by waterfalls where rocks have been placed improperly or have shifted.

Friday, April 20, 2007

We have a guest blogger 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!!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

My Plants/Fish are Dying, help

My Stella D'oro dayllily yesterday

For pond problems, 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.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Keeping anacharis alive

Louisiana Iris black gamecock bud

Now on to anacharis problems:

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 a filter, catching and holding suspended material in the pond. With anacharis your pond will stay balanced and crystal clear with no other filtration as long as you don't feed your fish.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

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.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Mosquito fish

Remember awhile ago we talked about mosquito fish

I got this letter from a fish farm owner who adds to my education and, I hope, yours about these critters.

On Apr 10, 2007, at 6:54 AM, Colin D Calway wrote:

Hi Jan,

I was reading your comments about mosquito fish, (Gambusia).

I raise millions of these fish for mosquito control at my fish farm in Florida. Also we raise Koi carp, tropical fish and all sorts of aquatic and bog plants.

When in ponds with other fish they present little or no problem. Like a lot of fish they are territorial, when in small areas like fish tanks they will defend their territory by ganging up on other species of fish.

Bottom line is they are a native fish which have been around for a long time. I hear comments like they eat fish eggs, frog eggs and tadpoles. This is true but tell me one fish that does not do the same and most of them have a lot larger mouths.

The biggest enemy we have at the farm are the walking catfish. These fish are decimating many of our smaller tropical fish.

I enjoyed reading your article.

Best regards,

Colin D. Calway.

Happy Trails Aquatics. A natural and biological way to control mosquitoes. Visit us on line.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Bog garden, continued

Because it rained from dawn to dark yesterday, you can see the reason I need a bog garden. Those black piles of soil are where crawfish pushed their way up so they would not drown under all the rain that fell and stayed right where it fell in my front yard. All that rain delayed progress on the garden for a full day.

All day did not go to waste. Luckily the garage is big, so the walkway sections got built and put into place. Now we can walk to the mailbox at the street without hip boots.

And here is half the bog today. You can see how fast bog or swamp plants grow in Louisiana. After you plant them, you must jump back or they will hit you in the face on their way up.
They are happy plants in all that water.

The bog progress will continue with updates as the bog continues to crowd out the crawfish chimneys.

Monday, April 09, 2007

My Bog Garden

I just planted a bog garden in my front yard. Seems strange, you say, to put bog garden in a front yard. Well, I guess it is. But you don't have my front yard.

My new front yard is so low and the water table is so high that crawfish chimneys dot the grass. Most plants cannot grow unless I put raised berms in and the plants in the berms. That means I have to water the plants daily and that certainly doesn't help the high water table situation at all.

After Katrina took our last house where the water table was much lower, we jumped on this house that did not flood. After Katrina, there was no rain in Southeast Louisiana for more than 6 months, so who knew that crawfish laid a claim on my front yard. When the rains got back to normal, my yard was a minefield. I could have caught the mud bugs and eaten them if I were not a vegan.

After trying to figure out what to do with the yard and after writing several articles about bog gardens, I decided to work with what I had rather than against it. I have no idea why there was some sort of disconnect in my brain that allowed me to write numerous bog and rain garden articles, but not consider one for my yard. I shall call it post Katrina PTSD.

So, all these months after Katrina, living in a new house where I could not walk to the mailbox without getting wet to my ankles, I decided to put in a bog garden.

It began with removing grass and moving it to where the septic tank installer had left a 10 foot wide strip of sandy clay where nothing grows in hopes of it grabbing on and maybe growing. One can hope.

That left two large areas of mud or mud holes as my mother would call them.

I had already ordered cannas, cattails, papyrus, cyperus, sedge, rushes, marsh marigolds, dozens of irises and cardinalis for my bog. I was thrilled when they arrived.

I order plants bare root from a grower, so they are tiny when they arrive. But you can see the plants in the mud if you look hard.

I decided I needed to mulch them up so we would not have our own mosquito breeding factory.
Ran out of mulch before I was done, so you are seeing bogs in progress.

I have the rest of the mulch which will be applied tomorrow. I have the wood for the walkway to install between the front porch and the mailbox, so we will not have to drive around the boggy yard just to retrieve mail.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

My pond looks like 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.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Making the pond appear bigger

If for some reason you cannot make your pond as large as you would like, there are design tricks you can use to fool the eye into seeing water where there is none. Try a dry stream bed or dry lake using rocks. Occasionally I have placed round river rocks carefully in a pattern and epoxied them in. I then spray them with a clear lacquer occasionally to keep them looking wet. In the picture, the client wanted a moving water look to go with her more natural looking pond and landscape. You can use whatever you wish. Design is not some secret science that only pros use. It is what looks good to you. Have fun with it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Let's Talk Design

Design, whether it is a garden or cathedral, a living room or your wardrobe is all the same. It is simply putting things where you think they look best. Anyone can do it. See how the rock wall in the picture forms a sort of wiggly, lazy line that ties two parts of the garden together with the pond in the middle. The rocks made the garden a whole unit rather than just a pond sticking in up in the middle of the yard.

Most everyone is afraid of the word design. They think it is some magic talent that only some people have. Nope, everyone can learn design. If you can put clothes on that look nice on you, you can design anything. Some people go to school to learn it, others, like me, just have to realize that it isn't anything special and go for it. Obviously, I love garden design. I also love interior design, not that you could really tell by the inside of the house. Garden design lets you work with incredibly beautiful materials, outside with the only challenges being size, weather, and light conditions.

I think all of design is about light and how it strikes what is in the garden. It hits broadleaf plants and creates a shadow below. It strikes strap leaf plants and creates geometric patterns with the plant itself and creates shadows that make the small color plants pop in the sun.

Countless books have been written about garden design. There are schools devoted to it. But all you really need to know is 'tall stuff in the back and green side up'.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Start a Pond Society

We pond builders love visitors to our gardens and ponds and hope that our visitors will enjoy our ponds as much as we do. We want them to question us about the plants, the fish, the waterfall. We want them to ask, "How did you DO that?" We are rightfully proud of our ponds and we want to show them off.

Have you thought about organizing a pond society in your area? You could get together and swap ideas and plants. And get to meet other great folks. Have monthly or bi-monthly meetings at each others' houses, so you can show off your garden.

When I was still in business, I sponsored a yearly pond tour. Pond owners would open their back yards to the public and hundreds of people would get to admire ponds. Admission fees went to charity and it was a great advertising tool for me.

I also sponsored, "Build a Pond Day." Once a year, my staff would build a pond at a nursing home or other care facility, a school or a public garden. Again, all admission fees went to charity and I got great publicity. Attendees would see how easily and quickly a pond could be built - we were usually done by about 1:00pm. And if the watchers wanted to help, they were encouraged to do so.

All of these activities are great ways to educate the public about ponds and pondkeeping. People love to look at other people's back yards and you want to show yours off. It's a win win situation and much fun for everyone.