Monday, April 13, 2009

Filter question

The first canna of 2009 starts to open in my bog garden.

I get email with pond questions. I got this one a few days ago and thought I would share it with you.

Question: I would like to put a 25" round by 15" deep tub. If I put in a bunch of grass, 1 drawf lily, 2 regular goldfish with a pump hooked up to a spitter will I have a successful little pond? Do I need a filter? What size pump would I need. The spitter will be place on some flat rocks at the edge of the pond. I don't plan on feeding the fish but will feed the lily.

Pondlady sez: Yes, you will be successful and need no filter. Don't feed the fish and put a couple of bunches of grass in the water. Feed the lily one tab a month. Use a pump that will pump about 140 gph depending how high the spitter will be. The spitter cannot exceed 12" in height or the water will splash out.

Monday, April 06, 2009

Koi and Goldfish eat their babies

Question I received lately: I have Koi and Goldfish. I feed them daily. Why don't I have babies?

Pondladay sez: Chances are the fish are eating their babies. They are not good parents.
You must feed koi. Goldfish can exist and live well eating off the plants in the pond....unless you have koi who will eat them all.

The more you feed them, the bigger they get and the hungrier they get. Sooner or later your bio-load will be too heavy and your biggest fish will die, but in the meantime, your fish will eat every baby they catch.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Tea Colored Water

Often we try dozens of filters to try to get tea colored water clear and nothing works. The water is turned that color by leaves usually from oak trees, but other leaves/pollen do the same thing. Here's how to fix it: Use activated charcoal. Do NOT use charcoal briquets like you use for barbecuing! Go to the aquarium store and get a box of activated charcoal. Often it comes in a box that looks like a half gallon milk carton. Put the charcoal a cut off panty hose leg and put the resulting tube in your filter. The charcoal 'washes' the water and you will have clear water soon. It is a bit expensive, but worth it.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Irises mean spring

Louisiana irises are starting to bloom. This one is in my front garden today and more bloom stalks are evident and about to burst. Callas in the pond are blooming. Spring, maybe not officially, has arrived. Get ready to see your fish become active and your pond plants begin to bloom. It was a long winter, wasn't it?

Monday, December 22, 2008

Fish Feeding in Winter

I was wondering what one should do with the fluctuating temperatures in coastal NC right now....last week or so the pond water was below 50 and I did not feed the fish. Now, the temp is back up to 56 and I found a partially eaten fish at the bottom of the pond when I cleaned out some debris. Are my fish starving to death and resorting to cannibalism? Should I feed them for a few days, and then stop when the temps. start to drop again??

Your fish are not starving to death. Your half eaten one was probably eaten by one of your famous NC flying predators like an egret, heron, or maybe even a walking and furry one like a raccoon. Do not feed them. They are still hibernating and will not be able to eat until the temps are above 55 for a long time.

Question, continued
The pond is covered completely with chicken wire. No predators can get in now (although the reason it was covered like Fort Knox is because of a heron, who I caught in the act, and a raccoon, who polished off my biggest fish, and left some droppings. We had it covered with a net, but the heron broke through the net, punching in a big enough hole to gobble up some fish. The raccoon came a few days later and took advantage of the hole, which we did not realize was there.)

So, the fish left are VERY active right now, not listless at all, hanging around the top of the pond right now with our warm weather. They are quite still and deep when the water is really cold. I did feed them today.

So, what do you think about the dead fish now? My guess is a heron or raccoon would not leave anything behind. This fish (about 4 inches long) had its middle eaten away....

And what do you think about the hibernation theory, given the activity of the fish? It's a very confusing weather pattern we have right now, with the temps in the low 70s, and not getting too far below 55 at night. Next week, who knows?

Answer, continued
I understand your wish to feed your fish, but please don't. It could be that the dead fish was sick from getting something to eat and not being able to digest it, so he died. Feeding fish in the winter can kill them quickly. If you want to double check, go to and have a look. You will find that fish cannot survive being fed in cool weather. Do you have goldfish or koi? Neither needs feeding in the winter, but koi need to be fed in the summer.

