Aquatic plants are a very important step in achieving a truly balanced ecosystem pond. Regardless of why you got into the water gardening hobby, adding aquatic plants to the pond is an important part of the water garden. They provide beauty and naturalization with a huge array of plant choices.
Most importantly, they help balance the pond’s ecosystem, as well as provide valuable biological filtration that removes nitrogen, ammonia, nitrates and other minerals from pond water. These excess nutrients are often the cause of unsightly water conditions. The end result helps to minimize pond maintenance, leaving more time to enjoy your pond. Without aquatic plants, your pond would not be able to function as a complete ecosystem.
Pond Plants in a Backyard Koi Pond
Aquatic plants can be classified into a few main categories: water lilies, marginal plants, floaters and submerged (also known as oxygenators). Plants can also be put into two basic types known as “tropical” and “hardy.” Hardy plants will over-winter in colder climates and tropical plants are more suited to warmer climates, although tropical plants are often used as annuals in colder climate zones.
Water lilies are among the most popular of aquatic plants and are often the centerpiece of the water garden. A water garden never seems complete without a few beautiful water lilies. Not only are water lilies breathtaking, but they provide valuable shade (a respite from our summer heat), which helps to keep the pond cool while providing refuge for pond fish. Ideally, only thirty to fifty percent of the water surface should be covered with aquatic plants.
The marginal plant group is the largest aquatic plant group by far, containing both hardy and tropical plants. Marginal plants serve many functions such as adding beauty and providing valuable filtration. They are called “marginals” because they typically grow around the edges or “margins” of a pond or lake. Marginal plants thrive in wet soil or standing water that covers the crown or base of the plant by as little as two inches and up to as much as six inches. Some examples of marginals include Yerba manza and Creeping Jenny.
Floating plants do just as their name indicates: they float on the water’s surface. Their roots dangle beneath the plant absorbing all their nutrients from the water. Most floating plants do a great job of filtering ponds by removing nutrients directly from the water, as opposed to the rock substrate where most other aquatic plants are situated or planted.
Like the name implies, this group of plants lives below the water surface. They are commonly referred to as oxygenators. Submerged aquatics do produce oxygen during most of the day. Submerged aquatic plants live entirely under water, almost. Some oxygenators bloom and the flowers often rise to the surface. They include plants such as elodea, anacharis, hornwort, foxtail, cabomba, and vallisneria. For the most part, submerged plants absorb their nutrients directly from the water. This means they compete with algae for nutrients, thereby helping to balance the ecosystem.
Putting it All Together
Just like their soil counterparts, a good mix of aquatic plants lends the best visual impact for your water garden. Marginals help to blend the pond into the surrounding landscape, while water lilies provide pops of color at the water’s surface. Take some time to familiarize yourself with all the wonderful options out there and you’ll soon find what most appeals to you. For your convenience, we have a page on our website dedicated to the aquatic plants that we know work well in our Sonoran Desert.
Turtles are great! The Pond Gnome has lots of clients who adore their turtle pets. And just like any pet, turtles need certain conditions to keep them happy, healthy, and safe. We don’t profess to be herpetologists by any stretch, but we can help with some basics for our area of the country, as well as some references for more information.
Most Common Breeds Kept in Arizona
Turtles are well-adapted to our desert climate, and most species will live about 30 years given a proper habitat and diet. The most common turtle species we see in backyard ponds are the Red-Eared Slider. They are native to the southeastern United States and northeastern Mexico.
The second most commonly seen backyard turtle is the Mississippi Map Turtle, which is native to the Mississippi watershed, as the name suggests. These two species likely make up 80% of the pet turtles in Arizona.
Our native species is the Arizona Mud Turtle. There are three species of mud turtles that are found in and near creeks, rivers, lakes, stock tanks, and ciénegas in central and southeastern Arizona. Mud Turtles can be relatively common in their preferred habitats. A hunting license is required to lawfully collect and possess Mud Turtles in Arizona.
Security and Safety for Their Health and our Native Environment
The most important thing to remember about keeping exotic pets like turtles, is to keep them properly contained. Escaped exotic turtles do a lot of damage to our native species. Allowing them to escape into natural rivers and streams is an environmental disaster of sorts.
Proper fencing designed to contain them from both climbing out, and digging out, is crucial. Also keep in mind they are not the top of the food chain. If you live in an area with racoons, you must also keep the racoons out of your turtle habitat, or build you turtle pond large enough for your turtle pets to escape predation.
