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.

Predators

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.

Cleaning

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.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

How to Fix a Pond Leak

Before you read this, remember, for this and for more pond info, go to
Pondlady's forum

For gardening info, join us at Gardeners Gumbo

How to Repair a Pond Liner

You are sure you are facing repairing your pond liner. Before you panic, make absolutely sure it is a leaking liner and not another problem that is causing your water level to drop. Check your waterfall, check your hoses, check your spitters. Turn your pump off, fill up your pond. Watch it overnight. Did the level drop? If so, you probably have a hole in your liner.

The first thing you must do is find that leaking liner. If you can see it, skip the next section.

Fixing the leak

If you can see the leak, you have an easy job. Assuming your liner is rubber or EPDM and most are, you can patch it just like a tire. You can buy a patch online and while you are at it, buy a roll of patching material, because whatever caused that liner to leak will most likely do it again.

45 mil rubber liners rarely leak spontaneously. Something causes it. It could be raccoon toenails, doggie toenails, a falling tree branch, or maybe a piece of statuary with a sharp end fell and penetrated the liner. No matter the cause of that liner leak, repairing it, while not always a clean and easy job, it can be done by anyone with a bit of effort.

Make sure the liner surrounding the hole is clean and dry. I scrub the liner with the same scrubber you would use for dishes, just make sure there is no soap in it. After scrubbing it clean, rinse it and let it dry. If you are in a hurry, use a hair dryer, but be careful you are connected to a GFI before you use any electrical appliance around water. When the area is clean and dry, apply the patch according to the directions on the package. Your work is done. Fill the pond back up with water. Don't forget the dechlorinator.

Finding the leak

Finding a liner leak can be one of the most frustrating jobs on earth. The liner is black, usually dirty and wrinkled. The leak should be right at the water line because water can't leak out below that. Or can it? Here in New Orleans, our water table is only inches below the ground, so often there can be a hole in the bottom of the liner, but ground water pushes the bottom of the liner so a leak could well be on the bottom and ground water is seeping in the pond.

Pour some milk in the pond. If the water is leaking fast, the milk will make a trail to the leak. But if the water is leaking that fast, you have a huge tear and you can probably see it.

Pour some fine sand in the water. The sand will follow the water to the leak, but as above, if the tear is that big, you should need no help finding it.

Sometimes you cannot find the leak no matter how hard you search. I have resorted to this method as a last resort. Pump the pond water out. Remove all fish, plants, pots, lights, etc. Using a wet vac, vacuum the bottom to be sure all the fish waste, leaves, and other organic matter is gone. Rinse and wet vac again. Make sure the bottom is dry even if you have to wait several hours or get that hair dryer out again. When you are positive it is dry, stick a garden hose under the liner and turn on the water. Watch the liner carefully. Soon you should be able to see water coming up from underneath. You have found your leak. Dry it again and patch with patching material. Replace all pots, plants, fish, lights and refill the pond with water.

It's a good thing rubber liners rarely leak.

Leaks in concrete ponds

If your concrete pond is leaking, there is only one relatively cheap way to fix it. Because concrete is brittle and our ground is always moving, concrete is freezing and thawing, concrete is one of the hardest materials to repair. Clean out the crack and use Plumber's Epoxy to patch it. If that doesn't work, call a professional. If the professional tells you he can patch your concrete and guarantee it, doubt it. Doubt it a lot.

In all my years of pond building, I have never seen a serious concrete crack patched so it will hold water for more than a few weeks. Get your contractors guarantee in writing, get his home phone, his cell phone, his address and his Landscape Contractor's license number. Getting his insurance certificate can't hurt either.

If your pond is built from recycled swimming pool liner or PVC or visqueen and it has a leak, you must start over again with another liner. Same with pre formed hard liners. Once they crack, they cannot be repaired.

Luckily ponds rarely leak. But if yours does, you are now prepared.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Shade Pond

When choosing a location for your pond or water garden, trees in your landscape can be a big problem or their presence can make your pond a shade masterpiece. Shade from trees can be beneficial to your pond especially if you want to keep fish or other wildlife. Shade helps keep algae growth in check. A pond needs to have at least half the top of the water shaded with floating plants. If you have a tree, you can dispense with the floating plants and be able to see your fish better. You will be able to grow plants a sun gardener cannot. Anacharis will grow better for you because it likes to be in the shade.

You can grow ferns in the shade. Ferns, like wood ferns, Japanese Painted Ferns, autumn ferns love the shade.

You can grow broadleaf plants like gingers, birds of paradise, and taro that burn in the sun, but will love being planted around the shade pond making your pond look as if it is in a woodland setting.

You can use callas and taro in the water or out. Callas grow in the water and best in the shade, so you can have the flowers deemed by Katherine Hepburn as 'The perfect flower for any occasion.' Callas bloom early and long, so they will brighten up your early spring. They hate the sun, so make sure it does not hit them. They will shrivel up and die.

Your fish will be cooler in the summer when that hot summer sun beats down on us. They will come to the top to say hi more often because they are in the shade, rather than lying at the bottom trying to stay cool.

While trees can provide welcoming shade and so many other benefits, they can cause numerous problems when they drop their leaves and flowers in your pond.

If you put your pond under a tree, you are adding about ten minutes of maintenance weekly to your gardening chores because the leaves must be removed. I use a net and just dip them out. Some people use special pond vacuum cleaners, either the water powered ones or electrical powered ones. I find a net works just fine. The biggest part of the netting process is removing the anacharis that you dipped out along with the leaves. You can avoid this if you pot up the anacharis in the bottom of the pond. You can do this easily in soil or not. Anacharis does not need soil to grow. An easier way is to put the anacharis in a pot and put some stones on it to keep it in place. It will be happy that way and even flower for you. When it flowers, the tiny white flowers look as if someone threw popcorn on the water surface.

