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, amount and variety of 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.
Using copious amounts of beneficial bacteria in the winter is a waste of money. It does nothing to combat the algae. Beneficial bacteria is for cloudy water, not algae blooms. You can use other water treatment products, but take care to use them during the day, and never in the later afternoon or evening, because they steal oxygen from the water at night, which could kill your fish.
The algae can also be hand-weeded out, and even used in composting operations or as mulch around plants because it's full of nutrients. But remember: aquatic life likes a little algae to snuggle up in during the winter.
Plants in a Winter Pond
DO NOT thin or trim back your aquatic plants too severely just yet. In Phoenix, 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...
Is there anything that lasts a lifetime anymore? It seems that everything either wears out or needs replacing or upgrading within a few short years, especially if technology is involved. So, with technology increasing exponentially, do things just need updating/upgrading faster because of it? Or are things being made cheaper nowadays? Or are we being trained as consumers to expect things to have to be replaced more often?
Our grandparents had ONE refrigerator that lasted them their entire life. Now, we have to buy new appliances every 10 years, it seems. The more gadgets involved (ice maker, water dispenser, built-in screen), the more things that can go wrong. Is it the appliance, or have we gotten lazy about maintenance?
We’re told that computers shouldn’t be expected to have more than a 2-5 year lifespan. So, as soon as we have a bit of an issue, we immediately check the purchase date. “Oh, yep, it’s over two (or three; or five) years old. Guess I have to go buy a new one.” The over-the-counter ones are sealed units – can’t replace parts, just dispose of the whole thing.
Rarely do you meet someone who has kept and drive just one car for their entire life. Cars are all computerized nowadays. The GPS systems need upgrades and downloads. You can’t just pop the hood on a newer vehicle and adjust the carburetor because it’s running too thin or too rich. It needs to be hooked up to another computer to tell you what to do. Tires, of course, need replacing every 40,000 miles or so, and many of the newer vehicles have some pretty pricey replacement requirements!
TVs are getting better and “smarter” all the time. We just replaced our 12-year-old one with a new “smart TV.” As a result, we were able to get rid of a bunch of peripherals, too, because this new TV did it all “in-house,” so to speak. Well, that certainly cleaned up the look of the living room. There really wasn’t anything particularly wrong with the old TV, but we thought we should “upgrade” because it was getting “old.” I guess we fell victim to that consumer training thing...
Ponds & Water Features
So, how’s your pond doing? It is not a maintenance-FREE item, nor is it the one thing in life where upgrades/updates don’t need to be made throughout its lifetime. If nothing else is expected to last forever, how could a pond or water feature be expected to do so when it’s outside in the elements?
If you have a rigid water feature system, like concrete, you’re probably going to notice some cracking and leaking around the 10-year mark or so. We don’t freeze and thaw much in Phoenix, but our ground still moves a bit, and that causes rigid things to crack because they don’t exactly go with the flow. Unfortunately, patches to these systems are very temporary, if effective at all, and most are pretty ugly. If you’re having this problem, you might want to consider remodeling or replacing it with something that lasts a bit longer.
If you have a pre-formed tub that’s having leak problems, there is no patch or fix. You’ll need to replace it with another one, if you can find that exact size and shape again. Or consider replacing it with an upgrade.
We began installing flexible ecosystem ponds and water features 20 years ago. The vast majority are still up and running and the owners are happy campers. However, we’ve had some upgrades/updates over the years. Some time ago, we had to do hardware change-outs from the metal scews that came with the system to stainless steel because the old hardware disintegrated after many years in our Arizona hard water (electrolysis). Plant roots have wreaked a bit of havoc over the years: sides of skimmers have been crushed or warped inward; root balls have grown inside plumbing where a tiny hairline crack allowed entry; roots have snuck into the water features themselves and caused major leaks.
It’s safe to say that ponds need a bit of upgrading occasionally, too. Even water feature “technology” is making leaps forward. For example, the skimmers that we’ve been installing for the past few years were huge upgrades from the old style: the new ones have debris baskets with a convenient handle, rather than a cumbersome net. The newest Signature Pro-Series Biofalls® is designed to be stronger and easier to service and grow plants in than its predecessor.
A couple of new things coming this next year are lights and pumps that can be controlled from your phone. Oooh, ahhh!
Stay tuned for more information. If you’re not on our mailing list, you might want to subscribe to stay abreast of cool new things coming along in the industry.
Why Won't You Work on My Pond?
We get two to three calls per day about dysfunctional water features that folks want us to just patch up or repair. Maybe they bought a home that came with a problem water feature. Or maybe the guy who built it for them went out of business, or is just no longer returning phone calls. There are even companies out there that will build water features, but are not willing to service what they build -- shocking, but true.
We are not equipped to work on many of these. Why not? Well, there are a myriad of reasons, pretty much as many reasons as there are ways to build a "pond." For one, we can't possibly train our service techs to work on every single one of them. And our trucks cannot carry every single pond part ever made so that we're prepared for every possible part replacement. It's just not feasible.
For 20 years, The Pond Gnome has specialized in organic water gardens, flexible pond systems, and low-pressure biological filtration systems, as well as subterranean water harvesting re-circulation. Water features that do not fall within these parameters of what our company is designed to handle are referred out to colleagues who work on those types of features.