Question, continued
I have goldfish.

So, do the alive fish eat their dead? I've actually never seen a fish eaten like this is my pond. Sure, I have found plenty over the years, in all seasons, die and float to the surface, but never eaten like this.

Answer, continued
Yes, all fish will eat other fish. In fact, fish will kill a sick or weak fish. I think it is a way they have of keeping the school hardy.
Your goldfish will be just fine if you never ever, feed them, even in the summer. Just balance the pond ecologically with submerged vegetation and make sure your bioload is not too high and you can just relax and never have to clean fish poop out of your pond except in your yearly cleaning.

Ten Laws of Pondkeeping

This should give you a few ideas about keeping your pond balanced so your fishies stay healthy. Sounds like you are doing a good job.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Edible pond plants

In case you are ever stranded while camping or otherwise in need of survival food, the pods of yellow hardy pond lilies and pickerel rush are edible. You can bake or boil them like potatoes. They certainly are not gourmet food, but would probably taste pretty good if you were hungry enough.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Your UV Light in Winter

If you live where the temps drop below 40 degrees F in the winter and use a UV light, you can remove it until the weather warms again. Algae die off in the winter plus you can save electricity if your UV is not running. Be careful, those bulbs are fragile. And expensive.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Epoxy Pond Liners

Epoxy pond liners were around when I started building ponds back in 1987. There was not a market for the epoxy for the small residential contractor or do-it-yourselfer yet because there was not much of a pond market yet. The epoxies made then were for large commercial applications where waterproofing was necessary and huge machines were available for mixing and spreading. We tried to mix it using a paint stirrer on the end of a drill, but the results were disastrous and getting the epoxy off whatever it got on was almost impossible.

In recent years epoxy pond liner makers have made great strides in research, development and application. Building a pond using epoxy can be done by the small contractor or the homeowner. It is easily mixed and applied. But do be careful. Getting on your hands or clothes means living with it the rest of your natural life.

One of the most wonderful uses for the new epoxies is for patching concrete ponds. I have told my concrete pond owners when they called with a cracked leaking pond that there was nothing that could be done. I would put some plumbers' epoxy in the crack and tell them just to keep on doing that every time the pond cracked again. And concrete cracks in tropical climates where most of the land is below sea level. Now a crack can be patched just like patching dry wall. Use some cloth made just for epoxy use, insert it in and over the concrete crack and then float the epoxy over it. Most installers proceed to coat the entire concrete pond because it looks better and will stop further and inevitable cracks.

PVC liners came first in the pond building business. They were all we had, so we loved them. Their biggest drawback was not standing up to sunlight. PVC liners cracked like visqueen and needed replacement if the pond wasn't built so water covered every bit of the PVC liner.

Rubber liners were next and will undoubtedly rule the industry for years to come. If you want to know what a rubber liner is, just think about a huge piece of inner tube material. That's a rubber liner. Firestone makes them. I am sure many other companies do as well. A 45 mil thick liner comes with a 40 year warranty. They run about $1.00 a square foot, although you can get them online for cheaper. The biggest drawback of online buying is paying the shipping, but often you can still save money. The next biggest drawback with rubber liners is weight. If you buy a 45 mil rubber liner 20' x 20', you better have a couple of strong guys to put it in place for you. I still love rubber liners and after they were widely available, have used them exclusively. Rubber liners withstood anything Katrina threw at them. My customers and I were happy to see them whole after seeing everything else destroyed.

I think epoxy is coming into its own. It may well be that it will be the liner of choice one day. As far as I am concerned, the ability to patch a concrete pond is reason enough to love it.

Isn't it great that we have another liner choice now. We can apply epoxy to the sides of a hole and have a waterproof hole. Now that's nice.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

How to Build a Koi Pond

Koi and goldfish? There's a difference?