Turtles are omnivores. They eat whatever they can catch or find, including insects, small fish, frogs, and many aquatic plants, as well as dead fish or frogs. This makes an organic water garden a utopian environment for them! Just make sure it is large and diverse enough to handle their foraging activities, and the biological filters are designed to handle the ammonia production of your turtle pets.
Of course, lots of folks like to hand-feed their turtles various veggies. We know of a few really spoilt turtles whose owners interact with them every single day with treats and attention, and swear that they come when called.
Turtles will spend most of their life in the water. When active, they can hold their breath under water for up to 30 minutes! During the colder months, they can enter a state of torpor and remain under water for months at a time! Still, they should have a sunny rock to bask on in the middle of their pond where they can feel safe while soaking up the warm sunshine. They should also have a space of terrestrial dirt, and maybe event composted mulch and a shrub or two, to hang out under once in a while.
Turtles need a body of water to hang out in to stay hydrated. They cannot survive long without a healthy, organic, body of water. Having a filtered pond big enough to swim in, to hide in, and within which to forage is optimal. If you relegate them to an enclosure with a small water tub, know that the water in the tub will need to be changed frequently as turtles defecate mostly in the water. Thus, a properly built filtration system designed to handle their output is essential if you want to also enjoy that pond aesthetically.
Responsible Turtle Parenting
As with any pet, you should design and build a good habitat for the creature before bringing it home. Many folks get a turtle on a whim, or by gift, and don’t have a good environment in place, causing suffering, and sometimes even death. All the good intentions in the world fall short of proper planning.
Resources for More TURTLE Information
Arizona Game and Fish Department: http://www.gf.state.az.us/
Arizona Herpetological Association: http://www.azreptiles.com
Online field guide to reptiles and amphibians of Arizona: http://www.reptilesofaz.com/
Reptiles of Arizona: http://reptilesofaz.org/turtles.htm
Koi people tend to fall into two categories: those that love keeping them as pets in their pond, and those that collect them like a prized car that’s only driven on Sundays or parked at car shows. There are actually quite a few analogies that can be made between Koi and cars. And since we’re kind of into cars, we’ll use those analogies shamelessly.
The sedan represents the attractive, domestic Koi of good quality. It’s a healthy fish that has been spared a long trip from overseas. The bloodlines of most domestic fish are short, and the classic ancestral stock is not long ago. So, the fish are sturdy and dependable. But with a lack of refinement comes a less refined look. Domestic, durable Koi of average to good quality make wonderful, robust pets, and are an enjoyable addition for your pond as wet pets.
THE SPORTS CAR
If you’re looking for something fancier, you’ll generally pay more to own it. Typically imported from Asia, these Koi are more expensive than their domestic counterparts, but in general, they’re prettier. Their good looks, plus the cost of shipping, is why they’re more expensive.
The Handmade Italian Sports CaR
There is a breed of Koi owner who doesn’t care about price; they simply need to have the best. There are handcrafted fish available in Japan that are finer than any other Koi you can buy anywhere else in the world. These fish are usually large and have already won a Koi show in Japan.
What’s interesting is that when the driver of the handmade Italian sports car drives down the road, people only marvel at the value of the car – not the skills of the driver.
The grand champion Koi is no different. It’s a profoundly expensive fish that is bred, raised, and shown by a Japanese craftsman, then sold to a trophy hunter in America. No skills are called upon to buy a fish that already comes with a trophy. Only a fat wallet.
The American Collector Muscle Car
These performance vehicles are lovingly handcrafted in America. They’re fast and beautiful. The comparison in Koi is the hand-selected small import or domestic Koi that goes on to take a trophy in a local show. In this case, the owner of the fish chose it based on its assessed future quality and they raised it to sub-adult or adult status and put it in a koi show. Victory in a Koi show with a fish you chose and raised by hand is a testament to your ability to judge fish, to identify quality, and to provide the kind of husbandry needed to produce a champion from a small fish you hoped was a diamond.
The Economy Car
Koi breeders have been known to sell the poorest of their culled baby Koi into the fish bait market, and as feeder fish for consumption by larger fish in pet shops. The common alternative is to either bury the fish, or sell them as “pond grade” Koi.
