Deluxe 'Catio' Built for Feline Fun
You know those people whom stray animals just seem to find? When it comes to cats, Tom and Liz are those people. At present 16 cats have found their way into their hearts and home. Some are shelter cats once deemed unadoptable, others have wandered onto their property, and a few came from various relatives who could no longer care for them. For this reason we’re withholding their last names and exact location, lest anyone get any ideas about leaving more cats with them. Tom and Liz love to save cats, but they are at their limit.
When the couple moved to this home in Paradise Valley, Arizona, cat safety and quality of life were priorities. Their property is about an acre, surrounded by desert wilderness. Predators like coyotes, great horned owls and foxes prowl nearby, and even some of the plant life around can injure cats. A secure enclosure was a must. Here’s how they created cat heaven.
The enclosure is about 600 square feet total. Tom began by sketching out his ideas and rendering his plans using 3-D software. While he had a good understanding of construction and framing, he enlisted some help in setting the redwood fence posts in concrete. The rest of the work he completed by himself on nights and weekends. The project took a few months.
“The friends that helped with the fence posts already knew our cats,” Liz says. “It was a labor of love on their part.” The metal you see here is plastic-coated galvanized fencing. The vertical posts are 4- by 4-inch redwood fence posts; the horizontal ones are 2-by-4s. The entire redwood structure has a waterproof stain.
Bird netting overhead protects the cats from winged predators. Shade sails provide relief from the sun. “Unfortunately, they’ve become hammocks and suspension bridges,” Liz says.
Tom installed a system of catwalks, ramps and steps to connect the “catio” to the main house and the guesthouse. Here is Tom working on the steps from the guesthouse to the top of the kitty enclosure:
The guesthouse is now a full-time cat residence, complete with linoleum floor and fiber-reinforced plastic on the walls, which can be easily wiped down.
Along the catwalk system is “the celestial viewing platform,” as the couple calls it. The cats enjoy sitting and taking in some of the best views on the property here.
A ramp leads from a platform along a catwalk to another ramp that goes to the ground level.
The experts at The Pond Gnome installed a pond inside — a habitat for koi, goldfish and mosquitofish. Contrary to popular belief, the cats don’t go after the fish, but they do enjoy watching them.
Liz and Tom are teaching the koi to come when they are called via treats (it’s a koi thing, they swear). “One day when a koi popped up for a treat, he scared the daylights out of Sylvia,” Liz says.
While they planned on lots of quality cat-visit time out in the enclosure, Tom and Liz were surprised to find how much they enjoy just hanging out in here, too. “The sound of the water is so relaxing, and the cats just love it when we’re in there,” Liz says. “Our friends who love and know the kitties also enjoy coming out and having a glass of wine with all of us out here.”
I know what you want to ask but are too polite to. The answer is, they rake out the enclosure once a week, and the cats also have litter boxes indoors. In fact, the couple is even training the cats to use the toilet in the guesthouse. I forgot to ask if they got the idea from Meet the Parents.
The cat enclosure is a work in progress. The to-do list includes adding rain gutters, box planters and cat grass along the perimeter. Some special cat doors that operate via magnets will control which cats can access the main house while barring those with spraying issues.
“Several of our cats were deemed unadoptable, but all it took was someone who knows cats to adopt them,” Liz says. “Now they seem to say, ‘Hug me! Hug me now!’”
Catio Home Update
As of the date of this blog, November 15, 2017, the Guinans have moved out of state, taking their kitty loves with them, of course. The catio has been removed, and only the pond remains, now surrounded by lawn. The house sold for $1.3+M: Zillow Listing. We miss them!
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What's the Best Food to Feed my Pond Fish?
Just like humans, the absolute best food to feed your fish are natural whole foods, like fruits and vegetables, and allowing them to graze on the algae that naturally grows in the pond. Okay, maybe as humans, we don't want to eat the algae, but that's a whole different discussion. Feeding your pond fish lettuce, zucchini, oranges, melons, etc., will not only keep them healthy, but help maintain your water quality.
What's The Best Commercial Food Can I Buy for My Pond FIsh?
If you opt to keep commercial fish food around, be sure it's the best stuff. If you feed your kids a diet comprised of just breakfast cereal, that's not enough to keep them healthy. The same goes for feeding your beloved wet pets. Read labels, like you do when buying food for your dogs and cats. If you consider your pond fish your pets, then you'll want to feed them the good stuff. They'll be healthier, live longer, and look better, too! Here are some commercially-made fish foods that we've personally found are great.
Warm-Weather Pond Fish Foods
When your water temps (which follow nighttime temps) are above 55 degrees, these fish food options are terrific.
Aquascape Premium Staple Fish Food Pellets are formulated for everyday use and provide your pond fish with the nutrition they need to thrive at an affordable price. This food contain probiotics that aid in digestion and reduce fish waste, while the high-quality protein included helps to optimize growth rates. The floating pellets contain stabilized vitamin C and other quality ingredients and are scientifically formulated for all pond fish, including Koi and goldfish. This fish food will not break apart during feeding, helping to maintain clear water conditions.
One step further would be the Premium Color Enhancing pond fish food.
Cold-Weather Pond Fish Food
When your water temps are below 55 degrees, you can switch over to natural treats (fruits & veggies), or this fish food works well.
The Premium Cold Water pond fish food is actually formulated to be fed to pond fish when the water is cold and their systems are not as active.
The bottom line is to read labels and make an informed decision. I guess that's actually good advice for us human, too!
How Can I Tell How Many Gallons of Water are in my Pond?
There are a few times you might need to know how many gallons of water are in your pond, such as when figuring out how much of a certain water treatment product to use.
It's also handy to know how many gallons of water are in your pond so that you don't overstock your pond with fish.
Some people will go through the process of actually metering the water going into their pond when they first fill it up. You didn't do that? No problem! There's a simple calculation that will get you pretty darn close:
Length x Width x Average Depth x 7.25
No, it's not an exact number. For that, you'll need a more scientific process, like taking the time to meter the water going in. However, if you're keeping your pond organically, using bacteria and enzymes to control the water quality, this calculation will get you close enough. It will also give you an approximation for how many fish you can keep happy and healthy.