If you do not remove the leaves or other rotting plant material regularly, you take a chance of fouling your water with the ammonia that builds up from the decomposing material, so take that extra ten minutes weekly and remove it. If you do choose a shaded site, make sure you are not under a maple tree or a pecan tree. The maple tree drops those winged things in the spring and there they go into the pond. In the fall, they drop their leaves over a period of time, so you are always having to get them out of your pond.

I built my first pond under a pecan tree. I had to fish out not only winged things in the spring but also leaves in the fall, and then pecans when they dropped later in the fall. I learned that lesson soon and never did it again.

I have seen ponds under trees, but the pond keepers being as lazy as I am, built a canopy for the pond, so leaves fell on the canopy and then onto the ground missing the pond. I have also seen people cover their pond with a net, so that would catch the leaves. I think the net is so ugly that I would rather remove the leaves, seeds or pecans than have to look at that net all the time. Now the net does deter egrets and other fish eating birds, but again, I would take my chances on the birds.

Be aware ahead of time that you cannot have water lilies because they require at least 5 hours of sunshine daily, but your plant palette is expanded rather than compromised if your pond is in the shade.

I rather prefer a shade pond. Algae are not nearly the problem in the shade as in the sun, maintenance is minimal. Leaves do not fall every day or even every week. You have a small amount of time each year when your maintenance time in increased. The rest of the time you can relax in the shade of your tree and watch your fish play.

Be aware of all the good and bad parts of putting your pond under a tree. It can be worth it.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

How to Control Pond Algae

Pond Algae: Green Pond Blues


Pond algae are pretty easy to control. If you have koi, you must have an extensive filtration system to control algae. If you have goldfish and feed them, you must have filtration, but you can control algae. If you do not feed your goldfish and do balance your pond, algae rarely grow at all.

When sun hits water, algae grow. That is the way of nature. In order to break that cycle, there are things you can do easily to keep your pond water clear and healthy. Most of the following suggestions are germane only if you have goldfish and do not feed them. I have included a few for you goldfish feeders who simply cannot help yourselves.

Balance your pond ecologically. Use bog plants like irises or umbrella plants. You must have oxygenators or submerged plants. The best is anacharis, followed by cabomba and hornwort. You must have one bunch of these submerged plants per square foot of pond surface. These plants arrive with a rubber band holding them together. Remove the rubber band before you put the plants in your pond. If you don't want them floating freely, you may pot them up in several pots that sit on the bottom of your pond. The submerged plants are fertilized by fish waste and CO2, a fish byproduct. The fish eat the submerged plants, but they grow faster they the fish can eat them. Nice cycle, huh? Nature takes care of itself if we can just leave her alone. If you have too many fish, they will eat all your submerged plants and you have to start over again. A good rule for fish load is 1 linear foot of fish per 25 square feet of pond surface area; tails don't count. If your pond gets green, have patience. It will fix itself

When pH gets on the basic side algae flourishes. Vinegar is weak and it takes forever (days) to neutralize. But it takes an expert to use muriatic acid properly, so do not put concentrated muriatic acid in your pond to balance pH unless you know what you are doing. You can buy commercial products, usually called pH down or some such. They are expensive, but work well.

It is good to have algae slime on the sides of your pond... this is a sign of a healthy pond and can generate up to 70% of the oxygen needed for your pond.

If you feed your fish, these simple ways of keeping your pond clear will not work. You will need a filter, preferably a biofilter.

You must cover at least one half the top of the pond with floating plants. Parrots feather is great, as are water hyacinths, water lettuce and water lilies. If you live in the tropics, you can have beautiful tropical water lilies. You must be willing to either sacrifice them in the winter or store them away until warmer weather arrives again in the spring.

Scotch Barley bales work, but the pond must be cleared of algae first and it takes some time to work, sometimes up to a month. Always put another barley bale in your pond before the last one is gone.

Black dye works really well in a formal or reflecting pond. The black water sets off the water lilies and they look wonderful. Anacharis can live in the black water. Do not use the blue or green dyes. Trust me they are ugly.

There are several products on the market that will wipe out algae population without harming fish or desirable plants. The downside is they kill all the algae. It clumps up in the bottom of the pond. This can cause oxygen depletion and your pond can become anaerobic. I never use any chemicals to kill algae. There is too much chance that other living things will also die. Being an organic gardener, I use nothing that has ëcide in the name. I will not introduce any poisons into our soil or water. We have too many already.

Change 25 or 30% of your pond water weekly. Pump it into your veggie or flower beds. They will thank you. When you refill the pond, don't forget the dechlor.

UV lights will work and are good when you have too many fish. They can also kill many beneficial bacteria and you are back to your anaerobic pond. Using plants to keep your pond clear and clean is certainly the easiest and best way. And it needs little maintenance.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Spring pond care

Keep this until spring in your part of the world. This is part of the continuing series of my articles that number over 40 now. I will be adding to them as needed.

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Gardeners Gumbo

Spring has arrived here in New Orleans, where I live, so it's time for spring pond care. I know you folks who live in northern climes are still feeling some nip in the air, so you will wait a bit before prepping your pond for spring.

But for us, we are excited that our fish are swimming around, our plants are poking green shoots above the water, our waterfalls have come back to life and we are relaxing out of doors in our wonderful spring weather.

We cannot relax just yet, because our temperatures are still fluctuating as are yours. Just because you have a 70 degree F day does not mean that you can start feeding koi. They must not be fed until the pond water temperatures are stable at 55 degrees F at night. Remember, if you have a balanced pond and no koi, you never feed your fish.