Koi? What are koi and why must I build a koi pond differently than any other pond? Can't I just put koi in my pond? One would think so, but one would be wrong.

First of all, a koi is a carp, just like a goldfish, but it is from a different family. Goldfish are descendants of crucian carp and koi are from common carp. Koi usually have two whiskers like a catfish and goldfish don't, so they are easy to spot if someone wants to give you one.

And there are other differences as well. Goldfish dart around more in the water and will eat your submerged vegetation as they fertilize it. Your pond will be a relatively maintenance free ecosystem with plants and goldfish. Koi, on the other hand, swim lazily around eating everything they can get their mouths around. They love your most expensive water lilies and will dispatch with them first. They work their way through every piece of vegetation you have in your pond and look for more before you even realize you must feed them.

So a koi pond is a special outdoor aquarium made just for koi. Koi will pull plants down from outside the pond just for sport. They also have a awful habit of jumping out of the pond where you find them stiff and dry when you come home from work. The jumping out is often a sign of foul water. A goldfish pond is a water garden with goldfish swimming around behaving themselves.

Before you even think of building any pond, think long and hard: Do you want a koi pond or do you want a water feature with plants and goldfish? For goldfish pond building see How to Build a Pond

You have decided you want a koi pond because you want koi as pets.
A koi pond must be deeper than a goldfish pond. Koi need more room to move around. They like to swim up and down as well as back and forth. They also grow and grow fast, so make your pond at least 3' deep, deeper if you can and as big as you can afford. Try to get your koi pond dug below the frost line or you will be trying to figure out how to over winter them in the house when it freezes outside.

A koi pond should be built up above the ground. I like to do this with goldfish ponds as well to keep run off out and therefore avoid chemicals that may run into your pond. If you can get your koi pond edges up at least 6", you will be safer and possible keep your koi in the water instead of lying on the ground. I have known professional koi keepers who build their ponds at least 18" above ground, usually using concrete for the entire pond rather than a butyl rubber or EPDM liner.

Koi ponds must have filtration. As much filtration as you can afford. Do you get the idea that koi keeping can be expensive? In the past koi keepers used swimming pool filters. Now bead filters are popular. If the bead filters are just too expensive, a quality biofilter will do. It should be big enough for your pond. Most biofilter manufacturers will help you pick out the one that will work best for your pond size.

Using a UV light sterilizer, usually called a water clarifier is necessary for your koi pond. It will kill algae microorganisms and keep the water clear so you can see your fish.

Koi are hungry fishies. You must feed them. You will find scores of koi foods available. I make no recommendations about which one to buy. I suggest finding a koi club in your area and see which ones their fish like and following their examples and suggestions. One thing I know koi love to do is play with a half of a red cabbage. Don't shred it. Let them play with it like a basketball.

The water chemistry must be perfect. Any radical changes in pH, nitrate, nitrite, ammonia must be corrected immediately or your fish will get sick.
The biggest difference

Don't forget one basic difference. When you build a koi pond, you are building a special house for your pets. When you build a goldfish pond, you are putting a water garden in your landscape.

And you will name those koi, I know that. Because you named your children and your other pets. Koi can get sick and die of the strangest diseases before you are even aware they are sick. I suggest not naming them.

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.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Pond Gadgets

Now that you have a pond, you need a pond shelf in your garage, or a pond place in your outdoor shed to store your pond gadgets. We accumulate pond gadgets that we find we cannot be without. For those of you just starting, this is a beginning list of pond gadgets to have around the house because you will need them and you will need them when stores are closed.

HIP BOOTS for getting in the pond to fertilize water lilies or to trim plants. If the pond is deeper than hip boots are tall, you either need a BOAT because you have a lake or a BUCKET AND A ROPE because you have a well.

Of course, you can go in the pond barefoot unless you think there may be critters in there you would rather not encounter without foot and leg protection.