One of the many joys of water gardening is all the cool critters that visit. Included in that mix are gorgeous butterflies. You can enhance this visitation with appropriate plantings, like Aquatic Butterfly Bush or Milkweed.
We have so many in our front yard sometimes that it would be considered an infestation if they weren't so pretty! The neighborhood kids are all fascinated by our butterfly bush in our front yard stream. Check it out:
Can you tell the difference between Monarch and Queen caterpillars? They look the same unless you know what to look for. Test your skill below:
Can you tell the difference between the Monarch and Queen butterflies? The Queen butterfly has white spots on its hindwings, distinguishing it from the Monarch. It is also a darker color orange than monarchs. When the wings of a queen butterfly are open, it's a bit easier to tell the two species apart, not to mention if they happen to be sitting side by side. They're not usually that cooperative, though.
So now you know how to tell the difference. Can you count how many of each you see in your yard each day? They certainly don't sit still for long!
If you're not seeing any, then you might need to add the right plants and organic water that they need to be attracted to your yard.
For more great information on these butterflies, visit: http://www.arizonensis.org/sonoran/fieldguide/arthropoda/danaus.html.
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Watching your fish glide gracefully and happily through the pond is a sight for sore eyes after a long day and/or week at work. But do you have a pond that promotes the health of your fish? Several factors influence whether a pond is habitable by fish, so before you stock your new pond or choose a few new finned friends at your local pet store, take a few minutes to assess your fish’s dwelling space as it relates to pond fish health.
Healthy Goldfish and Koi in an Ecosystem Pond
It all starts with the size of your pond. You need to make sure that it is large enough to support the type of fish you want (whether that’s Koi or goldfish) and their growth potential. Pond fish generally need 10 gallons of water for every inch of their length, and you have to be ready for them to grow larger, so be careful not to overstock, no matter how tempting this may be! Some pond experts go so far as to recommend only ½ inch of fish per 10 gallons of water as a maximum stocking density.
You’ve probably seen ponds crowded with two or even three inches of fish per 10 gallons of water and the fish seem to be fine. However, the density and ecological strain of this kind of fish load turn these ponds into fragile systems. The fish tend to grow more slowly and disease can become a too-common occurrence. Too many rats in a cage, so to speak.
You won’t be able to salvage sick fish in a pond that’s overcrowded. Eventually, Mother Nature will pick off some of your fish (mostly likely your favorites) to achieve her ideal stocking density based on the environment the fish are in, and then the remainder will recover as if by magical intervention. Reduce the number of fish if your pond is over-stocked before Mother Nature handles this crucial step for you in a manner you may not appreciate.
Good Morning, Sunshine
Some aquatic plants that tolerate shade include Taro, Papyrus, Horsetail, Cardinal Flower, and Lizard’s Tail.Ponds that have at least some sunlight are also beneficial to pond fish. Valuable vitamins are contained in sunlight. Sunlight also helps the plants in your pond grow, thereby reducing nitrates in the water. Unfortunately, you can’t just up and move your pond, so if you have a shady-place pond, add shade-loving plants to help balance the water. Aquatic plants play a critical role when it comes to enhancing pond fish health.
When it comes to pond depth, Koi and goldfish aren’t really very picky. Just be sure that the pond is deep enough (generally about 2 to 2 ½ feet) to give the fish a chance to get out of the way of predators. Or you can opt for a cave network within the pond to allow them to hide when need be.
A Balancing Act
The quality of your water is critical to pond fish health and you want to make sure your water garden is balanced. The proper mix of fish, plants, filtration, circulation, and rocks and gravel all provide an important role in your pond’s ecosystem. Work with Mother Nature, not against her, and you’ll find you spend more time enjoying your pond and less time maintaining it. Now, doesn’t THAT sound like a dream come true?
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Modern. Contemporary. Current. Present-day. State-of-the-art. Stylish. Cutting-edge. You might not automatically associate these words with a water feature or pond. But a modern pond is exactly that.
The Old Ways
The old way of building a pond was often just a wok-shaped hole in the ground covered in cheap plastic liner or slathered in concrete (sometimes both). Neither process provides you with a life-long water feature, but it’s pretty cheap to do.
Sometimes a stack of rocks would be set on the side of it, mortared together, and called a waterfall. This would mean that the plumbing was then encased in concrete within that structure, so if it cracked, the whole thing needed to be destroyed and rebuilt.
A pond? “That’s just a hole in the ground with water.” “Sure, you can throw plants & fish in it!” The next thing you know, you have a bowl of pea-green soup, the plants look like crap, and you can’t even see the fish anymore. Not really an enjoyable experience for most people.
Old-style ponds had costly time-consuming filtration units that required constant tinkering to keep them going. Without an ecosystem and proper filtration, old-style “ponds” needed to be drained & cleaned regularly to keep them clear and not stinky. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
The Modern Pond
Remember your parents’ and grandparents’ appliances that lasted so long you got sick of the harvest gold or avocado green color? Now, appliances (no matter how expensive) seem to be disposable after 10 years. Wouldn’t it be nice to buy something once and have it actually last? People work hard for their money. Nowadays, when people are considering a home improvement option, they want to research their decision before jumping in, and they expect quality, service, and a product that’s going to last. And we’re willing to pay appropriately for it – the modern consumer.
A modern pond is one that is built to last a lifetime. Using the latest manufacturing techniques, and quality components, a pond built today is capable of outlasting its owner.
A modern pond is low-maintenance. Properly-designed filtration, and the latest and greatest options, make pond-keeping a snap. And it’s a gardener’s delight, the modern trend being “back to nature.”
A modern pond is environmentally-friendly and responsible. An ecosystem water feature provides a respite for native & migratory birds and other wildlife with biologically-available water. A modern pond doesn’t require man-made chemicals, but utilizes Mother Nature’s good-guys to keep the water crystal clear and aesthetically pleasing.
A modern pond is pet-friendly. Your dog (or cat) will LOVE having fresh, clean drinking water at their disposal. And no more dirty dish to deal with or keep full.
A modern pond looks like nature created it before the home was built. It’s not a contrived-looking sterile environment -- that’s swimming pools, fountains, and spas.
