Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Bog plants - the rushes

There are more rushes than other emergent pond plants. We have such a grand variety, we can choose most any texture, shape, color and size we want. I love the horsetail rush, also known as the scouring rush (Equisetum hyemale) for you purists. It is the oldest plant that survives today that is found in fossil form exactly as it is found today.

It grew near my house when I was growing up in Michigan. We used to take it apart and use it as a pea shooter. It grows down here in New Orleans in the water or out. The stalks are smaller than they were when I was a youngster or maybe I am bigger.

One caution about horsetail: Be sure you keep it in the water. If you plant it in the ground, your garden will soon be covered in it. It will pop up everywhere, dozens of feet away from where you put it initially.

The corkscrew rush is another favorite of mine. Its curly stalks add a whimsical mood to the pond. You just never know where the stalks are going to turn next.

Use either or both of these rushes in your pond. As always put the top of the pot about an inch below the water. These plants will never disappoint.

Monday, February 26, 2007

Pond Plants, Taro

Taros are another emergent plant to use in your pond. Their broad leaves add a shape that contrasts well with the rushes and strap leaf irises. You can find taro in green, black and variegated. It will emerge from the water about 2' and, as all of the marginal plants, likes to have the top of its pot about an inch under the water.

Taro will grow well in the shade, one of few pond plants that will. It is also tropical, so sorry, you folks up north, you can have it only in the summer unless you wish to take it inside for the winter.

Taro is grown for its foliage rather than any flower.

Oh, if you let taro loose in the garden, you will be chasing it around trying to remove it for years. Keep it contained in the pot and in the pond. If it overgrows the pond, cut off the excess and give it to friend or compost it. Do not let it get into a public waterway.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Pond Plants, Papyrus

I love both of these bog plants. Both are placed in the pond with the tops of their pots about a inch under the water and they grow profusely. Like the Umbrella Palm or Cyperus, if the top of a stalk falls in the water, a new plant will grow. It is almost as if the roots of these plants are on the top.
The Dwarf Papyrus is easier to handle than the giant and grows to about 2' tall. The Giant Papyrus gets to be close to 6' tall here in the South and can fall over if not planted in a wide pot. Here's what I do to keep them from falling over. Put the potted up plant into a much wider pot and then fill the wider pot up with gravel or sand. The downside to this is that the plant now needs four strong men to move it. I use the Giant Papyrus anyway because it is lovely waving in any breeze and adds such a strong architectural statement to the water garden.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Pond Plants, Umbrella plants

Umbrella plants, sometimes called umbrella palms or cyperus grow as full sized plants up to 6' tall or as dwarfs about 10 inches tall.

The full sized umbrellas are invasive and will grow anywhere, in the water or out. In the south, I have seen them planted too close to a house and they have cracked the foundation, so be careful where you put them. That said, the plant is a great aquatic plant. It is immune to every disease I know of and if kept contained looks wonderful waving in the breeze. When a stalk gets old and turns brown, just whack it off at the bottom. If it grows out of its pot, just cut off the overgrowth and start a new pot. I usually cut the plant way back to about an inch tall in the fall, so new growth can come up in the spring. One wonderful thing about this plant: If the top umbrella part of the stalk falls in the water, a new plant will grow from that.

The dwarf umbrellas do not perform well for me in the water. I usually plant them in the ground and use as a ground cover. The plant spreads nicely and must be kept under control. But, I have not seen it disrupt foundations of houses.

I used the full sized umbrella in almost every pond I built because I knew that no matter how the owner might abuse it, it would just keep on growing.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

The Louisiana Iris

After we have put one bunch of oxygenating plants in the pond and covered at least 50% of the pond surface with floating plants, we can start putting in plants that stick up out of the water. One of my favorites is the state wildflower of Louisiana, the Louisiana Iris.

Originally, this iris was a deep purple and the bayous of Louisiana are still covered in purple in the early spring. After decades of hybridizing, the flower can be found in nurseries in every shade from almost black to red to white.

Not only can the Louisiana iris be planted in the pond, but it can thrive anywhere where it can keep its feet wet. I often put them in the pond and then continued them out of the pond to create a swath of irises blooming in the spring. When the iris is not in bloom the strap leaf adds a wonderful shape and texture in the landscape.

When you plant this iris in the pond, use a sandy soil and cover it with rocks or small stones, so the fish can't dig it out. Put the top of the pot about an inch below the water.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Floating Plants

When we are balancing the pond ecologically, we know we must include oxygenating plants, submerged grasses like anacharis, hornwort or cabomba.