Things to Have

Check your filter. It is clean? Even if it looks clean, it probably is not. So give it a good cleaning. If you have a biofilter, give it a kick start with a bacteria/enzyme product like Microbe-Lift PL to ensure a good bacteria colony starts to grow in your biofilter.

Check your pump. Clean it up. Check all your hoses for leaks or cracks. Nothing is worse than coming home from work and finding your pond dry because a hose leaked and your pond is nearly dry.

Make sure you have a dechlorinator on hand. You will need it. I know you think you wonít, but you will. Hereís what happens. You decide to top off the pump. The phone rings. Then you realize you need to get to the bank before it closes, so you dash out. While you are out, you decide to take care of a few more errands. You return home a couple of hours later. Oops!! Your yard is flooded and your fish are lying motionless at the bottom of the pond. Add dechlor immediately. Start the pump is it was not already running. 90% of the time, you can save your fish.

Keep Microbe-LIft PL on hand for blanketweed or string algae growth. With warmer temperatures, algae begins to grow quickly.

Check your nets. Are they useable? It might be time to replace them.

It never hurts to have a few hose clamps in your pond drawer or on your pond shelf. Those rascally things always break when you donít have any spares.

Do you have spare pumps? If so, check them now to see if they still work. Often when a pump is stored out of water, seals can break, especially if the pump was in a freezing garage or shed.

Things to Do

If you have chemicals, fertilizers or fish food left from last summer, throw it away. Most likely they have lost potency or have become rotten. Itís best just to dispose of them and start over.

If you have leaves or other debris in your pond, remove it now. As the water heats up, the debris begins to decompose, fouls your water and fish can die quickly. Spring is a great time to totally clean out your pond. Remove all water, all equipment, scrub the sides lightly (no soap), rinse, use a wet vac to get the last of the dirty water out and then replace everything. Your fish and plants will thank you for it.

Check your fish for any illnesses or wounds. If your fish are still a big sluggish, leave them alone. They are not fully awake until the water temperatures are consistently above 55 degrees F.

Within a couple of weeks after your water reaches 55 degrees F, you can start exchanging 10% of your water weekly. Pond water is the best fertilizer in the world. Pump it into your veggie or flower beds. Water exchanges keep nitrites from building up and keep your fish alive, healthy and happy.

Check your water plants. Spring is a great time for dividing and repotting. Remember, do not use any soil full of organic matter. I have had my best luck with water plants by potting them up in sand. I do not fertilize any pond plants except water lilies. They grow fast enough utilizing fish waste without having those plants leaping out of their pots by adding extra fertilizer. If you have extra plants after you have divided them, you can give them to a neighbor or friend. Remember, though, that many water plants can grow in low, damp spaces in your garden. So if you have taro, umbrella plants, or papyrus, plant them in your garden. Be aware they are very, very invasive, so be careful where you put them.

If you have lost some of your cover or floating plants, now is the time to replace them. Your fish are happiest with 1/2 of the top of the pond covered. That gives the fish a place to hide from predators and keeps them cool in the heat of the summer. It also keeps the blazing sun from helping algae grow in your crystal clear water.

Water lilies will start to grow when the water reaches about 65 degrees consistently. If you removed them from your pond and stored the corms in damp sand, you can pot them up and put them in the water with the top of the pot about 6î below the water surface. Do not fertilize them until the first leaves reach the top of the pond. Then use an aquatic plant fertilizer. I use a tab that I can just poke into the sand. If I am out of those, I have used Jobís Tomato Spikes or lacking those, Jobís Tree Spikes. Take the tree spike, whack it with a hammer to divide into 4 pieces. Use one piece at a time. Throughout the summer, your lilies want to be fertilized at least once monthly. Do not over fertilize or you will be feeding algae as well as your pond plants.

Things to Watch Out For

Be careful as you are beginning to play in your pond again. Big Daddy bullfrog is snoozing between rocks lying in wait for a tasty fly. If you disturb him, he will jump and scare the pants off you.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Pond Disasters

Pond Disasters

You finally have your pond in your garden and have been told that maintenance is almost nonexistent. And you are right. There are some pond disasters, though, that do happen. To recognize them and be able to deal with them is easy, so donít panic.

Most pond disasters are easily fixable, so let's start with the most common and easiest to deal with.

My Pond has Turned to Green Pea Soup!

The pond has turned to green pea soup and you have only had it a few days. First, don't worry, this is a common problem and an easy fix. Second, do not empty the pond and start over again. You will face the same problem again in a few days. The pond turns green because it is not ecologically balanced. When sun hits water, algae grow. This will never change. Your bird bath gets green, your swimming pool gets green, lakes turn green. So we must balance the pond to keep the algae from growing.

If your pond water turns green, have a look at it and decide if the water has suspended microscopic particles of algae in it or if there is something floating around in there that looks like angel hair spaghetti. You will have no problem seeing the difference.

If the water is green from microscopic suspended algae, hereís why: If sun hits water, algae grow. If we want the algae to be filtered out, we can do it easily and ecologically. Figure out the square footage of your pond (Length times width) and add one bunch of anacharis (submerged vegetation) per square foot of surface area. The anacharis filters out algae. It also is an oxygenator, so fish can breathe and is great goldfish food. Don't worry because it grows faster than goldfish can eat it. You have now solved most of your algae problem.

Next, cover about 1/2 of the surface area with floating plants. That will keep half of the pond in the shade, will keep the water cooler, the fish happier and the sun from being so brutal. Floating plants could be water hyacinths (illegal in some states, so check with your local extension service), water clover, parrotsí feather, water lilies or any of the other floating plants.

You now have a balanced ecosystem that will keep itself clear with no help from you as long as you donít have koi or feed goldfish.

My Pond is Leaking!