An ecosystem pond requires some kind of filtration - whether that's an installed item, or whether YOU are the filtration.
If you're a do-it-yourselfer, we recommend that you purchase an integrated kit that contains all of the components you plan to install. This will save you much time, effort, and frustration! Whereas no project is truly a project without a couple of trips to the local big-box home improvement store, you might want to limit that activity on this one. If you try to bargain shop, getting each part as cheaply as possible from different stores and manufacturers, you will end up with a nightmare on your hands, without really having saved yourself anything in the long run. Remember, you get what you pay for – and that’s no lie! A great place to start would be to watch some of The Pond Squad videos.
Biological filtration, simply put, is a place for beneficial bacteria to inhabit. This can be done in various ways. Our personal favorite is to incorporate it into the waterfall, where it's hidden from plain sight. Since most everyone wants a waterfall, even if they don’t necessarily want a pond, this seems the most logical and easiest place to put it.
Beneficial bacteria is essential to keeping your water quality crystal clear (but that's a whole other subject). It will adhere to any porous surface, though, so simply having some rock and stone in your pond gives it a fighting chance.
If you don't HAVE a skimmer, you ARE the skimmer. A pond skimmer works similarly to that of a pool. However, a pond skimmer is much larger than that of a pool, and is generally designed to handle larger debris. If your pond includes a skimmer, you can have trees surrounding your pond, providing a more natural-looking complimentary landscape, and still have a clean pond. Really!
A skimmer, combined with a circulation system, will keep the debris from saturating, falling to the bottom, and becoming sludge (you know, that really foul-smelling crap that some people have to muck out of their ponds once a year, causing their neighbors to seriously consider putting out a “For Sale” sign).
A skimmer is not mandatory for a balanced ecosystem, but it does make for a whole lot less maintenance!
In the alternative, you can upgrade to an intake bay, which is just a fancy way of saying "pondless" pump vault addition. This option make cleaning up debris a snap! You just pick it up occasionally.
A gorgeous ecosystem pond DOES NOT have to be high maintenance if it's built properly.
When you want to enjoy your water feature as the sun begins to set, outdoor lighting is a must. And here in Phoenix, nighttime is about the only time we can be outside in the summer! Most people think to add landscape lighting around a deck or patio or pathway, but neglect the water feature for optimal nighttime viewing. Here are some pretty backyard lighting ideas for your pond, waterfall, or fountain.
No matter what type of water feature you have, you can enhance its beauty well into the evening hours with the addition of pond and garden lighting.
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Why would you consider an exploratory pond cleaning in Phoenix, AZ?
An exploratory cleaning is a lot like a traditional pond cleaning, but more detailed – and you get more information at the end. We will map out your pond and its equipment, keep this information in our database for future use, and make sure that you have all the information for your records.
Exploratory pond cleanings are done for quite a few reasons in Phoenix. Perhaps your pond has not been serviced regularly. Or maybe you purchased a house with a pond and don’t know much about it – it’s not as intuitive as taking care of a lawn. There could be a leak in the pond and you’re not sure how to find or repair it. Or possibly you just don’t really know what the previous pond professional did.
Your Phoenix pond has not been serviced regularly
You may have had your pond for quite a few years, or may even have built it yourself. But life gets busy, time flies by, and before you know it your pond has not been cleaned in quite a while, and may be starting to have some issues, like water quality. There could be a lot of sediment at the bottom of the pond at this point, and it’s going to take some serious work to get it all out. Regular pond service is best for optimum pond health, and without it, an exploratory pond cleaning is usually in order.
There’s a leak in your Phoenix pond
It can be challenging and potentially expensive to find & fix a leak. There can even be more than one. Or the leak might be in the plumbing. If we have not seen your pond before, we’ll need to explore it to determine what’s going on. We always try to lead people through the troubleshooting process first, but an exploratory drain & clean is often the end result to repair it.
You purchased a house in Phoenix with a pond
Whether you purchased the house because of the pond, or in spite of it, it’s yours to care for. While you may have been told the pond was “maintenance free,” all water features need some kind of maintenance. Even a bird bath needs to be cleaned our regularly! An exploratory drain & clean will give you all the information we can find on your pond: equipment information, lighting information, plumbing size (if we can get to it), aquatic life count, and whether or not everything is in good working order. We’ll even include our observations and recommendations about filtration, water quality, etc.
You don’t know what services the previous service person performed on your Phoenix pond
Your pond may have been serviced in the past, but there are sketchy records, or no records at all. Without an understanding of what we are getting into, an exploratory cleaning is often needed. It allows us to map out your pond and it’s equipment, and assist you in determining the best course of action going forward.
What is the cost for an exploratory pond service, and how do I order the service?
The cost of the service starts around $1200, and the actual price depends on the size and condition of the pond. The price includes:
The quick answer: nope. Bottom drains aren’t necessary under most conditions, so they can be a waste of money. It’s important to know whether or not you need one because it can make a big difference in the health and look of your pond. Keep reading to find out why or why not.
What exactly is a bottom drain?
A bottom drain is simply a drain in the deep end of the pond. It removes debris from the bottom of the pond to the filters where it can then be removed. Your pond is therefore supposed to be cleaner and clearer from using one. Of course, for it to work properly, it needs to be cleaned regularly (sometimes daily, depending on the amount of debris falling into the pond.
A pipe will need to be run under the liner. This means a pathway must be dug out so a hump doesn’t show. A hole is then cut in the liner and the actual drain is installed.
It’s a technical process, and adds quite a bit of expense to the construction, so is it worth it? Not to mention, it’s almost always a potential leak issue because there’s been a hole cut in the liner.
Pro's & cons of a bottom drain in a pond
What does The Pond Gnome think of bottom drains?
We don’t need them.
The Pond Gnome builds sustainable ecosystem ponds that don’t need bottom drains. The ponds we build are typically less than 4′ deep, which means a bottom drain isn’t needed.
We do, however, often install intake bays in deeper Koi ponds to add to the circulation and ease of maintenance. They’re much easier to install, and don’t require us to cut a hole in the pond liner, which is always a potential leak issue.