As oxygenating plants are the workhorse of the balanced pond, floating plants are certainly the next most important. Oxygenating plants usually don't want to be in full sun, so the floating plants provide shade and the submerged plants can flourish. They also provide cool spots when the sun is beating down on the water and hiding places for fish when predators like local birds come looking for dinner. Some of the floating plants are mosaic, pictured above, parrots's feather, which can climb up and out of the pond, over the rocks. Water hyacinths, another floating plant can be noxious weeds and illegal in your state, so always check with your local extension service before introducing them into your pond. Water poppy and water clover are two other floaters that spread quickly, but are easily controlled and add another dimension to your waterscape.

With the addition of floating plants that cover at least one half of the pond surface, you have balanced your pond and lessened the maintenance immeasurably. And less maintenance makes us all happy.

As with all plants, floating plants will not survive with koi in the pond.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Spring really is coming

We are soldiering through February, here in New Orleans with rain and upstate NY with a dozen feet of snow. But spring is coming.

I am going to start selling live plants on my web site at in March, so I want to spend some time talking about different kinds of plants and why we either need or love them.

The work horse of ponds is the underwater or submerged plant. You cannot have an ecologically balanced pond without submerged vegetation.

Many kinds can be used, (anacharis, cabomba, hornwort and more), but the most popular and efficient is anacharis, pictured above. The underwater plant feeds your fish, but it grows faster than they can eat it. The underwater plant give off oxygen that the fish breathe. And the fish waste feeds the plant. There are even a couple more advantages of submerged vegetation: It filters the water and keeps it crystal clear and because it floats around your fish can hide under it and avoid predators.

One caveat about anacharis and many other types of submerged grasses: They can be invasive and therefore considered noxious weeds in some states. Be sure to check with your local extension service before purchasing any, not just from me, but anywhere. Do not introduce anything to your pond that could escape into native waters, spread wildly and harm the ecobalance of the body of water.

Thursday, February 08, 2007


Good grief, for the last two days we have had weather in the 70's. For three days before that we had hard freezes. What's a pond to do. Luckily for all of us, ponds are living organisms and survive most anything, even human intervention. Fish are swimming again and out of torpor. So do we feed them? No. Not until spring. When temperatures are consistently over 55 degrees, you may feed your fish.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Pond cleaning questions

Question from a pond keeper:

I have had my pond for three years now. the bottom is covered with small rocks about 3 inches deep for natural bacteria surface. The water has been crystal clear for the last 2 years. Its 6 ft x 12 ft, 3 ft deep. I use a skimmer and biofalls system, with a 4000 gal/hr pump for 1000 gal water. I hear you say to clean out the entire pond every year. Others say to let it ride.

Some of my plants have even escaped the plastic pots and have rooted into the rock bottom. I change the water regularly. Is there any harm in letting it go without eliminating the bacteria colonies that have built up in the bottom? I'm thinking .... if its clear, and not broken, don't fix it? What do you all think?

Pond Expert Carolyn Weise answers:

You have more than a substrate of rocks down there by now. You have a layer of silt that is building up into a living layer of soil, which is anaerobic. If you decided to empty the pond and muck it out, you would know in an instant how awful it was. With ponds, it really isn't out of sight out of mind. What you do not see can really be a problem waiting to happen.

Reply to Carolyn's answer:

What sort of problems could this cause? in the summertime, I have to change my filter daily, the koi waste plugs it quickly. and when I rinse it out, if I let that water sit for a day or two, it does smell like sewerage. (but all my plants and vegetables love it, makes them grow good), really the only thing i check for regularly is the ph levels. If the fish do not eat when I throw in food, I know somethings up. or after a long rain, that always brings it down. I just add baking soda and its back up. What else should I be looking for?

Carolyn replies:

You just mentioned a few very important ones. The idea that the fish would not eat is a very serious one and should be prevented at all cost. It is significant of poor water quality. Remember, all water toxicity is not visible by the naked eye and pH is not the only parameter that affects your fish health. The pond is a big part of your biological filtration. If not kept clean, the water suffers greatly, ergo, do the fish.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Winter in New Orleans

New Orleans is having its typical month of simply awful weather. It's raining almost daily. The temperatures are not cold, in the 40's and 50's, but it is gray and drizzly all the time. The Carnival parades are starting and it's difficult to mount a parade in the rain and cold. Mardi Gras, the culmination of the Carnival season is February 20th, so in less than 3 weeks the madness will be over for another year.
And what about our ponds. Most Carnival participants don't give two hoots about their ponds during the season. Frankly, in this weather, all I want to do is look outside from a heated house.
We can, though, make sure we are ready for spring because it really is just around the corner. Make sure your garden tools are sharp, well oiled and ready to go. Check your pond supplies. Do you have left over chemicals or fertilizer from last fall. Chances are they have lost their punch, so pitch them. Check your fish net. Is it holding together or will you lose the first fish you try to catch this spring? What about your pump? Is it clean and ready to go back into the pond? Here where we rarely freeze, we leave our pumps in the pond, but where the weather stays below freezing, you have removed your pump and stored it in water in the garage, right? Check all your hoses and tubing; make sure it has not cracked and is still supple and ready to go. Check your hose clamps. They fail just when you have used the last one you have on hand, so put hose clamps on your hardware store list.
Get ready. Spring really is coming. Look for azaleas soon!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Thinking about spring

I know, I know, it's January and it's cold out there. But the seed catalogs are arriving and all of you under a snow blanket are reading them, marking your favorites and maybe even starting some seeds in your houses. We long for spring and think that winter is the longest season of the year.

