Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Decorate Your Pond for the Holidays

Our holiday season is upon us, ready or not. Some folks just barely get through the season and others think it the best time of all the year and start looking forward to next year when this one is over. If you decorate your house, you probably decorate your yard. If you decorate your yard, don't forget your pond. You can make it a showpiece in the winter as well as the summer with a few simple ideas. So let's make your pond a focal point during the holidays just as it is the rest of the year.

There it is, in the middle of your garden, just sitting there, silent, icy, gray and completely unattractive. It doesn't have to be that way. You can decorate it for the holidays. Any holiday. For the American Thanksgiving, you can put a painted black cinder block or two or more in the water and put most anything you wish on top of it. Don't forget to spray the cinderblock black with spray paint so lime cannot leach out and the block becomes invisible in the water. A pot of red or yellow mums would look wonderful sitting on top of the cinder blocks for Thanksgiving. You can put a rosemary Christmas tree on that same cinder block just a couple of weeks later, decorate it with a few red bows and it would look great throughout the season.

A rosemary Christmas tree is only a rosemary plant clipped into the shape of a Christmas tree. You can usually find them at your local nursery or big box store right now for not much money. Next spring you can plant it in the ground and if you wish, keep it trimmed up for use again next year. Or if you wish, put a poinsettia plant on top and some more around the pond edge. You can also put these in the ground in the spring and they will grow large and bloom again next year. They do need complete darkness at night, though, so keep them away from street lights.

How about an angel or cherub statue on the cinderblock? Use your imagination for other rosemary tree decorations. How about some small Christmas tree balls, or tiny angels. Maybe it could be a project for your children as long as they are old enough to be around the water unsupervised. We would not want anyone taking a cold bath in November or December.

Perhaps rope lights strike your fancy. You can use rope lights around your pond. Simply weave them in and out of the plantings or bushes. They are cheap and can be found even at drug stores these days.

If you have a formal pond or no planting around the pond, string a rope light around the base of the pond or in the statue that sits inside it. Put a garland around your statue or dress it as a Santa.

Light up your pond in the winter. You may have a light already in your pond. Light it now. It will give the pond a glow that can be seen from your house and the street giving you and your neighbors a smile when you see it.

Put lights around your pond. If you have solar powered lights, they might not work as well when the sun is low in the winter sky. It might be time for low voltage lights that you can use now and all year round.

There are floating lights, even solar powered ones to add to your pond for even more interest.

Float some faux plants in the water, like hyacinths or even water lilies. Real plants are long gone until spring, but you can still have some that are amazingly realistic.

Glass balls that float are available and look divine both in summer and for the holidays. If you can't find these, just ball up some cellophane and float that around. No one will know what it is from a distance. These have a tendency to come undone, so you might want to fasten them in the center with a string or small tie.

With a bit of imagination and some bits and pieces of ordinary things, you can have a great look and lots of fun making your pond a part of your holiday decorations.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Ponds across the Curriculum

Over the years, I have been involved with several schools with ponds and several schools wanting the students to build a pond. Usually in schools with younger children, the parents and older siblings do the building and initial set up. After that the younger ones can easily take over any maintenance duties. If the pond is balanced ecologically, maintenance is easy and takes only a few minutes every month. Make sure the pump is unplugged and the plug does not get wet and everyone can help with the clean up. Pinch dead plant leaves and flowers off. Clean the inlet part of the pump, net any debris off the bottom and you are good to go. When you are finished, plug in the pump again and your waterfall starts and everyone is pleased.

The pond offers not only entertainment and enjoyment, but countless teaching opportunies. Pond building can involve every class, every discipline, no matter the age or grade of the students. All children know or need to know what a plant is, that it has roots, that it needs water and sun to grow. Each child needs to know that plants and fish can and do live in water, grow and thrive. And if the ecosystem get out of balance, plants and fish can die.


Teaching suggestions:

How big does the pond have to be?
How much liner do we need?
How big does the pump have to be?
How much do the rocks weigh?
How do we stack the rocks so they stay in place?
How do we find out how much water is in there?
How many square feet of water surface do we have?

Well, directions, of course. Or pond building books or websites that spotlight pond building. This also sharpens computer skills and search engine skills. Reading pond books or printed web sites can give differing outlooks on pond building in different climates, fish and plant care in tropical versus temperate climates. Reading and research skills can be sharpened by needing to know how plants and people interact, especially how people cannot exist without plants.


Rainforests are being destroyed. Where are they and why do we need them?