To drain or not to drain?
If you have any further questions about your pond, or want to ask us about a service, fill out our contact form or give us a call at 623-572-5607.
My pond is overflowing & flooding the yard!
Don’t panic. There are a couple of reasons this could be happening, and it is likely a pretty easy fix.
First, check the basics.
Is the skimmer basket full? If so, empty it. These ponds are so self-maintaining, that this simple step is sometimes forgotten! We’ve been out on many “emergency” calls only to discover that the basket was just jam-packed with debris. It's an expensive lesson.
Is the biological filter overloaded with plants so that it’s pushing water over the back or sides? If so, remove some of that plant material from in front of the weir.
The auto-level device has come loose, become bent, or is otherwise malfunctioning.
Turn off the water source to the pond temporarily to relieve the overflowing. Once the water has gone down to where it’s supposed to be, adjust and tighten the auto-level device appropriately. We have a video in our Help Library on YouTube demonstrating how to do this.
If the problem persists, the auto-level device probably needs to be replaced.
There may be a leak around the pond or water feature caused by settling or water displacement due to plant growth.
Turn off the water source to the pond and allow the water to subside. You’ll need to wait for things to dry out a bit so that you can determine whether any wet spot is perpetual. This shouldn’t take too long in temperatures over 80F.
Check for leaks along the edge of the waterfall or stream. They will show as a damp area along the outer edge or around the edge of the Biofilter. Most likely, maintenance has been neglected and you have a water displacement issue caused by plants and/or their roots. Is the water flow visible all the way from the source (typically a waterfall) to the pond? It needs to be.
You may also have a settling leak, where the edge of the pond has settled a bit over time. This can happen sometimes. To raise the liner, remove the rock around the low spot, pick up the liner and shove a little dirt under it, lay the liner back down and replace the rocks. You should be good to go.
If, after attempting these adjustments, you still have a problem, don’t hesitate to call for help.
A California colleague of ours tells a very fun story about this issue. He’s a much better story teller, and it’s a bit longer story, but here’s a consolidated version of a conversation he had with an elderly lady that had a fairly new ecosystem pond replacing an old concrete pond.
Client (calling contractor in a bit of a panic): Today, I woke up and there’s a bunch of foam in my pond! What’s going on?
Contractor: Does it smell a bit fishy, like the ocean?
Client: Why, yes, it does.
Contractor: Well, ma’am, that means your fish are happy with their new home.
Contractor: (after a couple of more attempts to be “delicate”) It’s sperm.
[Silence for a few seconds]
Client: What kind of sick son of a b*&ch would do that in my pond?!??
Contractor: (stifling hysterical laughter) No, ma’am, it’s your fish spawning.
Cue light bulb over client’s head
So, the moral of the story is that it’s just your fish “getting’ busy.”
What should I do about it?
Absolutely nothing. It should dissipate in a few days, depending on your filtration system. If you don’t have Gambusia in your pond for vector control, you may have baby fish swimming around in the not too distant future. If you have Gambusia, they will eat the fish eggs before they have a chance to hatch. Caviar is their second favorite food, after mosquito larvae.
If your fish are happy and feel safe in their home, this will happen. Spring is typically the season, when every creature seems to be twitterpated, but it may happen again in the Fall, too.
You may also notice that one or two of your fish appear to be “picked on” just before this happens. Those are the females. Unfortunately, they don’t lay eggs easily, and the males kind of beat up on them to help them release the eggs for fertilization. As a friend of ours once said: “Life around a pond is both beautiful and brutal.” It’s all just nature taking its course.
My Pond Pump Died!
The pond pump is the heart of your pond system: pumping water through the circulation system and creating aeration for the aquatic life. A pump down situation can be devastating at certain times of the year.
In the "winter," when nighttime temps stay cool (water temps follow nighttime temps), it's not a big deal. A cold pond can go for several days without circulation, especially if you don't have fish over 12" long.
However, during our Phoenix summers, the days can reach 110+ degrees, and our nights can stay at or above 90+ degrees! This can be a deadly situation to not have circulation and aeration. When in their summer growing season, aquatic plants are actually drawing oxygen FROM the water at night. Your larger (12" and over) fin-babies could suffocate without circulation and aeration at night.
What Can I Do If My Pond Pump Dies?
It's a good idea to have a cheap emergency fountain pump on hand, just to keep the water circulating and aerating until a new pump can be purchased and installed.
Even better: have a battery-operated air stone around. These can be purchased online or at any bait shop. This will work even if you have a power outage, like the brown-outs that occasionally happen during extreme heat and power demands.
How Do I Get My Pond Pump fixed?
You should know what kind of pump(s) are in your pond (as well as the other equipment). If you don't know, make it a priority to find out. Also know the best resource so that if something goes wrong, you have the information at the ready to get it handled.
If you're not able to figure it all out, we can provide you with an Exploratory Drain & Clean, which will then provide you with all of the information you need, as well as have it on file in our database. Just let us know if we can be of help!
What the Heck is an Exploratory Drain & Clean for a Pond?
Well, pretty much just like it sounds: we drain, clean, and explore the pond. For example, if you've purchased a house that came with a pond, this is a great way to get it cleaned up, and to learn all the ins and outs about what you've got there, and how to properly care for it. There are literally hundreds of ways to build a pond, and hundreds of choices for each component. And they all function a bit differently. You could spend hours upon hours doing research online and may never find exactly the right information -- especially since the vast majority of information posted is from the Midwest or East Coast, and not our Sonoran Desert Environment.
If you're a big-time DIY-er, check out our basic pond cleaning instructions. Full disclosure: these instructions are geared toward the type of ponds that we build and that are our specialty, and are not all-inclusive of every pond type. Again: hundreds of ways to build a "pond."
If you're not really into handling stuff covered with fish poo, we can help! We can clean your pond, and educate you about the care and maintenance of it. In the alternative, we can also provide ongoing maintenance help for folks who want to do a little, a little more, or nothing at all! But mostly, an exploratory pond cleaning will give you all the information about your pond that you’ll need to keep it an enjoyable landscape feature and focal point: Does anything need replacing? What needs to be added or taken away? What upgrades can be done?