Another easily fixable disaster is a waterfall leak. I get calls all the time, îMy pond is leaking.Most of the time, I say, "No, it isn't." And then explain that most likely the reason the water level is falling is because water is leaking from the back or sides of the waterfall.

Turn off the waterfall pump. Fill the pond up with water. Donít forget the dechlorinator. Leave it for 24 hours. Tomorrow, see if the water level is where you left it. Look at that, it is! So now you know that water is somehow leaking out the back or sides of the waterfall. Turn the pump on. Have a look around the waterfall. Most of the time you will find the leak immediately because you can see it. Tip the rocks or move the hoses towards the pond so all the water returns to the pond and your leak problems are over. Occasionally water is splashing out, so check for that as well. If you have statuary, make sure there was not a strong wind blowing and water from the spitting statuary is not being blown out. Also, if the statue is on the side of your pond check it to make sure water is not dripping down the side or front statue and out of the water.

If you are using a weir or biofalls for a waterfall, check at the edges. Sometimes the water can hit a rock and splash out; other times the biofilter box can move around and the seal between the box and the liner can fail.

Water is Splashing Out!

When dealing with splashing water, remember this: Water cannot fall more than one half the width of what it is falling into without splashing. If the area the water is falling into is 4 feet across, the water will splash if it falls from more than 2 feet. This is universal and can be difficult to overcome. You can make the falls lower, you can make the width wider. But if you have purchased a wall fountain or a three tier fountain and put it in a small area, resign yourself to refilling often.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Cleaning your pond




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Cleaning The Garden Pond


Once a year, and I think spring in the South or fall in cooler parts of the world are a good times, I recommend a total cleaning of your garden pond. This means removing all plants, all water, all fish and giving the pond a good cleaning. This will get rid the pond of any toxins that have built up over the winter, but perhaps not yet to critical levels. These toxins can build quickly if the pond ices over. Leaves can fall in the pond in the fall and winter and start to decompose when the weather begins to warm. If there is debris in the pond, now is a good time to get outside and prepare to get dirty. If you live where the weather is warmer and some trees do not shed their leaves until spring, wait until after the leaves are gone or you will be scooping dead leaves out of your clean pond. If you do live in warmer climes where your water does not freeze, a partial water change might be all you need.

Cleaning your pond is much easier with two people. See if you can find a helper, even if you have to bribe one. Both of you should wear very old clothes that you will use again only to clean your pond. And maybe even throw away when you are finished. Pond cleaning is not for the faint of heart. Pond scum is as awful as it sounds.

Tools you need:
Solids handling pump with very long hose attached
Wet/dry vacuum cleaner
Fish net
Large bucket or box to hold fish in while cleaning
Trash bags
Boots or waders
2 milk crates
Steps in order:
Put some pond water in the large bucket or box. Put the pump in the pond. If you have a sump in your pond, put it there. I put the pump inside a milk crate to keep the worst of the bottom debris from clogging up the pump.
Stretch the hose out to where you want the water to go; if you have a veggie bed or garden bed or just lawn you want fertilized, place the hose end there.
Plug in the pump. Make sure you are using a GFI outlet. If not use a GFI extension so you will be protected against unknown electrical problems. Keep the ends of the cords out of water.
While the water is pumping out, remove the plants. Yes, you have to get in your pond to do that, so put your waders on first.
If you are dividing plants, do it now. If not, clean the sides of the pots off, cut all dead growth off, remove all live growth that has leapt from the pot. You can repot the extra plants and share with friends and neighbors. Please do not throw them into any public waterways because they can be invasive and become a public nuisance.
Remove your anacharis. Put the clean anacharis in one pile, the dirty anacharis in another. Make your helper remove debris from the dirty anacharis and rinse it off. Your pond should be almost empty now.
Net your fish and put them in their temporary home.

Wet vacuum the bottom of the pond. Rinse it with a strong hose stream, wet vacuum again. Continue until water is clear. Donít forget the waterfall, the pond sides. between the rocks. This is the hardest part of pond cleaning. When you are finished with this, the rest is easy.
Put the debris, fish poop, just plain pond scum you have removed in the other milk crate. When the dirty water drains out, it is not so heavy to carry. It is the best fertilizer you can find, so put it under trees, plants, in garden beds, veggie beds. I know it stinks, but that goes away in a few hours. If you cannot put it in your yard or compost pile, put it in trash bags.
Put the larger debris, e.g., sticks, limbs, old shoes, golf balls in the trash bags.
Put the clean plants back in the pond where you want them to be.
Start running new water in the pond.
PUT THE DECHLORINATOR IN NOW!!
When the pond is about half full, put the fish in plastic bags, tie the top closed and float them in the pond for a few minutes so the old water temperature and new water temperature equalize. Release your fish within 15 minutes. Continue to fill the pond until full.
Plug in the waterfall again. The fish will play in it.
Whew, thatís done for another year.

You can also probably find someone in your area who cleans ponds. I used to clean about 200 ponds a year and charged from $245.00 up. That should help you choose someone.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Routine Pond Maintenance






Your pond takes very little maintenance, much less than your lawn that you fertilize and then mow each and every week. But there are a few things that you can do to keep your pond looking beautiful and your goldfish healthy. Keep an eye on your pond. (As if you didn't already). Watch for changes in water color, water level, fish lethargy or pump slowdowns. If you see anything unusual, deal with it as soon as you can. But usually, following these few tips will keep any disasters at bay.

Weekly Tasks

You visually marked where your normal water level was after your pond was built. Check the water level weekly--if it has dropped due to evaporation, top it off. Add a dechlorinator if you add more than 10% of the total volume of water. If it has not dropped, and you have some time, pump about 10% of the water into the surrounding vegetable or flower garden and top off the pond. The water is a great (and free) fertilizer and the water changing deters chemical buildup that can eventually corrode the pump or foul the water.