AQUA GLOVES You can fertilize lilies or cut back plants with clippers in your bare hands or you can use aqua gloves, a glove with long plastic sleeves, if you are afraid of pond critters and there certainly is no reason to be unless you live where poisonous water snakes also live.

HAND POND PRUNERS These are made with ultra long handles so you can clip plants while standing next to your pond, but if you have your HIP BOOTS on and are already in the pond, you can use regular clippers. Your bare hands will work pretty good here too.

POWER NOZZLE What on earth is a power nozzle? It will become your most valuable pond accessory and here's how to make one: Get a hose cut off valve and a separate nozzle with a small hole at the end. It fits on the cut off valve. Get both at your local hardware or big box store. Screw the pieces together and to your hose. You now can spray a stronger stream of water than you can with any one piece nozzle. Buy several of these because everyone will like it, borrow it and you will never see it again. Use the nozzle to get dirt and algae off the waterfall, the rocks and to clean the filter. Do not wring out filter material as it breaks down, gets smaller and smaller and soon you will have to buy new.

TWO SCREWDRIVERS One Phillips head and one flat head because the makers of screw driver bits have visited a plague upon us and make two different kinds of common bits, so we never know which one we need until we see what needs to be done and we always have the wrong one in our pocket. Buy and carry them both for pond chores like removing hose clamps and using your POWER NOZZLE to blow dirt out of your tubing and pump.

NET You need a net to scoop debris from the bottom of the pond. I normally do this from outside the pond so I don't need the hip boots. If you need to catch a fish, the net comes in handy as well.

DECHLORINATOR Please, please keep a bottle of dechlor on hand. If you never need it, that's wonderful, but here's why you need to have it on hand. You turn the water on to top off your pond. It's going to take a bit of time, so, you decide to fold the laundry while you are waiting. The phone rings. You chat with your friend for a few minutes. Then you remember you have to get some bill payments in the mail, so you hop in the car to drop them off at the post office. While you are out, you decide to pick up a few things at the grocery store and pick up the dry cleaning. In the cleaners, you talk with the clerk about the weather for a few minutes, get back in your car and see the car needs gas, so you stop to fill up the tank. You get home and for the life of you, you can't figure out why the driveway is flooded.

Suddenly it dawns on you. You rush to turn off the water and see your fish lying at the bottom of the pond not moving. If you have dechlor in the house, you can probably save those fish. Whew, aren't you glad you have some?

EXTRA PUMP, TUBING, HOSE CLAMPS Because they always break when no store is open and you need to do repairs immediately before tonight's dinner party.

AQUATIC PLANT FERTILIZER If you don't have fertilizer made for water lilies, you can use Job's Tomato Spikes, if you can't find those, you can use Job's Tree Spikes, if you use the tree spikes, then you will need a HAMMER because you must break those babies into 4 parts and only use one per gallon pot and you can't break them with your bare hands

MICROBE-LIFT PL I have found this to be the best thing to eliminate blanketweed or string algae and to keep your ecosystem balanced and water clear.

BEER I don't know who tried it first, but it often works to clear up blanketweed or string algae. Just pour it in the water. Or if it's really hot outside, drink it.

With these materials nearby, you will be able to do the necessary pond maintenance, do quick and easy repairs without running to the store first.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Pond Pumps and Filters

Early pond building

When I built my own pond in my back yard in 1987, filters and skimmers were used on swimming pools, not ponds. Flexible rubber liner ponds had not yet been heard of. I used a PVC liner that was meant to be used as a liner in sanitary land fills. A pond pump was bright blue and normally used as a sump pump in leaky basements. Shortly after I started building ponds commercially, a few companies started building pumps especially for ponds, made them black and different sizes. We connected the pump to a garden hose to run water over a waterfall. If we wanted two streams of water over the falls, we used a hose divider to get those two streams. The largest pond pump was 1200 gallons per hour.