THe Pond Cleaning Process
First, we set up our handy-dandy portable retention tanks to keep your fish and other aquatic life safe and sound while we play in their pool. We pump the pond water directly into our holding tanks, and then add your fish to that water, so that they're not too stressed going into a different temporary environment. We do our best to take care of your wet pets. This method also allows us to put the healthy water back into the pond upon completion of the cleaning, again stressing the fish as little as possible. We also condition any additional water going into the pond to keep it a safe environment for the aquatic life.
Once the aquatic life is safety ensconced elsewhere, we can complete the draining process and clean the pond. We don't power-wash the rocks, but leave the pond patina in place because that's an integral part of an ecosystem pond -- it helps filter the water. You want your rocks green and fuzzy, but your water gin-clear. We do vacuum the mulm off the floor, though. And we clean the filters. And, of course, we thin & trim the plants appropriately: aquatic gardening.
The Discovery Process
Now that everything is cleaned up, we can begin the exploratory part of the process. We will take note of:
Having a filthy backyard pond takes away from the beauty of your backyard, causing it to lose value. It may also start to stink. Let us help you bring that pond back to its full potential! Contact us today for a free quote!
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Yes! Like most things in life, this is a package deal. Both sun and shade have their advantages. If properly designed and built, you can put a pond ANYWHERE and have a lush, gorgeous ecosystem.
What if I put my Pond in the SUn?
If you put your pond in the sun, you will have lots of great color from blooms! Your water lilies will thrive and smile at you in the form of flowers. There are a lot of great sun-loving aquatic plants that will fill your pond with color given enough sunshine.
The downside to putting your pond in the sun is that algae also loves sunshine. So, during the time of year when the aquatic plants are not growing aggressively, you may experience more algae in the pond. Algae is simply the weed in the garden. It has it's purposes, though, but that's another blog.
A few design considerations for ponds in full sun:
What if I put my Pond in the Shade?
If you put your pond in the shade, you will greatly decrease the potential for algae, as well as provide overhead cover against flying predators that would see the pond as a meal source.
The downside to putting your pond in the shade is that you will have fewer colorful blooms on your water lilies and other aquatic plants.
A few design considerations for putting a pond in the shade:
Paul and I just started taking dance lessons a few months ago. We started out as complete bungling idiots, self-conscious and absolutely off-beat. We're now at least stepping to the rhythm and not on each other.
Last week, our instructor sat us down to chat about what exactly we're getting out of it, and what we hope to get out of it. She was, of course, setting us up for buying the next round of lessons. However, this discussion ended up being quite enlightening -- and produced some unexpected results.
There were the usual benefits. We're spending time together away from the business. We're learning something we can use at all kinds of social events. We're getting exercise. It's good for our mental health. It improves memory. It reduces stress. You know, all the logical benefits that you hear about from health professionals and dance instructors.
Then there were a couple of surprises that came out of our mouths, totally unbidden. We were spending time focusing on each other and on the task at hand, and not on discussing or thinking about our business (sorry, clients). In addition, I was enjoying having Paul lead for a change, and getting to spend 40 minutes not having to make any decisions. Paul was enjoying me just following him, and not trying to tell him what to do next (apparently, I can be a bit of a slave-driver and am an anti-procrastinator). But our roles were reversed there in the dance studio for just a little while. It's called balance! Who knew?
As we sat by our back yard pond later that evening with a cold drink (shameless plug) talking about the discussion we'd had with our dance coach, it dawned on us that our ponds and water features provide balance for our clients. Especially people who work in tech jobs, office cubicles, and any other high-pressure or stressful scenario. The ponds and water features are nature-based and low-tech. AND if people have a maintenance contract with us, they are completely no-worry and no maintenance. Folks just get to come home and decompress at the end of their work day and/or the weekends. Gee, we're kinda proud of that. :-)
So, what are you doing to provide balance in your life?
Who doesn’t love Koi fish in their pond? They’re beautiful and friendly, providing glimmers of color as they weave their way beneath the lily pads, and in and out of the light rays at night. Certainly they deserve their rightful place in a tranquil water garden. But what about other options? An assortment of pond fish is just waiting to call your pond their home.
Goldfish in Your Backyard Pond
Goldfish are perfect for your pond: resilient and able to handle all different kinds of water. For the newbie pond owner, and smaller ponds in general, goldfish are a great choice for getting started with fish-keeping. Several varieties of goldfish are available, from comets (plain orange and white) to the exotics like ranchus and bubble-eyes.
Exotic varieties include lionheads, telescopes, black moors, orandas, ranchus, and ryukins. The single most distinguishing characteristic of this group as a whole are their round, bulbous abdomens. Note that these fish are not the great swimmers of the fish world. Ponds with great circulation, and strong skimmer currents are probably not the best environments for these fish as they will struggle to stay out of the skimmers and have difficulty thriving in environments with strong currents. Use these fish in ponds with minimal water movement, like reflecting ponds.
Shubunkins in Your Backyard Pond
Shubunkins are a type of single-tailed, long-bodied goldfish that originated in China. There are two different types of shubunkins. One has a long tail fin, with broad tail fin lobes that are rounded on the end. The other one looks more like a common goldfish, with a short tail fin. Bred mainly for their coloring, shubunkins often have a red, black, and sky blue coloring, sort of like a calico.
The most valuable of the shubunkins are mostly blue with strong accents of white and red, and the overall pattern sparingly flecked with black. In fact, when blessed with a white, black, and orange pattern, some may resemble baby koi but are far from it. They are different in size and markings. Most notably, they lack barbells (whiskers of sorts) that are found on koi. Shubunkins are hardy fish that can survive sweltering summers and severe winters, and can grow up to 14 inches in a minimum 180-gallon pond.
Sarassas in Your backyard Pond
Sarassas are very similar to shubunkins in that they both have a similar body shape; however, they do not quite reach the same size as their larger shubunkins counterparts. The sarassa features a white base color and brilliant red highlights. It is believed that they came from a cross between the red cap oranda and the comet goldfish, and are sometimes referred to as the “poor man’s Koi.”