Beginner Koi collectors sometimes think simply being orange is enough to be a decent Koi. The all-yellow Koi, called the Lemon Ogon, is wildly popular and easy to produce. It could be considered one of the finest of the economy cars because it is abundant and not unpleasant to own.
There’s nothing wrong with economy cars, or economy Koi, but exceptional colors or patterns don’t generally occur in this group. These fish are certainly pleasant to own – they just won’t win a show.
What Does It All Mean?
What this means is that there are different types of Koi and, as you may have assumed, there are different types of Koi owners.
And here’s the interesting part: while the owners of economy Koi are unlikely to expect all Koi to be low cost and lower quality – the converse is not true of some of the folks who keep and show the finest Koi. There’s a big difference in the way Koi need to be kept, and the way they are kept by the Koi aficionados. Thus, when choosing a pond construction method, knowing which one you are will determine how the pond needs to be built. In fact, it’s one of the first questions we ask when someone calls us about building them a “Koi pond.”
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Technical information for this article supplied by our friend and colleague, Bernie Kerkvliet of Skyland Ponds in Lake Arrowhead, California.
What is a Wetland?
Ecologically speaking, it is known as an Ecotone. An Ecotone is a transition zone between two diverse communities. It contains organisms native to each overlapping community, as well as organisms characteristic to the Ecotone itself.
In a wetland, life is very dense and variable. Every ounce of water from a wetland environment contains millions of organisms that make up a highly diverse community.
The Plantonic community includes algae or phytoplankton, zooplankton, and bacteria. Together, they are the plants, animals, and scavengers of this unique, aquatic ecosystem. The scavenger-like plantonic bacteria, along with fungi, clean up the corpses, wastes, and organic debris present in the water. The algae transforms sunshine and inorganic nutrients present in the water into food so it can grow and reproduce. In a nutshell, the bacteria, fungi, and phytoplankton all feed on impurities in the water and clean it as it flows thru the wetland. These are the base consumers of the ecosystem, or the base of the food chain. The amazing thing is the phytoplankton and bacteria can produce another generation in a matter of hours to days. Pretty cool, huh?
Simply put, the phytoplankton represents the grass and herbaceous plants in a meadow. The zooplankton which are protozoans, rotifers, and tiny crustaceans are the animals that feed on the plants in the meadow (Phytoplankton).
This basis for the food chain in turn provides food for insects, fish fry, larvae, etc. Aquatic plants also get their nutrients from the water and decomposing sediment in the wetland. The food chain continues to grow to include larger fish, frogs, reptiles, and eventually mammals and birds.
What do Wetlands Do?
Wetlands are also good for slowing the water down. In a constructed wetland, we accomplish this by the size of pump supplying the wetland. Slowing the water down allows for sediment to settle out. In nature, after hundreds, or even thousands, of years, sedimentation continues until a meadow is formed. The sedimentation process prevents soil from washing downstream. Since the water is almost stationary, it allows water to percolate down into the water table.
In a constructed wetland, the nutrient rich sediments are periodically pumped out on to the surrounding landscape.
The sedimentation process in both cases produces water clarity.
Wetlands, whether natural or man-made, are the most effective water purification systems on earth.
Where do Wetlands Come From?
Wetlands can be created in many ways. They can be built by rivers in slow moving waters and deltas that create wetlands. Lakes and landlocked basins can develop into wetlands, as well.
Aquascape has developed a very effective arificial wetland system that is very effective. Whenever water filtration is required, we prefer to use a constructed wetland if possible. This does require a bit of extra room on the property, but the results are well worth it – and it’s pretty!
One of the best ways nature has for building wetlands, man has destroyed in multiple ways. The best natural builder of wetlands is the beaver. All the industrious work the beaver has done in the northern hemisphere, man has slowly destroyed all in the name of two things: a hat and “progress. “ We hesitate to go too far into the history of the fur trade and beaver felt hats that became so popular in Europe, but the fact is that’s what started it all. But let’s fast forward to a little more current time in North America.
The total land area in the contiguous United States is 2.96 million square miles. It is estimated that there were some 200 million beavers in the US at the time white man came from Europe. It is also estimated that there were about 300,000 square miles of beaver ponds at that time. Can you imagine the benefits that brought to the land? Better plant and animal biodiversity, slow moving water meant better water percolation and recharge in the water table, flood control, clear unpolluted water -- and those are just some of the macro benefits.
What Can I Do AS JUST A HOMEOWNER?
