Saturday, October 31, 2009

Pond Vacuum Cleaners Redux

I get questions about pond vacs all the time. People want to use a pond vac or a wet vac to clean the bottom of the pond and not have to do a total clean out.  And will that work?  In a word, no.

A pond vac sucks up water.  It sucks up the junk at the bottom of the pond, but it sucks more water than junk.

The other big problem with pond vacs is that they do not have enough suction to reach from the top of the pond where they must sit to the bottom of the pond where the junk is.  Wet vacs are better at this, but still not the best.

 If you want to clean the bottom of the pond and not pump all the water out of the pond first, try this: Go to the swimming pool supply store.  Find a gadget that looks like the picture in the link above.  Do not buy the mesh bag that the salesman wants to sell you. It doesn't work because the mesh is not fine enough.  Also, if you don't already have a telescoping pole for your fish net, buy one of those as well.
When you get the saucer/vacuum cleaner home, attach your garden hose to the fitting on the saucer and a leg from an old pair of panty hose over the hole in the middle of the blue saucer.  You now have a water pressure powered pond vac that will (sorta) clean the pond bottom. At least it will do a better job than the ones you pay lots of big green dollars for.

Put the saucer on the bottom of the pond.  Turn on the water.  If you turn the water on first, you will start the job wet.

Using the pole, which also has a handy place to attach, start vacuuming the bottom of the pond.  The panty hose will fill up fast with all that pond scum on the bottom.  You will quickly have a panty hose leg full of decayed plant material, fish waste and other unspeakable stuff that drops to the bottom of the pond.

When the panty hose leg gets heavy, turn off the water and empty the panty hose leg.  Repeat until the bottom of the pond is as clean as you want it.

By the way, I put a water shut off valve at the saucer end of the hose so I can turn off the water without having to walk back to the hose bib every time.

This is a dirty, messy job.  Wear old clothes and be prepared to shower immediately after.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Pond still losing water

You are pulling your hair out trying to figure out why your pond is still losing water.  Do you have a fountain in the pond?  If so, make sure the fountain is not too close to the edge and water is splashing out.  Check your waterfall as well. If water is splashing on the rocks near the edge of the waterfall, it is splashing out.  Falling water must have an area twice as wide as the water is high for the water to stay contained. So if your waterfall or fountain is pumping water 2 feet above the pond, the pond must have 4' of surface for it to fall into.  
One more thing:  If you have a fountain with some sort of nozzle or a spitter that sends water far in the air, the wind can blow the water out of the pond.  Watch your pond water level when the wind is blowing. You might want to turn off your pump if it's windy.

The holes in a nozzle can get clogged up and pretty soon you have one thin stream of water shooting out. It is hard to see because it is so thin.  Check it. You may wish to remove the nozzle completely.   Or clean it lots and lots. With a toothpick. And a brush. In the water. With your boots on.  Frustrating.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Help, My Pond is Still Leaking

You have checked everything. There are no liner holes, the waterfall water is falling in the pond and not sneaking off the back, all hoses and hose connections are tight and secure, but your pond is still losing water.

Do you have a spitter? A spitter is some ornament, often a statue of a frog or bird that has a hole in the bottom and spits water out of its mouth.  I am not a big fan of spitters, but you are and you have one.  First disconnect it. If the pond water level stays put, you know that your spitter is the cause.  Often as pumps get clogged up or hoses get full of algae, the water flow slows down and the spitter drools. When that happens the water sneaks out of the pond, sometimes only a drop or two at a time.  If you don't think that is very much, let water drip slowly out of your inside faucet and see how much your water bill goes up.

To repair a spitter drool, you can move the spitter so it sits totally inside the pond or prop it up next to the pond with a serious tilt into the pond so water can't escape.  Watch out for this method because the thing can fall into your pond and puncture the liner. Then you have bigger problems.  My solution. Disconnect the spitter and let it sit wherever you wish minus the water coming out.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

How to Patch a Liner

I always recommend using a 40 mil butyl rubber liner when you build a pond.  Unless you walk on them with golf cleats, they survive most anything.  But occasionally, they get a leak.  If your lab loves to play in your pond, those toenails could cause a leak.  One time I had to deal with a client who put sharp rocks in the pond and put plants on top of them.  If you must put huge, sharp rocks in the pond, put an extra piece of liner underneath and don't move the plants around by just sliding them. Pick up the plants and the rocks if you must move them.
The hardest thing to do if you have a hole in your liner is finding it.  See for hints on finding the leak.
After you find it, be sure the liner surrounding the hole is clean and dry.  If you are not in blinding hot sun, you may need a hair dryer to get it totally dry.
The 40 mil butyl rubber liner is the same material as an inner tube, for those of us old enough to remember those.  You can use a tire patch found at any automotive store or you can buy patching material from an aquatic nursery or online from any pond supply store. It doesn't' cost much. You simply cover the hole with the patching tape - it's sticky on one side. And you are done.  I have had patches last for over 10 years so far.
So find the hole, slap on the tape, make sure it's dry,  refill the pond with water and  you are good to go!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Catching Goldfish

I have had a few questions about ponds freezing solid.  What to do with the goldfish?

You have to catch them and bring them inside.  I have heard that goldfish can freeze and survive, but have never seen it happen, so bringing them in is best.  But first, how to catch them?

Try this:

1)Fill a container with pond water.

2)Get a bucket of very warm, even hot, water.

3)Pour it slowly into the pond. The fish will come toward the warm water.

4)Use a net, catch the fish and put them in the container full of pond water.  Water is heavy so don't make the fish container too big or you won't be able to carry it.

5)Let the fish warm slowly in that same pond water before you transfer them to their winter home.