Amazingly, the brilliant red of the true sarassa is a lifelong proposition and the fish are very enjoyable. Uncontrolled breeding of the sarassa will yield more and more brown fish until the pond population has returned to unselected comet and brown goldfish ancestry.
Catfish in Your Backyard Pond
Catfish are another popular fish seen in the water garden. They are commonly sold as scavengers to help clean up the pond, but they really don’t do that much of it. Caution should be taken with these fish because they can become quite large in a short period of time. When they become large, they can cause trouble because they may start eating whatever they can fit in their mouth -- including other fish!
Learning about Fish in Your Backyard Pond
Getting to know the background of the pond fish you plan to keep as pets is vital to their survival and your sanity. By knowing their defining characteristics, you will have a thorough understanding of how the fish will interact in your pond with other fish, plants, and aquatic life.
Other Fish to Consider for Your Backyard Pond:
Before building a pond, careful consideration should be given to the type of fish you’d like to collect. Different fish require different filtration and pond sizes. For example, we don’t recommend putting Koi in a pond that’s less than 10’ x15’ x 3’ deep in size. For ponds smaller than that, we recommend the homeowner stick to various types of goldfish. And then there is game fish, which is a whole different conversation!
So, which one is YOUR favorite?
A pond in the desert?!?! How in the heck can Koi and goldfish survive the 100+ Phoenix summer heat?
Recently, we had some new clients visit our office and showroom. This was an issue very much on their mind because they are new to the Valley.
Being from Minnesota (or anyone moving here from the Midwest or east coast), people are used to their pond fish surviving under ice. But the kind of heat we get in Phoenix in the summer?!?! It was tough for them to wrap their brains around that one.
Many people are very skeptical about ponds in the desert, and aren’t even sure it’s possible to have an ecosystem pond here because of the summer heat.
This most recent occasion was not the first time we’ve heard those types of concerns, and it probably won’t be the last. In fact, this is a common question from folks who can’t imagine how pond fish would live through the Phoenix summers.
People hear all kinds of wild tails about Phoenix summers: we fry eggs on our sidewalks (or car hoods), we bake cookies in the back window as we drive to or from work, we keep oven mitts in our cars because of how hot the steering wheel gets (actually, that’s not a bad idea), we can’t leave the air-conditioned house or office without bursting into flame, etc.
The summer heat-related concern about pond fish is also a question often asked during our annual DIY Annual Cleaning Workshops that we host in early February. People buy a house that already has a pond installed and are worried about the upcoming summer heat, and want to learn how to cope with it.
We also hear this question a lot from audiences of various clubs when giving a presentation at their meeting. Homeowners are typically used to their plants struggling through the summer, but don’t realize that a water garden is an AWESOME place to garden in the summer, and that aquatic plants are super happy and thrive in Phoenix summers (unlike a lot of terrestrial plants not native or climate-appropriate). The exception to that are the aquatic plants not acclimated to our high pH.
Gardeners use shade covers and shade houses to grow year-round, and think that needs to be done with a pond, as well. They’re usually delighted to hear that’s not the case.
People who contact us for the first time to inquire about a pond installation ask about the perceived heat issue. So, yes, this is a common question and concern, especially if you’re not from around these parts.
So, how do we get Koi and goldfish to survive the Phoenix heat in our ponds? It’s actually very easy! We simply provide them with everything they need:
The bottom line is that we adhere to the K.I.S.S. method of pond design, building, and maintenance. We’re big believers in working WITH Mother Nature, not against her. This philosophy makes for a very low maintenance pond for people who just want to live the pond life.
Check it out for yourself at various stops on our FREE pond tour!
How Much Maintenance Does a Pond Need?
Ecosystem ponds, like everything else, need maintenance. If you're interested in the least maintenance possible, then be sure you install both biological and mechanical filtration on your pond. The biological filtration will tend to your water quality, while the mechanical filtration will do the skimming for you. Remember, if you don't HAVE a skimmer, then you ARE the skimmer. Emptying skimmer basket or net will take only a couple of minutes a week.
During the summer, pond maintenance in Phoenix mostly consists of keeping the aquatic plants from eating the pond! You will need to garden a bit during the summer -- and what better place to garden than standing in a pond! If your pond is well-built, getting in and out of it should not be a problem.
Aquatic plants need to be trimmed and thinned regularly or they will overtake the pond. Depending on the size of the pond and the amount of plant life, this could take as little as 10 minutes a week. If you let things get out of hand, well, that's another story (see photo for cautionary tale -- yes, there's a pond there).
Pond maintenance is not a herculean task. However, if you happen to want a "no maintenance" pond, we can do that, too!
When getting ready to hire a contractor, you should always get 3 estimates! Isn’t that what we’re always told? It’s how your father always hired someone. And it’s what the media always says to do. It’s how we protect ourselves from schysters, right? We get three bids, and take the lowest or the middle, never the highest. But is this really the best way to choose a contractor? Seems like it’s still a bit of a crap shoot. See the Insider tips below to possibly save yourself some time and effort –and maybe even heartache.
Get 3 Water Feature Estimates
You want a water feature. Time to shop. We all know the routine: First, you spend time calling around to every contractor in the area, and then waiting for a return phone call (because you know how contractors are), and maybe even playing phone tag for a few days, or weeks, because you’re busy, too.
Let’s say you find three contractors that actually return your call in a reasonable amount of time. Now, you have to schedule the appointments, and wait at home for them to show up. That’s IF they show up.
Let’s assume they do show up. They do a little tap dance for you, spill their dump truck of “expertise,” expound all their ideas about what THEY THINK you want, and promise to get you an estimate “right away.”
Then, a week, or two, later, you get the estimate. It’s vague and ambiguous, and you’re not sure you remember exactly what you talked about with them – because you talked to three people.
And let’s assume that all three actually do send you estimates. Can you tell if they’re all bidding the exact same thing, or did they all have different ideas of what you should do? Can you compare apples to apples, or are you looking at apples and oranges? Did they all include everything you were asking for?
And just getting three estimates DOES NOT guarantee that you’ll choose the right contractor. Unfortunately, I speak from personal experience here.
Might there be an easier way to get through this shopping process?