How does the pond make me feel?
What does it look like?
What lives in there?
Why do we need plants and fish?
Why I love our pond.
Write a haiku about ponds.
How much water do we have?
How much water is the pump pumping?
What is an ecosystem?
Can I feed the fish?
Why can't I feed the fish poptarts or my peanut butter sandwich?
Why is the pond green?
How can I get my turtle out?
Why do we have to add a dechlorinator?
Behavior/life skills

Learning that building a pond takes team work. How to read a tape measure. What tools are needed and how are they used and why? Why do we need to use the materials that are necessary? Why can't the liner have a hole in it? Safety with tools and building materials.

I have found that children get completely engrossed in the pond, especially if they assisted in the building. If parents are involved, it is even better because the building process gets the parents involved in the child's school activities. And, best of all, when summer comes no one has to take the pond home to care for it.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Winter Pond Equipment Care

Pumps, filters and UV lights

When temperatures drop, winter pond care is necessary. Algae growth stop, so you can disconnect your filter and UV light if you have one. Remember you only need filters and UV lights if you feed fish. If you make them work for their room and board by eating submerged vegetation and in turn fertilizing it, you have no need for filtration or UV lights.

As the temperatures drop to 39 degrees F, turn off all pumps and fountains. Fish like to stay in the bottom of the pond where the water is warmer, so don't stir up the water and lose the bottom layer of warmer water.

Remove your pumps now, check the hoses for leaks. Clean your pump, clean and wipe down your filters and UV lights. To clean tubes and remove lime scale, you can wipe them with vinegar.

De icing

When the pond freezes over, you must create an ice free opening in the ice, so gases can be exchanged and the fish can breathe. You can buy deicers, but if you do, buy the ones that are used to keep horse trough water from freezing. They cost about 1/4th as much and work better. And cost much less to run. Another way to keep a hole open is with a plastic jug that milk or water came in. Put a couple of cups of water in the jug, tie a string on it and float it in the water, tying the string to something you can reach easily. If the pond stays iced over in the morning, pull the jug out and you will have a hole in the ice. If the temperatures stay below freezing all day and you expect them to stay there, you must use several jugs or a different method altogether. You must be vigilant if the temperatures continue below freezing because ammonia and carbon dioxide build up from fish breathing. Ammonia is also generated from decomposing plant material and fish waste. If these gases can't escape, your fish can die, plus they need oxygen to breathe.

If your pond does freeze over completely for more than a day, do NOT whack it with a hammer to open it. The shock can kill your fish. Use warm, not hot, water from your inside faucet to open a hole. Just run it over the ice or put it in a pot or bucket and put it on the ice. You can also run water from your garden hose and the ice will melt, unless you live where the hose is frozen too. I have heard of people putting a piece of black visqueen on the ice to thaw it, but have never tried it. Let me know if it works. You can do these things daily, but I think the plastic jug is easier. And, of course, the deicer is easiest, but also costs a few dollars.

Some people build a frame over their pond, like a cold frame, out of PVC and visqueen to keep the pond warmer and protect it from debris falling in the winter. This can be a good idea because we tend not to pay as much attention to the pond in winter and a small problem can become a disaster if not prevented.

Do not run a pump that brings the warmer water up from the bottom of the pond to the top. Pretty soon all the water will be cold. If you do put a pump in the water, raise it to only 10 or so inches from the top. That will leave the warm water at the bottom where the fish are more comfortable.

Fish food, liquid bacteria, fertilizers

Now is the time to discard all fish food, if you have been feeding fish. It loses nutrients over time, so throw it away and buy new in the spring.

Buy all the pond things now that you might need this winter because no stores stock pond supplies in the winter.

Be sure you have enough dechlor, Microbe-Lift and any fish meds you may need.

If you do these few simple tasks, your pond will come alive happy and healthy next spring.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Winter pond care - plants and fish

Winter pond care requires some special care, not much, but just a few things to watch. If you have not done all the nasty fall care, you must do it now. Trying to remove debris through the ice is impossible.

Fish care

Your pond changes in the winter. The fish are in torpor, a word for fish hibernation, as soon as the temperature drops to 43 degrees F. Their metabolisms have slowed and they are hanging out where the water is warmest - at the bottom of the pond. They hang out in a tight group to stay warm. They are not eating because they cannot digest food at these temperatures. If you feed them and they do eat the food, the partially digested food will kill them. They can survive if the pond freezes over, but only if you keep a hole open in the ice so gasses can be exchanged. If they have no oxygen, they will die.

If your pond freezes solid, do not leave any fish or living creatures in the pond. They will not survive.

Any plant material or fish waste left in the pond will decompose and cause a build up of toxic gases and your fish will die, as will any frogs, turtles or toads. The aeronomas bacteria produced continues to grow and your pond inhabitants will die. And it will be your fault. And this decomposition quickens in the spring faster than your fish come out of torpor and can become even more dangerous.