Now is the time to start thinking about what spring pond tasks await us. If we cleaned the pond last fall after the leaves fell, we are probably in good shape for warm weather's arrival. If not, we have that nasty task to look forward to.

Now is also a great time plan what more we wish to do with our ponds. Do we want to add to our plant, add to our out of pond landscaping or maybe make more or bigger ponds? Now is the time for planning, thinking, dreaming.

If you have questions about what you want or what you need, please feel free to contact me at any time.

Sunday, January 21, 2007

Letters, we get letters

I am in need of a new pond heater for the pond in my newly-acquired home. Are the 100w de-icers efficient enough to keep the fish alive over a New England winter? I have both a 1250w and a 100w jobbie. I'd obviously like to use the one with a lower wattage (and buy myself a second one to save the pennies)... but am I fooling myself? Are they just a piece of junk? Hope you can give me some insight.


Pondlady sez:

Thanks for writing.

I wish I could give you a definitive answer. I live in New Orleans and we don't exactly get frozen ponds. If your pond is below the frost line, you should be OK. Give the smaller one a try. If a hole in the ice stays open, you are fine. If not, try the bigger one. All it needs to do is keep a hole open.

If your pond has frozen solid in the past, then you must think about bringing your fish in for the winter because nothing will work to keep the water thawed unless you think about a swimming pool heater.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Rain and more rain

It has just now stopped raining in New Orleans and we are one soggy city. My shoes get sucked off if I walk through the front yard to the mailbox.

The entire city is hyped about the Saints football team and no one is all that interested in the health of their ponds. Good thing ponds can tend to themselves for ages with no human interference. In fact, they often do better if we just leave them alone. i suspect that will be the case here if the football team wins tomorrow. And then comes Mardi Gras on February 20th. New Orleans is a constant party from now until Ash Wednesday.

Of course, only half of the population has returned to the city 17 months after Katrina and it may stay that way. But ponds either in someone's yard or abandoned are doing well. After my house was destroyed, it was a year before I could move my pond to my new house. There were about 8" of water in the pond, lots of anacharis and several goldfish. This, with no power and no attention for a year. Ponds are indeed wonderful.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Pondless waterfalls

I have had questions lately about pondless watefalls. They are not all that different from regular ponds. First you dig a hole and line it. Put rocks around it. Then you build a waterfall. Fill the pond with water. Put a pump in a cylinder made just for pondless waterfalls. If you looked in my shop at my website, you will notice I do not sell them. There's a good reason for that and here it is:

You have dug the hole, built the waterfall, put the pump in the aforementioned cylinder, put the cylinder with pump in the water. Now you FILL UP THE POND WITH ROCKS. Some of you have already seen ahead far enough to see the problems coming. The water gets dirty. Grass clippings, leaves, dust, dirt from the air, doggy and kiddy toys all find their way into the water and eventually the pump needs to be cleaned. And where is it? Under all those ROCKS!! Hmmmmmm.

Monday, January 15, 2007

De-icing the pond

Here's some ways to keep a hole in the pond ice. Gases need to be exchanged so fish can survive.

On to the de-icing ideas:

Carolyn hooks up a hose to an inside tap and runs water over the ice. She has a dechlorinating device hooked to the hose.

Craig floats a flat black painted can wrapped in styrofoam to keep it from sinking. The black paint absorbs warmth and keeps a hole open in the ice.

I have used a milk jug with a rope tied to it and with a couple of cup of water in it so it stays in the water.

Or you can buy a de-icer that keeps a hole open.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Watch out for acid rain

Often we have protracted periods of no rain here in Louisiana and then day after day of heavy rains. During the rainless times, we usually have to add water because of evaporation, so that means we have to watch chlorine levels in the pond.

Then one day our hard rains will start. The pond fills and overflows. The overflowing is OK, but the rain is cleaning filthy air, air filled with the pollutants we put in it from our exhaust pipes, airplanes, chimneys and factories. All of that chemical waste is washed from the air onto our soil and into our ponds.