Check the bottom of the pond for decaying vegetation and remove dead plants, leaves or other organic matter. Dead and decaying plant material can foul the water and kill the fish. Net any debris out and put it in your compost pile or use it as direct compost in your flower beds. Remove childrenís toys, tennis or golf balls or used champagne glasses at the same time.

Monthly Tasks

Fertilize your water lilies with a product made for aquatic plants. Follow the manufacturer's directions for application. Fertilize the lilies from the time the leaves reach the surface in the spring, for us, in New Orleans, thatís in April or May, until the lilies go dormant, usually about the end of October. Most likely by September or October, your lily leaves are getting smaller and not they are not blooming as much. Lilies react to the length of days and nights. As daylight gets shorter and nights get longer, your lily knows winter is coming.

If you have a prefilter with your pump, clean it at least every month. During the hot part of the summer and if your pond is in full sun, clean it more often. If the filter has a foam rubber component, run water through it until the water runs clear. Do not squeeze or wring it out. If it is a biofilter, donít clean it except yearly. If you must clean it more often, you are overfeeding your fish or your bio load is too high. Reduce your fish population. Often when I am cleaning a biofilter, I will rinse it in pond water. If I use water from the hose, I will use specially formulated pond bacteria to kick start the bio process again.

Yearly Tasks

Remove all of the fish, plants and pump out the water. Lightly scrub the bottom and sides of the pond with a brush--do not use chemicals or soap.

Refill the pond, dechlorinate, replace fish, divide plants, repot and replace. Save some of the old water to store the fish in while the pond is being cleaned. I use a big blue storage box that we might also use for blankets, sweaters or lego toys.

Put the fish in plastic bags in the old water. Float the fish on top of the newly cleaned pond until the water in the bag and the water in the pond are the same temperature. Late February or early spring wherever you are is a great time to do the yearly cleaning. Make sure the temperature of the water is above 55 degrees, so you don't disturb all those fish in torpor too soon. If the clean water temperature differs more than a few degrees from the old pond water, you may lose all your fish.

All this said, I live in New Orleans, where hurricane Katrina destroyed my house. One year after Katrina hit, the old house was demolished, I had moved into the new one and was ready to move my pond across town. I had not looked at my pond for over a year. I expected a foul, nasty mess. I found about 8 inches of water in the pond, about a bushel of submerged vegetation and 6 live goldfish. So routine maintenance or not, cleaning or not, ponds may not thrive on benevolent neglect, but they continue to be a healthy ecosystem.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

The August Heat

How do we make it through the summer, I wonder. I know that those of you in northern climes are at the end of your summer, but we in the South are wading through 'air you can wear' and wondering if we will ever be able to enjoy our ponds and gardens again. The water lettuce has turned yellow and then brown so it is going to the compost heap. Even the sturdy unkillable water hyacinth is falling apart against the August heat. Water lilies are in full bloom, tho, and want to be fed. Be sure to keep them well trimmed so the decomposing vegetation does not fall to the bottom and decompose.
Please provide some shade for your fish. They will thank you for it.



Canna from the bog garden



Hibiscus next to the bog


Mallow in the bog

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The dog days of summer



Passion Flower in my yard



It is not even August yet, but the high temps in the south are reaching the high 90's. Do your fish have places to stay cool in the shade? Put a terra cotta pot on its side so they can lounge it. Get a 4" piece of black PVC pipe and throw it in the pond. Plant more water lilies if you don't have koi, so the pond is shaded more. Always be sure your pond is in at least 50% shade all the time.

Take more time to clean out the debris on the bottom of the pond. It decomposes quickly in this heat. If you do it early in the morning, you will not get as hot. I use a net that could double as a swimming pool net to make the job easier.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Spring housing problems



I have a garden full of tree frogs. These two love to live in my calla lilies. Unfortunately the callas are fast rotting away, but the frogs love their houses and refuse to move.






If they would consent to moving just one floor down, they could have two brand new calla lilies, model houses, if you will, and be the first occupants of these elegant new homes.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Fertilizing aquatic plants

If you have not yet fertilized your water lilies, now is the time. Use aquatic plant tabs and push them into the soil. Use one tab for each gallon of soil. If your lily pads have not yet reached the surface, wait until they do.
I do not fertilize other aquatics. The fish waste seems to do a fine job of that. The plants leap from their pots as it is. With fertilizer, they would be camping on my front porch.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Fire Ants and the Pond

I get many questions about killing ants (especially fire ants) around the pond. They are worried about poisoning the fish if some ant killer gets in the water. Diatomaceous earth is an effective and natural ant control. Even if some gets in the pond there should be no problem. Diatomaceous earth is available at most garden centers. Follow the label's instructions for use.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Koi and Clay

Koi will scrounge around a pond's natural bottom for food. When they eat the food, they also get some tiny pieces of clay. The clay provides tiny particles which provide needed grit to help with digestion as well as beneficial minerals which account for much of the very bright colors of Koi living in natural bottom ponds.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Fish spawning

It's spring and a young male fish's fancy turns to thoughts of female fish. When you see your fish chasing after each other, sometimes even removing scales or acting as if they are fighting, they are really spawning and you will soon be a goldfish grandparent.

Fish are not good parents. The moment the fish is born, the parents try to eat it and are often successful. Goldfish are born a grayish, brownish color to give them a chance at life and obviously, some make it.

If you give those babies a place to hide, they have a better chance of survival. The best place for fry to hide is in the fine roots of water hyacinth. Scatter the hyacinths around your pond so the fry can stay there until the coast is clear. When they get a bit bigger, they can survive much more easily.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

Koi? Illegal?