Use the Technology
If you’re reading this, we’ll assume you have access to the internet. You know it’s for more than Facebook, right? With a little effort and a couple of hours of reading, you might become knowledgeable enough that you can get three estimates just from three phone conversations. Or, better yet, if you do your due diligence BEFORE you contact a contractor, you might not have to go through the arduous and time-consuming task of getting three estimates at all, but will know who you want to hire before you pick up the phone. There’s a time-saver.
Insider tip: Before beginning your investigation, make sure you’re clear on who you’re looking for, and what you want to see about the contractor you hire, as well as what you want to hear from them. For example, if you want a pond, do you want a contractor that installs living ecosystems, or are you more interested in a sterile environment? If you’re looking for flooring, do you want someone who specializes in eco-friendly renewable resources, or just the cheapest thing you can get that looks pretty good because you’re going to sell this house in a few years?
This is the FIRST think you should check! Make sure the contractor you’re considering is licensed with the Arizona Registrar of Contractors, and in good standing. Check to see if they have any complaints, resolved or unresolved. Insider tip: Don’t just assume that a contractor is bad because they have a complaint. People can be rather litigious these days, so read through the documents to make sure that the person isn’t just blowing smoke. And read the company’s response to make sure that it was handled in a professional and classy manner.
You can get a good read on a company simply by reading what other people think of them. There are A LOT of sites where you can check someone out: Facebook, Google, Houzz, Hometalk, Angie’s List, Yelp, Thumbtack, etc. Insider tip: if a company has NO less-than-stellar reviews, they may be faking it, so take a REAL close look.
Referrals & Testimonials
Most reputable companies will post testimonials on their website. Don’t take their word for it, though! Insider tip: If the testimonials are real, there should be some that can be contacted directly as a referral. Do it. Ask them about their experience. Ask if they’d hire that company again. Ask how long ago the work was done, and how it’s held up over time. Heck, some of them may even invite you over to see it! And, you never know: you might even make a new friend, to boot.
What’s their website look like? Do they even have one? Is their website all about sales, or is there good information being presented? Can you read about THEM, their story, etc., or is it just a big storefront? Can you see their passion, their company culture, their philosophy, etc.?
Do they have a photo gallery for you to peruse? And don’t just look at the pretty pictures. If you’re looking at an outdoor home improvement, analyze the photos a bit to make sure that they represent the contractor’s work here in Arizona. Believe it or not, some people may have stolen photos of other contractors’ work, or the photos may have been taken in New York, and they have little to no experience with our Sonoran desert environment.
Do they have a blog with good current content? Read through some articles and see if they seem to be an expert in their field. Are they saying what you want to hear? Is the information kept current, or did they post their last blog article a couple of years ago?
If this home improvement is something that requires occasional maintenance, does this contractor provide that service? If not, you might want to ask yourself why not? Insider tip: the “we’re too big to do maintenance” is a cop-out; maintenance is the bread and butter of a business that thinks long-term and cares about keeping in touch with their clients beyond the initial installation.
Have a Conversation
Now that you’ve done your research, you may have narrowed it down to just one contractor. Or maybe you have 2 or 3 that you’d like to talk to. Call them. And have an HONEST conversation with them. Tell them what you want. Are they saying what you want to hear? Are they really listening to you, or are they telling you what THEY think you should do? Do you feel that they care about what you’re saying? Do they value themselves? Can they do what you want within the budget you’ve set?
Insider tip: Beware the contractor that wants to run right out and give you a “free” estimate without first having a conversation with you to make sure they’re a good fit. A lot of contractors spend hours and hours running all over town to give free estimates, to the detriment of being able to provide good service to paying clients -- there are only so many hours in a day, after all. You don’t want someone who spreads themselves too thin right from the get-go. What will the rest of the experience be like? And, let’s face it, nothing in life is “free.” The paying clients are covering their time to visit the “tire kickers.”
Reputable Water Feature Contractors
As a water feature specialist, we know who does good work in this town. The biggest Insider tip in this article is to check out these folks if you’re looking to hire a water feature contractor. Although they each have a different philosophy on water feature construction methods, we believe they are reputable contractors.
Pondscapes of Arizona
Crosstimber Koi & Pondering
Aquatec Fountains & Ponds
My wINTER Pond Is Different
Yes, every pond is an individual when it comes to how it will act in the Winter, or any other time of year, for that matter. Differences include: age, size, depth, filtration, fish load, additional wildlife load, exposure to sun and wind, adjacent terrestrial plant life, as well as the aquatic plant life, and a plethora of other micro-climate variations. Add to this how much fish food gets thrown in the water (any, a lot, none). It all goes together to make up the body of water that is your pond.
CYA Statement: Every article or blog that we write is based on the rules that we understand in average circumstances in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan area. Your pond is an individual, with a unique set of circumstances, so please understand that what we discuss in any of these articles is the rule of thumb and may not be precisely descriptive of what you are experiencing today in your own personal backyard pond.
Fish and Water Temperatures in A Winter Pond
With winter temperatures, as the water dips down below 55 degrees (water temperature follows the nighttime temperatures, NOT the daytime highs), we recommend you stop feeding your fish. In colder water, the fish don’t metabolize high protein food like they do in the summer, and if it goes through their digestive system too slow, it could begin to rot inside them and result in a fish kill. We get a couple of calls a winter from people who have literally fed their babies to death. It's a very sad thing to have to tell people.
As always, natural treats like zucchini, melon, lettuce, oranges, and even Cheerios, can be given.
Algae Blooms in Winter Ponds
We don't freeze over here in Phoenix (typically, that is), so we tend to experience a big algae bloom in the Winter. We just had a caller this week tell us that we must be wrong about this because she had always heard that algae was more of a problem in the hot weather. She is not wrong, and neither are we. What’s the deal then? Our ponding system relies on a healthy ecosystem full of micro organisms and zoo plankton to keep the water healthy and clear. In a healthy ecosystem pond, zoo plankton are very active and do a great job in the warm weather, but they hibernate in the colder water temps. How much will YOU get? Well, that goes back to that ponds are individuals thing.