After the first rainfall following a dry time, watch your pond carefully. If your fish come to the top trying to breathe or your plants begin to yellow, change at least half your water. Don't forget to put dechlor in the new water.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Letters, we get letters


I am 78 and am constructing my first water element. It is about finished. My problem is I am not quite sure how to handle the return water at the top of my 60 foot effort. It curves down hill and consists of two small ponds about 8 feet across and 8” deep and a 5000 gal pond that is 45 “ deep. I have installed a Savino CS 16000 skimmer that will hold an Easy Pro TH 750 5900 GPH connected to 60 feet of 2” PVC that will circulate at about 50 GPM. I have two small waterfalls coming out of the two small ponds and I do not want a large waterfall at the top of the element. I thought sinking a 50 gallon plastic drum and letting it flow into the top channel. Any ideas??


pondlady sez:

You are using one pump for two waterfalls and also to get the water to the top channel? I will assume that is the case. If so, you may have some problems getting water that high with your pump. If you are already successful doing that, you could easily use a 50 gallon drum. You could also buy a spillway that already had a low spot for water to flow out. They are relatively cheap, but they do not have a real long shelf life. They are plastic and vulnerable to the sun.

I am also assuming your channel is lined with something, rubber liner or concrete. I am hoping for liner. Be careful that the water at the top channel drains onto the liner and not under or to the side of it.

One of the problems with 8" deep water that I have often run into is that a stick or leaves can fall into it and soon a few more and soon after, you have an unplanned dam and water flowing out the sides pumping the pond dry in the process.

Congratulations on doing your first water feature at 78. I was a child of 48 when I started my pond building business many years ago.



Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Time to start thinking

Happy New Year to everyone.

But now that the year end festivities are over and carnival is 7 weeks away here in NO, we can start giving a thought to what we are going to do with our gardens this spring. Some of us have recovered from Katrina destruction and are beginning to think of other things besides where the drywall people are. The PTSD is lifting, so we are beginning to believe we will live through this, or at least hope we will.
So what are we hoping for in the garden? Are we going to add a water garden after thinking about it for a year or so, or are we going to define an area in which to put one? That's a good start. So what are you thinking about? How about an indoor pond to make the den more relaxing? Or what about a pondless waterfall outdoors? What are your plans?

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Koi: Did you know?

Fancy, different colored carp are called "nishikigoi," which literally means "brocaded carp" in Japanese.

Koi is short for nishikigoi. The story is that the word "koi' was first used by Confucius in 500 B.C. King Shoko, from Ro, gave Confucius a koi as a gift when Confucius' first son was born because carp were considered a symbol of strength.

This seems as good a story as any other.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Building a waterfall

Building a Waterfall

Building a waterfall is either simple or difficult depending on the point of view of the builder. We want them to look natural, like they just started happening in the rocks of our gardens, never mind that we had to buy the rocks because we live where no rock has ever been found like New Orleans where I live.

The easiest way to have a waterfall is to use a weir. A weir is a box that collect water that the pump has pumped into it. One side of the box is lower than the rest and has a lip on it so water will go over it.
These can be effective when building a waterfall. Simply elevate them above your pond, usually positioning them level on the dirt you have dug out to make your pond, put tubing from your pump in the weir.When the weir fills up, a sheet of water will fall over the weir and into your pond. You can hide the weir with rocks so no one can see the plastic box. Also, if you have a biofilter, you can put it in the weir. As an aside, if you do have a biofilter and use lava rocks in it, put them in several mesh bags, not just one. It takes several strong men to lift just one bag out, so use at least three. I usually float some hyacinths or other floating plants in the weir to further camouflage the plastic box.

Another, and my favorite way, is to start with a semi level surface, slightly raised in the back, starting at the same level as your pond. From there build the waterfall using the same kind of rocks you used in your pond construction. Start with large, flat and thin rocks. You can’t build a waterfall with round rocks or little ones either. After you put the first large rock down, run a hose over it to make sure the water flows into the pond. If it does not, shim up the back of the rock. If you don’t start on a slight angle, water will fall off the back and drain your pond dry in a few hours. Next, stack two or three thick and chunky rocks on each end of the bottom rock. Those rocks can be as much as 5 or 6” thick. Make sure they are flat on two sides because you are going to build the rest of your waterfall on top of them. If you have two large flat rocks on the ground level, you need more chunky rocks to rest the second level on.

Next place the second level of flat, thin and large rocks on the chunks. Again run water over to make sure the flow is going in the pond and not over the edge. Continue making levels until you like your waterfall or run out of rocks. Make your waterfall as wide as you wish, remembering that you may need more than one pump.

I have found that the easiest way for me to build the falls is for me to be in the water and have a couple of strong helpers placing rocks for me.

The back of the falls is equally important. Shimming must be done to keep the angle toward the pond and proper placement of rocks is most important to ensure stability of the falls.