By the way, if the pond does ice over, do NOT  hit it with a hammer to open a hole.  The blow could kill the fish. One way to open a hole is to put a pan of hot water on top of the ice and let it melt.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Leaky liners

I know we have talked about liner leaks before, but the question keeps getting asked: How do I fix my leaking pond?

First of all, your pond is probably not leaking. I always tell people that when they call to tell me their pond is leaking.

"Hi Jan, my pond is leaking."

"No, it probably isn't."

"But it is losing water every day and anyway how can you know that if you haven't seen it?"

"I have seen thousands of ponds and am all knowing.  Chances are about 99% your liner has no hole in it. Let's troubleshoot.  If I have to come over there, you will need to get out your checkbook, so if we can do this over the phone, my advice is free.  Which do you prefer?"

"Over the phone."

"OK, turn off your pump, fill up your pond and let it sit over night.  If the water stays put, your water is falling behind the waterfall.  If you have a spitter, the water is drooling down the spitter and out of the pond. Check your waterfall rocks. Chances are one of them has tipped and water is not going back in the pond, but falling off the back.  Look at the water level in the morning and call me back."

I usually get no call back.  The pond owner has learned something.  Liners rarely leak. They rarely get holes in them unless raccoons have been marauding through the water in search of tasty morsels.

The pond owner finds the wayward rock, tips it back into place and all is well.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Concrete Pond Leaks

I get questions all the time about leaky ponds. Since there are so many kinds of ponds, so many kinds of leaks and so many ways to repair them, I want to spend  a few days talking about leaks.

Let's start with concrete ponds. I do not recommend building ponds with concrete because it is not watertight and is brittle, but many people use concrete, so I get to fix their leaks.

Concrete ponds crack.  It's inevitable. If you have a concrete pond, it will crack.  Plan on it.  I don't care if you use concrete 6 inches thick and 6000 psi. It's gonna crack.  So, now what?

If the crack is hairline, you perhaps can fix it. Maybe. For a short while anyway.  Get some plumbers' epoxy.  Not plumbers' putty. Epoxy.  Make the crack bigger. Dig it out so there is a bit of a V shape, like the dentist does when he fills a cavity in your tooth.  Now make sure the crack is dry and clean.  If you have to, use a hair dryer to dry it completely.

Now mix the epoxy. Put gloves on first because the epoxy sticks on your hands just like it sticks on the concrete. Epoxy comes in a tube and looks like a big stick of chalk.  So unwrap as much as you need and start pinching and rolling it - gloves on, remember.  In a couple of  minutes, the epoxy will get warm. A minute or so after that, it's ready to use.  Smush the epoxy in the crack. Notice the technical term, smush. It's important. Make sure the epoxy is pushed into the crack and smoothed out both in the crack and along the edges.  Wait for it to dry.  The directions on the side of the package will tell you how long that will take.

When the epoxy is dry, refill the pond with water.  The epoxy will not hurt your fish or plants.

I have had some repairs last for several years, some for only several months.  I never guarantee a concrete repair.  Often I will do it free if the pond belongs to a steady customer.  If the customer pays for the service, he expects some sort of warranty and this repair is not good enough for that.

If you can see through the crack in your concrete, you cannot repair it. I don't care who says you can, it is not possible. Find a waterproofing company and have them put a new coating on your pond.  Or just drop a butyl rubber liner inside the concrete pond and start over.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Ponds and the Frost Line

Because I live in the Deep South, I do not have to bother about a frost line because aside from some chilly weather occasionally, we don't have to deal with frozen ponds.  But those of you who do, need to know what the frost line is in your area. You can find out by calling your local extension office if you don't already know.  Oh, the frost line is the depth of soil where it no longer freezes.  For some of you, that is really deep.  When you are building your pond, know your frost line and dig the pond deeper than that.  That way, your pond will never freeze solid.  Your fish have a chance of survival even if the top of the pond freezes over.  I do advocate keeping a hole in the ice, but sometimes that is not possible.  Fish are in torpor, a form of fish hibernation all winter, so they just lie around at the bottom of the water in suspended animation, if you will.

Digging below the frost line will mean less chance of damage to your liner as well.  You have, of course, removed all your pond equipment already and stored them safely. Right?

Check  for more winter pond care tips.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Did I mention pond plants?

Cut back your tropical pond plants now.  If you plan to overwinter them, bring them in the garage or the greenhouse.  Most of them will do fine if not frozen solid. If you have anacharis and your pond will freeze solid, bring it in too and put it in a washtub in the garage. (Garage getting crowded?)  Put your goldfish in there too if your pond is not below your frost line

Cut back your hardy plants as well. I cut mine back to about 3". The pond will look dreadful all winter, but the plants will come back green and healthy next spring when the plants put out new growth.

To make the fall pond into something besides a gray hole full of water, add some mums around the edge for fall color.  Put a few painted cinder blocks in the pond to raise decorations out of the water and put some Halloween decorations on top.  Or a few more pots of mums.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Winter is coming

From questions I have been getting, it seems as if some spots in the country are headed into winter. We, of course, are still in the last throes of summer waiting for the 90 degree heat to finally give up and go away. So for those of you in cooler climes, here's a great article on how to deal with your pond equipment during the winter.  Remember if your pond depth is below the freeze line, you do not have to remove your fish. You just need to keep a hole open in the ice.

Winter Care for Pond Equipment


Saturday, October 03, 2009

Pond Fish in Winter

As the nights lengthen and cool, you may notice your fish becoming less active and lying around near the bottom of your pond.  If you do feed your fish, stop now.  

You can kill them if you feed when the temperatures are below 55ยบ F.  

Even if you have a day or so above that temperature, do not feed. For tips on winter fish and plant care, read this article I wrote about fish and plant care during the winter: Winter Fish Care