Owning or keeping koi is illegal in the state of Maine. Koi are considered a nuisance fish that can invade public waterways and cause native fish to die out. No matter what state you live in, check with your local extension service to find out the status of koi.
Other states are considering making owning koi illegal. Check with your local pond society or extension service to learn the status of koi in your state.

Friday, May 02, 2008

Clean out that pump

The biggest cause of pump failure is the pump getting clogged and dirty. At least once monthly uplug it, remove the tubing that goes out of it. Get the garden hose with a strong nozzle on it. Turn it on full blast and put it in the hole where the water comes out. You will blow the debris out of the pump and impeller. The impeller needs to turn freely. Test it with a screwdriver.

Do not pull your pump out of the water using the cord as a handle. That is the second largest cause of pump failure.

One of the first signs a pump is failing is it begins to run intermittently. There is a safety mechanism in the pump that turns it off when it gets too hot. If that happens, start shopping because your pump is not long for this world.

I love Oase pumps, so check them out. They have a great warranty and cost very little to operate.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Louisiana Irises






Louisiana irises are just finishing blooming in Zone 8b on the North side of Lake Pontchartrain. Our Irises are beautiful plants and love to grow in our ponds or anywhere where they can have wet feet. They are great for bog gardens and rain gardens. I have used them next to ponds and even in gardens where there is no pond in sight. They do well up to zone 5. Consider adding them to your pond.
To read all of my articles and get pond questions answered, see pondlady.com
Click on Pondlady's articles or download her ebooks.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Feeding fish


Do not feed goldfish because it turns the pond into an outdoor aquarium, but here's yet another reason not to feed them.

Fish soon realize that when a shape appears at the edge of the pond, food appears. They like that and soon they are trained to eat out of your hand. At least that is what you think.

Fish are not the brightest of critters, so when ANY shape appears at the edge of your pond, like a heron, an egret, a crane or a raccoon, they come up to greet the intruder and oops, they become a fresh sushi dinner for a hungry intruder.

For more pond information, have a look at Backyard ponds with the pondlady

Friday, April 25, 2008

Wild Plants




If you gather plants from the wild, you will bring in parasites and diseases. If you must harvest from the roadside ditches and swamps, first of all, be careful. There are some unpleasant creatures living in those ditches and swamps.

Secondly check local laws, it may be illegal.

Third, put your plants in a washtub or bucket of water with a cup of so of Clorox in it. Leave them there for a week to ten days. That will kill any parasites or other bugs that may have found their way home with you.

Check them well when you put them in your pond for any hitchhiking critters that may have traveled to your house with your new plants.

I find it is often easier to buy the plants from a reputable aquatic nursery or online to assure the plants in your pond are disease and parasite free.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

New Pond Plants

It's time to pot up plants after you have divided them. If your pond is like mine, you have many more plants coming up this spring that you had last fall. So hack them in two or three or four pieces at the bottom and repot them. Here's how:


How to pot up pond plants.


Don't forget you can read more about ponds at
Backyard Ponds with the Pondlady

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Visiting Wildlife




If you trap visiting wildlife like raccoons, and want to relocate them, check with the Wildlife Commission to see if
1) You have rights to move them to a more suited environment,
2) If they are prone to mark their territory and return,
3) Have the local humane society trap & move them to a more fitting area. 

If they are taken to a brand new neighborhood, they are likely to be unable to find food and die.


Learn more about ponds and get your questions answered at
Backyard ponds with the pondlady

Monday, April 14, 2008

Flower pot pond?




I just got an email asking if a pond could be in a flower pot. I answered that I have had ponds in casserole dishes just to prove it could be done.

So, yes, you can have a pond in a flower pot. Put a couple sprigs of anachris in the water, float some plants on top, have a couple of mosquito fish in it to eat any larvae that want to hatch and you will be fine.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

Water lily question



I recently introduced 6 fully grown water lilies to my 5000 gal pond. The leaves are starting to yellow and some have small brown/black spots on them. It is a full sun pond with a pump transferring water at rate of 600 gal per hour.




Pondlady sez:


 Water lilies need feeding every 10 - 14 days with Pondtabbs or other aquatic plant fertilizer.
They also like to have the 
tops of their pots at least 18" below the surface of the water and are happier even deeper. 
And remember, the outer ring of leaves gets yellow and needs to be pinched off periodically so the new leaves can grow.
Same with the flowers. They will open and close for about 3 days and then die. Pick them off immediately. Don't let them decay in the pond.
Pinch leaves and flowers off at the pot, not at the top of the water.
Oh, and water lilies do not want water falling on their leaves, nor do they want to be too near moving water. A foot or so away is fine.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Fish Fighting?

If you see your fish chasing each other like they are fighting, don't worry, they are not fighting. What you see is fish spawning. You are about have fish eggs, then babies. Fish babies are called fry. And goldfish are not the best parents in the world. They will eat their babies if they can. Goldfish babies are born grayish brown so they cannot be seen as easily be their hungry momma.

To get all your pond questions answered, see
Backyard Ponds with the Pondlady


Saturday, April 05, 2008

Goldfish eggs

There is no set time for goldfish eggs to hatch. The warmer the water, the faster they hatch, so don't worry if some take longer than others.

Goldfish are born blackish, brownish gray and gradually change to orange, gold or other adult colors. They are born dark to escape the parents who will have them for breakfast if given the chance. Not all of them change; some stay the same brownish, blackish color all their lives.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Turtles and other critters

Critters and ponds go together. When we have a backyard wildlife habitat, we get the critters that come with it. Let's do the best we can do co-exist. You can just not invite most of these critters. The others we just have to live with.

Turtles will eat your water lilies. So will koi, crawfish, bass, perch or other lake fish. Raccoons and nutria will eat them as well. So will ducks and geese. I don't know about possums or muskrats, but I would not be surprised if they did.