The pond market grows

Within a couple of years, companies realized that backyard ponds was the niche market of the future and started making products strictly for ponds. We had bigger pumps, special hoses, special dividers and now needed hose clamps. Our liner choice was still laminated PVC.

But the market grew and as it did, opportunists arrived. Until skimmers and filters were marketed, no one needed them. Koi pond enthusiasts were already using elaborate swimming pool filters. I was known to remark that the filtration system of a koi pond I was working on looked a bit like a heart - lung machine. If you wanted a pond with goldfish and plants, you did not need a filter, nor a skimmer. You still don't.

The new pond companies that were proliferating throughout the country began to convince pond installers and do it yourselfers that filtration was a necessity and no pond would work unless it had a skimmer.

Filters and skimmers arrive on the market

Pond filters and skimmers are relative newcomers to the pond building industry.

A pond skimmer is a black plastic box that attaches to the side of a pond with bolts and nuts through the now rubber flexible liner. The pump sits inside and draws pond water through the skimmer into a basket inside and removes surface debris before sending the water on over the waterfall. You clean the basket periodically.

If you build your pond under a tree, you might need a skimmer. Unfortunately leaves that fall from a tree don't stay on the surface very long and that skimmer cannot get leaves or other debris off the bottom of your pond. So there is your skimmer with the nuts and bolts and seal that have penetrated your liner. If the seal fails, and it frequently does, it can cause huge and possibly unrepairable problems.

A pond filter removes organic debris from your water, cleans it and returns it to your water. And it does a remarkably good job at that. If you feed your goldfish, you probably need a filter of some sort. I like the under $10.00 homemade ones. They do an excellent job.

Balance your pond

So how does your pond survive with no skimmer or filter? Balance it ecologically, with submerged vegetation and floating plants that cover at least 50-70% of the surface area. Do not overload your pond with fish and most importantly do not feed them! Those fish live off the submerged vegetation, usually anacharis, and the fish waste fertilizes it. Anacharis grows faster than the fish can eat it.

You don't need a pond filter or a pond skimmer. More money can be in your pocket to spend on better things than pond filters or skimmers.

Marketing works, but nature works better.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Choosing a Backyard Pond Pump

So many backyard pond pumps to choose from: Which one is best for me?

Backyard Pond pumps do one thing: They move the water in your pond from where it is to somewhere else. Most of the time they pump it up and over a waterfall. Other times they pump water through a spitter, an ornament in or next to your pond, often a frog, dolphin, fish or piece of statuary. Sometimes they pump water up in the air like you see in huge commercial ponds near the mall or on the farm.

There are things you must know before choosing the right pump for your pond. Half of your pond water has to move through your pump every hour. So if your pond is 1000 gallons, your pump has to pump 500 gallons per hour or GPH. As this is a bare minimum requirement, you would be best to consider a larger pump. For example, if you are moving water over a wide or tall waterfall, you need more GPH. If you are pulling water through a filter, you must be sure you are pulling enough to make the filter work properly. So figure on buying a larger pump than the minimum size, so you have some wiggle room.

So now you have water moving around in your pond. It sure looks nice and sounds great going over that waterfall, but moving does more then just look nice. If you have fish in your pond and feed them, the pond will be out of balance ecologically. Feeding fish makes them grow too big for the available oxygen, so your water needs to have oxygen introduced. Your pump does that. If the pond water surface is moving oxygen is being absorbed by the pond water and then your fish can breathe easily.

If you do have fish, and most pond owners do, you probably have a filtration system. The pump also pulls water through that filter system, either mechanical or biological. That filter pulls suspended debris out of the water. Usually the debris is algae and when you get too much algae, your water will turn green. The proper filter can keep that from happening. So the pump must be big enough to meet the needs of your filter.