Being specialists has allowed our construction crew and service team to be the very best at what we do. And, not to toot our own horn too much, but we're in pretty high demand and it doesn't make sense to distract our employees with issues that another company is better equipped to solve.
Who WILL Touch This?
Depending on your specific feature, you might find more appropriate help from one of these reputable companies:
What Can The Pond GNome Do to Help?
Frustrated by repeated attempts at patching or repairs? If you’re planning to stay in your home, why not have something that you will enjoy? So, if you’re tired of messing around with the monster on your hands, have tried all the fixes and nothing is working, and are interested in replacing what you have now with a beautiful, low-maintenance, living ecosystem water feature or perhaps a custom fountainscape, we would be tickled pink to help! Send us a photo of what you've got, and let us know you're ready for what we do!
OTHER POSTS THAT MIGHT INTEREST YOU:
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We Love our Wet Pets!
Pond owners love their colorful Koi. And they also tend to love their pond plants. Yet many people struggle to keep their Koi from making a feast of their favorite waterlilies. What’s a water gardener to do? No worries, it really is possible for Koi and aquatic plants to live in harmony in the same pond.
Stocking is Key
One of the keys to the plant-eating Koi dilemma is to make sure you have the correct Koi-stocking density for your water garden. Put too many Koi in a pond and they’ll compete for everything – especially food. Your ravaged waterlilies are simply evidence of hungry Koi!
A good general rule of thumb for Koi stocking is to have no more than one inch of fish per 10 gallons of water. For example, you can have 150 inches of fish in 1,500 gallons of water, which is about five Koi. Remember, when buying small fish, they’re going to get bigger! So, choose fish based on how large they’re going to grow. If you don’t provide Koi with enough room, you risk plant health, water clarity, and the fish will suffer from stressful living conditions.
Another key is to have the pond well planted with mature plants BEFORE adding large Koi to the mix. Start with small Koi, less than 3” in length, and they won’t have the strength to disrupt your aquatic plants. Not only will this save your plants, but the Koi will adapt to pond life much easier.
The final key is to make sure those aquatic plants are planted securely in the rock substrate of the pond. Once the plants are established with a good root system, the Koi may nibble and root around, but won’t be able to uproot them completely.
Understanding and Feeding Koi
Keep in mind that Koi are inquisitive fish and explore their surroundings with their mouths. If you catch them rooting around the base of your waterlilies, simply use larger rocks around the base of the plant so the fish can’t move them and destroy the planting.
If your Koi are well fed, they won’t eat many plants. Although they love dining on your favorite waterlily, they actually prefer Koi food. Given the choice between a pelleted food and green vegetation, they’ll opt for the taste and high-energy of a pelleted food. Feed your fish once or twice a day all they can gobble in about two minutes, and they’ll be satisfied enough to steer clear of your plants.
When choosing fish food, the pellet size should be close to the size of the fish’s pupil (the black part of the eye). Toss in a few pellets for starters to get them going, and then throw in more food over the course of approximately 2 minutes. Excess food is caught in the skimmer and will decay, which isn’t ideal for the water quality of your pond. This is why it’s preferably to toss in a few food pellets at a time, as opposed to a large handful.
Can’t We All Just Get Along?
The truth is that aquatic plants and fish complement one another. Combining the two creates a healthier, cleaner pond that’s easier to maintain. Pond plants offer coverage from predators and our Arizona sun, reduce nitrates, and oxygenate the water during the day. Just remember not to overstock the pond and to feed your Koi a quality fish food on a regular basis. You’ll find that Koi and aquatic plants can live in peace and harmony, providing you with hours of water gardening enjoyment.
OTHER POSTS YOU MIGHT ENJOY:
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LANDSCAPE IDEAS: SMALL WATER FEATURES
Yerba mansa (Anemopsis californica) is native to Arizona!
Yerba mansa is a fabulous plant to have in your living ecosystem Phoenix pond, waterfall, or stream. It's actually an Arizona native.
This plant displays showy white flowers which rise from a dense growth of dark green leaf clusters. The compact conic flower spike is very distinctive. Similar to the sunflower family, what appears to be a single bloom is really a dense cluster of individual small flowers when observed closely.
In nature, Yerba mansa is found in wet, usually alkaline, soils along streams and in wet meadows, often growing in large colonies, typically from 1,000-6,000 ft elevations.
Yerba typically flowers April-October.
Yerba mansa is well known for its medicinal uses, including external use on sores and burns, as disinfectant for cuts and scrapes, and as a wash for sore feet and muscles. It’s also used internally for stomach ulcers, colds, coughs, menstrual cramps, diabetes, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, and syphilis. It's been used as a laxative and an emetic, and the seeds are made into mush and eaten by Native Americans. It’s quite versatile!
The only caveat to cultivating Yerba mansa in your back yard pond or water feature is that you’ll have to keep it under control. It reproduces rapidly via red runners (rhizomes) that shoot out across the ground and the water, and can be quite prolific in the warmer months. It’s easy to thin, though, by just yanking some out, and having a serious talk with it about slowing it’s roll.
OTHER POSTS YOU MIGHT ENJOY:
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