Read all about ponds at Backyard Ponds with the Pondlady

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Feeding Koi

Give your koi quartered oranges to nibble on. They love them and it gives them vitamin C. They also love red cabbage. Leave it whole and watch them play with it like a volleyball.


If your weather is warming up, it's time to jump start your pond. Put Microbe Lift in your bio filter when you turn it back on. That will start your pond with beneficial bacteria.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Too many fish

Question: We put a pond in 3 years ago and had to put in an ultra voiet light to clear up the pond not working fast enough what is the next step? We have about 35 fish.


Pondlady sez:
It sounds to me as if you have too many fish and you feed them too much.
Your possibilities are to cut down your fish population (probably the best way) or to install a huge filtration system (very expensive) plus your UV light. Even then it is possible your bioload will be too heavy. Maybe you have some friends who could adopt some fish?

The rule for fish load is 1 linear foot of fish per 25 square feet of pond surface.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Pond and koi problems

I just got some koi from a friend and now my pond is a muddy mess and stinks and my water lilies are dying. Do I need to clean the whole thing out and start over?

Pondlady sez: 
First of all, your koi are eating your water lilies. And the fish waste is making the pond stink. If you give the koi away and get a couple of plain goldfish and then balance your pond ecologically, you will have a clean pond that is relatively maintenance free. Yes, you do have to clean it out and start over. Sorry.

If you wish to keep the koi, you must add a biofilter and feed your koi.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Fish feeding

You are always telling us not to feed our fish. But the fish store tells me I must feed them, Who is right?


Pondlady sez:
If you have a balanced pond, with underwater vegetation, your fish will be happy without unnecessary and artificial food introduced into the pond. If you feed them, they will grow bigger than the pond can handle, they will eat all the vegetation, so you will feed them more and more...and soon the bioload will be too big for the pond and all the fish will die.
If you have sufficient filtration, you can feed fish, but not without it. And overfeeding leads to foul and green water.

Monday, March 24, 2008

Leeches?

Help, I have some sort of red worms growing in my foam rubber filter. Will they kill my fish....or me?




Pondlady sez:
The worms are leeches and I have seen thousands of them. They don't hurt anything at all. They help the pond by eating decomposed organic material and sludge at the bottom of the pond and, of course, in the filter.

Give your pond a jump start this spring with
Microbe-Lift PL
It helps get a great biosystem going, so your fish, plants and water will start out the spring healthy.

Friday, March 21, 2008

mud and silt

Hi! I installed my ponds two weeks ago and things are still settling down. I have an upper pond which is 7' round and a lower pond which is 18' x 11'. A small 6 foot stream runs between them. A lot of dirt got into the pond during the construction of the rock walls and turned the water brown. It wasn't clearing up, so my local pond expert informed me about how plants will help clear the water up so I put in 8 water lillies, 15 water water hyacinths and 50 anacharis.

I have also started the biofilters with doses of bacteria and while things are improving, now I am concerned that the anacharis are totally covered in silt and I am wondering if that will kill them? Don't they need sunlight and doesn't the silt block them from getting sunlight? Do I need to go in there and "shake" them off?




Pondlady sez: 
Your pond installer should have pumped out the dirty water before he collected his final check. So now, here's the best way I know to solve your problem.
Take the plants out, wash them off. Pump out the water, clean the rocks with a strong stream of water, wet vac the silt out and start over.
Be sure you add dechlor before you put your fish back in and I would add bacteria to your biofilter to jump start it.

I wish that you could just grab the anacharis, shake it and wash it off, but the silt will come off the moment you try to pick up the anacharis.
I know you wanted a different answer and I'm sorry you have to clean up your installer's mess. He really should return and do it for free. State law says he has to guarantee his work for a year.

Spring has arrived even if it's not very warm where you live. Check your pond equipment. Is your pump working well?
It's always fun to browse in the spitter and statuary section as well.

For pond information, see a list of the articles I have written at Backyard Ponds with the Pondlady

Thursday, March 20, 2008

A New Pond

Question:
I am a new pond owner and it has been established for about a month, I have added a few fish. At first they were very active now I feel they are lying on the bottom more and not swimming around as much. My pond has a little green on the bottom and sides but is basically clear. Am I jumping the gun or do you think I may have a problem with the fish? They are eating but not as much. I have several plants in the pond and seem to be doing o.k. my water lily has finally formed a pad but it is small, how often should I fertilize it? I also have a pond smell it that normal?


Pondlady sez;:
You are feeding your fish. Unless they are koi, do not feed them. Make sure you have 1/2 of the surface of the water covered with floating plants and have plenty of places for the fish to hide.

Put at least one bunch of submerged vegetation in your pond for every square foot of pond surface. Feed the water lily at least once monthly, but they would prefer to be fed twice or even every 10 days in the growing season. Use Pondtabbs or other aquatic fertilizer. If you can't find it, use Job's Tree Spikes cut up in 4 pieces or Job's Tomato Spikes. And as a last resort, just dig a hole in the soil of the water lily, put a powdered fertilizer in there and cover it back up. 
You probably have too many fish as well. Here's the rule: 1 linear foot of fish per 25 square feet of water surface.

Spring is coming fast. Check your filters. If they have been out of the pond all winter, put them back in the water and use some Microbe Lift Gel to give the pond biosystem a jump start for spring.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Egrets and Raccoons



From a new pond owner:

I have just gotten my brand new pond and already egrets and raccoons are eating my fish and plants. Help, what can I do?


Pondlady sez:

 We build beautiful backyard resorts for critters like fish and raccoons and then we don't want them as guests. We want our ponds to be gated communities.