You have three choices of pump types: Submersible, external and solar. Submersible pumps cost less, but do not last as long. They are still the pump of choice with most pond owners. Because they are made of a resin material, they can be used underwater, but if the seal is broken, the pump must be thrown away. It cannot be fixed and returned to the pond safely. A submersible pump can easily last 5+ years if cleaned regularly. Cleaning is important to a pump's life. They often sit on the bottom of the pond and suck in all the rotted organic debris sitting in the bottom of your pond. If left uncleaned for any length of time, the pump impeller, a reverse propeller that sucks water in, can become damaged quickly.

In general, the more expensive the pump, the longer it lasts. Always check the warranty length of any pump.

External pumps last longer, pump more water, can be repaired and are more expensive. They also need to be hidden somehow. No one likes to look at a pump and filter set up right next to their waterfall. But if you have a large pond, you might be better served by a external pump. They are certainly more efficient than submersible ones, they cost less to operate and can pump more water. Because they are stronger, they can work with most biofilters and last longer because they do not have to work as hard. If I were to get an external pump, I would look for one that pumped as many gallons per hour as my pond held. If I had a 5000 gallon pond, I would want a 5000 gph external pump.

Solar pumps are starting to come into their own. We still have a long ways to go before they will perform as well as we want them to, but the technology is coming along. The biggest drawback of solar pumps is they will not pump if the sun is not shining, so your pump will be off during gray days and at night. As solar energy storage technology becomes more widely available, solar pumps will become the best buy.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Fall Pond Care

Special fall pond care is necessary when our plants and fish begin going dormant in cooler weather. When temperatures start dropping and we know that Indian Summer is just around the corner, our pond requires that we slow down or stop many things we did daily or weekly in the hot summer.

Water lilies

Our water lilies pads are getting smaller and they are blooming less and less. Water lilies respond to temperatures and length of daylight. Stop feeding your lilies in the fall and allow them to go into dormancy. If you stimulate growth now, you could lose the lily when winter freezes hit your part of the country. Lower them to the bottom of the pond if they are not there already. They will over winter better there where the water is warmer. If they are hardy lilies, they will be fine in freezes. If they are tropical special care is needed to keep them through the winter.

Bog Plants

If your bog plants are tropical you can bring them in the house and hope they will survive. Many of them, like taro, callas and cyperus do not require being in water and will do well in soil or sand. Bring them in the house, keep them in medium light and they should do fine. If your plants are hardy, just cut them back to make sure none of the emergent vegetation freezes, dies and fouls the pond. The hardy bog plants will come back in the spring bigger and better.

Remove Japanese Iris and Lobelia cardinalis and plant it in the ground if it freezes where you live. Mulch it up good and they should survive nicely and be ready to put back in the pond in the spring. Remove canna rhizomes from their pots. Store them in a pot in peat in a basement. Keep the peat damp.

Submerged Plants

If your pond is below the freeze line in your part of the country, your submerged plants should do just fine. If not and your pond freezes solid, bring them in the house right before the freeze and keep them in an aquarium with aquarium lighting.

Fish Feeding

If you feed your fish, when the temperatures start to drop below 60 degrees F, ease up on the feeding. Feed no more than two or three times weekly. Fish are cold blooded animals whose body temperatures are the same as ambient temperatures, therefore their metabolisms are slowing down as temperatures drop. When metabolisms slow, digestion slows as well. If you feed the fish too much, they cannot digest it and may die. When the temperatures drop to 50 degrees F, stop feeding completely.


Your floating plants are getting smaller and smaller, so cruising herons and egrets can see your fish more easily. To protect your fish make places for them to hide. You can buy "castles" commercially or you can turn some clay ponds on their sides. Another good hiding place is a large flat rock placed on top of a couple of chunky rocks makes a great spot for fish to get away from hungry birds.

Leaf netting will keep the predators away as well as keep debris out of the pond.