Plants in a Winter Pond
DO NOT thin or trim back your aquatic plants too severely just yet. Remember, we technically have a chance of frost through the end of February. Many years, that seems practically impossible, but we've been surprised from time to time, so better safe than sorry.
Your annual cleaning should be done when the water is COLD. So, plan to do that before the end of March. We provide that service, or you can certainly do it yourself.
Before you know it (and for those of us getting older, it seems to be in the blink of an eye), the water will begin to warm, your fish will become more active, and your aquatic plants will burst forth with new life. Then, we can all start complaining about the heat again...
Help! My Plants are all Dying!
Not exactly. The water is getting cold now in your pond or water feature (water temps follow nighttime temps). The aquatic plants are not dying, but simply going into their "winter" hibernation. We don't freeze over here in the Phoenix area, but our plants don't look their best while the water is cold. You may also see an increase in string algae, which is what we get instead of ice.
DO NOT be tempted to thin/trim them until the last danger of frost has passed now (typically, the end of February).
Just so you don't feel like you're alone, here's a quick video of what a typical "winter" pond looks like in our neck of the woods.
When we think of concrete, we typically think of something very durable that will last forever. And we’d like to believe that a concrete pond would follow suit. The foundations of our homes are concrete, after all! And our roads and bridges! And swimming pools! Yep, things that are expected to last forever are made of concrete. So, it just stands to reason that a pond should be made of concrete right? Meh, maybe not so much.
1. CONCRETE IS NOT FOREVER
Concrete is a rigid method of building. It’s exceedingly difficult (and often impossible) to add onto or enhance a concrete pond once completed. You also need to excavate it like a big bowl, which can be dangerous for pets, children, and wildlife if they fall in because it becomes very slick once the “pond patina” layer has formed.
Pools are made of concrete, this is true. However, underneath the concrete in pool construction are a bunch of things that help stabilize it and keep it rigid (like rebar), despite the movement of the earth around it. It's pretty expensive to put all that stuff in place, in case you haven't priced pools lately. If all you're going to do is dig a hole and slather concrete over it, you haven't done any of the things that make concrete durable enough to stand the test of time, like a pool. This process leads to failure of the concrete shell. Every time.
2. CONCRETE IS MORE EXPENSIVE
Once the ground has shifted or settled (which will definitely happen because the earth is always moving just a bit), you're looking at completely re-doing the whole thing in a few years because the concrete shell has cracked and now you have leaks. By the way, if you let that small leak go too long, it becomes a bigger leak, and the water leaking out may be undermining various structures around it via erosion.
You can try patching a leaky concrete bowl, but that’s not a permanent fix. A better “fix” would be to prep and coat it in a liquid rubber liner product, which is not cheap to do it properly. Oh, and it’s kinda ugly.
If you can’t fix it, you have to jackhammer out the old pond and put a new one in its place. And the whole process repeats. Remember the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over, but expecting different results.
3. A GOOD POND LINER CARRIES A 20-YEAR WARRANTY
Liner ponds allow the ground to shift around it without damage. Sure, sometimes there's a settling leak at the edge of a liner pond. But that's easy to fix: you just lift the liner a bit, shove some dirt under it, and call it bueno.
A good liner product (i.e., 45-mil EPDM rubber) carries a 20-year manufacturer’s warranty. Most concrete contractors don’t warranty their work beyond the 2-year requirement of the Registrar of Contractors. The one thing that concrete is guaranteed to do over time: crack. And leak.
4. FISH & PLANTS DON’T LIKE CONCRETE
Many a cement head has said: “Sure, Mrs. Customer, you can put plants and fish in the pond” right before they run out the door with that final check. And, yes, you can. That doesn’t mean that they’ll be happy. Concrete, filled with Portland cement, leaches lime and alkalis into the water forever, which does not make for especially happy, healthy plants and fish – especially considering our naturally high pH here in Arizona.
Because you can’t really build in plant pockets in a cement pond, you have to keep the aquatic plants in buckets. Not very attractive, and thinning/dividing those plants will be a bear some day. Then there’s having to fertilize the plants because you just can’t seem to teach those darn fish to back up the plant pots to poop – although, they do tend to dig in the pots like dogs. Fertilizer can then cause water quality issues.
5. A CONCRETE POND OR WATER FEATURE WILL NOT ADD TO THE VALUE OF YOUR HOME
Despite the claims, just because a water feature is built out of concrete, that fact alone will NOT add value to your home. What adds value is a beautiful well-built, serviceable water feature that fits well into its surroundings. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the construction method.
All that being said, if you plan to go spear fishing in your pond, or hand your kids a trident to play with, then you want to find yourself a good concrete pond contractor. However, if what you want is a well-built, serviceable pond system, you might want to continue your research on ALL of your options.
5 Biggest Drawbacks to an Ecosystem Pond
Ecosystem ponds can be gorgeous and low maintenance. They provide hours of pleasure, while requiring only minutes per week of care. But they have their drawbacks and they’re not for everyone.
Here are the 5 biggest drawbacks to having an ecosystem pond that we hear about:
Water holds vast cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social benefits. We are, after all, made mostly of water. So, it naturally stands to reason that we are drawn to water to calm the mind, to gather with friends, to reconnect with nature, etc.
The “Blue Mind” is “a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life in the moment. It is inspired by water and elements associated with water, from the color blue to the words we use to describe the sensations associated with immersion.” The Blue Mind by Dr. Wallace J. Nichols.
But is the Blue Mind applicable to the Sonoran Desert? Absolutely! Natural water sources secreted away in desert oases are vital to native and migratory wildlife, as well as humans. Imagine how a backyard riparian zone, complete with organic water via an ecosystem pond or stream, could add to that, as well help replace the ever-diminishing natural wetlands that have been sacrificed for urban sprawl.
Check out this fascinating talk in the video below. And let us know how we can help YOU create your very own backyard version of "The Blue Mind."
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Barbi Holdeman, co-owner of The Pond Gnome, enjoys sharing their 17+ years of education & experience with you! She writes about Phoenix Ecosystem Pond Installation, Pond Maintenance, Wildlife around the Pond, Koi and Goldfish in the Pond, and the Pond Lifestyle. If you enjoy what she writes, please share it!