I don't know of any way to keep the fish eating critters away from the pond. 
I advocate never feeding the fish at all and giving them a balanced ecosystem 
in which to live. That way when predators arrive, the fish know that they are
 predators so, they hide in the natural plants and rocks that are in the pond and 
they don't get eaten. Or at least the smart ones don't get eaten. The smart ones have smart babies, the dumb ones get eaten.

For a raccoon deterrent, try planting prickly stuff around your pond. Asparagus fern is good or a holly of some kind. Remember, that prickly stuff can bite you as well as the raccoons.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

More pond questions

I live in Orlando, florida and have recently installed a pond on my patio. It is a 25 gal. above the ground barrel pond with 3 anacharis and 2 hardy water lilies. I have a fountain and a filter as I have a few fish in the pond. I also have a snail and a 
plecostamus for cleaning. the filter is rated for 50 gal. My question is how can I stop the goldfish (4 of them) from eating the water lilies? At one time I had 14 lily pads and now I am down to just 8. the lilies are still putting out new growth but they seem to only last about 1-2 weeks before they turn black and die. The snail and pleco take care of the remains. I feed the goldfish about 2 times a day as they are constantly at the water surface. Is there something I can do? Or am I just missing something? The patio is screened in so there is no chance of 
outside invasion.

Pondlady sez:

 I think I am hearing two problems here.
1) Your fish are eating your water lilies
2) Your lilies are turning black and dying.
3) a combination of the two

You have too many fish in that tiny pond. It possibly could support two goldfish. As far as your water lily pads, they only live a couple of weeks and then die off because new pads are coming. You also have one more lily than the pond can support. Give a lily to a friend and keep the one you like best. Feed your lily at least once monthly after May. Oh, and you are feeding your fish too much. They are at the top because they are begging just like your dog does under the dining room table. They are not hungry.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Tadpoles and fish

Tracy wrote: 

Are tadpoles good for my pond? My fish died with a white film over their
 eyes I was told it was because of the tadpoles.



Pondlady sez:

 I suppose it is possible, but I find it a bit doubtful. Tadpoles (the toad kind) have toxins on their skins so fish won't eat them, and they don't. I suspect you will find your fish died of something else, like foul water, over feeding or some chemicals getting in the water. If they were new fish, it's possible they were sick when you bought them. 
Change out 25% of the water. Don't forget the dechlor. Be sure you buy fish from a reputable fish store and not a big box retailer.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Spring is coming!

It's almost 80º here in New Orleans today. We have pond plants sticking their green noses up in the air. The Louisiana iris are getting bigger and bigger. The canna is at least a foot high.
It's time to get the pond up and running again. Get out your pumps and filters, hook them up and put them in your pond. If the pond stinks, you may have decomposing organic material on the bottom. Before it fouls your pond, try to vacuum it out.

If you did not clean your pond last fall, it's time to do it now. Take everything out, put the fish in some pond water, pump out the water into the veggie garden, wet vac the bottom and put everything back in. Don't forget the dechlor

While you are at it start your algae control with barley

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Cost of pump operation

When selecting pond equipment, you should seriously consider the cost of operation.
Each amp can cost $103 per year based on a dime per kilowatt hour.

What does your local utility charge per KwH? You can look on your bill and find out. Most of your cost comes from running your pump, so be sure to choose the right one.

Other costs can be from lighting and bubblers. If you choose the right equipment you can keep your electricity costs down. Consider solar power for free pump operation.

In general, the more expensive the pump is initially, the less it will cost to run. Also take the length of warranty into consideration when buying any pond equipment.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Ten Essential Pond Tips

1. You must have one bunch of anacharis (underwater grass) per square foot of water surface area. This serves as a natural filter and as food for the fish. It grows faster than the fish can eat it.


2. 50 - 60% of the surface of the water must be shaded with floating plants. Water lilies are great, as are water hyacinths, water lettuce or water poppies. Just be sure to compost them as they multiply and not allow them loose in a natural waterway.


3. You must have fish to complete the balanced ecosystem. I recommend common goldfish. Do not put Koi in your pond unless you have built a koi pond. They will eat all of your plants.


4. Do not feed your fish. They will become too big for the pond and upset the ecosystem. You will have an overpopulation problem and all of your fish will die.


5. Put in one linear foot of fish for each 25 square feet of pond surface area. If you have 100 square feet of pond, you may have 4 foot long fish, 8 six inch fish or 16 three inch fish and so on.


6. Do not allow turtles, crawfish, alligators, ducks, geese, dogs, raccoons, possums, muskrats, nutria or your children to swim in your pond.


7. Do not use chemicals!!! EVER! Add a dechlorinator when you first fill the pond and then when you add more than 10% water afterwards. 


8. Do not worry about pH. It will take care of itself.


9. Remove any dead or decaying vegetation regularly so that ammonia does not build up and foul your pond.


10. Relax. Your pond will generally take care of itself. I recommend benevolent neglect as the best approach to pondkeeping.

For detailed pond information, see my articles at Backyard Ponds with the Pondlady

Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Building above grade

If you do nothing else while building your pond, build it above grade. You can use my method or just pile up the soil you removed from the hole around the edges, but if you don't build it up, run off from your yard can kill your pond.

Monday, March 03, 2008

Choosing a pump

When choosing the best pump for your pond calculate your head loss. Head loss is the vertical distance the pump has to push the water plus the friction caused by the water flowing through the pipes and fittings. If the flow rate is too high for the pipe's diameter, you create more pressure.

  Head losses also happen when filters clog with debris and create back pressure; this can be eased by keeping your filter clean. Too many elbows can add to back pressure. Pumping vertically, whether it is to a waterfall or a filter, will also increase head pressure. Running costs increase with head loss, so it is important to keep head loss to a minimum.

To read all my pond articles, go to Backyard Ponds with the Pondlady