It's time to get all the falling leaves, debris, sticks, dead and decomposing organic material and fish poop off the bottom, in the waterfall cracks and sides. You can do a total cleanout, use a pond vac or a siphon if you can. No matter how you do it, the pond has to be clean and it sure is easier to do it now than the night before a hard freeze.

If you have a skimmer, it will not remove the leaves. It is made to remove the occasional leaf, not a tree full. You can cover your pond with leaf netting. You can buy it at most nurseries or make it from nylon net available in most big box stores.

I have known some folks to pound stakes around their ponds and cover the entire pond with visqueen, making a pond greenhouse. This will add at least 10 degrees to the temperature inside your greenhouse. Putting lights under there will add even more heat and keep leaves and other debris out of the water. Just make sure air can get in and out.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Pond Troubleshooting - a Case Study

Pond troubleshooting is something all pondkeepers must do. Things can go wrong in our ponds and we must know what to look for, so we can keep the problem from becoming a disaster.

Several years ago, I was called to care for a pond that filled my customer's front yard. He had built it with concrete, making any pond difficult to keep balanced. Concrete can leach lime if not sealed properly. He could not keep water lilies or fish alive. What was wrong? I could see the pond was about a foot deep. Problem number one was found. A pond must be at least 18" deep to keep both water lilies and fish happy. The water was getting too hot for fish to survive, so problem number two was found.

My customer built a second pond attached to the first one. It was 18" deep, and still concrete. The ponds were connected, so the fish and the water lilies could both live in the deeper part of the pond. We planted parrots' feather in the shallow pond to keep the water shaded and cooler. Over the years the parrots' feather grew so large, it took two men to drag it out and cut it back when the pond got its annual cleanout.

We thought we had the problems solved, but we were wrong. I had a motivated client. He loved his pond and did much research on pondkeeping, so we could try to figure out the problems together.

Within a year, the fish began to get sick, the submerged vegetation started to turn yellow and lose all its leaves. Now what was wrong. My first instinct was to check the pH. It's easy, but rarely the problem. pH usually fixes itself in a balanced pond and this one was balanced. My client did not feed his fish, so we did not have excess fish food or organic waste to deal with. Most people, if they feed their fish, feed them too much and much of it falls to the bottom of the pond, where it decomposes and fouls the water. Even if the fish do eat the food, they produce so much waste, that it fouls the water. You can always tell if people feed their fish even if they say they don't. If you walk to the edge of the pond, the fish come to the top, racing toward you smacking their little mouths waiting for their treats. All the while, the pondkeeper is protesting, saying he does not feed his fish. Then he gets busted by his own fish.

But that was not a problem with this pond.

Neither was pH. Excess ammonia was not a problem, nor were nitrates or nitrates. All of these things must be dealt with if fish are fed.

So why was the submerged vegetation dying, the water clouding up and the fish dying, but not all at once. My first hunch is always that chemicals from somewhere are getting into the water. Check to make sure water is not running off from surrounding streets, insecticides or pesticides being sprayed by the gardener, the neighbors' gardener or the city. Make sure there is no rain running off the roof into the pond. Nope, not at this house. Check with the neighbors to see if anyone is scraping paint off their houses and microscopic particles are drifting into the pond.

By this time, I have been working on this pond for several weeks being a real pond detective.

As a last resort, I pumped all the water out of the pond and started over. Within a week the pond was cloudy and foul again. What was the problem?

The client had household staff. He also had an entry just outside the front door. It was about 8 feet wide and 40 feet long. It was the only way people used to enter and exit the house. I asked all the staff about their shoes. Did they have new ones? Did someone drop something in the pond? Did the nanny let the kids put things in the pond? No to all questions.

Finally, I asked the right question. I found that one of the staff members had decided the patio entry needed to be cleaned at least twice weekly. She sprayed it with floor cleaner, scrubbed it and then hosed it off.....right into the pond.