Turtle, frog and toad care

Make sure the frogs, turtles and toads have mud to burrow into. Inside the house is better for them, but most of us don't have a spare room to house our turtle, frog and toad population. If you must leave them out and can't get them out of the pond, try this trick. Find a plastic dishpan or plastic box and fill them with sand, dirt and kitty litter. Put the box in the bottom of the pond. They will dig in and hibernate there. When the weather warms in the spring, you can remove the temporary rooms in their fine hotel and pack them away until next winter.

Plant care

Cut all bog plants back. Or remove them from the pond. You did this when you prepped for fall, right? The plants will die all the way back even if they are hardy plants. They will return in the spring bigger and better. If you have tropical bog plants, they need to come in the house with the water lilies. It's getting crowded in the house.

Water lily care

If you have hardy water lilies, drop them to the very bottom of the pond. If your pond freezes solid they have to come in the house too. If you have a greenhouse or something you can turn into a green house, it's better because the water in that pot can get pretty rank before spring arrives and your lilies can go back outdoors.

If you live in a part of the country where the pond would never freeze solid, you are fine leaving them in the deepest part of the pond. Water lilies thrive at 10,000 feet in Rocky Mountain National Park lakes.

If you have tropical water lilies, you must bring them inside where temps do not drop below 50 degrees. If you have a greenhouse, all the better because your house is now full of plants sitting in water. If you live in the south, as I do, you can put your tropical lilies in the deepest part of the pond and they have at least a 50-50 chance of survival

You may also remove the lilies from their pot, rinse them well and store the tubers in a sack of damp sand, again do not put them where temperatures drop below 50 degrees F. Remove them in the spring and repot. Be sure the tubers are firm. If they are mushy, throw them away. You will have plenty, don't worry. In the spring you will be able to pot up plenty of lilies to give to friends.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

How to build a pondless Waterfall

Pondless waterfalls have become all the rage in the past few years. They have all the good parts of a water garden, but none of the green water or sick fish worries of a pond. For those people who want water sounds in their garden, a pondless waterfall may be a great way to have it. They are easy to build if you wish to do it yourself.

What is a pondless waterfall

A pondless waterfall consists of a lined hole in the ground filled with rocks, a rock or rocks made into a waterfall and a pump that recirculates the water. That's all you need. I prefer to add some plants around it so it does not look like a rock pile. Plants soften any pond or pondless waterfall and make it look natural instead of made by human hands. Depending on your climate, you can use any plants that grow where you live. They need not be water plants, because they will not be in any water.

You can buy a pondless waterfall kit containing a pump, some tubing and a plastic tub if you wish. They are available most everywhere. I find the kits too expensive and prefer to buy each item individually.

How do I build a pondless waterfall?

Start with a tub that you will bury in the ground. You can buy the tub at a big box store, but their tubs are plastic and don't hold up very long. The sun destroys them within a few years. And they have a built in shelf for plants, so you have to dig your hole to fit those shelves and that digging and positioning will give you gray hair. Those tubs are made for ponds, not pondless waterfalls. So here's what I buy. Go to your local feed or pet store. They will have horse watering troughs, usually made by Rubbermaid. They are cheap, normally under $40.00, and are indestructible. There are no shelves to worry about either.

Dig a hole, put the tub in the hole and back fill with the soil you dug out. If that is unsuitable, use kiddy play sand. Get the tub as level as you can, but leave it elevated about four inches. Fill it with water now. I know it will get filthy, but do it anyway. You will pump it out later. Now, use the hose to wet the sand you used to backfill. That makes it settle into all the air pockets and makes your tub stable. If you don't have it filled with water, the tub will float up while you are hosing the sand into place and you will have to start digging all over again.

Now that you have the tub in place, it's time to put your pump in. I usually put the pump somewhere where I know I can get to it later, because it will need cleaning periodically. Connect a long piece of flexible tubing to the pump and lay it outside the tub. This tube is what water will go through to get up and over the waterfall or through the rocks, so be sure the tubing is long enough.

Next, place big rocks, any kind you like, in the tub. Put big ones on the bottom. Remember, you will have to get to the pump to clean it at least twice a year or so, so either cover the pump so you can remove it easily or put it in an 8" - 10" wide piece of PVC with the cord sticking out. Don't let the PVC stick up over the top of the tub. Cover it with a flat rock.

Put topsoil around that 4" of tub that you left sticking up. You will plant in that later. On the top of the topsoil, cantilever flat rocks over the top of the tub so no rubber is showing.

Now you are ready to either build a waterfall using flat rocks or, my favorite, use a rock with a hole drilled through it. Push the tubing through the hole and let it bubble up and back down into the tub. You may have to have the hole drilled through the rock at the rock yard if you do not have the equipment to do it yourself.

Thread the tube through. Plug in the pump. Plant some pretty plants around your new piece of art and mulch it up.

You have a pondless waterfall.