In the pursuit of fur, hats, farmland, industry, and “progress,” our land is not what it used to be. That is why the work that we do is so important. Each pond, pondless, patio pond, fountainscape, stream, and waterfall we build creates another little island of biodiversity in our individual private back yards.
The bonus is that it also creates ambiance to help us decompress, to bring us back to nature after being “plugged in” all day, to teach our children about the nature world, and to use this natural world to teach a multitude of other subjects from biology to math to art to music, and beyond. And then there’s just the pure enjoyment of a backyard oasis – something that takes minutes per week to maintain, but provides hours upon hours of simple pleasure.
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Though the term "water garden" is normally used to describe a particular type of natural or man-made water feature that is used for a relatively specific purpose, there are many other types, styles and designs of water feature. And it seems most people want water in their garden in some way, shape or form -- it just doesn't seem complete without it.
History of Water Gardens
Water gardens first originated in ancient Egypt when the Egyptians channeled water from the Nile into their palace gardens. In their water gardens, they primarily grew lotuses, a primary source of medicine and a plant considered to be sacred. They also grew Papyrus and kept fish in their ponds – over 3,500 years ago!
The earliest planned gardens that included ponds were probably in Egypt, documented as early as 2,800 BC. They were also great garden designers. In most of their garden designs, the water garden or pond was the central focal point of the entire landscape! The gardens were created around the pond with blooming aquatic plants like lilies, lotus, and papyrus. Ornamental plants and trees came right up to the edge of this oasis. To top it off, they would create lots of space to lounge and enjoy the outdoor area. So, outdoor living environments are not actually a new trend.
Decorative ponds and fountains were a major feature in gardens of the Middle Eastern civilizations of Mesopotamia, as a result of the need for irrigation canals. The design tended to include four water features in the form of a cross, thought to stem from the four rivers of the Garden of Eden and the concept of "flowing to the four corners of the earth."
Water gardens, and water features in general, have been a part of public and private gardens since ancient Persian and Chinese gardens. Water features have been present and well represented in every era and in every culture that has included gardens in their landscape and outdoor environments. Up until the rise of the industrial age, when the modern water pump was introduced, water was not recirculated, but was diverted from rivers and springs into the water garden, and then exited into agricultural fields or natural watercourses. Historically, water features were used to enable plant and fish production for both food purposes, as well as for ornamental aesthetics.
It’s pretty cool how similar people and civilizations are over the millennia, and how we all want and need a connection with water. These ancient people surrounded themselves with water and beautiful plants, and pioneered concepts and things we still use today – like irrigation, garden design, arbors, edible ornamental’s, and even ornamental fish keeping.
Aquatic Plant Development
Aquatic plants were among the earliest flowering plants. Fossil evidence places an early form of waterlily at 125-115 million years BC! One of the most important plants of the world (and an aquatic!), rice was domesticated 4,000 years BC, based on evidence in Thailand. The value of many aquatic plants as food cannot be underestimated.
The lotus appears in ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics as early as the First Dynasty (2,950-2,770 BC). Legends, myths, art, and physical evidence bespeak its importance in ancient Egyptian culture and religion. How and when lotus reached Egypt is not really known, but the Greek historian Herodotus wrote of its presence there in the fifth century BC. Lotus seeds were found as a part of the Hemudu Culture in ancient China as long ago as 5,000 BC, and presumably were native to that region. Chinese poetry from the Zhou Dynasty (1,122-256 BC) also speaks of lotus. It is indeed a mystical and sought-after plant even today!
Ponds & Water Gardens Today
Fast forward to present day. Water gardens can be defined as any interior or exterior landscape or architectural element whose primary purpose is to house, display, or propagate aquatic plants. Despite the primary focus being on plants, most also house ornamental fish, calling it a fish pond. Most people, though, just refer to water gardens, ponds and fish ponds as “ponds.”
Water gardening is basically growing plants adapted to ponds. Although water gardens can be almost any size or depth, they are typically small and relatively shallow, generally around 24” in depth. This is because most aquatic plants are depth-sensitive and require a specific water depth in order to thrive. And what better place to garden when it’s 110 degrees outside than standing in water?
Ponds and water gardens are what you make of them. Luckily, The Pond Gnome just happens to create custom build-to-suit water features. Tell us your dream, and let us help make it a reality for you! Or, you can peruse our pricing and use our cool Build & Price Tool to select your options and build to your budget. It’s easy and fun!