After being assured she was not going to be fired, I asked the staff member if it was OK to leave the patio a bit on the dirty side. She agreed. The pond recovered. The anacharis was replaced as were the fish. The crisis was over. It took about 2 months and 10 visits to find the problem and fix it.

There is always a reason that ponds get foul and fish and plants die. Most of the time the reason is relatively easy to find and fix. Occasionally we must play detective and take much longer to find out what is happening. Keep on looking for your pond problem. You will find it. After that, fixing the problem is easy.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Summertime Pond Care

Summertime pond care is important when summer arrives, We are already breaking heat records in New Orleans and it's not even officially summer yet. 90 degree temperatures and 110 heat indices are making everything miserable, including our gardens and our ponds.

Summertime maintenance

Keep fertilizing your water lilies. They are heavy feeders and will keep blooming until October when the days start to shorten or until the temperatures sink below 55 degrees F.

If you have lotus, they want more fertilizer than water lilies. I feed them at least twice weekly, even every ten days with one aquatic plant tab per gallon of pot. You rarely have to fertilize other pond plants because fish waste takes care of that for you, but if you are not satisfied with the plants growth, stick an aquatic plant tab in those too. You may wish to stagger your feeding because aquatic plant tabs fertilize all the plants in the pond including the dreaded green algae that will grab nutrients before they can get to what you really want to feed. Bury the plant tabs in the pots and make sure they are covered with soil or sand.

Floating plants

I keep at least 70% of the top of the pond covered with floating plants like water hyacinths, water clover and water lilies especially in the summer to give the fish some shade and some places to hide from predators. Egrets, herons, raccoons, and even your own Labrador retriever are looking for extra food and your pond is a brand new all you can eat buffet that you laid out especially for them. I even suggest making a cave for your fish. You can buy them already made or make your own out of a couple of flower pots on their sides or a flat rock on top of a couple of block shaped ones. The fish don't care how fancy their new digs are, as long as they are safe.

Remove debris

Remove dead foliage as soon as you can. As water lilies grow, the outer ring of leaves starts to yellow and die. Cut those off as close to the pot as possible. A water lily bloom opens and closes for about three days, then dies. Remove it as close to the pond as possible. If other plant foliage yellows and dies, cut it off and remove it. If foliage is allowed to decompose in the pond, waste material builds up, removes available oxygen and can foul the pond and kill your fish. Removing dead plant material makes room for new growth and sure does make the your pond look nicer. It's about the same as tending the rest of your gardens.

Those of you who feed your fish, do not feed them more than what they can eat in 5 minutes, and only 1 - 3 times daily. If the fish do not eat the food, it too, will decompose in your pond and foul water. Also remember that the more the fish eat, the more fish waste you will have to feed algae and make your pond turn green quickly.

Keep your pump running

Maximize your aeration. Warm water does not contain as much oxygen as cooler water, so your fish can struggle to breathe. And just when the warm water holds less oxygen, the fish need more. Add an airs tone or another pump to your pond. Be sure you keep your pump running 24 hours daily in the heat of summer. If your pond is shallow, less than 18" deep, more aeration is a must. If your pond is 3' deep or more, you are safer. The fish can go to the bottom where the water is cooler and more oxygen is in the water, but still keep those pumps running.

What not to do:

Clean your filter only occasionally, if it is a biofilter. If it is a mechanical filter, e.g., foam rubber that strains out suspended material, clean it often. Your biofilter grows a colony of bacteria that can eat the sludge and decomposed organic matter in your pond. Cleaning your biofilter destroys that bacteria colony forcing it to start growing all over again. If you do clean it, kick start it with one of the bacteria products on the market. I like Microbe-Lift PL. It not only kick starts your biofilter, regular use, following the directions on the bottle can keep the dreaded string algae or blanketweed at bay.

Enjoy your pond

During the summer, it is time to relax next to your pond after work. Entertain your friends on weekends, show off your garden, your pond and your beautiful waterfall. Bring out your iced tea or glass of wine, sit and enjoy yourself.